British Columbia

UBC appoints Santa Ono as new president

The University of British Columbia has appointed Santa Ono as its new president. Ono was president of the University of Cincinnati since 2012

UBC's engines 'are revving again,' its new president says

Santa Ono has been appointed president of the University of British Columbia (UBC)

The University of British Columbia has named a new president following a tumultuous year that began with the abrupt resignation of former president Arvind Gupta.

Santa Ono, who was born in Vancouver and has served as president of the University of Cincinnati since 2012, will take the reins at UBC amid ongoing criticism of its governance and handling of campus sexual assaults.

The renowned biologist told a packed crowd at the university's law school that joining UBC was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" he could not pass up and he vowed to be a leader who serves and listens to faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Ono, the son of a Japanese-born professor who taught math at UBC in the 1960s, said he wasn't scared off by the events of the past 10 months at the university.

"In fact, it made me even more interested in coming here to contribute to this university that is so dear to my family, and to doing everything in my power to help the institution become even more outstanding," he said.

"The engines are revving again, and the University of British Columbia will continue to move from excellence to eminence, I have absolutely no doubt."

Board chairman Stuart Belkin praised Ono's extraordinary life and accomplishments and said he was unanimously appointed to serve a five-year term at UBC.

Ono will earn $470,000 a year in the role.

Mental health advocate

The 53-year-old holds a biology degree from the University of Chicago and an experimental medicine PhD from McGill University. He has held prestigious positions at Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, University College London and Emory University.

The University of Cincinnati board voted unanimously in 2012 to appoint Ono president after he served as provost for two years.

Ono drew praise last month when he spoke frankly about his mental health history at a fundraiser, telling students that depression can be treated and mental illness shouldn't be stigmatized. He revealed that he first tried to kill himself at 14 and that his second attempt came in his mid-20s.

When rumours of his move broke on social media on Sunday, many at the University of Cincinnati appeared dismayed. One Twitter user wrote: "President Ono leaving legitimately has me depressed. Man means more to this university than anyone."

Ono appears to be a social media master himself, with more than 72,000 Twitter followers.

In a video statement released by the university, Ono described UBC as a great institution, but stressed that it shouldn't rest on its laurels.

He also signaled his support to university faculty members, describing them as "outstanding."


Wants faculty to 'fly even higher'

"I think one of my responsibilities is to think about how to support them better, to make their jobs easier, to connect them with opportunities in the outside world, for me to identify resources for them even more successfully than is occurring now," Ono said.

UBC has been gripped by a governance crisis since last August, when Gupta quit last summer after one year into a five-year term, setting off a flurry of speculation.

Board chairman John Montalbano resigned last October after an investigation into a professor's claims that she was intimidated after writing a blog post suggesting Gupta lost the "masculinity contest" at UBC.

The faculty association passed a resolution declaring it had lost confidence in the board in March, after the university accidentally released emails that revealed board members had held secret meetings with Gupta leading up to his departure.

UBC has also faced accusations it delayed taking action on multiple sexual assault allegations against a male PhD candidate. Interim president Martha Piper apologized to the women affected by the case and the university recently released a draft of its new sexual assault policy.

With files by Jane Armstrong


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