The former chair of the board of governors at the University of British Columbia resigned from the executive body, as the university released a report that found UBC failed to protect and support the academic freedom of a professor in the Sauder School of Business.
At the same time, John Montalbano was not found to have personally infringed upon the academic freedom of Jennifer Berdahl when he called her to express his unhappiness about a blog post she had written on the resignation of former UBC president Arvind Gupta.
In the post, the professor speculated that Dr. Gupta had been the victim of discrimination. The phone call from a board chair to a faculty member "was unprecedented and unwise," the report said. Mr. Montalbano, vice-chairman of RBC Wealth Management, had already stepped down from his role as chair of the board when the inquiry was launched in August.
The report, released Thursday and authored by Lynn Smith, a former judge in the B.C. Supreme Court, is a 10-page public version of a document that was given to only a few people at the university last week and will not be released in full due to privacy concerns.
Dr. Berdahl "was not censored, she was not asked to remove her blog, she was not threatened," said Martha Piper, interim president of UBC. "It was a question of what we did not do. We did not clearly tell her we would defend her right to say what she said. … As a result, Dr. Berdahl felt isolated and reprimanded."
Faculty associations at the university and nationally demanded that UBC must do more to hold its leadership accountable. "What does it mean for an institution to be found to interfere with her academic freedom? It's not my colleagues, it's not alumni, it's not students. If the institution is accountable, then the leadership needs to be accountable," said Mark MacLean, president of UBC's faculty association.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers also called for specific individuals to be held accountable. The university left open the possibility that further actions could be taken against individuals.
"I think we will be looking at that very carefully," said Dr. Piper, adding that the administration is in discussions with the faculty association over that issue.
Dr. Berdahl did not respond to requests for an interview but posted a statement on her site. "Academic freedom is to a university what love is to a family. It is not simply one of many priorities a university must remember to keep in its sights, it is the university's fundamental and most sacred priority," she wrote.
The episode could drag more individuals into the continuing controversy that Dr. Gupta's departure has provoked. Along with Mr. Montalbano's phone call, the report found the dean's office at the Sauder School also phoned Dr. Berdahl, while the dean was away from the campus, to convey the former board chair's concerns, the report said.
"Concerned about Mr. Montalbano, Sauder's reputation and future fundraising prospects, the Dean's Office [at Sauder] conveyed a message about those concerns to Dr. Berdahl. … Dr. Berdahl should have been told by the Dean's Office that the Sauder School understood its positive obligation to support and protect her academic freedom," the report said.
In response to the report, the university has said it will take several measures, including to better instruct members of the board of governors and senior administrators in how to protect academic freedom. The first way to show it is taking responsibility would be to offer an apology to Dr. Berdahl, Dr. MacLean said.
"Through this whole process," he said, "there has been no apology to her, either publicly or privately."