UBC chair steps down after investigation finds the university failed to protect academic freedom

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On October 15, 2015, the University of British Columbia released the results of the inquiry into allegations that Chair of the Board of Governors John Montalbano interfered with the academic freedom of Prof. Jennifer Berdahl. The report revealed that while no provisions of the UBC collective agreement had been violated, through the “the combined acts and omissions of Mr. Montalbano, the named individuals in the Sauder School, and others, UBC as an institution failed” to “protect and support Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom.”

Montalbano resigned his position as Chair following the release of the report.

The controversy arose following the sudden resignation of UBC president Arvind Gupta. Berdahl wrote a blog post critical of the Board’s role in Gupta’s departure, and Montalbano in turn emailed Berdahl to question her decision to publish the post. According to Berdahl, Montalbano suggested that she had, “harmed the reputation of the Board, raised questions about her academic credibility, and jeopardized her funding from the Royal Bank of Canada.” Montalbano is a senior executive at RBC.

While faculty across Canada are encouraged by this demonstration of accountability, we remain concerned with lapses in good governance at many Canadian universities. Without openness and transparency with the broader campus community, administrations and Boards are vulnerable to a variety of harmful outcomes, from million-dollar Presidential payouts to sudden resignations to encroachment on the academic freedom of professors.

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