Fall 2020 Message from the Provost

October 19, 2020

Hello everyone – I hope the fall term is going as well as possible for you during this unusual semester. Now that we are firmly in the new academic year, I would like to update you on some of the initiatives and opportunities coming out of the Provost’s Office.


It can be said, without exaggeration, that the last several months have been unprecedented in terms of the change and uncertainty that we have experienced, and that we continue to navigate.

I want to thank every one of you for all the incredible work you have done and continue to do, in pivoting to deliver teaching and instruction online, in finding ways to continue or to restart your research and scholarly activity, and in all that you to do support students. We are constantly developing new ways to forge ahead – often in real time – and there are going to be hurdles along the way. If you need help, please reach out to your Department or School; to your Faculty office; or to my office. We will get through this pandemic as a community by working together.

The framework we’ve adopted to support online course redevelopment follows four phases: learn; design; build and teach – as outlined on our COVID-19 Support for Faculty webpage. The first two of these phases were supported through the Summer terms and into Winter Term 1, through a combination of central investment and repurposing of existing resources. These included self-service websites, Learning Tech Rovers expansion, CTLT capacity for workshops and other support, LT licenses, learning spaces upgrades, and IT infrastructure for faculty, staff and students. The ‘build’ and ‘teach’ phases required additional resources working directly with course teams – such as learning designers, media support, and GAA / TA resources as subject matter experts. Additionally, further repurposed central funds were allocated to the Faculties, to direct as required in their respective contexts, to support building and teaching courses for Winter Term 1

Some key central resources developed specifically to support faculty include the Keep Teaching website, the Guiding Principles for Fall 2020, and the CTLT’s Online Teaching Program. We’re currently analyzing which resources have been most useful for Winter Term 1, to guide us as we prepare for Winter Term 2.

If you’re interested in UBC’s COVID-19 response, including teaching resources and safety information, we have information available for faculty at https://academic.ubc.ca/covid-19.


In July, we took a revised budget to the Board of Governors in preparation for an academic year with at-the-time uncertain enrolment. Now, with the academic year underway and our enrolment numbers stabilizing at levels similar to last year, UBC’s overall financial position has improved from the budget that was presented to the Board in July. We are, nevertheless, forecasting a deficit of approximately $165 million for this current fiscal year. This is largely attributable to pressures in the university’s ancillary units such as student housing, food services, and the Bookstore, as just three examples. We will have clearer financial information in the coming weeks, and will be presenting a budget update to the Board in November.

Together with the UBC Executive, my leadership team and the Deans, we are committed to doing all we can to ensure financial stability for the university and to ensure ongoing strong support for the academic mission of the university. I am personally confident that we will weather this relatively well.

Climate emergency

The Climate Emergency task force has been working since July to review the feedback from the Climate Emergency engagement events hosted in the spring. A final report outlining their recommendations will be presented to the Board of Governors in November.

Through the UBC Sustainability Initiative, my office will convene a series of discussions to review in detail recommendations outlined in the report, with a view toward implementation.


Recent anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and anti-Asian violence in communities across North America has focused attention on the deeply rooted, systemic racism in Canada and around the world. Along with President Ono and the UBC Executive team, I am working closely with our Deans to identify and prioritize a number of anti-racism initiatives in the upcoming months.

A few of the actions that my portfolio is already undertaking towards addressing systemic racism are noted here, and represent some initial inroads as we continue on this important and necessary journey:

We recently reappointed UBC’s first Senior Advisor to the Provost on Racialized Faculty, Dr. Minelle Mahtani. Through Dr. Mahtani’s work, we continue to sponsor the IGNITE! book club, the Provost’s Distinguished Lecture Series on Race and Leadership, and other ongoing community-building events.

We’re currently analyzing two surveys recently conducted regarding COVID-19-related impacts on faculty teaching and research. Demographic data was collected to enable assessment of differential impacts by race, gender and other categories of equity-deserving groups. Follow-up focus groups will explore these issues further.

In collaboration with the Equity and Inclusion Office, we are developing and modifying processes to diversify academic leadership. Starting with the three current decanal searches underway, we are piloting an EDI questionnaire early on in the recruitment process, in which all applicants can identify as members of one or more equity-deserving groups. This will help track the diversity of applicants and provide data to help inform decision making. We’re also working with the Faculties to ensure equity and diversity considerations are in the foreground in the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative/Academic Renewal strategies.

The Centre for Teaching & Learning Technology (CTLT) have developed a series of workshops, co-facilitated by staff in CTLT and the Equity and Inclusion Office, which guide participants through reflection on their own roles and fears as educators, and develop an introductory understanding of concepts such as anti-racism, privilege, allyship, and solidarity – especially in the context of online teaching and learning.

We’re working with the Vice-President Human Resources and the Vice-President Students on prioritization of actions for implementation of the Inclusion Action Plan; and we’re working with the Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs and the Director of the First Nations House of Learning, to support the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan. We’ve also worked with the Director, FNHL, and the University Librarian on an expansion of the Longhouse and the Xwi7xwa Library to improve physical space for Indigenous faculty, staff and students.

