Deconstructing incoming UBC president Santa Ono's introductory video

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      It's said that a picture tells a thousand words.

      But an introductory video can sometimes go even further in revealing a person's priorities.

      This morning, UBC posted a series of comments by its newly appointed incoming president, Santa Ono, on YouTube. The sequence of his remarks—as well as the camera angles—offer clues into how he hopes to bring people together on the sometimes fractured Vancouver campus.

      After opening by saying that UBC can "rise from excellence to eminence", Ono immediately focuses on the importance of the faculty.

      "UBC has outstanding faculty," Ono says. "And 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 a resource for them, even more successfully than is occurring now. Then they can actually fly even higher.”

      It's his way of showing that professors are vital to the university's mission. It also diminishes concerns among some academics that they've become chopped liver in the eyes of university administrators and board members.

      Remember, this is a university where the faculty association declared that it had lost confidence in the former chair of the board of governors. The same faculty association later accused the university of skirting freedom-of-information legislation.

      After reassuring the professors, Ono pledges in the video to enhance connections across the Pacific Ocean. This is a tip of the hat to donors who appreciate UBC's strong emphasis on international education. It's also a signal that UBC will continue to focus on global issues.

      Later in the video, Ono speaks about the importance of the president and the administration supporting the work of others. Here, he mentions the faculty again, as well as staff, students, alumni, and external stakeholders (which include the federal and provincial governments).

      The job of a university president, he maintains, is to serve all of those different groups. Ono is a practitioner of Servant Leadership, which is an anti-authoritarian management style pioneered by Robert K. Greenleaf.

      In keeping with this philosophy, Ono uses the magic words "shared governance". It's been a sore point with the faculty association that UBC's governance has, in the past, not been sufficiently open and welcoming. Part of the blame rests with the Christy Clark government, which has dropped the ball on postsecondary funding while retaining tight control over the boards of colleges and universities.

      At times, Ono is filmed from a distance in the video. This shows him to be a relatively small figure within a large institution. It increases viewers' perceptions that he's not going to be a strongman issuing orders from on high.

      The video closes with him mentioning how important UBC was in his family's history. His father was a mathematician at UBC for a while in the early 1960s before moving to the University of Pennsylvania.

      "If it weren’t for UBC we wouldn’t still be in North America," Ono says.

      The math connection is worth noting. That's because many of those complaining publicly about the resignation of Arvind Gupta have roots in UBC's mathematics faculty.

      All in all, Ono delivered a magnificent performance and it should serve the new president well as he gets to know people on the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.

      If I had any quibble, it was the placement of the Canadian flag over his shoulder in one of UBC's publicity photos. It struck me as a bit forced for a university that has become increasingly Americanized in recent years and that has just hired yet another academic from south of the border.

      Let's admit that UBC is an international institution that's vying to be Canada's equivalent of the University of California, Berkeley or University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

      However, the Canadian flag in the photo of Ono might go over well with students on campus, not to mention many residents across the province.