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David Strangway became the 10th president of the University of British Columbia on Nov 1, 1985. After reappointment for a second term he stepped down on July 31, 1997. When he took office the province had just made major cuts to the transfer payments to the universities of the province. The financial situation was difficult to say the least. Since then UBC along with many other public universities in the period from 1985 to 1997 lost more than 30% of its provincial transfer grant on a per student basis when corrected for inflation over these years At the beginning of his term he worked with the campus to develop UBC’s first detailed mission plan. This plan became the guide for the next few years of development. As one of the first signs of continuing support the province was soon convinced to create a program called the Funds for Excellence in Education and as well the transfer grant was increased by 10%. This important start permitted UBC to create and strengthen several Centres of Excellence in selected fields. From this renewed base, UBC was able to form very competitive programs that catapulted UBC into the first rank of competition for research funding.
The commitment to keep the campus and those beyond the campus well informed was very high. Each year a detailed budget, planning and accountability document was prepared and widely distributed on campus. This document ran to hundreds of pages, but it included information about every budget decision and documented how UBC spent the funds provided from its multiple sources. A number of president’s reports were published including UBC: Engine of Recovery; the Library; Toward the Pacific Century and the Creative and Performing Arts.

A major fund raising campaign was launched with the appointment of Peter Ufford, an experienced expert in the field. The campaign was guided by a strong community-based volunteer board. Four years after the campaign was launched UBC had raised $262 million dollars. This was at the time, the largest campaign in Canadian history and provided resources for many activities. The provincial government provided matching funds for the early phases of the campaign. This was very important, as it showed that the government of the province was fully supportive. Money from this campaign was used only for creating endowment funds and for capital in the form of new and needed buildings. It was not used to support operations of the university. The endowment funds standing at $85 m in 1985 had risen to over $500 million by 1997. This placed UBC’s endowment funds as second in Canada only to the University of Toronto.

Early in his first term, a private corporation owned by UBC as the sole shareholder was created, run by an outstanding volunteer developer in Vancouver, Bob Lee who also became chancellor. This corporation, UBC Real Estate Corporation developed parts of the UBC campus for market housing. Parts of the campus were not needed for academic purposes in the foreseeable future and these were leased to developers for 99 years. Now called the UBC Properties Trust, this has been a major source of funding building the university endowment which has continued to increase very rapidly second only to the University of Toronto in Canada.
In total there was over $900 m of new construction on the campus during these years. This was funded by a combination of private fund raising, of provincial capital financing and of buildings funded by user fees.

First Nations House of Learning – provided a place for the drive to increase participation by aboriginal students
- Green College – provided a residence and gathering place for graduate students from many departments and strengthened interdisciplinary activities.

Chan Centre for the Performing Arts – provided a world class concert hall that serves both the campus and as a venue for major performances in the city of Vancouver

Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery – This art gallery was the first truly dedicated space for art exhibits on campus and has served UBC well over the years.

The Choi building for the Institute of Asian Research – was built to focus UBC’s ever growing strength in Asian Studies. This was designed to be a very environmentally sound building starting the trend to be environmentally sustainable

The Sing Tao building for the newly funded School of Journalism opened UBC’s first graduate journalism program

The Jack Bell building for the School of Social Work provided modern space for this dynamic school.

The David Lam Management Research Centre provided expanded space for the Faculty of Commerce.

Chemistry Building – One of the first new buildings was a new chemistry building to deal with the need for expanded and improved modern research space.

A new facility for the operation of the physical plant was built to house the extensive activities required to maintain and operate a large and complex campus.

A new Forest Science building was constructed to house the faculty of forestry which is so important to the British Columbia economy and brought a renewed focus to biosciences

The Koerner Library was created as a modern library to deal with the ever increasing demand for modern library facilities.

A new Student Recreation Centre was created to provide space for students and others to keep athletically and recreationally active

The Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory brought together people from many disciplines with a deep interest in research on advanced materials and nanotechnology

The Centre for Integrated Computer Systems Research Building brought together researchers and students working on modern Information and Communications Technology

Michael Smith Biotechnology Laboratory was built to bring together a number of aspects of biotechnology under the leadership of Michael Smith, Nobel Prize winner. Interestingly this building was paid for by charging rent to grants held by researchers.

