John Montalbano officially resigns from Board of Governors

Former Board of Governors chair John Montalbano has resigned, despite being found by a fact-finding process to be not guilty of infringing on the academic freedom of Jennifer Berdahl, the Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies at the Sauder Business School.

According to the report by former supreme court judge Lynn Smith who looked into the investigations, "UBC failed in its obligation to protect and support Dr. Berdahl's academic freedom," but "Mr. Montalbano, on his own, did not infringe on any provision of the of the Collective Agreement."

Despite this decision, Montalbano has officially resigned his position as chair of the Board. He had previously stepped down temporarily until the fact-finding process has ended, but news of his permanent decision was announced today. 

"I am gratified that Ms. Smith's report confirms that I was mindful of the need to protect Professor Jennifer Berdahl's academic freedom, that I acted in good faith and that my intentions were not to infringe on Dr. Berdahl's academic freedom when I spoke with her," read a statement that Montalbano released later today.

According to the statement, Montalbano also asked The Honourable Kenneth J. Smith, Conflict of Interest Administrator to the UBC Board of Governors to review the incident and found that Montalbano did act in good faith. The statement says that "Based on the findings of those two reports, the UBC Board of Governors has asked that [Montalbano] resume my duties as Chair," but evidently decided against it.

Montalbano was accused of breaching academic freedoms merely days before the beginning of UBC’s centennial school year. 

Montalbano called tenured professor Berdahl, whose professorship also happens to be made possible by Montalbano’s $2 million donation to the Sauder School of Business, at home to discuss a blog post she had written.

The post suggested that notions about masculinity, gender and race impacted Gupta’s short-lived term at UBC. 

Although Montalbano claimed that his phone call was an effort to learn from Berdahl, he told The Ubyssey in an interview last August that, during the call, he had “expressed [his] concern that [her] blog had the potential to damage UBC based on its assertions.”

Despite the subsequent and controversial debate on whether this constituted an infringement of academic freedoms that shone an unflattering spotlight on UBC for weeks thereafter, the report reads, “No individual in the Sauder School of Business identified by the Faculty Association, on his or her own, infringed any provision of the Collective Agreement.”

The process that Smith followed was interviewing a total of 17 people from a list of individuals which the parties, UBC and the UBC Faculty Association provided. The names of these interviewees will be kept private.

“If you read the terms of reference … it’s very clear those were going to be done as confidential,” said Piper at the press conference. 

Naturally, the question of transparency was raised during the press conference, specifically relating to the fact that the 10 page report was released online at the very same time the press conference was taking place.

“I felt we needed to be open and transparent ... We felt that it should go public today which is the first time we’ve received it from Lynn Smith,” said Piper. “Actually, I thought we were being very open by allowing the press to ask questions as soon as the report was out there.”

On the whole, the central confusion of the process was that UBC as an institutional failed in the protection of academic freedoms, but no single individual is being held responsible nor does it seem anyone is being reprimanded. When asked about possible consequences, Interim Provost Angela Redish simply said they were having preliminary conversations with the Faculty Association.

What it means is that UBC failed to uphold academic freedoms, but Montalbano — nor any Sauder individual — is at fault. Piper responded, “It means that we should have been very specific with her in saying she had the right to say what she said even though we may or may not agree with what she said.”

The action that UBC will now take includes hiring a specialist to safeguard academic freedoms, create a new program teaching about academic freedoms and develop an online resource and a more formalized module on academic freedoms.