Last week, I provided the following update on UBC’s Strategic Plan, Shaping UBC’s Next Century, to the Board of Governors:
Shaping UBC’s Next Century is UBC’s roadmap, setting our collective vision, purpose, goals and strategies for the years ahead.
Since the plan’s launch in April 2018, I’m pleased to say we have made great progress – which I’d like to share with you briefly. Even in a time of challenges, we have accomplished an incredible amount by allocating and reallocating our resources, both people and financial, through a strategic lens. I just want to take the opportunity to extend my thanks; first to the board for their support of this over the past almost six years when it was being developed, and over the past four years of implementation, and also to all the students, staff and faculty who made this possible.
I’m excited to see such strong collaborations and so many new opportunities being created across UBC, as we work to advance our shared goals.
In providing an overview, I’d like to share with you very briefly how UBC is advancing the strategic plan. I’m only going to give you the highlights. You can find more details at strategicplan.ubc.ca.
In addition to advancing our core academic mission of continued excellence in teaching, learning and research, UBC’s six institutional priorities continue to be:
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion;
- Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation;
- Climate Change;
- The COVID-19 response;
- Operational Efficiency; and
- The President’s Academic Excellence Initiative
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
The ongoing anti-Black, anti-Asian, and anti-Indigenous racism and violence that we have seen in communities across North America has focused attention on deeply rooted racism in Canada and globally. UBC itself is not immune to racism and inequity.
Since October 2020, we have launched a series of initiatives addressing systemic racism within our community. I appointed Dr. Ainsley Carry, Vice-President Students, and Dr. Ananya Mukherjee Reed, former Provost at UBC Okanagan, as the Executive Co-Leads of Anti-Racism. Following Dr. Murkherjee Reed’s departure from the university earlier this year, Dr. Rehan Sadiq, Provost pro tem at UBCO, has joined Dr. Carry as Executive Co-Lead.
In March 2021, I asked key members of the UBC community to form a task force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence. The Task Force has been led by two co-chairs: Dr. Handel Wright, Senior Advisor to the President on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence, and Dr. Shirley Chau, Associate Professor of Social Work at UBC Okanagan. The task force consists of 34 members drawn from faculty, students and staff from UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan. It comprises six committees organized according to equity-deserving group (Indigenous, Black, People of Colour) and relationship to university (students, staff, faculty).
A great deal of emotional labour has gone into this work. Task force members – students, staff and faculty of UBC – have worked through the very difficult moments of the discovery of unmarked graves in many parts of Canada, the continuing instances of anti-Black racism, including painful markers such as the anniversary of killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many others, horrific instances of anti-Asian racism, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and others.
The task force’s six committees have put forward 54 recommendations. Collectively, these recommendations underscore the reality that UBC, like any other Canadian institution of higher learning, has a deep-seated problem of institutionalized, systemic and other forms of racism that cut across its various units on both campuses, and affects Indigenous and racialized students, staff and faculty.
Seven recommendations have been identified for the first phase of the implementation, which include:
- the need for sustained Anti-Racism training and education;
- increasing recruitment and retention of Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) Faculty; and
- improving Black student mental health and wellness, among others.
The task force’s full report will be available later this spring, and I look forward to working with all groups across campus to build a more inclusive university community.
In addition to the work underway with ARIE, in June 2021, I convened the National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism. The Forum aimed to facilitate candid conversations to formulate directions for future action.
The Forum was held online June 10 and 11, and a separate Student Dialogue was held online on June 18. The Forum involved 126 panelists and over 2,100 participants from across Canada. A report was produced with the themes and findings from the forum, and is the first step in our collective work to combat anti-Asian racism.
The key takeaways and guiding directions identified throughout the report can help chart a path ahead so that all Canadians feel empowered and supported to actively participate in combatting anti-Asian racism.
There are other programs and funding available to support initiatives that are making UBC a more inclusive and welcoming place.
UBC is participating in a pilot project of the federal Dimensions program, which seeks to identify and eliminate systemic obstacles and inequities for marginalized and under-represented people in research. The UBC Dimensions pilot project is co-led by the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and UBC’s Equity & Inclusion Office.
There are a number of funding opportunities that focus on supporting EDI initiatives:
- UBC’s Anti-Racism Initiatives Fund, established in 2021, supports initiatives that seek to celebrate and elevate diverse communities and advance anti-racism efforts at the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.
- The Equity Enhancement Fund supports community-based initiatives that enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion at UBCV and UBCO.
- The Experience UBCO Access Excellence Fund supports faculty and staff in developing new initiatives aimed at increasing access and participation in post-secondary education for underrepresented and equity-deserving students.
- The Intercultural Excellence Fund provides grants for academic units and departments to develop or grow initiatives that focus on intercultural learning and experiences that bridge cultures.
There are also many initiatives under way at the Faculty level and within portfolios such as VP Students and VP Human Resources. You can learn more about these initiatives and others at antiracism.ubc.ca.
Indigenous Engagement & Reconciliation
UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan, launched in 2020, outlines eight goals and 43 actions the university will collectively take to advance its vision of UBC as a leading university globally in the implementation of Indigenous peoples’ human rights.
The Office of Indigenous Strategic Initiatives (OISI) was created in February 2021 to coordinate the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan across both campuses at UBC, by providing guidance to Faculties, departments, operational units and student groups.
The office is led by Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot, Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs, and Co-chair of the Indigenous Strategic Plan Executive Advisory Committee; as well as Vicki George, OISI Associate Director.
The Indigenous Strategic Initiatives (ISI) Fund has completed adjudication of the letter of intent phase for Streams 1 & 2, with full applications due in June.
ISI received 87 total applications with an overall budget request exceeding $8.6-million, with only $4-million to distribute this year. All proposals were worthy of advancement; I look forward to seeing the recommendations that will be put forward by the adjudication committee.
There are 34 ISI Fund adjudicators – UBC faculty, staff, students and community members with representation from both campuses, with over 80 percent of ISI adjudicators self-identifying as Indigenous, with about half of the adjudicators coming from BC Nations. The adjudicators have expertise in diverse areas such as university administration, Indigenous research, student services, curriculum development, community engagement, and more.
The ISI Fund enacts the values and principles of the Indigenous Strategic Plan – the fund is the first of its kind, an Indigenous-led fund for Indigenous-focused projects.
- 18 percent of the proposals to Streams 1 and 2 are from UBC’s Okanagan campus
- Stream 3 is an envelope specifically for student-led projects
- Many proposals to Streams 1 and 2 have connections to the Deans’ offices
- Notably, many proposals received are from areas in STEM, education, and medicine.
On December 8, 2021, the Tŝilhqot’in National Government and UBC signed a memorandum of understanding to demonstrate our joint commitments to respectful and reciprocal research relationships in recognition of Indigenous self-determination, and in the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the advancement of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan.
At UBCO, the Bachelor of NsyilxcnLanguage Fluency program, created in collaboration with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology and the En’owkin Centre, is designed to work closely with the community to provide a comprehensive and high-quality education in Nsyilxcn — the language spoken by members of the Syilx Okanagan Nation — and to promote new, fluent speakers with a deep understanding of the language, culture, and customs. UBC Okanagan is the first in Canada and one of the first in the world to offer a degree program in an Indigenous language.
Again, there are many initiatives under way at the Faculty level and within administrative units as well. Please see indigenous.ubc.ca for more details.
At UBC, climate emergency remains a key priority. Some highlights of the actions undertaken over the last year:
- I led meetings of like-minded university presidents through the University Climate Coalition (UC3) and unveiled an ambitious UC3 Climate Fellows program.
- Students mobilized to create a $1.5-million Climate Emergency Fund to accelerate progress on recommendations from the Climate Emergency Task Force report.
- Climate education offerings grew, with new grant programs, an online collection of climate course listings, a new climate change guest lecture program, and increased free-access public education on climate justice.
The Climate Action Plan 2030, which came to this Board in December 2021, outlines an ambitious path of GHG emission reductions for each campus, with bold actions including district energy decarbonization and building retrofits, while also providing opportunities for teaching, learning and research through Campus as Living Lab initiatives that address the climate imperative. CAP 2030 will also consider the inequitable impacts of climate change and subsequent responses on marginalized communities, including an understanding that the ability to partake in sustainable actions can be constrained by a lack of privilege and inequality.
UBC has committed to – and is now implementing – a comprehensive responsible investing framework that includes divestment from fossil fuels, a 45% reduction in portfolio carbon emissions by 2030 together with advocacy, stewardship and engagement. Since the beginning of 2020 to December 31, 2021, UBC has transitioned $214-million to fossil-fuel-free or low carbon investments (over 20% of our public equity holdings), and currently only 1.4% of the endowment is estimated to be exposed to fossil fuel investments. This has resulted in the portfolio carbon emissions, as measured by portfolio carbon intensity, to be 30% lower and well on track to meet the 2030 target.
Moving ahead with the Climate Emergency strategic priorities and recommendations is the first important step in a new chapter in UBC’s journey to support the global shift towards a just and sustainable future, inspired by the advocacy of youth and students who have quickly mobilized, both on our campuses and worldwide.