The Liu Centre for Global Issues – This Centre was funded in part by donations from Taiwan and again brought an interdisciplinary focus to international studies at UBC.

St. Johns College – This was a second graduate residential college with a focus on Asia, as it was created in honour of the famous St. Johns University of Shanghai that closed in 1950.

Ritsumeikan-UBC House – This was a joint venture between Ritsumeikan University of Kyoto, Japan and UBC. Every year 100 third year students come from Ritsumeikan and live with 100 Canadian students in an exciting exchange. Since this original concept, similar programs have followed with Korea University, ITESM of Mexico and the University of Hong Kong.


A number of parking garages were built to provide convenient parking for the large number of people that come to campus every day.

Several new student residences were built in an attempt to meet the target of 25% of students being able to live on campus. These included the two residential graduate colleges and the Ritsumeikan-UBC House.

Food Services were expected to finance their own facilities as part of the cost of doing business

The English Language Institute built a new building to meet the increasing demand for international students to get self funding courses in English language. The School of Continuing Studies had been put on the basis that it must self fund its activities of academic outreach.

The first of several new Technology Enhancement Facilities or Incubators was opened with rents to spin off company tenants covering the cost of construction and operation.

As indicated by the aggressive building activities the level and the quality of the research on the UBC campus rose dramatically during this period. In many cases there was an increased focus on research that involved several faculties and crossed a number of traditional discipline lines. A number of new Centres and institutes were either created or expanded.
- Sustainable Development Research Institute created to focus attention and research on the very profound issues of sustainability, that know no discipline boundaries
- Institute for Asian Research was already a strong functioning entity but a number of new endowed chairs increased the depth of study. The Choi building brought increased focus on the studies of Japan, Korea, China, Southeast Asia and South Asia .

The Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies located in the former faculty club building brought new ability to attract and retain some of the very top academics.

Liu Centre for the Study of Global Issues- This new centre brought together people from across campus to focus on the ever increasing awareness of the global problems and opportunities that not only crossed disciplinary boundaries, but also crossed international borders.

Centre for Research in Women’s Studies and Gender Relations- this was a much strengthened unit focusing on important research topics.

Institute for European Studies to enrich the strong focus on Asia

W Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics

Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre (MAGIC) that brought together people from many different fields on this ever evolving topic.

Research activity across the campus in many fields increased strongly over these years and UBC has continued to be highly competitive in peer reviewed competitive grant applications ranking among the very best in Canada. In some cases strong inter university programs were also developed such as the Pacific Institute for Mathematics.

With all of the new facilities and the new Centres just described, there was much enrichment in the teaching and learning environment. Many new endowed (or partially endowed chairs) brought many new faculty members to UBC who participated both in teaching and research.
In recognition of the many outstanding teaching faculty at UBC the Killam Teaching Prize was introduced and awarded formally at the graduation ceremonies. Working with the Faculty Association, a Center for Teaching and Academic Growth was established to help those seeking to improve their teaching. In order to spur innovation in teaching and learning in the various faculties, a fund referred to as the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund was introduced that led to a number of initiatives. One of these was the establishment of Science One to cross discipline boundaries for first year students. This was modeled on the long standing Arts One program that was remembered fondly by so many students.
Of course tuition increases were necessary during this period although often limited by the provincial government. But since about one third of the students took advantage of student aid programs about one third of each increase was put back into the general scholarship/bursary funds. At the same time a significant part of the new endowment funds were made available for scholarships for students.
It was during this time that many issues of equity and fairness were developed. The First Nations House of Learning mentioned earlier, was an explicit move to make the campus much more friendly and accessible to aboriginal students. Rick Hansen returning from his wheel chair odyssey around the world joined UBC and took the lead in creating the Disabilities Resource Centre. This continued the tradition of the Crane Library for the blind and helped to make UBC a much friendlier place for the disabled both in terms of assistance and in terms over time of making buildings much more accessible. A strong sexual harassment policy was introduced and the Equity office was created to deal with issues of fairness and rights on the campus.

