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British Columbia UBC faculty awaiting results of contentious non-confidence motion

A student walks past the chemistry building on the University of British Columbia campus.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

The University of British Columbia Faculty Association will announce the results of a non-confidence vote against the school's board of governors on Tuesday – but it says some members are feeling pressured by two associate deans to vote against the motion.

The non-confidence vote continues the leadership saga that has enveloped the university since former president Arvind Gupta's surprise resignation last summer. The chair of the board resigned two months later. Another board member stepped down earlier this month, saying he did not want an unrelated legal dispute to become a distraction.

The weeklong vote closes Tuesday at noon, and Mark Mac Lean, the faculty association's president, said the result will be announced shortly after.

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Last week, Prof. Mac Lean said he learned of a letter written by a professor in the university's Sauder School of Business, signed by more than 40 faculty members, that urged faculty to vote against the non-confidence motion.

Prof. Mac Lean said several association members contacted him after noticing that two of the signees were associate deans at the school of business.

"It raised concerns among some people," he said on Monday. "Deans and associate deans technically ought to be staying out of this conversation at this point, because there's an active vote going on for the faculty association. … It's very hard for an associate dean to actually step out of their role, even if they intend to. They're a highly visible person."

Prof. Mac Lean said the concerns involved the use of influence and what repercussions a faculty member who voted in favour of the motion might face.

"Basically, [should] people in such leadership positions at a university use their influence to influence their colleagues?" he said.

Prof. Mac Lean said it remains to be seen what impact a non-confidence vote against the board would have. "I guess I view this as a form of censure," he said.

James Brander, the professor who wrote the letter, said he was concerned that debate surrounding the board of governors had become one-sided and controlled by people who disapprove of its conduct. His goal, he said, was to add balance to the discussion.

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The letter says there are several reasons to vote against the motion, including the fact that UBC is a world-leading university and the board is made up of dedicated members who have effectively contributed to the school's educational and social mission.

The letter goes on to say that a vote of non-confidence would be "very damaging."

"… It is damaging to morale, to public perceptions of the university, and to the spirit of co-operation and collegiality that has characterized UBC's outstanding performance over the past several decades," the letter says.

Prof. Brander said it was important to have people sign on to the letter, to show that many agree with its sentiment.

He said that because the non-confidence vote is a secret ballot, it's difficult to see how there could be pressure to vote against the motion.

He acknowledged, however, that there could potentially be reluctance from some to speak out on the issue – though he said that reluctance could come from people who are as concerned about offending the faculty association as associate deans.

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"I agree that junior faculty members, pretenure faculty members and faculty members who are not protected by tenure … are always alert to the possibility of offending senior faculty, and that includes associate deans; it also includes other senior faculty," he said in an interview.

"If I were a junior faculty member, I would want to stay out of the fray, and most junior faculty members have stayed out of the fray."

The two associate deans, Darren Dahl and John Ries, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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