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UVic names law professor as new president

Jamie Cassels, newly appointed President of the University of Victoria.

The University of Victoria has gone in-house to find its first new leader since the turn of the millennium, tapping long-time former provost Jamie Cassels to lead the school through a period of rapid change and financial uncertainty.

Prof. Cassels, 56, first landed at UVic when he joined the law faculty in 1981, later served as law dean, and spent nearly a decade as provost and vice-president, academic, a post he left in 2010. He's also a recipient of the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, one of Canada's highest teaching awards.

At a school that has prized continuity, he is a familiar face, as more than half of UVic's current faculty were hired while he was provost. On July 1, he takes over from departing president David Turpin, who will step down in June after 13 years on the job.

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Dr. Turpin is credited by many with helping put the mid-sized island university on the national map, driving an ambitious research agenda in select fields such as ocean science while making UVic a popular choice for out-of-province students.

"This is a time when the public truly values the contributions of universities, and has appropriately high expectations that our educational and research contributions will both enable our students to achieve their full potential and tackle the key challenges of today and tomorrow," Prof. Cassels said in a statement.

But UVic has been challenged by a period of belt-tightening of late. It has already endured three straight years of 1.5 per cent cuts to departmental budgets across the board, and is bracing for a 4 per cent cut in the coming year. As a result, convincing B.C.'s government to keep investing in higher education will be a major priority for all the province's university leaders.

UVic's search committee spent seven months hunting and "interviewed many exceptional candidates" before deciding on Prof. Cassels, board chair Susan Mehinagic said in a release.

"The committee was struck by his passion for academic quality, an exceptional student experience, and strong sense of mission to take UVic to the next stage in its development, at a time when universities everywhere are undergoing an important process of re-definition," said Catherine D. Harding, an associate professor who sat on the search committee that unanimously recommended Prof. Cassels, in materials provided by the university.

His expertise in legal theory and remedies aside, Prof. Cassels's self-described hobbies are as wide-ranging as building canoes and repairing diesel engines. He doesn't hold a doctorate, but earned a master of law from Columbia University, and is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario.

He joins the ranks of other new presidents who will be learning the ropes in the coming year, as Dr. Turpin is one of several long-serving leaders moving on. Dalhousie University recently appointed 44-year-old Richard Florizone to replace Tom Traves, who steps down in June after 18 years as president, while McGill University principal Heather Munroe-Blum and University of Toronto president David Naylor are also expected to leave their posts in 2013.

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