With a resume that reads like a dream list for political science and law students alike, Stephen Owen has been an impressive VP External for UBC. Though he won’t renew his term in 2012, Owen said he will look back fondly on his time at UBC Vancouver.
“I went to UBC law school. And I taught here as a sessional in the 80s. So I’ve always had a big place in my heart for UBC.”
His great-grandparents came to Vancouver in the 1880s, making Owen a fourth generation Vancouverite. He comes from a political family; his uncle was lieutenant governor of BC and his cousin, Philip Owen, was mayor of Vancouver throughout the 1990s.
Owen’s career started out with a law degree from UBC, though the university looked a little different back then. “In ’69, when I started, first-year classes were all in huts,” recalled Owen. Back then, he said, chickens and cows used to roam around south campus.
After teaching law at the University of Victoria, Owen’s career path changed dramatically when he was asked to run for parliament. “I’d never been involved in politics before 2000, and I joined a week before the election [was called] in October 2000.
“Five weeks later, my wife and I were standing in the snow in front of the Parliament building, saying, ‘What the hell have we done?’”
Owen held the Vancouver Quadra riding, in which UBC resides, for the Liberals in the following two elections. He served in cabinet for both Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. During his time as an MP, Owen said he had a good relationship with UBC.
“I had three elections, and they were a hoot, and a lot of the part of that was UBC.” Owen points to UBC students as making up a considerable volunteer force during those election campaigns. “You’d have about 600 or 700 people involved, and I’d say almost half of them were under 25.”
After his time in politics and conflict mediation, Owen said that when President Toope asked him to come to UBC as VP External, the position seemed like a good fit.
“It’s got a wide range of issues, it’s not a huge portfolio but it serves the whole university.
“Things like working with the school board to get the new school in UBC, getting the Farm saved, transferring density to other parts of the province. Those sorts of issues, not conflict issues, but issues where people have different points of view and we have to try and bring them together.”
On his time spent at UBC, Owen said, “The whole experience has been a lot of fun.
“We’ve got some very different personalities and backgrounds that really work together well as a team.”
As for his decision to leave, Owen said it was just his love of variety that pushed him to look for something new. “I do change jobs fairly frequently, and it’s not because the jobs haven’t been great. It’s just that I’m really interested in doing different things.
“I like puzzles. I really haven’t got anything specific in mind, but I will be working in public policy and conflict resolution,” he said.
UBC will always be something special for Owen, though.
“It’s an honour to be associated with [UBC]. I’m happy; I’ve had a lot of fun.”