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A student walks past the Chemistry Building on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday August 20, 2015.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The University of B.C.'s next president, according to sources in Ohio and close to the university here, will be the current president of the University of Cincinnati.

Santa Ono, 53, a renowned biology researcher who is the son of a Japanese-born professor who taught math at UBC in the early 1960s, has been the president of UC since 2012.

The rumoured news of his departure was reported by the co-owner of a sports media outlet and TV station WLWT Cincinnati. Sources at the University of British Columbia have confirmed that they expect Dr. Ono's appointment to be confirmed this morning when the university has scheduled an official announcement.

Dr. Ono is extremely popular at the public research university, which has over 44,000 students, about half of them graduate students. His obvious ability to connect with the community – he has almost 73,000 Twitter followers – would have made him one of the leading contenders for the UBC post.

"President Ono leaving legitimately has me depressed. Man means more to this university than anyone," tweeted political-science student Matt Niehaus, noting that a local blog had picked up on the fact that the president had followed 25 UBC accounts in the last couple of weeks.

The University of Cincinnati is among the top 30 public research universities in the U.S. according to the U.S. National Science Foundations. It is ranked between 301 and 350 on the Times Higher Education Rankings. UBC was ranked in the 34th spot in 2016.

Mr. Ono attracted a lot of attention and sympathy just this May when, speaking at a mental-health fundraiser, he talked about his own two suicide attempts when he was in his teens and 20s.

"I felt a great weight lifting off of my shoulders in, for the first time, really talking about my own battles with mental illness and my own suicide attempts. It was not planned; it was very spontaneous," he said in an interview afterwards.

Mr. Ono, who had been provost at the University of Cincinnati for two years before becoming president, signed a 10-year contract then that guaranteed him $525,000 (U.S.) a year for 10 years, the largest compensation package ever for that university.

The vote on the contract was unanimous.

"The board also considered Ono's work in academics, fundraising, athletics, conference realignment and the recent hiring of head football coach Tommy Tuberville, and decided that the contract was merited," according to a report from the local student newspaper, The News Record.

Mr. Ono, who is an enthusiastic tweeter, sent out a message on Twitter, saying "[I am] thrilled to sign a contract to remain at UC for 10 more years as its president. Who would ever want to leave the #HottestCollegeinAmerica?"

He has since turned down his annual bonus, instead giving the hundreds of thousands to scholarships at the university and donations to Cincinnati groups.

Dr. Ono was born in Vancouver and has a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a PhD in experimental medicine from McGill University in Montreal.

It is unusual for one of Canada's most important universities to appoint a senior leader from the United States. Although observers have long argued that doing so could refresh an institution, it's a rare move: only 15 per cent of recent Canadian university appointments for the top job came from outside senior administrative ranks, according to a 2012 study.

UBC is clearly hoping Dr. Ono's openness will heal a community that needs to recover and unite after the controversial departure of prior president Arvind Gupta last year.

The search committee also beat its own initial deadline of June 30. It had initially said that it wanted to announce a president by June 30, a very tight timeline given that it reviewed a long list only in March, 2016.

The new president will have to quickly grapple with internal and external issues, including distrust toward the administration from some faculty members, and demands from the province for increased accountability around the employment outcomes of graduates. He will also have to deal with immediate concerns as well, such as how to increase the amount of affordable housing on campus for staff and faculty.

UBC said it would not comment on the reports until this morning's announcement.

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