June 2020 Newsletter


Welcome to the June 2020 issue of Letter from Santa, a regular communication to members of the UBC community. Over the past few weeks, our attention has been focused on anti-racism and the COVID-19 pandemic. In this newsletter I will address both of these as well as other news from UBC.


COVID-19 and UBC

  • Post-secondary institutions have been identified as a component of Phase 3 of the provincial reopening plans, which will take place between June and September, if transmission rates remain low. The final phase will be reached at the time when there is wide vaccination, community immunity, or broad successful treatments for COVID-19.
  • The provincial government is working with representatives from various sectors to develop the health and safety measures that will need to be in place before moving to the next reopening phase. In parallel with these sector plans, UBC is developing an operational safety plan and approval process that Faculties and administrative units will be required to complete before any changes can be made to the remote work arrangements currently in place.
  • During fall 2020, UBC will primarily offer larger classes online with selected smaller classes conducted in-person, adhering to physical distancing and other public health requirements. We will maintain a clear focus on ensuring high-quality face-to-face instruction, where possible, and high-quality remote instruction. Individual Faculties will be sharing updates about specific programs in the coming weeks.
  • In collaboration with our Faculties, this month we began the phased resumption of on-campus research, adopting a gradual approach over the summer months. Conducting on-campus research and scholarship will be limited to those who require on-campus resources and cannot conduct this work remotely. As a reminder, and in keeping with public health guidelines, the majority of our faculty and staff will need to continue working remotely, wherever possible.
  • I have been providing weekly video updates to the university community on UBC’s response to COVID-19. These updates are posted every Friday to my webpage, as well as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram in order to reach as many students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of UBC as possible. Please see president.ubc.ca/covid-19/ to view past updates.
  • I would like to once again express my admiration to the way the entire UBC community has pulled together during this crisis. Many people have worked long hours to ensure that UBC continues to function and pursue its teaching, research and public service missions while adhering to health and safety guidelines. Thank you, everyone.

Systemic Racism

Earlier this month, I issued a Statement on Racism and Injustice regarding our commitment to design and implement a comprehensive set of steps to actively combat racism at our university and beyond. Recent events, including the incident involving a UBC graduate student, have brought to light the pervasiveness of systemic racism, and in particular anti-Black racism.

As a university, we need to make it crystal clear that racism and bias have no place in our community and that we have zero tolerance for it.

I have called for an investigation under Policy SC7: Discrimination of the incident with the graduate student. I have also asked for an external review of Campus Security including incidents, policies (and their application), practises and training to ensure that racialized members of our community are treated equally to all other members of our community. This will include a consideration of the role and tenor of other organizations that also provide campus security, including the RCMP.

Also, after consultation with the UBC Black Caucus, Indigenous and Asian groups, as well as other marginalized communities, I will establish an advisory committee on systemic racism. For more information about the consultations and the advisory committee, please see my Letter to the Community.


Virtual Graduation

Yesterday, June 17, we held two virtual graduation ceremonies, one for UBC Vancouver campus graduates at 9:30 a.m. and one for UBC Okanagan graduates at 2:30 p.m. This virtual ceremony celebrated the very real accomplishments of UBC graduates and included a keynote speech by Rick Mercer and video messages from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Advanced Education Melanie Mark.

I hope you were able to attend one or event both of the ceremonies and celebrated our amazing graduating class. If not, you can revisit it at virtual graduation.ubc.ca.


Farewell Lindsay Gordon; Welcome Steven Lewis Point

I’m delighted to welcome the Honourable Steven Lewis Point as UBC’s 19th Chancellor. I’d also like to say farewell and thank you to Lindsay Gordon, who has served as Chancellor with great distinction for the past six years.

Mr. Point, who assumes his role on July 1, is not only a UBC graduate and honourary degree recipient, he is the former Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. He is a member of the Skowkale First Nation and has advocated for Indigenous people throughout his career, pressing for greater recognition of their contributions and their fuller involvement in all aspects of life in British Columbia.

In the four years I’ve been president and vice-chancellor, I’ve come to rely on Lindsay Gordon’s wisdom and advice, and I consider him a friend. Together, we’ve conferred degrees on tens of thousands of UBC students at graduation ceremonies at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan. I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to him for being an exceptional leader and ambassador for UBC since 2014. His work will continue to positively impact the university for years to come.


UBC plans downtown Kelowna project

UBC and the City of Kelowna have unveiled plans for a mixed-use development featuring community-facing academic space, office space and university rental housing.

This project demonstrates UBC’s commitment to the future of the Okanagan and the Interior region of BC while creating new opportunities and ways for students and community partners to access all that UBC has to offer.

More information about the project can be found here.

Rankings Successes

I’m proud that UBC placed 45th in the world in the QS World University Rankings, up from 51st last year. This places UBC among the top 4 percent of universities worldwide. This ranking reflects the quality of our teaching and research faculty, our students, and our staff.

