April 2020



Welcome to the April 2020 issue of Letter to the Board, a regular communication to members of the UBC Board of Governors. Naturally, most of our attention – along with the rest of the world – has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. In this newsletter I will give a brief summary of the most significant COVID-19 developments, as well as other news from UBC.


  • Term 1 of Summer Session (running May 11 – June 18) at UBC Vancouver, UBC Okanagan and UBC Robson Square will be online. The Summer Session for Vantage One (Arts, Science and Engineering) programs will also be online. Planning is also underway for the possibility that Term 2 of Summer Session (July 6 – Aug. 13) may need to go online.
  • In-person Spring graduation ceremonies have been postponed. We are planning a virtual graduation event, as well as an in-person event, once it is safe to do so.
  • Remote Work Arrangements are in place for faculty, staff, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and student employees who are able to work remotely.
  • On-campus research activities (with some exceptions) have been curtailed.
  • All UBC Library branches have been closed.
  • We launched the Student Emergency appeal. Both the President’s Emergency Student Fund for students in Vancouver, and the A.W. Hunt, QC Student Emergency Assistance Fund for students in the Okanagan, are available year-round for those who require temporary financial relief. If you wish to support this fund, please go to support.ubc.ca/projects/students-during-covid19/.
  • UBC research teams have received $5.1 million in funding for COVID-19 related research. Already, this research is bearing fruit as an international team led by UBC’s Dr. Josef Penninger found a phase 3 clinical trial drug that effectively blocks the cellular door that the virus that causes COVID-19, uses to infect its hosts.
  • We are launching a new website highlighting COVID-19 research underway at UBC, covid19.research.ubc.ca. The site will help our own research community understand the range of activities going on and find collaborators and also provides a centralized point for researchers to  connect with national resources, initiatives, funding and support.
  • I have been amazed and humbled by the response of the UBC community in rising to the COVID-19 challenge. My thanks to members of the Board, to the faculty, students and staff, to our friends, neighbour and supporters, for your patience, your hard work and your empathy to each other. UBC is in good shape because all of you have stepped up to have the University continue its teaching, its research, its learning and its operations.
  • For the latest information about UBC and COVID-19, see covid19.ubc.ca and ok.ubc.ca/covid19/.

Development and Alumni Engagement Results

This past fiscal year, which ended on March 31st, donors gave more than $215M to students, research, teaching and learning. And more than 78,000 alumni engaged with the university.

Even in these difficult times, donors and alumni continue to give and give-back to UBC in the most generous ways in support of student emergency funding and to accelerate research for COVID-19.

I would like to thank our generous donors and engaged alumni for their vital support.

UBC among world’s best in QS World University Rankings

The prestigious QS World University Subject Rankings were released last month and I’m proud to say that the University of British Columbia has shown a remarkable upward trajectory in the rankings over the past three years.

This upward trajectory – which has resulted in UBC placing in the top 25 universities globally in 13 subjects and in the top 50 in 36 subject areas in the QS rankings – comes at a time when many North American universities have been losing ground in international rankings. Our results are thanks to the hard work, talent and dedication of our research and teaching faculty, students, administrators and staff. This success would not have been possible without the investments made in UBC by government, and support from donors, alumni and friends of the university.


Appointment of new Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBC Okanagan

I look forward to welcoming Lesley Cormack as the new Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBC Okanagan on July 1, 2020.

Professor Cormack joins UBC from the University of Alberta, where she has been Dean of the Faculty of Arts since 2010. She is an historian of early modern science, specializing in geography and mathematics in 16th-century England. With her strong academic background, proven leadership and outstanding experience, I have no doubt that she will bring thoughtful and dynamic direction to UBCO.

I would like to thank Professor Deborah Buszard for her leadership as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal over the past eight years. We will have the opportunity to thank her more properly at the June Board meeting.

Two UBC Recipients of 3M National Teaching Fellowships

Two of the 10 recipients of the 2020 3M National Teaching Fellowships – Canada’s most prestigious teaching award – are from UBC. Paul Cubbon of the Sauder School of Business and Tiffany Potter of the Department of English in the Faculty of Arts, were recognized for their exceptional contributions to teaching and learning in Canadian post-secondary education. UBC is proud of both of them.

News from the Faculties

Faculty of Medicine: An international research team, led by Dr. Weihong Song has—for the first time—identified a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. ∙ Researchers Drs. Poul Sorensen and Mads Daugaard were awarded more than $1M to tackle Ewing sarcoma, an aggressive bone and soft tissue cancer in children and young adults. ∙ Dr. Deborah Money was awarded the Red Ribbon Award from AIDS Vancouver in recognition of her years of work and dedication supporting people living with HIV/AIDS and Dr. Michael Lawbecame the inaugural recipient of Harvard School of Medicine’s Aaka Pande and Sumit Majumdar Memorial Award, which recognizes the talents of outstanding research fellows who are making significant contributions to constructive health policy dialogue.

Sauder School of Business: The Creative Destruction Lab-West’s objectives-based program is pivoting to help provide an effective response to the global COVID-19 crisis. CDL Recovery will work to transform technological innovations into useful products and services in the areas of public health and economic recovery. CDL Recovery will be focused on contributing to crisis response where highly skilled teams will provide their expertise to quickly scale up much needed innovations in the fight against COVID-19.

UBC Okanagan: Dr. Peter J. Simpson will assume a five-year appointment as the Dean, College of Graduate Studies. Dr. Simpson joins UBC Okanagan after serving two consecutive terms at Western University, as Associate Vice-Provost, School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Dr. Simpson brings with him a diverse range of experience that includes collective bargaining, international graduate studies partnerships, strategic graduate student recruitment and policy development in support of Indigenous students and scholarship.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments on this newsletter. I look forward to seeing you (virtually) at the full meeting of the Board on April 16.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor