In The News


By Simona Chiose and Frances Bula

August 27, 2015 -- An unusual group had assembled at the Point Grey campus residence of Arvind Gupta, the president of the University of British Columbia. The gathering was made up of professors and associate deans from the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses, from science to arts and humanities. For a few hours last March, they had the president’s undivided attention.

Dr. Gupta’s spring session on the leafy UBC grounds was atypical in that it did not include administrators, staff and students who generally advise a university president.

“The argument that he made was that he was looking for advice that was [different] … from what he would normally get from his other vice-presidents and administrators,” said John Klironomos, a biology professor and the associate dean of research at the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences. “We sat there and brainstormed and agreed on many things and we had interesting debates. He mostly listened.”

But while Dr. Gupta was spending time with professors – and he invited administrators to the next session – behind the scenes there were smouldering fires. The president had let go several high-ranking executives in the administration; he’d also had disagreements with the board of governors over how much he needed to consult on key decisions. 

On July 31, five months after the faculty brainstorming, Dr. Gupta resigned – only one year into what was supposed to be a five-year term. When the departure became public a week later, the campus erupted into rumours and recriminations that threaten to damage the reputation of one of Canada’s globally ranked universities. In the resulting row, faculty demanded to know more about why the president left, but the event has remained shrouded in mystery, protected by nondisclosure agreements that have silenced Dr. Gupta, the university and its board of governors. 

The Globe and Mail has talked to more than two dozen sources, including university administrators – deans, vice-presidents and the former provost – as well as faculty members. Most requested anonymity because they feared harming their careers. Several argued that Dr. Gupta focused too much on building links with professors and didn’t communicate with senior administrators. The university had taken a risk in hiring an innovator, but fatally underestimated his lack of administrative experience, they said. While Dr. Gupta is a computer science professor at UBC, his reputation largely rested on his building of Mitacs, a non-profit powerhouse that had broken down walls between academia and industry. The announcement of his hiring cited his “courage to chart a bold course.”

“The argument [in hiring Dr. Gupta] would have been that we have somebody who is an established researcher, who is an established fundraiser and has good connections to the outside, but he’s from UBC.… It’s an exceptional case because he had no experience as a dean or vice-president,” said Ross Paul, a former university president and the author of Leadership Under Fire: The Challenging Role of the Canadian University President.

The prevailing sentiment on campus now is one of regret. “From the inside, it’s been a tough year,” said one senior administrator. “I would have hoped that had Arvind stayed on, the university would have pulled together and made it work.”

The candidate

Across the country, governments and parents are anxious about the state of higher education in a challenging economy. They are asking for reassurance that the Ivory Tower is not just a place of abstract learning, but one that opens doors to well-paying jobs or helps students become entrepreneurs who can create their own employment.

When Stephen Toope resigned after seven years at the helm of UBC, he left a university facing those pressures head-on: The B.C. government had announced last year that it would tie 25 per cent of public funds to the labour-market outcomes of graduates.

Dr. Gupta seemed like the right man for the times. In his 14-year stint as CEO and scientific director of Mitacs, he had helped link up thousands of graduate students and researchers with internships in industry. In 2013, Ottawa rewarded the group with $35-million over several years.

The future UBC president was well connected to the federal government in other ways as well: In 2011, he served as a member of the Jenkins panel on innovation, which recommended closer collaboration between the National Research Council, universities and business.

“We are in a province where everything seems to be oriented toward LNG and pipelines,” one administrator said. “If what you think you need is better representation in government and in the private sector, Arvind [was] a pretty interesting choice.”

Many in the UBC administration were far more skeptical, describing the hire as a “flyer.” For them, running Mitacs, with its 2014 budget of approximately $100-million compared to UBC’s $2-billion, was not nearly enough preparation.

The first year

The departure of a president so soon in a mandate is unusual, but not unprecedented. In 2010, Concordia fired former French lit professor and experienced administrator Judith Woodsworth halfway through her term. As at UBC, it was Concordia professors who first demanded to know why.

Even before the March meeting, Dr. Gupta had begun building support with professors. He brokered a compromise with the faculty association around how the university could use faculty-created course materials. He protected academic programs from cuts to the university’s budget and argued for closer community connections for researchers.

“As faculty we are skeptical of business, but he was bringing us along,” one science professor said.

But to those who watched him make the rounds, the president looked exhausted. “He probably heard 10,000 opinions on what the university should do,” said one senior administrator. “Symbolically, it was interesting; practically, it was not that helpful.”

Dr. Gupta apparently didn’t treat administrators with the same care. Instead, firings were done in a brusque manner, without sufficient recognition of the contributions of those who left, sources said. The senior ranks began to fear for their jobs.

“Arvind was alienating people one at a time,” is how one administrator described the environment.

There was also resentment of new hires. Political strategist David Hurford, who had worked with former Liberal minister Allan Rock and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, joined as executive director of the president’s office. Mr. Hurford was known for promoting his political masters aggressively and doing whatever it took behind the scenes to help them drive through their agendas. He continued that approach in the president’s office.

