The University of British Columbia recently announced that its presidential search committee has settled on a short list of finalists. A new president and vice-chancellor is expected to be announced in June.
In anticipation of that moment, here is one faculty member's short to-do list, in ascending order of priority, for the new president.
4. Drop 'a place of mind'
UBC's English tag line expresses ambition but also, inadvertently, shortsightedness. We've always had the motto Tuum est (It is yours). Then, in 2009, UBC began calling itself "a place of mind." No one knows what this means, but on our business cards, the phrase appears even larger than the name of the university.
Not to be outdone, Simon Fraser University in 2012 began marketing itself as "the Engaged University." The message is clear enough: Go to UBC if you want to live in the ivory tower; come here if you want to get a job. In fact, tacky sloganeering drags down both institutions. As marketers would say, it dilutes the brand.
At a more fundamental level, the tag line is symptomatic of a provincial mindset. Last fall, interim president and vice-chancellor Martha Piper wrote an op-ed piece for the Vancouver Sun lamenting that Maclean's magazine had yet again ranked UBC second in Canada.
Perhaps UBC should set its sights higher. Take a look at any ranking of the top 10 global universities and you'll find that those institutions share one thing in common: no slogan. It's time for UBC's to go.
3. Use university lands to recruit and retain faculty
The new president's first action should be to declare a moratorium on land leases to private developers. UBC's ability to attract and retain the best researchers from around the world drops with every uptick in the Vancouver housing market.
Yet, the university has a ready solution within its grasp: It owns land and its own development company. UBC ought to use its rapidly diminishing stock of residential land to build affordable housing for faculty and staff. It has been adding more beds for students, but employees have been an afterthought.
Four years ago, UBC announced a housing action plan to improve housing affordability and choice. The plan stalled when the university decided to prioritize leasing land for private luxury developments with names like Academy, Sage and Prodigy that pander to academic prestige. The faculty members that UBC promised to help, ironically, are being priced out. So are all future hires.
The long-term effect will be to reduce UBC's global competitiveness: Top researchers won't move here if they can't afford a home larger than a shoebox. The university should use its own lands to build affordable homes; it's the most cost-effective solution to the housing crunch, and would create a sustainable strategic asset. UBC should build for its future.
2. Reform governance of the university
Faculty members keep saying this and it remains true: We need a president who will bring transparency and accountability to UBC's senior administration and board of governors. All major strategic decisions at a public institution ought to be subject to public scrutiny. The public should never have to compel university leaders to provide a rationale for their actions.
Still, the UBC board has yet to explain why it accepted Arvind Gupta's resignation as president. The new president should acknowledge that non-disclosure agreements are not in the public interest, and that true leadership involves doing not just what you must do, but also what you should.
We shouldn't need the faculty association to suggest, as it did, that board members and senior administrators use only university e-mail accounts when conducting university business. (Some don't.)
Recent governance failures at the board level underscore that we need a president who can create a culture at the top that is more open and responsive to constituents inside and outside the university.
1. Put research first
Everything flows from research: teaching, jobs, economic growth, social progress, innovation. Research underpins a university's reputation and drives its institutional momentum.
The new president ought to make building research capacity UBC's No. 1 priority, directing fundraising resources to support faculty-led initiatives; recapitalize UBC's numerous underfunded research centres; enhance graduate student stipends; and tackle the unsexy job of addressing deferred maintenance of research infrastructure.
The mathematics building is crumbling, with the ceiling falling off in offices and classrooms. Other units have occupied "temporary" portables for decades.
Above all, the president should support the faculty, which sets the university's research priorities, and keep the institution-building focus on UBC's core mission of creating knowledge for the public good.
Christopher Rea is a faculty member and director of the Centre for Chinese Research at UBC.