Statement to the UBC Community

Dear members of the UBC Community:

At the start of my seventh academic year as your President and Vice-Chancellor, I write to inform you of my decision to complete my term as the 15th President of UBC in October 2022.  I have accepted an invitation from the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan to serve as that institution’s 15th President.

My position is term bound at UBC. That fact aside, there are only a handful of universities that I would be interested in leading after UBC. Michigan, as one of the best and the most research-intensive public universities in the world, presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I wanted you to know how incredibly proud I am of our many accomplishments together as I prepare to transition from UBC to my new role. On all of our campuses of the university, we have strengthened our ability to deliver our core mission of education, research, scholarship and service. Thank you for your willingness to collaborate to make UBC a better university for our cities, our country and the world beyond our borders.

We have made historic investments in the recruitment of faculty throughout the university through multiple programs such as President’s Excellence Chairs, the Canada 150 program, the Canada Research Chairs program and the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative (PAEI). This work turns around nearly a decade of decline in the number of tenure stream faculty.

We now have more tenured and tenure-stream faculty than at any time in our history and we have made considerable investments to support the teaching and research mission of the institution.   Such investments in academic staff will continue even after I depart, through phase 2 of PAEI.

The quality of our students (both undergraduate and graduate) has never been stronger. Applications to UBC are at an all-time high and our graduates continue to win the most prestigious awards such as multiple recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship during the past several years.  We have expanded significantly the number of students we educate throughout the Province with the addition of hundreds of new seats distributed across our campuses thanks to generous support from the provincial government.  More than 71,000 students are now enrolled at UBC and we remain the most international university in North America.

We have also enhanced our built environment to advance our teaching and research priorities through the construction of many major academic buildings, research facilities, student services buildings and student residences.  The new or planned buildings at UBC: for the School of Biomedical Engineering, the Gateway Building (serving as new homes for the Schools of Kinesiology and Nursing) and the Brock Commons complex (Faculty of Arts and Student Services) in Vancouver and the ICI building (interdisciplinary teaching and research) in the Okanagan campus will support our world class faculty, staff and students for generations to come.

Our historic addition of 11 residence halls on both campuses will ensure that several thousand more students each year can live on what has become one of the most vibrant and the largest residential campus in North America.  One of these new halls of residence – Brock Commons Tallwood House is an 18 storey, LEED Gold certified, 404-bed student residence building making it the world’s tallest mass wood tower at the time of its completion. A second notable residence is Skeena residence at UBCO, which achieved the world recognized certification for Passive House for energy efficiency, a first for UBC in support of our sustainability goals.

We have launched bold new academic endeavours such as the School of Biomedical Engineering, UBC School of Public Policy and the UBC Emeritus College and significantly expanded interdisciplinary activity on campus.

We have launched three new Global Research Excellence Institutes: the BioProducts Institute (BPI); the Language Sciences Initiative; and the UBC Life Sciences Institute, including the Biological Resilience Initiative.

These investments in faculty and research facilities have catapulted UBC’s research spend to over $770 million per annum and our overall budget in excess of $3.1 billion.

We have also invested in our ability to serve British Columbians far beyond Vancouver, with our expanded presence in downtown Kelowna and Surrey.  The university currently envisions a mixed-use academic /residential tower in Kelowna.

Beyond investment in our core academic mission, one of my top priorities has been advocacy for better transportation links to our campuses. With clear support from the City of Vancouver, the Province, the federal government, MST-DC (Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Development Corporation) and the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation (as articulated in “Transport 2050: 10-Year Priorities Plan”) the extension of SkyTrain to the Vancouver campus is now firmly “on track.”

We also made the bold decision to renew our antiquated core information systems through the Integrated Renewal Program (IRP).  UBC launched its new HR and Finance system on November 2, 2020. The move to cloud-based software Workday allows UBC to modernize our core business processes and improve accessibility and continuity of work for all employees.  The next step for the IRP is moving forward with the renewal of UBC’s Student Information ecosystem, anchored in the Workday Student platform.

The university has also accomplished much regarding Truth and Reconciliation with respect to Indigenous people.  I shall never forget the opening of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, my apology for UBC’s role in residential schools, our installation of the Reconciliation Pole on Main Mall and the involvement of our faculty in studies such as the ‘In Plain Sight’ Report: Systemic Racism in B.C. Healthcare. Although we have much work that still needs to be done, we launched a renewed and enhanced commitment to lead in this national responsibility as articulated in our Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP).  In launching the ISP, UBC became the first university in North America to commit to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

I am also grateful for the tremendous work by the entire UBC community and the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, in particular, in addressing systemic racism. The university is already benefitting from the recommendations from the task force. We have already launched the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars program and have begun to address the issue of underrepresentation of equity-deserving groups within our faculty and staff via new recruitment efforts across both campuses. Continuing to work on these programs is a major priority for the institution moving forward.

In addition, I am proud of this institution’s leadership on anti-racism. We hosted the first National Dialogue on Anti-Asian racism and hosted the inaugural Inter-Institutional Forum of the Scarborough National Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education.

UBC has provided leadership both nationally and internationally on key university priorities such as Climate Action during our years together.  We hosted the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) Summit twice and I was honoured to take on the leadership of this network of North American research universities after Janet Napolitano over the past two years. In this arena, I was proud to share with the world our work on climate action at UC3 Summits and the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

I shall forever be grateful for the activism and passion of our faculty, staff, alumni and especially our students in moving the university forward in declaring a climate emergency and creating a new Climate Action Plan.  In addition, together, we committed to divestment from fossil fuels, as well as adopting an ambitious responsible Investing policy and targets.  I am pleased to see in the latest IMANT annual report that we are making rapid progress toward this goal.

We have accomplished all of this together. I am so grateful for the tremendous leadership from UBC’s Executive and Council of Deans and our partnership with the Board of Governors and the Senates of the University and of course, the inspirational work of our faculty, staff and students.

I am particularly grateful for the thousands of alumni and other supporters of the University who have supported us with their time, expertise and financial support.  Five of my first six years as president of University have benefitted from historic levels of support; with UBC receiving, the largest ever level of philanthropic support this past year.  All in, over $1.3 billion has been raised for the university during my tenure here.  I am particularly grateful for the support of the Blue and Gold Campaign for Students.  We raised more than $217 million in new scholarships to help UBC students reach their full potential.

What is most remarkable is that we have accomplished all of this during an unprecedented pandemic. We have all worked tremendously hard to continue to advance the institution while dealing with the significant stress and challenge of operating during a pandemic. We have maintained the financial strength of the institution and kept our university community out of harms way.

Throughout the pandemic UBC played a leading role in biomedical research on Covid and contributed to policy development on the Covid response through our work at RUCBC, sector tables and the U15 Group of Universities.  We played an important role in working with governments to help design additional supports for students and to contribute to the sector’s approach to navigating through the pandemic. I am particularly grateful to the many experts at UBC who have advised me along the way on our institution’s own decisions regarding Covid during this challenging time.

All of these achievements notwithstanding, some of you who know me well know that the pandemic has been challenging for me personally. I have two elderly parents living alone in Baltimore and Wendy’s mother lives in Halifax.  All three of them increasingly need us and we are unable to provide that support from across the continent.  After several decades of taking care of us, it is our turn to take care of them.

This need and the term-limited nature of my appointment at UBC led me to carefully consider my future path when the University of Michigan approached me about their presidency.  Assuming the presidency of University of Michigan will allow me to continue my life’s work in public, post-secondary education; work that I have been so fortunate to carry out at UBC.  In addition, University of Michigan’s location – just a short flight away from Baltimore and Halifax – will allow Wendy and me to more easily care for our parents.

Although I will continue with my work as UBC president into the fall, I want to close by saying that it has been an honour and privilege to serve the University of British Columbia. I accepted the presidency of UBC because the institution means so much to me and to my family.  In addition, I shall forever be proud of what we have accomplished together.

When we move this fall, have no doubt that UBC and the many friends we have made in the UBC family and in Canada’s post-secondary sector will always be close to our hearts.

I will be working closely with the Board of Governors to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the next leader of UBC.  You will be hearing directly from the Board about their plans for the search for UBC’s 16th President and Vice-Chancellor.

Warmest wishes,

Santa J. Ono
President & Vice-Chancellor