“We have to have [the president] in the news, we have to have a photo op every week,” said one source of how the office was run. (Mr. Hurford left UBC after Dr. Gupta.)

Although things were rocky, by late winter a consensus was forming that these were merely the growing pains of a first year. Then, in April, the president asked David Farrar to step down from his job as provost and take on a new post as a presidential adviser. Dr. Farrar’s departure was a turning point.

“After David Farrar was moved out of the provost’s office, the tone shifted,” one person familiar with the situation said.

In the eight years he had been provost, Dr. Farrar had recruited and groomed some of the university’s top administrators. He also led the school’s successful aboriginal education strategy, which culminated in UBC being the only university that suspended classes this June, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its findings.

It was one of his proudest accomplishments, Dr. Farrar said in an e-mail answer to a series of questions from The Globe.

He never applied for the job of president and has no plans to do so in the upcoming round, he added. “He was an extraordinary team player,” said one administrator of Dr. Farrar.

The deans of many faculties felt adrift after the departure. They e-mailed the president, requesting a meeting. A copy of that note made its way to the chair of the board, John Montalbano.Some deans had already informally talked to members of the board of governors over what they saw as lack of communication from the president’s office. But the goal was never to force the president to step down. Mr. Montalbano would not say how many issues had been raised with him. 

“Anything anecdotal would not be something the board would consider seriously,” he said.

He added that the board offered the president all the help it could muster, from inside and outside the university. Mr. Montalbano declined to say whether Dr. Gupta made use of that help. “I can’t speak for Arvind.…The board made it abundantly clear at any point that Arvind had all the resources available to him to succeed, to allow him to succeed.”

Former administrators and faculty at UBC have said relations between the board and the president could get heated. A former administrator who attended an in-camera board meeting last spring described it as “really ugly.” The chair’s concern, the administrator said, was that Dr. Gupta was making announcements about changes and directions that Mr. Montalbano believed should have been cleared with the board.

Mr. Montalbano rejects that claim: The board and the president had a “cordial” relationship, he said.

On the other hand, a colleague of Dr. Gupta’s said the former president had to deal with an inordinate level of interference by the board chair.

Exactly what happened in the last few weeks is unclear. According to Dr. Gupta’s contract, a performance-review process was to start in June. No such formal review ever took place, according to Mr. Montalbano.

The next president

On Sept. 1, the university will begin the process of closing this chapter in its 100-year history. Martha Piper, who already served as president from 1997 to 2006, will take over as interim leader while a new presidential search begins.

The ramifications are lingering: On Tuesday, Mr. Montalbano temporarily stepped down as chair of the board of governors while the university investigates allegations that he and others infringed on the academic freedom of a business professor who blogged about Dr. Gupta’s resignation.

Many on campus are angered by the entire episode.

“Given the price tag of the search, [the resignation] seemed to have come out of nowhere. You’re way over a million dollars in terms of this search,” said Joey Hansen, president of the university’s staff union. Mr. Hansen says as many as 5 per cent of the university’s workers could be laid off by the end of the year due to budget cuts.

Increasingly, research has found, Canadian university presidents today are less experienced and last a shorter time in the job than a prior generation.

“A lot of change-making is happening … once they’ve gained the trust of stakeholders, once they’ve built those relationships,” said Julie Cafley, who wrote her dissertation on Canadian university presidents and is a vice-president at the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum. “It’s a shame for our system that we are not able to hire well, to transition well, to retain well and really be more supportive of this complex leadership role.”

Editor's note: The article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.


Over past decade, 18 Canadian university presidents resigned or were fired before completing contracts

Daybreak South, CBC News

The resignation of former UBC President Arvind Gupta is just the latest in what one researcher is calling a global trend among universities.

In Canada alone, 18 presidents either resigned or were fired before the end of their contract during the last 10 years, according to Julie Cafley, vice-president at the Public Policy Forum.

Cafley served as chief of staff to two presidents at the University of Ottawa before going on to complete her PhD thesis on Canadian university presidents with unfinished mandates.

Read Cafley's thesis here

Lack of management experience

She said when it comes to selecting a president, university boards have a positive bias toward those who come from academia, but many of those individuals lack a background in management and have minimal experience governing large organizations with enormous budgets and widespread community impact.

As a result, they are often ill-equipped to balance the conflicting interests of stakeholders, who include students, faculty, donors, administration, the governing board and provincial governments, she said.

"It's a really mixed bag of leaders that come together and really have a say at the table."

In addition, as heads of such enormous institutions, university presidents face a great deal of scrutiny, both internally and externally, she said.

"Faculty members are there to question. They're there to push the envelope," said Cafley.

"One of the things that's very hard to define is a successful university presidency, because many presidents are quickly criticized and do have a difficult time. That's part of the process of being a university president."

