VANCOUVER – The president of the University of British Columbia’s abrupt resignation so early into his first term amounts to a leadership crisis, says the head of the school’s faculty association.
In an open letter to faculty, Mark MacLean demanded the UBC board of governors explain why Arvind Gupta suddenly left the post late last week after little more than a year on the job.
“I am skeptical that the reason for it is simply that professor Gupta wishes to return to the life of a professor of computer science,” wrote MacLean, contradicting an explanation provided by the university on Friday.
Gupta took the helm at UBC to much fanfare last March, after UBC said a 22-member committee conducted an international search for the position.
“I believe Professor Gupta’s resignation represents a serious loss to UBC,” MacLean said.
“It certainly represents a failure point in the governance of the University. We need to understand this failure and the board must recognize that we cannot move on until we do.”
The university said in a news release that Gupta will return to his academic career as a computer science professor at UBC.
From 2000 to 2014, Gupta was also CEO and scientific director of Mitacs, a national Canadian not-for-profit research organization.
The university’s board of governors’ chairman John Montalbano said in Friday’s statement that Gupta developed a strategy to support diversity and under-represented groups, and improved access to mental-health services during his tenure as president.
Over the past decade in Canada, 18 university presidents either left or were pushed out of the position before their first terms had expired.
This trend of truncated terms is becoming increasing common, said Julie Cafley, vice-president at Canada’s Public Policy Forum. Cafley’s recent PhD dissertation focused on Canadian university presidents with unfinished mandates.
The phenomenon isn’t restricted to Canada, she added, pointing to the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom as other jurisdictions experiencing similar tendencies.
The impact on a university of such a departure is “absolutely huge,” she said, referencing both the considerable time and money invested in a new leader.
“There’s no question it takes a toll on a university,” said Cafley. “Obviously this is going to be difficult for UBC, but I think that with the leadership they have in place they’ll be able to advance beyond this as well.”
Former UBC president and vice-chancellor Martha Piper, who held the position from 1997 to 2006, will return to the role until a permanent replacement is found.