Yesterday was my last day on the UBC Board of Governors, the end of an extremely rewarding six-year stint. To the faculty who elected me decisively twice for the Board and another time for the Presidential search committee, I say thank you for your trust. I have tried to the best of my ability to present your perspective. I have also strived to inform about the issues, hence this (dreaded!) blog. My take on the experience? Well, it is a piece of cake for those who are in it for the cocktail parties. But it is surely stressful and exhausting to those who choose to speak their mind and stick their neck out when need be. The Board aspect of university governance works if and only if you work hard at it and speak up. “Governing” during the time of Stephen Toope was relentless, intellectually stimulating, and somewhat empowering. Yes, I have managed to accomplish a couple of things, and yes the experience was enriching, but these are not the only reasons why I feel fortunate to have served. Let me explain.
Most of the appointed members of the UBC Board are accomplished, seasoned, committed to the public good, and highly influential in their circles. Having them serve on the Board of Governors is an absolute gift for the university, but their association with the academic sector is simply too valuable to have it stop there. For that we need to co-opt them, to keep them on our side, the academic side, even after their term on the Board ends. And with this in mind, I am happy to have managed to run away like a bandit with some of them.
My first prized moment on the UBC Board was when I first met then-Chair Brad Bennett, who insisted on meeting every new governor individually. I remember us talking over breakfast about the need for innovative programs that connect our graduates with the business sector and with Government. Brad was an impressive Chair and an extremely valuable asset for UBC, especially with respect to government relations. An unsung hero. Shortly after having completed six years in that role, he accepted –to my delight– to assume the chairmanship of the Board of Mitacs. And so, this prominent and obviously influential member of a British Columbia political dynasty “remained with us” (sort of speak) to help guide and support Canada’s research and innovation effort through our students and our graduates. This is a great boon for Canada’s academic sector.
Similarly, before I joined the Board, Doug Mitchell was to me the name of a sports arena that I probably cursed every early morning whenever I drove my son to hockey practice. Doug is now my boss as the Chair of the Banff International Research Station for mathematical innovation and discovery. He has now added the STEM fields to the myriad of causes he supports selflessly and to the variety of missions he undertakes benevolently.
Another fortunate occurrence happened a few weeks ago when John Montalbano took over as Chair. I say this because UBC is currently at a particularly sensitive juncture undergoing a serious transition towards a new chancellor, a new president and probably a new administration. John is a gem within the rarified milieu of successful business leaders who are committed to support, and advocate for, Canada’s post-secondary education and research excellence. I had already noted his valuable and discrete contributions, when I met him a few years ago at the Canada Council for the Arts. I was on the Killam Research Prizes and Fellowships committee, and he was –still is– a trustee of the Killam Foundation. His recent generous endowment of a chair at the Sauder school in support of women and minorities, and his stated reasons behind such an act, sum up the values that drive the man, and showcase how fortunate we are at UBC “to have him” for a little while.
That the academic sector needs to poach more of the likes of John, Doug and Brad is a no-brainer. The sweetest outcome of my time on the Board is that I got to meet and know many more of them. My “Rolodesk” is now loaded as they say. Many of these prominent members of Canada’s private sector, will serve the academic community well, should they be called to oversee, if not manage, institutions for advanced education and research, not only in BC and Canada, but all over the world. So watch out Alice, Janet, Maureen, Sarah, Suzan, Greg, Jason, Robert, Ross and all of you out there, and thank you for making these last 6 years so worthwhile.