‘It has been an honour’: Santa Ono to leave UBC for University of Michigan in October

Santa Ono will step down as UBC’s president to serve in the same role at the University of Michigan in the United States.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents unanimously approved Ono’s appointment as the university’s 15th president during a meeting at 1 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday. He was the sole finalist from a six-month search.

Ono will be leaving in mid-October, according to a UBC broadcast posted after the meeting from UBC Board of Governors Chair Nancy McKenzie.

In an interview with The Ubyssey Wednesday afternoon, McKenzie said it was too early for many of the search details to be set, but that the process would be led by a Board-created search committee comprised of members from across UBC’s two campuses. It will also likely take several months and include a public consultation period.

She also said the Board will work with Ono to select an acting president who will take over in October.

“It’s important to highlight the great work that he did here at UBC and really to thank him for that. And we wish him well as he moves on to this next opportunity,” she added.

Ono's appointment comes after former University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel was fired in January for engaging in a two-year relationship with an employee over email.

Ahead of the vote, regents gave remarks praising Ono’s work and expressing excitement for his appointment.

“Dr. Ono is relentlessly positive, he understands the critical role of collaborative relationships and working toward a common goal and he loves the students he serves,” said Denise Ilitch, one of the co-chairs of the presidential search committee.

Ono has served as UBC’s 15th president and vice-chancellor since August 2016. He was reappointed for a second five-year term — which started in August 2021 — in summer 2020.

As UBC's president, Ono focused on climate and anti-racism initiatives. He declared the climate emergency in 2019 following student demonstrations and creating an anti-racism task force in 2020. He also launched the university’s Strategic, 2030 Climate Action and Indigenous Strategic plans.

Community members applauded Ono’s advocacy for greater mental health support, but noted that services and resources on campus continue to be strained.

In a statement released after the vote, BC Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training Anne Kang thanked Ono for his work and wished him the best at the University of Michigan.

Outside of his official duties as president, Ono was known for wearing bow ties — although he appeared to stop wearing them recently — playing the cello and taking selfies and pictures with students around campus.

In a letter to the UBC community, Ono said the invitation to serve at the University of Michigan was a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” adding that the term-limited nature of the UBC presidency and being closer to family in Michigan also factored into his decision.

“It has been an honour and privilege to serve the University of British Columbia … In addition, I shall forever be proud of what we have accomplished together,” he added.

This article was updated at 2:48 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 to include comments from an interview with Board of Governors Chair Nancy McKenzie.