Need support of governing boards

"There's a real need for full engagement from the board, not just during the hiring but in the transition," which can sometimes last years, Cafley said.

To illustrate how important this kind of solidarity is, Cafley used the example of the Dalhousie University dental students crisis.

  • Dalhousie University probes misogynistic student 'Gentlemen's Club'
  • Dalhousie suspends 13 dentistry students from clinic amid Facebook scandal
  • Dentistry Facebook scandal prompts inquiry calls from Dal faculty

Dalhousie president Richard Florizone was under fire for his handling of the Facebook scandal, until the university's board of governors came out unanimously with a statement in support of his decisions. 

After that, public criticism shifted away from the president, she said.

When it comes to completing a full term, internal presidents who have climbed the ranks experience a higher rate of success than presidents who are brought in from other institutions, she said.

"University cultures are so unique and so different that there's really a need to support those leaders through those transitions."

To hear the full interview with Julie Cafley, listen to the audio labelled: Why more and more university presidents are failing to complete their contracts.


How the sudden resignation of UBC’s president has widened into an ugly faculty revolt and PR disaster

The surprise departure of Arvind Gupta as president of the University of British Columbia (UBC) after serving one year of his five-year term is proving a public relations nightmare for the institution at a time when it’s supposed to be celebrating its 100th anniversary. The secretive nature of his leaving—announced in an opaque news release pumped out the door on a Friday afternoon at the height of summer—has created a void now filled with speculation and recrimination among faculty, staff and students.

The secrecy, compounded by accusations of heavy-handed attempts at censorship and damage control, have: led to calls for the resignation of John Montalbano, chair of the UBC board of governors; given the impression of a rudderless, $2.1-billion-a-year institution unaccountable for the public funds it receives; and left an unholy mess for former UBC president Martha Piper, who was called out of retirement to serve a one-year term as interim leader starting on Sept. 1.

On Monday, 10 days after Gupta’s announced departure, the controversy widened to include alleged attempts to silence a professor critical of Gupta’s treatment by the university. The university board of governors held an emergency meeting to deal with allegations by Jennifer Berdahl of UBC’s Sauder School of Business that senior university officials, and the board chair, tried to intimidate and harass her for her blog post theorizing that “Arvind Gupta lost the masculinity contest among leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men.”

Berdahl, who holds the Montalbano Professorship in Leadership Studies: Women and Diversity, claimed she fielded an angry call from Montalbano, who financed her professorship with a $2-million gift, and sits on the advisory board for the business school. He is also CEO of RBC Global Asset Management, a division of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). “He repeatedly mentioned having conversations with my dean about it,” she wrote. “He also repeatedly brought up RBC, which funds my outreach activities.” She said she was also criticized by senior administrators, who said she had damaged the reputation of UBC and Sauder, and “deeply upset” Montalbano, a key donor. “I have never felt more gagged or threatened after expressing scholarly viewpoints and analysis of current events,” wrote Berdahl.

Her claims prompted the executive of UBC’s faculty association to release an open letter on Monday, saying it has lost confidence in Montalbano’s chairmanship, given his “apparent lack of understanding of the principles of academic freedom, and the questionable judgment he is alleged to have exhibited in interfering with internal operations with university employees.”

The board, with Montalbano remaining as chair, ended its closed meeting with a commitment to allow an “impartial” investigation into this alleged breach of the “bedrock” of university life. “The facts will be gathered and all parties will be heard before reaching any conclusion.”

Despite the investigation, however, board members retain “full confidence in the chair of the board,” acting UBC president Angela Redish told Maclean’s. “Yes, it is a serious allegation. Yes, the university is taking it very seriously. However, it’s not substantiated and the university is doing its due diligence.”

Asked if Montalbano, who left the meeting without comment, should have stepped aside during an investigation, she said, “I guess I’ll just reiterate that the allegations at the moment are unsubstantiated. We are really working to understand what the facts are. When the facts are clearer, then appropriate steps will be taken.”

Asked if she’s surprised at the lingering controversy over Gupta’s departure, she said, “I think the resignation was a difficult thing to go through, for a university to go through that transition, so perhaps it’s not so surprising.”

Gupta’s departure raises larger issues about trouble in academe, says Julie Cafley, vice-president of the Public Policy Forum, and author of a Ph.D. thesis on Canadian university presidents with unfinished mandates. In the last 10 years, 18 Canadian university presidents have quit or been fired before completing their first terms. Frequently, the cause was a fraught relationship with the governing board, compounded by the conflicting demands of administration, government, faculty, students and donors, she said in an interview. The result is a diminished talent pool. “There’s a real [shortage] of candidates who are interested. Because it’s such a difficult job, there are so many conflicting responsibilities.”