UBC’s response to the pandemic
The Faculties and Departments across UBC, with the support of the Provosts’ offices, CTLT at UBCV, and CTL at UBCO, have been focused on ways to support instructors in providing an enhanced teaching and learning experience for students during the pandemic.
The VP Students portfolio has been focused on supporting students through the transition of the return to campus, as well as the shifting landscape of the temporary return to online instruction in some cases, by providing hybrid programming & services and self-isolation housing.
In partnership with the Faculties, VP Students has expanded the embedded counsellor model and enhanced UBC’s mental health and wellbeing support to our students.
UBC researchers across all disciplines have been responding to COVID-19 since the very early days of the pandemic. They have been working to develop treatments and prevent the spread of the virus, and are gaining a deeper understanding of its impacts, and its cultural, social and historical context. The impact of the work being done at UBC by our researchers cannot be understated.
I’ll just give a few examples. You can learn more at covid19.research.ubc.ca.
- Research led by Dr. Sabrina Wong, Professor, School of Nursing, compiled data from UBC’s first on-campus clinical study to further validate a new SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Self Test Nasal, allowing users to get test results at home in about 15 minutes. It’s a tool that could help combat growing uncertainty, prevent transmission and potentially save lives.
- An example of how UBC faculty are helping on a daily, front-line basis in the province’s pandemic response, is the group from the Faculty of Science who have formed the BC COVID-19 group, providing modelling support for BC Public Health.
Teaching and Learning
The challenges and disruption brought by COVID have raised questions as to what the future of teaching and learning in higher education could and should look like. Through the pandemic, as an institution, we have been through multiple cycles of having to rethink and redesign how we support the continuity of learning and teaching for our students and faculty.
We began a conversation last summer to understand what has been going well during this period, what changes and innovations we should keep, and how we might improve for the future.
Six faculty-led working groups convened to consider a range of areas from flexibility in course, program and assessment design through to technology improvements and aspects of inclusion and wellbeing for all on our campus. While the process continues with wide consultation we are refining the original emergent recommendations under each of the themes of:
- Innovation and flexibility;
- Inclusion and wellbeing;
- Technology and support for faculty and student success; and
- Processes and policies.
Work is ongoing to engage a wider number of strategic priority groups and individuals through broad consultation. From here, we will cautiously move forward with select actions and resourcing, recognizing that the past two years have been a period of considerable change and additional stress for faculty, staff and students alike.
Cross-campus integration (Operational Efficiency)
Fostering a culture of operational excellence is critical in ensuring that UBC remains resilient and continues to thrive in times of change, uncertainty and especially when resources are limited. We continue to focus on the integration of core information technology systems between Okanagan and Vancouver to improve resilience and reduce redundant equipment and processes. The work on the Integrated Renewal Program and our HR and Finance systems is one example, as is the IRP Student project.
Both campuses are looking at the assessment of remote work opportunities and processes, as well as looking at longer-term policies to improve staff efficiency and effectiveness.
President’s Academic Excellence Initiative
The President’s Academic Excellence Initiative is aimed at extending the research impact of UBC. It is focused on the professors who conduct that research, and on the various supports – both professional and personal – that the University provides for faculty to excel in their intellectual leadership.
Key benefits of the PAEI include:
- adding to the existing research faculty complement through a carefully developed plan for growth that will introduce new members into an environment that is unmatched in Canada for research,
- ensuring that research and teaching come together such that the benefits of academic renewal are available to all students (undergraduate and graduate) as well as post-doctoral scholars, and
- strengthening the overall research ecosystem and ensuring research impact
There are two phases for PAEI: Phase one is fully in progress – for example, the partial tuition award for graduate students was advanced at the onset of the pandemic to better support students in need, and some amazing faculty members have arrived, such as Dr. Freda Miller, Dr. Nalo Hopkins and Dr. Dylan Robinson.
The planning for phase two, the Campaign phase, is under way. We have made great progress for year 1, with continued high interest among the donors, with a number of chairs confirmed across Sauder, Applied Science, and Medicine at the Vancouver Campus. The remaining elements of the Campaign Phase, including the implementation of the Okanagan portion, are still under development and will go back to the Board for discussion and approval later on this year.
I am so proud of the way our community has come together during this unprecedented and challenging time. We have accomplished so much. I would like to extend my profound thanks to all of our students, staff, and faculty members – we couldn’t have done this without you.
I look forward to providing you with an update with all the incredible accomplishments of our community next year.
Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor