Spring 2021 Message from the Provost

March 09, 2021

Hello everyone. The second winter term of 2020/2021 has passed the halfway mark, and much is happening across the university. I would like to update you on some of the initiatives we're currently focused on in the Provost's Office at the Vancouver campus.

Covid-19: Planning for 2021/22 Winter Terms

In January, UBC President Santa Ono sent a message to the UBC community regarding our approach to instruction in the 2020/21 summer session. Following guidance from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, a UBC Broadcast message was issued to the community yesterday afternoon regarding increased on-campus activity for the 2021/22 Winter Session.

This includes a return to on-campus instruction and increased levels of on-campus research activity for Winter Session Term 1 in September 2021. The PHO guidance is based on current immunization timelines and vaccine approvals, together with the COVID-19 safety plans we already have in place. Our key priority remains the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff, and we continue to follow the ongoing guidance and direction of the Provincial Health Officer and the Public Health Authorities with respect to protecting public safety. I am continually impressed with the amazing work done by UBC faculty and staff over the last eleven months in our response to the pandemic. We're nearing the one-year mark since UBC moved to online teaching practically overnight; a herculean feat that cannot be overstated.


We are in the midst of preparing the 2021/22 budget, which will be presented to the Board of Governors in April 2021. As you might expect, the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt at UBC, provincially, and around the world.

In November 2020, we presented a budget update to the Board with a mid-year forecast update. At that point, we noted that the deficit initially forecast had reduced, as we saw a higher-than-expected enrolment. At the same time, ancillary operation revenues are lower than anticipated, due to reductions in on-campus activities.

In spite of the financial impact of COVID-19, UBC continues to make investments in maintaining the health and safety of our diverse community; enhancing support for remote teaching and learning; the resumption of research activities; and in student financial aid.

This is a difficult time for all postsecondary institutions across Canada – financially and otherwise – yet I can say with confidence that UBC is on solid footing to weather the financial impacts of the pandemic while remaining committed to our vision, our purpose, and our values.

I look forward to updating you on the 2021/22 budget following the April meeting of the Board of Governors; in the meantime, you can read about UBC's budget process here.

Climate Action

Climate action and sustainability continue to be top priorities for the university. As you may remember, in December 2019 the UBC Board of Governors unanimously endorsed a Declaration on the Climate Emergency, responding to the advocacy of our community members and joining other organizations around the world.

The UBC Climate Emergency Task Force (CETF), which comprises UBC students, faculty and staff, was established to gather ideas from the UBC community on addressing the global climate emergency. This process resulted in a report with nine strategic priorities and 28 recommendations to address the climate emergency and to embed climate justice in the university's actions. The report of the CETF was presented to the Board of Governors last month where the recommendations were endorsed in-principal.

The UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI) will play a lead role in convening consultations on the recommendations of the CETF. Please visit https://climateemergency.ubc.ca/ to learn more about the university's commitment to addressing the climate emergency.

President's Academic Excellence Initiative

The President's Academic Excellence Initiative (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.

Implementation of the Accelerate phase is underway. Deans from across UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan have begun the first wave of the recruitment process, with searches on track to begin this year.  

We are now working on the campaign phase which seeks funding for chairs and professorships, and look forward to bringing this plan to the Board of Governors in April for their review and approval.

Anti-Racism at UBC

Work continues at UBC to support equity and diversity initiatives, with a particular focus on anti-racism.

With regard to faculty hiring, we are bringing forward in the budget process a funding proposal that will enable us to increase the representation of Black and Indigenous faculty members at the Vancouver campus through a new hiring program. We have already seen considerable success in focusing the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program on equity-seeking groups and anticipate similar success on faculty hiring more broadly.

The Provost's Office is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Ismaël Traoré as the Director of Faculty Equity. Starting March 15, Ismaël will be responsible for leading initiatives that will broadly diversify the UBC Vancouver campus with an emphasis on an increase in faculty equity, diversity, and inclusion. The role will provide additional leadership in UBC's anti-racism framework and the Inclusion Action Plan as it pertains to the broader Provost and Vice-President Academic (PVPA) portfolio, while working closely with the Faculties as well as the Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO). Ismaël's appointment is part-time in the Provost's Office and part-time in the EIO in order to effectively foster collaboration.

The Provost's Office acknowledges that there is much work to do in this area, both in recruiting IBPOC faculty, and in providing the supports needed to thrive at UBC. I continue to prioritize and work closely with my Executive colleagues and the Deans to move forward on our important anti-racism initiatives.

Indigenous Strategic Plan

The implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP) is underway, and we continue to support the roll-out of initiatives under the plan. These include:

Academic Freedom

In June of last year, Professor Margaret Schabas, Senior Advisor to the Provost on Academic Freedom, gave a presentation to the UBC Board of Governors regarding academic freedom for the UBC community, and how the collective right to academic freedom is reflected in the UBC Senate policy. In conjunction with this, and with Dr. Schabas' diligent guidance, we turned our attention to updating the content on the VP Academic website; specifically, in expanding our approach to academic freedom while teaching and learning in an online environment, and in showcasing more examples under our frequently asked questions.

Please visit https://academic.ubc.ca/academic-freedom/ to read more on academic freedom at UBC.

Dean Searches

In December, we launched the search for the Dean of the Peter A. Allard School of Law. The search for the Dean of Forestry is also well underway.

As I noted in my Dec. 9, 2020, update to the community on the search for the next Dean of Education, the work of the advisory committee was halted in December. We have restarted the process, and myself and UBC Okanagan Provost Ananya Mukherjee Reed are working closely with the Faculty to ensure strong leadership continuity. Professor Blye Frank will remain in his role as Dean of Education until June 30, 2021, after which time Dr. Jan Hare (Associate Dean, Indigenous Education and Director of the Indigenous Teacher Education Program) has agreed to serve as Dean pro tem until a new dean is appointed.

2020/21 University Killam Professors

We are pleased to announce the appointment of six new University Killam Professors:

  • Prof. Janice Eng, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Medicine
  • Prof. Tina Loo, Department of History, Faculty of Arts
  • Prof. Bonny Norton, Department of Language and Literacy Education, Faculty of Education
  • Prof. Dolph Schluter, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science
  • Prof. Rashid Sumaila, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, Faculty of Science, and School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, Faculty of Arts
  • Prof. Dominique Weis, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Faculty of Science

The University Killam Professors are exceptional teachers and researchers who are leaders in their fields, and who have received international recognition for their talents and achievements.

Appointments and Extensions of Appointments

In recent months, we have had a number of appointments and reappointments across UBC, which I am pleased to share with you here:


  • Dr. Elizabeth Shaffer was appointed Executive Director of the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, effective Sept. 1, 2020.
  • Professor Ian Mitchell has been appointed head of the UBC Department of Computer Science on Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Dr. Daniel Coombs has been appointed head of the UBC Department of Mathematics, effective Jan. 1, 2021.
  • Dr. Ismaël Traoré has been appointed the Director, Faculty Equity in the Provost's Office, effective March 15, 2021.

Extension of appointment

  • Dr. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond's appointment as Director of the Residential School History and Dialogue Centre has been extended for a second term, effective June 1, 2021.

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 at provost.vpa@ubc.ca.

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

  • From the Provost

Visit our Research site | Visit our Students site | Visit ubc.ca

UBC ranks among the world’s top 20 public universities.