November 2018

Welcome to the November 2018 issue of Letter to the Board, a regular communication from myself to members of the UBC Board of Governors, issued in advance of regular meetings of the Board.


Strategic Plan
Earlier this month, I hosted a roundtable discussion with prominent UBC supporters, alumni, and community leaders to discuss the new strategic plan, UBC’s Next Century. We will be holding other consultations with members of the UBC community over the next few months as we begin to implement the plan. We will be guided by a newly formed group – the Strategic Plan Implementation Advisory Committee – that is broadly representative of the UBC Community, with representation from the Board, the Senate, faculty, students, alumni, staff, faculty administrators, and union representation. This group will provide ongoing advice to the Executive on the priority areas for implementation, and the processes for moving from strategic direction to implementation. They will be informed through their own networks, as well as other forms of input such as surveys and community pulse checks

International Connections
On October 5, I  represented UBC at the installation of Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow. I then travelled to Germany, signing or re-signing agreements with Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, the University of Stuttgart, the Max Planck Institute, and the University of Augsburg. I then travelled to England, meeting with UBC alumni and donors, and talking to students, faculty and administrators (including University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope) at Cambridge and Oxford Universities.

Next month, I will be travelling to Asia on behalf of UBC, engaging with donors and alumni in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing and meeting with colleagues in Chongqing and Nanjing.

Municipal Elections
Following October’s municipal elections, I have wasted no time in reaching out to the newly elected officials. I had a productive and friendly conversation with Vancouver’s new mayor, Kennedy Stewart, shortly after his swearing-in. I look forward to a collaborative relationship with him and Vancouver City Council on such issues as transit and housing. I also look forward to continuing our good relations with Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and his council.

Canada Research Chairs
Recently, the Government of Canada invested over $156 million for 187 new and renewed Canada Research Chairs at 49 institutions across Canada. UBC was awarded 23 new and renewed Canada Research Chairs and University of Toronto received 21, as the top two recipients of this investment in Canada’s universities. UBC also was the number one recipient in the number of Canada 150 Chairs, a new program to recruit leading faculty to Canada from elsewhere in the world. We are grateful for this major investment in our professoriate.

Emeriti College
I am delighted to tell you that the UBC Emeritus College has been established, the first such college in Canada. The Emeritus College at UBC will support UBC Emeriti to continue their contributions to the academic mission of the university. It will also ensure emeriti remain an integral part of the UBC community, with links to their academic departments and faculties that are mutually beneficial. Find out more.

Vice-Presidential Searches
We are close to announcing a new vice-president, students. I look forward to sharing the news of this appointment with you shortly. The search for a new vice-president, external relations is also proceeding smoothly and we expect to announce a successful candidate early in the New Year. I would also like to say farewell to Philip Steenkamp, who has given outstanding service to UBC during the four years as Vice-President, External Relations. I wish him all the best as he embarks on his new role as President and Vice-Chancellor of Royal Roads University.

Indigenous Relations
On November 7, I met with members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. It was the first meeting of the committee since the appointments of Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot as Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs, Dr. Margaret Moss as Director of the First Nations House of Learning, and Dr. Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond as Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

The meeting provided committee members with the opportunity to get better acquainted with Drs. Lightfoot, Moss and Turpel-Lafond, their individual and collective roles as members of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Leadership Team, and provided an opportunity to discuss UBC’s strategic directions and the PAC’s terms of reference. The PAC also offered helpful suggestions on ways UBC can explore deeper engagement with Indigenous communities and advance UBC’s recognition of Indigenous ways of knowing.

Honorary Degrees
Last month, UBC and Simon Fraser University presented His Highness the Aga Khan with a joint honorary doctorate of laws degree at a special ceremony—the first joint honorary degree conferred by the two universities together, in recognition of the Aga Khan’s lifelong service to humanity.

In a few days, UBC will award honorary degrees to Kim Cattrall, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Peter Trudgill at the Fall Graduation Ceremonies. We will also be conveying degrees to thousands of UBC students at eight ceremonies at the Chan Centre from November 28 to 30. I invite all board members to join me at one or more ceremonies and share in the joy of the new graduates and their families.

Blue and Goldcast
In September, I launched a new communications initiative, a monthly podcast cohosted by Jennifer Gardy, an assistant professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. The podcast, called the Blue & Goldcast, features UBC faculty and students discussing issues related to higher education. We’ve released three episodes so far, on topics such as indigenous ways of knowledge, artificial intelligence and sports-related concussions. Please have a listen at I welcome your suggestions for future topics and guests.

Blue and Gold Campaign Update
Speaking of Blue and Gold, I am happy to note that the Blue and Gold campaign has raised close to $51 million, from 15,000 individual gifts. My thanks to everyone who has stepped up to provide financial support to UBC students.

UBC Connects
I’m sure many of you attended the fourth UBC Connects public lecture last week, with internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende. Ms. Allende’s talk concludes the first season of UBC Connects, which also featured talks by Jeremy Rifkin, Waneek Horn-Miller and Michio Kaku. I’m looking forward to the next season, beginning next year.

Academic All-Canadians
This month, I had the pleasure of attending the Academic All-Canadian Breakfast of Champions. This annual event celebrates the academic achievements of our Thunderbird varsity student athletes. To be honoured at the breakfast, student athletes must have achieved an average of 80% or higher in the 2017/18 academic year while participating in their sport. Balancing academics and athletics and excelling at both takes dedication and character just as much as it takes talent. Last year was indeed an outstanding one for UBC’s Thunderbirds and Heat teams, and we can indeed be proud of our athletes.

Performance Measures
I’m pleased to report that the Province of British Columbia has found that UBC has achieved or exceeded its performance measures for the 2017/18 reporting cycle. I’m grateful to all of UBC’s faculty, staff and students who made this possible.

American Council on Education
I’m very proud to have been invited, together with Rice University President David Leebron, to speak at the 2019 American Council on Education’s 101st Annual Meeting on “Strategic Planning Implementation: Innovations and Best Practices” in March 2019. It’s a real honour for UBC to be flagged by the Council as an exemplar in higher education.

Prof. Santa J. Ono

President and Vice-Chancellor.