The Aug. 7 news release from UBC’s board of governors announced “regretfully” that Gupta “resigned to return to the pursuit of his academic career.” Gupta, slated to return as a professor in the department of computer science after a year’s academic leave, was selected after an extensive, $430,000 international search. He’s the first internal candidate to have been chosen as president in recent memory. The resignation release praised his fundraising skills, integrity, his work to “advance UBC’s core academic mission . . . an emerging strategy to support diversity and under-represented groups in the university,” as well as his efforts to enhance student life and improve access to mental health services.”

Left unanswered is why he would walk away from his new role, an annual salary of $446,750 and, among other perquisites, an official residence renovated for his tenure at a cost of $617,000. He’ll receive his presidential salary for his current year of academic leave. Gupta has remained silent. He declined an interview request by Maclean’s. “I believe it is not the right time for me to do this,” he said, ending his email with “warmest regards.”

Less genteel is the reaction on campus. In true academic fashion, faculty have taken to their keyboards for a bare-knuckle exchange of emails, blog posts, tweets and letters. Nassif Ghoussoub, a UBC faculty member for 38 years and a member of the search committee that hired Gupta, has called for the resignation of board chair Montalbano. Ghoussoub said the board’s “botched” resignation announcement “triggered rumours and innuendos” and demoralized faculty. “To them, Gupta was a breath of fresh air,” he said in a commentary in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight newspaper.

Mark MacLean, president of the UBC faculty association, also demanded an explanation from the board, writing in an open letter to faculty that he is “skeptical” that Gupta simply wants to return to computer science. He said Gupta had plans to shift “significant amounts of money” from non-academic operations to research and teaching. He noted that three vice-presidential positions are also vacant, raising questions about the future leadership of the university. (Two vice-presidents left after Gupta’s appointment, and the third, both provost and vice-president academic, was reassigned.) Gupta’s departure is “a serious loss,” MacLean wrote, “a failure point in the governance of the university.”

Montalbano responded to MacLean’s query with a four-page letter, saying the rumours over the resignation “have contained numerous inaccuracies.” He did nothing to correct the record, however, saying, “Confidentiality arrangements were mutually entered into and both parties are bound by that arrangement.”

University faculty, however, aren’t inclined to let the matter rest. “Given the conflicts of interest, and the missteps that have come to light this week,” the full story behind Gupta’s resignation is imperative, the faculty association executive said Monday. “Full disclosure is the only way to restore trust in the governance of the University of British Columbia.”

August 18, 2015




Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015 4:41PM EDT

Julie Cafley is vice-president at Canada’s Public Policy Forum. Her research focuses on higher education leadership.

When former University of British Columbia president Martha Piper was asked in 2011 about the impact a university president has, her swift response, after nearly 10 years at the helm before her retirement in 2006 was, “not much.” As Ms. Piper returns to the university as interim president after Arvind Gupta’s hasty departure this month, would she say the same thing today?

And there lies one of the many paradoxes of universities. What other type of institution would consider denying the essential role of its chief leader? Universities are a place where academics who aspire to climb higher are relatively unsupported, and often discouraged from leaving their research and teaching roles. But when they do make the transition from doing to leading, they give up power to stakeholders, always negotiating carefully their support to promote change.

As we’ve witnessed through the public misalignment between UBC faculty and the board, universities don’t work in a typical hierarchical fashion. Universities are not businesses. Thought leadership is not for sale.

University presidents are coming under the microscope in an unprecedented manner. Is this increased accountability making universities stronger? Or are we wasting precious time and resources, decreasing the pool of potential presidential candidates, and subsequently weakening the productivity of our country’s universities? Take a quick look at a few examples in the past six months of the lives of Canadian university presidents.

Ilene Busch-Vishniac was fired last year in a dramatic controversy at the University of Saskatchewan, less than two years into her mandate. She’s launched an $8.5-million wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the university, naming Premier Brad Wall and the former minister of advanced education among the defendants.

Richard Florizone dealt with uncertainty at Dalhousie when a controversy erupted over misogynistic comments some of the university’s male dentistry students made on Facebook. With the support of his board, Mr. Florizone showed strong leadership through turbulent times.

At the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, Nadia Ghazzali stepped down three years into her mandate after a Quebec government report heavily criticized the school’s governance.

The University of Western Ontario’s Amit Chakma was under fire for receiving double pay at the end of his first mandate, as outlined in his contract with the board. He seems to have survived the controversy, despite a rocky ride from faculty members.

UBC’s Mr. Gupta resigned earlier this month, only one year into his five-year mandate. While the reason for his resignation remains unclear, early signs point to issues of board governance.

Over the past few years, my PhD research has led me to some of the 18 Canadian university presidents who resigned or were fired before the end of their contracts. Many of these presidents share a common story. Each spoke of discord with the board. A lack of communication, a misunderstanding of the academic enterprise, issues related to hiring and transition, and a misaligned relationship with the board chair were some of the concerns they expressed.

All shared a concern about mistrust within their executive team. In many cases, a vice-president worked against the president, communicating directly with the board.

Universities are a paradox. While their governance structures are slow and process-driven, professors enjoy a high degree of flexibility and independence. Universities should be innovative and forward-thinking, yet, conservatism of governance structures plagues many universities and impedes change.

University presidents are juggling multiple relationships with many stakeholders who often hold a contradicting view of the role. They are lead fundraisers, institutional ambassadors, chief pedagogues and government lobbyists. They answer to board members, faculty, students, donors, alumni and government. A committee of 22 people chose Mr. Gupta in a global search that lasted about two years. Did the board fail in hiring or in supporting their leader? The issue of board governance is at the core of this storm. Universities are built on a model of shared governance. They are disruptive institutions where academic freedom and questioning the status quo are a cornerstone of higher learning.

We need to support university leaders through turbulent times and improve governance models. We need to do a better job learning from leadership failures and building our universities to compete on the global stage. We can do better.



By Geordon Omand The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – The president of the University of British Columbia’s abrupt resignation so early into his first term amounts to a leadership crisis, says the head of the school’s faculty association.

In an open letter to faculty, Mark MacLean demanded the UBC board of governors explain why Arvind Gupta suddenly left the post late last week after little more than a year on the job.

“I am skeptical that the reason for it is simply that professor Gupta wishes to return to the life of a professor of computer science,” wrote MacLean, contradicting an explanation provided by the university on Friday.

Gupta took the helm at UBC to much fanfare last March, after UBC said a 22-member committee conducted an international search for the position.

“I believe Professor Gupta’s resignation represents a serious loss to UBC,” MacLean said.

“It certainly represents a failure point in the governance of the University. We need to understand this failure and the board must recognize that we cannot move on until we do.”

The university said in a news release that Gupta will return to his academic career as a computer science professor at UBC.

From 2000 to 2014, Gupta was also CEO and scientific director of Mitacs, a national Canadian not-for-profit research organization.

The university’s board of governors’ chairman John Montalbano said in Friday’s statement that Gupta developed a strategy to support diversity and under-represented groups, and improved access to mental-health services during his tenure as president.

Over the past decade in Canada, 18 university presidents either left or were pushed out of the position before their first terms had expired.

This trend of truncated terms is becoming increasing common, said Julie Cafley, vice-president at Canada’s Public Policy Forum. Cafley’s recent PhD dissertation focused on Canadian university presidents with unfinished mandates.

The phenomenon isn’t restricted to Canada, she added, pointing to the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom as other jurisdictions experiencing similar tendencies.

The impact on a university of such a departure is “absolutely huge,” she said, referencing both the considerable time and money invested in a new leader.

“There’s no question it takes a toll on a university,” said Cafley. “Obviously this is going to be difficult for UBC, but I think that with the leadership they have in place they’ll be able to advance beyond this as well.”

Former UBC president and vice-chancellor Martha Piper, who held the position from 1997 to 2006, will return to the role until a permanent replacement is found.



SIMONA CHIOSE - EDUCATION REPORTER The Globe and Mail Published Monday, Aug. 10, 2015 3:00AM EDT

The University of British Columbia will face increased scrutiny Monday, when the faculty association asks the school’s board of governors to explain the sudden resignation of university president Arvind Gupta on Friday.

Dr. Gupta began a five-year term in July, 2014, but the university announced late last week that he is stepping down.

A resignation so soon into a presidential term represents “a failure point in the governance of the university,” says a statement to the board by Mark MacLean, the president of the faculty association. Before beginning its search for another leader, the board must explain why Dr. Gupta turned out to be the wrong man for the job, says the statement, obtained by The Globe and Mail.

At a time that the school is battling to stop a years-long slide in international rankings and cope with provincial budget cuts, it will be without a permanent president until the fall of 2016. Dr. Gupta’s is not the only opening in the top ranks – other senior searches, including one for a provost, are ongoing. (A two-year interim provost is in place for now.)

The university can weather the uncertainty, said Martha Piper, who was president between 1997 and 2006, and will step in as interim leader on Sept. 1.

“I have every confidence that we have a great team and that we will be able to move a lot of the agendas forward that are in motion. If there are opportunities out there that can be seized upon … research opportunities, we will be there,” Dr. Piper said.

This fall, for example, the federal government is launching the second round of the Canada First Excellence Research Fund competition, with $1-billion in research money available.

Challenges at the top of Canadian universities are not uncommon. Over the past decade, 18 presidents left their posts before the end of their contract, said Julie Cafley, who completed her dissertation on university leadership this spring and is vice-president at the Public Policy Forum.

“One of the clear, strong factors for unfinished mandates is board relationships and board communication,” she said. “The academic enterprise is so complex and so challenging and a lot of external stakeholders don’t necessarily understand it.”

In addition, boards sometimes need to provide more guidance to presidents if they want them to succeed. “All of the presidents I talked to with unfinished mandates talked about a lack of disclosure of the issues that their university was facing that they weren’t aware of beforehand,” she said.

All of the presidents who resigned or were fired over the past decade also did not come from the school they led, Dr. Cafley added.

“Internal candidates, those who have gone up the ranks, do have a higher rate of success,” she said.

Dr. Gupta was chosen by a search committee led by Sarah Morgan-Silvester, the former chancellor, rather than John Montalbano, the current chair of the board of governors. While he was a computer science professor at UBC since 2009, Dr. Gupta did not have experience in university administration.

Since 2000, he had been CEO and scientific director of Mitacs, the national not-for-profit organization that links university researchers, government and industry, and his hiring signalled the importance UBC was placing on innovation. Mitacs has partnered tens of thousands of students and researchers with industry internships in Canada and globally.

During his one year as president, the university retooled and streamlined its athletics program, prioritized funding for academic faculties and worked on building international partnerships with India and China. It also saw the departure of several high-ranking administrators, including in communications and finance. Dr. Piper said that was to be expected.

“When a new president comes in, [turnover] is very common,” she said.

In April, in an interview with the Ubyssey, one of the university’s student papers, Dr. Gupta suggested he’d faced some challenges.

“I probably knew five per cent of the university and discovering the other 95 per cent has been really gratifying,” he said.


The Public Policy Forum wishes to congratulate our board member, Anne-Marie Hubert, on receiving this special academic distinction from Concordia University. 

Ms. Hubert has been Managing Partner of Advisory Services at Ernst & Young (EY) Canada and a member of the EY’s Executive Committee since 2009. She joined EY in 1985, climbing the ranks to become partner in 1998. She is a Member of the Board of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, which represents 60,000 Quebec businesses in the economic sector. Ms. Hubert also serves on the board the Public Policy Forum, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Société des célébrations du 375e anniversaire de Montréal. From 2002 to 2006, she led EY’s gender equity initiatives in Canada, making extensive efforts to advance women in business. In 2004, Ms. Hubert was named a Fellow of the Ordre des comptables agréés du Québec, which recognizes outstanding achievements in the profession.

Ms. Hubert graduated from University of Ottawa BA cum laude in Commerce in 1985 and earned her CA designation (now CPA) in 1987.

Anne-Marie Hubert


Published on: July 10, 2015

Many executives in the pool from which the next generation of Canada’s deputy ministers will be picked are too insular, change jobs too often and don’t have the skills and depth of experience for the top positions of the future, says a new University of Ottawa study.

The study, by former senior bureaucrat James Lahey and Mark Goldenberg at the Centre on Public Management and Policy, calls for a major rethink and “structural” overhaul of how senior talent is recruited, developed and managed to get the leaders needed to modernize the public service.

The pair examined the changing job of assistant deputy ministers, whose scope and authority have dramatically diminished over the past 25 years as power increasingly shifted to the Prime Minister’s Office and its bureaucratic arm, the Privy Council Office. The shift has left the once-powerful ADM job too “small and narrow” as a training ground for future top leaders. Many of today’s 400 ADMs find themselves doing work and vetting files once done a few layers below, with much of the authority bumped upstairs to the minister and deputy minister. They recommend fewer ADM jobs but say these jobs should be “bigger” — focused more on shaping and delivering change and less on process.

“ADMs used to own the business of the government. They were the ones who led and delivered on the key files. They were indispensable to setting and delivering on the policy agenda,” said one senior bureaucrat interviewed for the study.

“Today, ADMs are in danger of becoming no more than a glorified older executive assistant to the deputy (minister) … We have been forced to become form-fillers rather than decision-makers.”

The report also calls for fewer associate deputy ministers, associate assistant deputy ministers, directors general and other direct reports to ADMs and directors that have mushroomed over the past 25 years.

“The overall objective must be to achieve a de-layering and flattening of organization structures,” concluded the report. “To clarify roles and expectations and to position ADMs to lead in a more forceful way than at present. There would be larger ADM jobs and, over time, fewer ADMs.”

These conclusions are echoed by public administration expert Donald Savoie, who, in a new book, calls the public service a “big whale that can’t swim” because of too many management layers, oversight bodies and time spent churning out performance and accountability reports.

“The public service has to come clean, look at its organizations and say mea culpa,” said Savoie, of the University of Moncton. “There are a lot of things the public service can’t change, like the role of the Prime Minister’s Office, but what it can fix is the too many management layers.”

Lahey and Goldenberg tracked the profile and composition of ADMs over 25 years, from the 1980s to 2012. The authors conducted roundtable discussions and interviews with current and former deputy ministers, experts, and academics as well as officials in other levels of government, the private sector and the United Kingdom about their executives.

Canada’s public service has seven levels of executives. There are 6,500 executives at the first five levels (Ex 1-5) with associate deputy ministers and deputy ministers at the top of the heap.

The assistant deputy ministers – known as Ex 4s and Ex 5s – earn between $179,000 and $200,000 a year. About seven of them a year will be promoted into deputy minister ranks.

The role of ADMs became smaller as the executive cadre grew over the past 25 years. Executive numbers soared nearly 50 per cent in that period, outpacing 12-per-cent growth in the overall public service. The big surge came in the 2000s when the size of the bureaucracy grew 35 per cent. The number of ADMs shot up 49 per cent while the numbers of those at Ex 1 to 3 levels jumped 68 per cent. The number of deputy ministers, led by new associate deputy minister positions, increased 25 per cent over the past decade.

But the study shows the makeup of ADMs hasn’t changed much in the past quarter-century. They are older and include more women but their career paths are largely the same. They are almost exclusively recruited from the public service and rise through the ranks in the same department and in the same type of position. They typically work in the public service for 20 years, with 12 years as an executive in six different positions. They are pushing 50 years old when first promoted to ADM from within their departments. Most work the National Capital Region and nearly half work in programs, services and operations. About 15 per cent work in central agencies and 13 per cent are in corporate services. Only five per cent work in the regions where most services are delivered.

Once they have become ADMs, they tend to move from job to job and spend less than two years in a position. Most of those moves are within their own departments.

“ADMs move too much and don’t necessarily make the right moves. ADM churn needs slowing down. They are moving too frequently, and not always making the kinds of moves that can broaden and deepen their knowledge, experience and skills,” said Lahey.

“It is absolutely wrong to have ADMs who are generic managers divorced from policy and content. There has been a kind of managerialization of ADM jobs … bringing those jobs down below what they should be.”

The report offers five areas of reform to “raise the bar” for managing and recruiting these senior executives so they have more responsibility, experience, knowledge and leadership skills. It says future ADMs should be a strategic thinkers and visionary; should focus on results, effectiveness and economy; have strong interpersonal skills; and be able to work collaboratively.

Lahey said the overall executive cadre could be significantly cut but this must be managed slowly while targeting the talent in the lower executive levels to develop for the future. Slashing jobs to delayer is too disruptive; instead, the key is to figure out the roles and responsibilities for each level of management. This means adjusting the expectations of ministers and political staff – which could be tough in an era of mistrust between politicians and bureaucrats.

The report also urged bringing in new blood from outside the public service with external recruits accounting for up to 15 per cent of ADM appointees. It also suggests fast-tracking younger executives in their 30s and 40s so they become ADMs – and DMs – at a younger age and having them stay in the jobs longer before retiring.

The study also suggested ADMs stay in a position at least three years before moving to another. In fact, it argued that staying in the job, mastering it and leadership should be tied to performance pay.

By the numbers 

400: Current number of ADMs 
54: Average age of Ex-4s and Ex-5s 
20: Average years worked in the public service 
12: Years spent as executive before promoted to ADM 
40: Percentage of ADMS who are women 
50: Percentage who held three of their last four jobs in the same department 
87: Percentage of ADMs in the National Capital Region 
42: Percentage of ADMs who work in programs, services or operations 
15: Percentage of ADMs who work in central agencies 
8: Percentage working in policy
3: Percentage working in communications 

7: Average number who get promoted to deputy minister annually 
10: Percentage who retire each year 
59: Average age at retirement



Almost one-third of Canada’s federal executives, who are expected to lead the modernization of the public service, are actively disengaged or have “mentally checked out,” says a report by the association representing executives.

The Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) commissioned a white paper to examine what makes executives committed to the job, after its 2012 health study indicated that the level of disengagement among executives was on the rise and higher than the average in the private sector.

The survey found 68 per cent — slightly more than two-thirds — are engaged but the level of engagement has fallen over the years. “Engagement” is an indicator of how well a person is connecting with their work and consequently how able that person is to deal with the demands of the job.

“Reform of the public service will require the full commitment and engagement of executives,” said Lisanne Lacroix, APEX’s chief executive officer. “The degree to which they rise to the challenge will depend, in large part, on their state of health, which will largely be determined by the quality of the work environment.”

The engagement paper is among three white papers APEX has commissioned since the association’s health and work surveys revealed issues in the workplace that are affecting the productivity, performance and loyalty of the 6,400 executives in the public service.

We wanted to not simply raise problem areas but do our part to offer solutions that can be implemented at the individual, team and organizational levels,” said Lacroix.

The white paper, written by leadership consultant Craig Dowden, provided an overview of the major research into engagement, as well as ways to solve and prevent disengagement.

The findings will be part of a compendium of “best practices” for a joint union-management task force that’s trying to understand what’s making the public service an unhealthy workplace. APEX has a seat on that task force, whose first report is expected in September.

Gallup estimates disengaged employees cost U.S. employers up to $550 billion a year. The disengaged tend to kill time and count the days to their next holiday or retirement. They no longer care if the organization meets its goals and priorities.

Dowden said research shows the unhappiness of the disengaged can spread and have a damaging impact on colleagues. They can derail a project or reforms by not putting in effort, or dismissing a change as “I’ve seen this all before.” This could be particularly problematic for public servants who have lived through many attempts at reforming the workplace.

Dowden said they are also at risk of “presenteeism”: physically going to the office but having mentally checked out. Studies have shown that even engaged employees lose about 7.6 days a year to presenteeism — but the disengaged lose twice that.

Dowden said the problem is that “actively disengaged” employees aren’t just unhappy at work but often act out their unhappiness by working against the organization that employs them.

“Given the importance of executives in bringing out the best out of their teams, one can easily see how actively disengaged leaders represent a major problem,” he said.

APEX’s survey found half of all executives think about leaving their job once a month or more frequently, another sign of disengagement. They are also more likely to move when faced with “positive pulls” such as better opportunities elsewhere, rather than negative “pushes” such as undesirable working conditions.

Dowden said the key drivers for engaged employees include making progress, meaningful work or purpose, autonomy in what they do, and being permitted to use their personal strengths.

A Harvard study that tracked hundreds of knowledge workers found that making progress was the top contributor to performance. Motivation plummeted if they felt like they were spinning their wheels or hitting roadblocks in moving their work forward.

Studies show those who do whatever they can to remove obstacles for employees have highly motivated staff — a phenomenon whose importance is typically underestimated by leaders, according to Dowden.

Dowden said people want to feel like they are making a meaningful contribution and, as long as they are fairly paid, will go the extra mile. The public service historically attracted people who wanted to make a difference, so they came to the job with a strong sense of purpose.

“Leaders and executives in an organization very much want to live their values and when they perceive gaps … or disconnect between values and purpose, that can be incredibly challenging to work through.”

Dowden said autonomy is another key driver of engagement and motivation. In the majority of organizations, executives have the most autonomy, with more control the higher up the chain they move. APEX’s surveys, however, show executives often feel they have little authority and are micromanaged. Surveys found executives feel this lack of control regardless of level, whether Ex 1 or Ex 5.

Autonomy comes almost entirely from the culture created by the direct supervisor. Those who don’t micro-manage and who give workers the freedom to work on projects in the way that suits them — while still being accountable — get the best results.

There are two kinds of micromanagers. The perfectionist — à la Steve Jobs — who have high standards and like control over the projects for which they are responsible.

The more toxic micromanager seems to have a need for people to know who is charge, gives little autonomy to direct reports, doesn’t accept feedback and gets involved in the minutiae of a project.

The 2014 public service survey gives mixed messages on this front. Generally, employees — including 84 per cent of executives — are satisfied with their direct supervisors and feel they can count on them. They aren’t as positive about senior management, especially when it comes to making “timely and effective” decisions and ensuring critical information flows down to staff.

But Dowden said so much about leadership and management comes down to trust.

The Conservatives have made little secret of their distrust of the public service. Experts, including the Public Policy Forum, have cited the “trust gap” between politicians and public servants as the biggest challenge facing the next generation of leaders.

APEX has also flagged its concern about this relationship and the need to improve “understanding” between the two.

The lack of trust, coupled with the concentration of power and decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, has intensified the lack of control and authority many executives complain about today.


From the Forest Products Association of Canada blog

by Julie Cafley, Vice-President, Canada's Public Policy Forum

As vice-president of Canada’s Public Policy Forum, I have the privilege of working with and learning from Canada’s most prominent thought leaders. My work with Forum often centers on Indigenous issues and Canadian natural resources.

Canada has a proud history of protecting its forest resources. Since the late 1800s, Canada has created precedent-setting forest policy that broadly influences the governance for all of Canada’s natural resources. Beginning in 1887, when Canada amended the Land Act, the country formally acknowledged land as more valuable than its timber alone. As part of this amendment, government introduced a duty on logging Crown land. Shift to present day, where the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) program has been renewed for another four years. It is clear that Canadian policy has long facilitated the sustainability and competitiveness of the forest sector, but Canada’s public has an equally rich history in defending forests for their beauty, majesty and history.

It’s rare now for government to set policy alone. More often, a diverse group of stakeholders will work together to decide how to best use Canada’s resources, including our forests. The 2010 Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) was the first of its kind to formally partner environmental groups with industry. Since its inception, the CBFA has prioritized the integration of First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups into its processes and planning. Consultation and accommodation are now commonly considered fundamental and valuable aspects of decision-making. At the Public Policy Forum, our expertise also lies in convening diverse stakeholders to discuss policy issues that are important for Canadians. At the heart of this work lies the belief that divergent perspectives can create more robust solutions for the challenges we face.

At a recent Forum discussion, we were fortunate to hear from Anne Giardini, the former President of Weyerhaeuser Canada and current Chancellor of Simon Fraser University. She emphasized how unconventional partnerships often offer the greatest rewards. She explained, “The real problem is not usually the ostensible problem … the far greater challenge is the inability of organizations to resolve problems when the solution requires engaging with other parties who see the world differently.” I would like to think that both the Public Policy Forum and the forestry industry approaches these challenges as opportunities that enhance our work and our outcomes.

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