UBC's board of governors has decided that this isn't the time to replace the captain of the ship.
So today, the university announced that Santa Ono has been appointed to a second five-year term as president and vice-chancellor.
The social-media savvy Ono helped restore stability to UBC after a tumultuous period overseen by his predecessor, interim president Martha Piper, and former president Arvind Gupta, who quit 13 months into his five-year term.
“Professor Ono has been a remarkable leader helping propel UBC forward as a globally recognized university known for excellence in teaching, learning and research,” UBC board chair Nancy McKenzie said in a news release. “As we look to the start of the new academic year, we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty due to COVID-19. However, the board of governors has every confidence in Professor Ono’s ability to help steer UBC through these unique times and emerge even stronger.”
Under the University Act, Ono was responsible for bringing forward UBC's $2.9-billion budget for approval by the board this year.
It included a $225-million deficit—caused in part by plunging tuition revenues due to COVID-19.
“I am humbled and honoured to be reappointed as president and vice-chancellor of UBC for another five years,” Ono said in the news release. “During my second term, I look forward to continuing to work with our students, faculty, staff, and friends to help drive our mission to inspire people, ideas and actions for a better world.”
Ono played a pivotal role in the development of UBC's strategic plan, Shaping UBC's Next Century.
He also had considerable success in generating political support for a rapid-transit project to UBC's Point Grey campus.
The TransLink Mayors' Council supports the proposed extension but it still requires federal and provincial funding. If it's built, it would ease traffic congestion going in and out of campus and perhaps facilitate the development of more housing.
In addition, Ono's first term was marked by a dramatic board decision to divest from fossil fuels in its investment funds.
Last April, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings listed UBC seventh in the world among postsecondary institutions in addressing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.
In climate action and in a category called "life below water", the university ranked first overall.
Ono also helped raise the profile of arts and culture with a series of concerts and personal cello performances. And his UBC Connects lecture series brought several major speakers to UBC, including Michael Pollan, whose most recent book was about psychedelic medicines.
Another achievement: focusing on the importance of advancing equality for women. That was reflected in the number of women presenters in the UBC Connects series.
"We must all fight for gender equity so that no woman is excluded or discouraged from the field that she excels in," Ono declared in a 2019 TEDxUBC speech. "So that no breakthroughs are lost through the barriers of sexism. And no one who deserves a chance is passed up because they are female. We owe it to the next generation to take steps to ensure that every girl today can fulfill her potential tomorrow."
But perhaps his greatest legacy so far has been his efforts to shine a light on students' mental health. That message has permeated throughout the university during his tenure.
On the downside, Ono chaired the board of the Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies when it was accused of interfering in researchers' academic independence through a series of directives.
At the time, former director Philippe Tortell accused the board of choosing to eliminate a majority of its programs and allowing the university's administration to oversee dispersal of a large portion of the funding.
That led to extensive public consultations.
"The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS) Board appreciates the ongoing feedback and input from our community in this time of transition," Ono said on November 27, 2018. "Over the past week, the Board has heard from many scholars and community members about the PWIAS’ unique role and mission at UBC. We know we need to ensure that the Institute continues to support and nurture the outstanding research for which it is known."
Ono, 57, received $610,361 in compensation for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, according to UBC's statement of financial information.
He is one of two public officials in B.C. who are provided with an official residence, the other being Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin.
The UBC president practises what's known as servant leadership, which is rooted on focusing on the needs of others before considering his own.