UBC also continues to excel in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, placing first in Canada and seventh globally out of more than 850 participating institutions from 89 countries across six continents.

The rankings, inaugurated in 2019, measure universities’ overall impact through their work in meeting the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals. In addition to its overall ranking, UBC placed first in two separate goals—for conserving life under water by protecting marine habitats, and for taking action to mitigate climate change—the only university to rank first in more than one goal. UBC also placed third for promoting life on land through sustainable management of forests and related ecosystems.

The Financial Times Global Executive Education Rankings for 2020 named the UBC Sauder School of Business among the world’s leading executive education providers. For the ninth consecutive year, the Executive Education Open Enrolment program was ranked as one of the best professional development programs for managers and senior leaders, placing 14th in North America. In its third year in consideration, the school’s custom program – which involves tailor-made courses for corporate customers – was ranked 22nd in North America.


News from around UBC

Alma Mater Society: The AMS has named Dr. Jo-Ann Archibald its 2020 Great Trekker recipient for her incredible impact in the field of Indigenous education through curriculum development, teaching and research. The award  is presented each year to an alumnus or alumnae who have made unique contributions to the UBC and wider community. It was first established in 1950 to commemorate the Great Trek of October 28, 1922, when UBC students marched to pressure the government to complete work on the Point Grey campus. You can read more about Dr. Archibald here.

Faculty of Applied Science: Researchers in the BioProducts Institute have designed what could be the very first N95 mask that can be sourced and made entirely in Canada. It’s also possibly the world’s first fully compostable and biodegradable medical mask. • A UBC student team placed 1st in the Smart Cities category of Microsoft Canada’s “Discover AI” Challenge, ahead of 114 other teams. The Flora team won for their waste collection optimization solution, integrating both a device that can measure the fill level of a garbage bin and an online analytics dashboard.

Faculty of Arts: Shaylih Muehlmann, Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Shannon Walsh, Associate Professor of Film Production, are among the 175 scholars, artists, scientists, and writers who won prestigious Guggenheim fellowships this year. The fellowships are awarded to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the Arts. • The Department of Sociology announced the launch of a new course on COVID-19 & Society for summer term two. The course will invite students to consider how pandemics inform social inequality, interpersonal interaction, and societal change.

Faculty of Education: Beginning July 6th, Dr. Bathseba Opini, recognized for her scholarly leadership in the field of anti-racism, will teach a fully subscribed course entitled Anti-Racist Education, focusing on the theory, practice and implementation of anti-racist education in educational contests. The course examines how race and racism affect racialized and Indigenous people in education, and especially in K-12 and post-secondary institutions.

Faculty of Forestry: Faculty member, and Canada Research Chair in Remote Sensing (I), Nicholas Coops was awarded the Marcus Wallenberg Prize this year along with two colleagues.  Considered the “Nobel Prize of the forest sector,”  Dr. Coops received the prize for his work in satellite imagery analysis on an open-source model housed at UBC.  With this distinction, UBC is the top-ranking institution on the globe in terms of the number of prizes received in the 40-year history of the Marcus Wallenberg Prize.. Click here to read more. • The Faculty approved the formation of an Equity Diversity and Inclusion Council in late 2019 which got up and running early 2020. They will be working with the existing Forestry Diversity Crew, the Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and the rest of the faculty.

Faculty of Medicine: Drs. Elizabeth Rideout, Wendy Robinson and Kate Shannon have been named CIHR Sex and Gender Science Chairs, to support in-depth investigations in the field of sex and gender science to deepen society’s understanding of how biological and social influences interact to affect health and disease. • The latest edition of the Faculty of Medicine’s digital magazine Pathways, is dedicated to supporting and empowering seniors, along with their families and caregivers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Earlier this month, pharmacists from the UBC Pharmacists Clinic hosted a webinar sharing their experiences with providing virtual patient care. A recording of the webinar is now available to watch on YouTube.

UBC Sauder School of Business: UBC Sauder and Mitacs have partnered on a new student employment opportunity called the Mitacs Business Strategy Internship. UBC Sauder is the pilot school in a network of Canadian business schools that will match skilled undergraduate and graduate students with four-month internships in small to medium-sized businesses and not-for-profit organizations across Canada.

UBC Okanagan:  In conjunction with the UBC Sustainability Scholars Program, Campus Health is working on a project titled: Envisioning a Physical Food Hub at UBCO. This project addresses growing levels of food insecurity among students at UBCO: over 40 per cent of UBCO students experience food insecurity. And its goal is to develop a proposal to create a campus space that provides programs and services to support food security at UBCO. • Dr. Gino DiLabio has accepted an extension as Dean pro tem of the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC Okanagan. Dr. DiLabio’s initial pro tem appointment will conclude June 30; the extended term will begin July 1 and end no later than December 31, 2020. As of July 1, 2020, the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, will emerge as separate Faculties. The university is currently actively engaged in the recruitment of the inaugural Deans.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments on this newsletter. Have a great summer, everyone.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor