Dear members of the UBC community:
Welcome back for the start of the 2017/18 academic year. I hope you all had a chance to enjoy the summer.
Today, UBC is welcoming thousands of new and returning students to our campuses and learning sites. As we embrace the energy and excitement that comes with this, I would like to take an opportunity to reflect on UBC’s recent developments – as well as looking ahead to the future.
Welcome to our students
As you know, the academic year begins next week with 15,000 new students coming from across British Columbia, Canada and 142 countries around the world, many of whom are joining us thanks to access to our extensive scholarship programme.
For some of the new students, their first day at UBC will be their first experience of university, while others come to us after attending another university or college. Either way, it’s an exciting transition. For my part, I continue to be proud of the way UBC delivers on its educational mandate year after year. This semester, we will have 65,000 students being taught by 5,500 academic staff in 200 degree programs. UBC faculty continue to win awards for teaching, which shows the quality of our efforts.
Today, our new and returning students will join more than 1,000 volunteers to celebrate Imagine Day at the Vancouver campus and Create at UBC Okanagan. I hope you’ll join us on this special day.
Welcoming new faculty and staff
Besides our students, we are welcoming dozens of new faculty members; among them, Dr. Peter Zandstra, who will head the new School of Biomedical Engineering, and Alix Ohlin, who will join UBC as chair of the Creative Writing Program in January. I would like to extend a warm welcome to them and to all the other new researchers and teachers joining our community this year.
I would also like to reiterate my welcome to some new additions to our senior administration team: Professor Andrew Szeri (Provost and Vice-President, Academic) and Professor Gail Murphy (Vice-President, Research and Innovation). Also, a warm welcome to Karen Carriero (Associate Vice-President, Communications), Professor Bryce Traister (Dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at UBC Okanagan), Dr. Mary MacDougall (Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry), and Susan E. Parker (University Librarian).
This term will see further changes to the senior administrative team as Lisa Castle (Vice-President, Human Resources) leaves after years of outstanding service. We have initiated a search for this position and I look forward to providing updates in due course.
UBC’s Strategic Plan
One of the most important initiatives of the new term will be the continued development of UBC’s Strategic Plan. As you know, this is an extremely important process for the university and I am proud to be leading it. We have finished the first two phases of the planning process and I am working closely with the Deans and the Executive to prepare a draft strategic plan for review by the steering committee and the broader UBC community. I would like to thank my senior advisor, Dr. Emma Cunliffe, for helping to establish the foundations for the plan and her contributions to moving us forward. I have asked Professors Szeri and Murphy to join me in leading the next phase of this process.
Research and innovation
Our commitment to science and research will also be evident as we continue to work on the B.C. research supercluster, and on our partnerships with other universities and industry in the competition for federal technology superclusters. We are also working on recruitment for the President’s Excellence Chairs and the Canada 150 Chairs. I have been very impressed with the magnitude, breadth and quality of candidates for both these programs.
I will be making a presentation at a Universities Canada panel on the Naylor Report at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa where I will stress the importance of fundamental science in Canada.
Equity, diversity and inclusion
I recently met with the Vice Presidents’ Strategic Implementation Committee on Equity and Diversity. I appreciated hearing their perspectives and made my commitment to work directly with them – with the aim of making UBC an even more diverse and inclusive community. To this end, I am asking all members of my Executive to outline steps to enhance a more diverse and inclusive community during this academic year. I cannot emphasize enough that we are committed to providing an environment that is welcoming and safe for every member of the UBC community.
I also want to reaffirm my personal commitment to academic freedom. As I stressed in my message referring to the troubling events in Barcelona, Charlottesville, and elsewhere, all members of our community must work to ensure everybody feels welcome and safe. UBC fosters a welcoming, open community for discussing and debating all ideas and practices, no matter how complex, contentious, or difficult. The openness and tolerance this demands is a responsibility we all hold.
Our formal UBC statement on academic freedom reads as follows: “Central among these rights is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seem to them fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints, to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion.” This freedom extends to all members of our community. I will work with Professor Neil Guppy (the Senior Advisor on Academic Freedom) and a small working group, to issue a more comprehensive statement on this in the near future.
Our Indigenous partners
We will continue to strengthen our efforts to improve educational opportunities for Indigenous students, education about Indigenous issues, and collaborative research benefiting Indigenous communities.
Later this year, I will be making a statement regarding UBC’s involvement in the Indian Residential School system. As members of the UBC community, we all inherit its history. Unless we act to change that history, we will contribute to its perpetuation through our failure to educate and act.
Those of you on the Vancouver campus may have noticed that construction on the new building between the Walter C. Koerner Library and the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre is now complete. That building, known as the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, will open next spring. The centre will provide an accessible place on the west coast for survivors of the Indian residential schools, to access the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Through advanced use of interactive technology it will allow faculty, staff, students and members of our wider community to learn about that history and its implications on both our shared past and our future directions.
Our global connections
UBC’s global ties will be a priority this term. Yesterday, I attended the Times Higher Education World Education Summit, where I participated in a panel on “Modern graduates: citizens of the world or citizens of nowhere?” alongside the presidents of New York University, Humboldt University of Berlin and the Hong Kong University.
Later this month I will attend the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Seattle, which will bring together business, tech and government leaders from both sides of the border to explore how we can leverage and grow a stronger technology and innovation cluster between Vancouver and Seattle.
This coming year we will open the new School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. The Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (QMI) addition and National Soccer Development Centre are complete, and other construction projects are well underway. Construction of the New MacInnes Field (behind the Nest) will begin soon, and we will start public consultation regarding a new residential neighbourhood and a new Thunderbird Stadium.
New student residences have been built, including an addition to Totem Park that will carry a Musqueam name, and Brock Commons – Tallwood House, which has the distinction of being the tallest mass timber building in the world. I am happy to announce that additional student housing is in development on both campuses, as well as continued planning for academic precincts on the Vancouver campus and an innovation precinct at UBC Okanagan.
At the heart of the Okanagan campus, the new teaching and learning centre and extension to the Library is emerging from the ground. Construction is on schedule, we’re less than a year from opening the building, and the first 400-seat classroom on the campus.
Also on the Okanagan campus, thanks to a grant from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, the commons athletic field is being upgraded with lights and other amenities– the project will mean a significant enhancement to student life.
Our commitment to sustainability
Brock Commons – Tallwood House has been rightly acclaimed for its sustainability features and our new student housing initiatives will feature the latest in sustainable technologies. We are continuing to pursue aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets with the Climate Action Plan, moving towards a 67 percent reduction (relative to 2007 levels). Recently, I met with a coalition of 10 environmentally focused student groups to discuss UBC’s commitment to sustainability. The students brought forward some innovative proposals that are worthy of careful consideration as the university builds on its sustainability initiatives.
New courses and programs
There are also many new academic programs beginning this fall (too many to mention), but I would like to single out the new HEAL 100 course at UBC Okanagan, open to all first-year students and directly aimed at meeting UBC’s commitment to wellbeing.
Celebrating 100 years of alumni
This is of course the 100th anniversary for alumni UBC. A number of activities have been planned, both on our campuses and around the world, to celebrate UBC’s outstanding graduates. Look out for further updates.
In closing, I would like to thank all of you for your commitment and dedication to UBC and its academic mission. This promises to be a great year!
Professor Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor