July, 2020

South Asian UBC President Forced to Resign? Didn’t Have “The Right Look?”

There has been a lot of buzz recently surrounding the recent resignation of UBC President, Arvind Gupta. Many unanswered questions and a spurt of controversy tarnishing the prestigious UBC name, have lead to baffled students and curious community members to pry into news sources to find out the truth behind this escalating scandal. To briefly sum up the events that have lead to this story, Arvind Gupta had been given the powerful title of President and Vice-Chancellor of UBC, one of Canada’s top 10 universities, on March 12th/2014. On August 7th/2015, only one year into Gupta’s five year term, UBC’s board of Governors announced Gupta’s resignation. This was especially concerning considering it had only been a year since he had signed on to take this respected role, and the lack of information provided to the public regarding his departure has many wondering the backstory to why and how this happened?

Many students and faculty have indicated that this was completely unexpected and came as a shock, while the board of Governors has stated “focus on academic priorities” as their reason for Gupta’s sudden resignation. Dr. Arvind Gupta also has refused to comment on the situation, which has lead to continuous speculation and investigation to explore and demand answers to these unanswered questions.

Dr. Gupta has his PhD in computer science and is said to return to his position as a professor within UBC’s computer science department, which in itself does not register with the public as many question why Gupta would demote himself back to a professor after being the president of a multi-billion dollar institution. What made him take that step down? Was he treated poorly? Did the board of Governors fail to support him? It’s all too vague and unclear, which is why UBC is getting put under heat. UBC’s previous President, Martha Piper, who served as President from 1997 to 2006, will serve as an interim president until June 2016, during which the search for a new president will be conducted.

Now, what has lead to all eyes on UBC during this time, has been the lack of details provided by UBC regarding Gupta’s departure, but what has made this story into somewhat of a scandal was when a business professor at UBC, Jennifer Berdahl, decided to write a blog post containing her opinions about this matter, and lets just say, it was not in UBC’s favor. Berdahl was honest and opinionated, rightfully so, as she had the opportunity to observe and speak to president Gupta and saw his visions. She poses a question in her blog post that asks “Did President Arvind Gupta Lose the Masculinity Contest?”. She furthermore explains this complex by pointing out that most lose the masculinity contest if they fall within the women category or the minority category. Gupta, who was the first brown male to become president of UBC, was an advocate for minority and women’s rights, and he actively spoke out about issues circulating these groups. She mentions that because Gupta was not the typical tall, white male, he might not have “fit the role” of President.

These are not allegations against the UBC board of Governors, but simply Berdahl’s observations, as she has done much research on gender and diversity and is able to provide an alternative perspective. To make matters worse for UBC, Berdahl then ousted the chair of the board for calling Berdahl and expressing their disappointment in her portrayal of UBC. Along with some of the other administrators, Berdahl was basically scolded for her blog post, which leads to believe that either what she said was the truth or that UBC doesn’t support the notion of academic freedom. This lead to many wanting to know why UBC is being so secretive about his resignation, and what they are hiding.

After some thorough research, I found some noteworthy insights within the UBC school newspaper, The Ubyssey, in which Emma Partridge, a writer for the paper, provided some compelling content to a BuzzFeed Canada’s social news editor regarding this unexpected event. Partridge has been following the story since it broke in the beginning of August, and has given an insider perspective to what fellow students have been wondering, and what has slowly been uncovering as time is passing. Partridge mentions that some of the pressing questions that remain are why Gupta resigned so abruptly, and how long did the board of Governors know that Gupta was making this decision? Was Gupta forced out of Presidency by the board? Alongside these warranted questions, Partridge mentions that the press release in which the news broke of Gupta’s resignation, there was not much transparency and that it seemed as if the board was trying to quickly and easily get by without much notice.

Boy were they wrong, because now its turned around and had the public’s attention since the news broke in early August. Partridge also mentions that its been tough to report on this issue since Gupta and UBC had singed a non-disclosure agreement, making it nearly impossible to get any solidified information, but what’s concerning to both Partridge and the UBC student body is why they signed confidentiality agreements in the first place? This just goes to show that the student body does care about what is going on at their school, they want to be involved and informed, which UBC has clearly not been doing.

With the amount of speculation and controversy surrounding this topic, you would think UBC would just own up and provide some details as to why Gupta resigned in this fashion, especially considering the allegations of breaching academic freedom and racism leading to his departure, but that has not been the case. Instead, UBC has been more quiet and are now being investigated. While the public will keep a close eye on this story to see what becomes of it, many have already pieced things together and have their own accusations lined up. Regardless of what becomes of it, it is sad to see an Indo-Canadian male step down from such a prestigious position.
Gupta has since taken a position in Toronto and left UBC behind to choose their new president. The public definitely has one thought in mind: will the next president have a better “look” for UBC?

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