Lastly, through the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), we’re building equity and anti-racism into the Campus as a Living Lab (CLL) project. USI’s participation in the Emerald Corridor Collaboratory last year led to greater understanding of groups and jurisdiction that are successfully tackling the related challenges of gentrification and displacement of marginalized communities stemming from green infrastructure projects to improve cities’ responses to climate change.

Academic renewal

At the September meeting of the Board of Governors, President Ono spoke about the next steps in implementing the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative (PAEI). The PAEI, or Academic Renewal, will increase the complement of our research faculty through a carefully developed plan for growth that will significantly enhance the university’s  research capacity, and provide supports for our new and existing faculty members and graduate students.

Due to the changing financial landscape as a result of COVID-19 earlier this year, the university needed to put a pause on the Academic Renewal process while we waited for clarity on our financial situation.

Now, as we can forecast a level of financial certainty, we will move forward in a measured way.

I will have a more detailed update on Academic Renewal for the next Board of Governors meeting, and will share that information with you in this space thereafter.

Indigenous Strategic Plan

I am pleased to say that after years of hard and dedicated work, with input from more than 2,500 students, faculty, staff and Indigenous community partners, UBC has officially launched its new Indigenous Strategic Plan.

The Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP) sets out a series of eight goals and 43 actions that the university will collectively take in order to advance our vision of becoming a leading university globally in the implementation of Indigenous peoples’ human rights.

On September 14, President Ono hosted a virtual event to celebrate the launch of the 2020 UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan at UBC’s Vancouver campus, located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam. As with any strategic plan, this launch is only the first step. In the coming months, we will have more information about implementation of ISP initiatives.

Integrated Renewal Program

Since the last update regarding the extension of the IRP timeline, the Integrated Renewal Program (IRP) team has been busy preparing for the November 2 go-live of Workday for the HR and Finance systems.

There are many people diligently preparing for a successful launch of Workday, and as one of the program sponsors, I want to thank them, and you, for all your work on this initiative. If you would like to read more about how you can get ready for Workday go-live on November 2, please visit the IRP website at https://irp.ubc.ca.

Dean searches

As noted earlier, my office is coordinating the searches for three decanal positions. The postings for the Dean of Forestry and the Dean of Education are available on our website. We anticipate that the position for the Dean of the Peter A. Allard School of Law will be available later this fall.


Over the past few months, we have had a number of appointments and reappointments across UBC, which I am pleased to share with you here:


  • Dr. Tara Ivanochko has been appointed the Academic Director, UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), effective Oct. 13, 2020.
  • Dr. Suzie Lavallee was appointed as the Academic Director of UBC Vantage College as of July 1, 2020, for a three-year term.
  • Linda Nowlan has been appointed as the Senior Director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), effective June 22, 2020.
  • Dr. Kavita Philip has joined UBC as the President's Excellence Chair in Network Cultures, effective Oct. 1, 2020.
  • Prof. Moura Quayle joined the Provost’s office as the Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Academic Affairs, on Aug. 1, 2020.
  • Dr. Catherine Rawn has been appointed as the Provost Office Fellow, Faculty, while Kieran Forde has been appointed the Provost Office Fellow, Students.
  • Dee Dee Sung has joined the portfolio as Academic Leadership Development Program Director & Coach effective May 19, 2020.
  • Doug Thorpe-Dorward is the new Managing Director, Faculty Relations and Support Services, effective April 27, 2020.

Extension of appointments

  • Dr. Sara-Jane Finlay has been reappointed as Associate Vice-President (AVP), Equity & Inclusion for an ongoing term.
  • Dr. Dermot Kelleher's appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine has been extended for a second five-year term, effective September 1, 2020.
  • Dr. Minelle Mahtani's appointment as Senior Advisor to the Provost on Racialized Faculty, has been extended for a second two-year term, commencing September 1, 2020.
  • Professor Santa J. Ono has been reappointed for a second term as President and Vice-Chancellor of UBC.


I want to thank Eric Eich, whose term as Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Academic Affairs ended this summer. Eric joined us in 2015 and oversaw the progress and implementation of the CRC special call, the Housing Action Plan, and many other initiatives for faculty and the university. We have all benefitted enormously from Eric’s hard work and dedication to the university. He will be missed.

In Conclusion

As I noted at the beginning, we are all grappling with an unprecedented situation. COVID-19 has certainly presented a challenge for UBC. I know the time has been difficult for many of us personally, with remote working, childcare or other care issues, work disruptions for family members, travel interruptions, and so on. But you have risen to the occasion. Only by working together can we move forward to achieve the goals and aspirations of this great university.

If you have questions about any of the initiatives coming out of the Office of the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, you can reach me, as ever, at provost.vpa@ubc.ca.

Andrew Szeri
Provost and Vice-President, Academic, UBC Vancouver

  • From the Provost

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