British Columbia

UBC FOI-dump sheds little light on former president Arvind Gupta's departure

UBC released more than 850 pages of heavily redacted documents Monday which reveal some of the machinations ahead of former president Arvind Gupta's surprise resignation — but no smoking gun.

Arvind Gupta's sudden resignation was preceded by request for a discussion "not captured on email"

Arvind Gupta resigned as president of UBC after one year on the job. According to FOI documents, he will collect his $446,750 salary until February 2017. (UBC)

The University of BC released volumes of heavily redacted documents Monday revealing the machinations ahead of the sudden resignation of UBC's former president — but no smoking gun as to why Arvind Gupta left.

The 861-page document dump will likely do little to dispel the intense speculation surrounding Gupta's departure only a year after he was appointed.

But the freedom-of-information release includes the terms of an agreement which will see Gupta continue to collect his $446,750 salary until the end of January 2017, even as he begins a one-year leave of absence next month.

A confidential discussion 'not captured on email'

A large portion of the FOI documents are emails between Gupta and former UBC board of governors chair John Montalbano.

The missives between the two men are mostly friendly, but on July 27, 2015 just a few days before Gupta's abrupt resignation, Montalbano asked if they could meet "by chance" with fellow university governor Greg Peet.

The university describes Peet as a high-tech entrepreneur and angel investor.

Gupta, who was on holidays at the time asks: "What is the agenda for the meeting?"

Montalbano responds: "We wished to have a quick, confidential discussion, not captured on email."

Then-chair of UBC's board of governors, John Montalbano, asked former president Arvind Gupta for a confidential meeting days before Gupta's mysterious resignation. (University of B.C.)

Four days later, Montalbano approved a notice for a special in-camera meeting for UBC's board of governors to be held in the 14th floor offices of Harris and Company LLP, a firm that specializes in workplace law.

The first item on the agenda was Gupta's resignation.

​'Masculinity contest'

UBC announced Gupta's resignation on Aug. 7, 2015.

Included in the FOI documents are emails which show the university's manager of public affairs getting an update on "various chatter around social media" at the time.

At one point "Arvind Gupta" was trending on Twitter. The main themes of the tweets were cited as being "surprise departure", "quits after only one year" and "what's the real story?"

In addition to his salary for the next year, the documents also reveal that as a professor in the department of computer science, Gupta will continue to earn no less than 50 per cent of his annual pay as president.

He and the university agreed to create a "mutually agreeable public statement for release to the public."

But because Gupta and UBC signed a non-disclosure agreement, the real reasons behind the departure remain unknown.

The mystery saw Montalbano resign in the face of a report which found the university failed to protect the academic freedom of a professor who suggested Gupta might have lost a "masculinity contest" with UBC's leadership.

Though the report found Montalbano didn't personally break any UBC policies by directly contacting the professor who published her assertions online, the RBC executive stepped aside last October "in the best interest" of the school.

Poisoned atmosphere

While the rest of the documents reveal little in the way of friction, the email exchanges between Montalbano and Gupta do show ongoing concern about the state of UBC's athletics program.

The backdrop to the discussions was a review of the campus' 29 varsity teams which was supposed to lead to a "more focused number" of teams and increasing participation in a "broader range of sports"

But as the project unfolded, and only 24 teams made the cut, the controversial review was met with a wave of resistance. Commentators suggested the imaginary sport of "quidditch" might get more support than the school's football and hockey teams. 

When the resignation of athletics director Ashley Howard became public in April 2015, Montalbano complained that the board of governors was not given a heads up.

"This is very disappointing and I think we need to reflect on this experience," Montalbano wrote to Gupta.

Then several months later, Gupta forwarded Montalbano a message about a campaign to overcome a "poisoned atmosphere of fear and mistrust with coaches, teams and alumni groups."

The documents do not identify the source of the campaign, which calls for recipients to start lobbying Gupta for change.

Less than a month later, he would be gone.