During the tenure of a previous president John MacDonald, UBC had taken a lead in proposing that the province create a variety of institutions of higher learning. The result of his earlier report was the creation of the system of community colleges to deal with the ever increasing demand for postsecondary educational opportunities in local communities and an increased need for vocational skills. This led to the creation of the college system. It was clear by the late 80s and early 90s that the demand for post secondary places needed to be modified once again. UBC under the leadership of Dan Birch, academic vice president, took the lead and worked with Okanagan College and the College of the Cariboo to establish four year degree programs in arts and science. The agreement with UBC was that the UBC senate would review and approve the bachelor’s degrees awarded in Kamloops and Kelowna. Once again UBC had taken the lead in developing the next phase of evolution of the tertiary system. Shortly after this the provincial government recognized the utility of this model and in due course established an act of the legislature designating these campuses (and two others) as university colleges able to grant their own degrees.
During this time a number of studies focused on the economic impact of UBC on the economy of the province. When the increased tax income of university educated students was taken into account the impact was very significant. The provincial economy was increased many times over based on the provincial investment.
And as one traveled the province, it became very clear that there was a very large impact in preparing those people that delivered services to British Columbians whether in medicine, dentistry, financial services, legal services, teaching in schools, municipal services, businesses or any of a myriad of activities.

During this time the international developments for UBC were considerable. Many distinguished guests were hosted during this time. Highly significant was the Summit meeting that took place in the Norman MacKenzie House between President Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin. The summiteers were welcomed to the campus by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In the same year, the former Minister of Education for Mexico Ernesto Zedillo visited the campus. Shortly after this he became the President of Mexico. There were many other opportunities to meet interesting heads of state and royalty. David Strangway spent an afternoon with Cabinet Minister Pat Carney accompanying her Royal Highness the Queen of Canada as she toured Vancouver. Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn also visited campus We had visits from two prime ministers of Japan, Nakasone and Takeshita who visited the Nitobe Gardens and rang the bell in the new Japanese Bell Tower. Prince Takemada was also a visitor. Luncheons were hosted for Carl Gustav, King of Sweden and his wife as well as Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus of the Netherlands. Queen Margarethe and Prince Henrik of Denmark were also guests at the president’s house. And we had visits from Princess Chulaborn of Thailand along with her consort. There were other occasions when we had the privilege of meeting with President Gorbachev and with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
There were many partnerships and programs established for the exchange of students to countries around the world. A target was established that 10% of the graduating students would have had a semester (or a year) abroad. This was met by 1997. It became necessary to set tuition fees for international students at a level that was determined to correspond to the actual cost of delivering their academic program. This meant that no Canadian students were displaced by international students. But this did not reduce the interest of international students coming to UBC at either the graduate level or the undergraduate level This steady flow of international students substantially enriched the learning opportunites.
UBC was a founding member of a number of organizations of international university presidents. These included CONAHEC that brought together presidents from Canada, the US and Mexico corresponding to the timing of the NAFTA agreement UBC was also a founding member of the Asia Pacific University Presidents Forum that including only the senior public university presidents from the Pacific Rim. This was later transformed into the Asia Pacific Research University Presidents Forum that added private universities from the Pacific Rim.

UBC has had a long history of innovation and working with the private sector on projects of mutual interest and on conducting research relevant to these relationships. Most explicit was the creation of Discovery Parks In the early days this was an organization that owned land in the Burnaby-Willingdon area and encouraged the establishment of research related companies. Over time, it became clear that this entity should build a much closer relationship to the three universities. In the event, the three universities formed a consortium that took over the management of Discovery Parks. The outcome was to permit much stronger on campus incubator centres to be created. At UBC when the first of these was established, due to the great demand for space for spinoff companies it was immediately filled. This was a self financing building. The UBC policy was that the intellectual property from research projects belonged to the university on the basis that it had the right of first refusal. Of course in each case agreements were worked out with the inventors. The University Industry Liaison Office was strengthened and took active steps in seeking patents and licensing agreements. This aspect of the university activity in fact led the country in the creation and licensing of intellectual property, particularly in biotechnology company creation, but also in software projects. .

References and graphics
UBC website
UBC The First 100 Years by Eric Damer and Herbert Rosengarten, UBC Press, 2009
Picture of the Strangway Building
Picture of the First Nations House of Learning
Quotes from UBC the first 100 years



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