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Former UBC president Arvind Gupta breaks silence about mysterious resignation

Brian Hutchinson: Former UBC president breaks silence about mysterious resignation

Brian Hutchinson | January 29, 2016 6:10 PM ET
More from Brian Hutchinson | @hutchwriter

Former UBC president Arvind Gupta: “I decided a public confrontation would not be in (the university’s) best interests.”

Arlen Redekop/Postmedia News/File Former UBC president Arvind Gupta: “I decided a public confrontation would not be in (the university’s) best interests.”

VANCOUVER – Another month, another screwup at the University of British Columbia, where internal investigations, apologies and loss of face now seem as routine, and unwelcome, as frosh week hazing.

One of Canada’s largest post-secondary institutions, UBC has seen four separate investigations in the past six months alone, including such serious matters as sexual assaults on campus.

This week, another controversy that had been simmering for months boiled over when the school’s gaffe-prone administration made public certain documents it wanted kept secret.

The “private” material formed part of a larger package shared by UBC on Wednesday in response to freedom-of-information requests; these related to the sudden departure of Arvind Gupta, the university’s short-lived president.

Gupta resigned his position last summer, after just 13 months on the job. He quit without offering any explanation to the public, UBC faculty members or the school’s 60,000 students. Alarm bells rang: As an academic institution, UBC is supposed to cherish transparency.

Into the information vacuum rushed speculation. One UBC professor suggested that Gupta, a soft-spoken computer scientist, had lost a “masculinity contest” to certain members of the school’s board of governors. Board chairman John Montalbano, a Vancouver-based businessman, took umbrage. He called out the professor; this led to another kerfuffle. And, eventually, to Montalbano’s own resignation as UBC chairman.

Through all of that, Gupta maintained his silence. Until UBC’s botched document release this week.

CNW Group/UBC

CNW Group/UBC Former UBC chairman John Montalbano

Inserted into 861 pages of documents were copies of private emails between Gupta and Montalbano. The emails helped explain why Gupta quit as UBC president, a prestigious position that paid him well over $400,000 annually.

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There were other emails, similar in tone and content, also meant to be redacted. Montalbano called for “a course correction.” That didn’t happen. For whatever reason, Gupta could satisfy neither his board chairman nor what he would eventually describe as a mysterious, ad hoc executive board committee, formed without his knowledge.

In July, he says, he learned that “meetings were held without me being notified … I raised the issue with the board secretary, asking if this was proper governance. I asked, ‘Has this happened before?’ I was not getting any clear answers.”

The purpose was to get rid of him, Gupta suggested in an interview Friday. “This group had only one intention,” he told the National Post. “They decided they didn’t want me.”

Montalbano could not be reached for comment Friday.

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