Chairman of UBC board to leave post temporarily

John Montalbano steps down amid dispute over academic freedom

VANCOUVER – John Montalbano is temporarily stepping down as chairman of the board of governors at the University of British Columbia amid a dispute at the school over academic freedom.

Faculty members had been calling for his resignation since UBC president Arvind Gupta quit earlier this month.

Prof. Jennifer Berdahl had accused Montalbano of trying to muzzle her over a blog she wrote about Gupta’s resignation, and the faculty association previously asked the chairman to step aside so an investigation could take place.

According to a statement issued Tuesday, the board accepted Montalbano’s request that he step down for the duration of a fact-finding process agreed to by the university and the faculty association.

Vice-chair Alice Laberge will assume Montalban’s duties during an investigation to be conducted by retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith. She will begin her probe on Sept. 1 and will submit a report no later than Oct. 7.

The statement says Montalbano intends to fully participate in the process while remaining a member of the board.

The clash between Montalbano and Berdahl erupted after she blogged that Gupta “lost the masculinity contest” before quitting on Aug. 7.

Berdahl, a gender and diversity professor at the Sauder School of Business, alleged in another blog that her superiors criticized her for “embarrassing” UBC’s governors and tried to silence her, while the faculty association said it had lost confidence in Montalbano.

Montalbano said last week that he didn’t ask Berdahl to retract her blog or threaten funding for her position and that he didn’t intend to impinge on her academic freedom. He said he had invited Berdahl to grieve the issue under the collective agreement to determine if her allegations are valid.

The faculty association has demanded answers about Gupta’s resignation but the board of governors has stayed mum, citing confidentiality.

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