Dialogue with Doug Owram and David Farrar


In the second in a series of four dialogues about UBC’s Strategic Plan, Doug Owram, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UBC Okanagan and David Farrar, Provost and Vice-President Academic of UBC Vancouver answered some key questions regarding the distinctive challenges and opportunities facing a two-campus university. As co-chairs of the strategic plan initiative, both Dave and Doug have a unique perspective on how a strategic plan can serve the needs of both our university communities.

1. How do you envision a strategic plan working for a two-campus university?

Doug: It is vitally important that we address this strategic planning process in the context of one single system. We need to start with the vision, mission and values of UBC as a whole. Granted, we may have local distinctions, but for the purpose of a successful planning process we must function together as a single unit. We’re not talking about the Vancouver campus or the Okanagan campus we’re talking about the entire system. What are the commonalities that we can utilize for maximum benefit? As we hear responses to the process we may determine specific roles for each campus due to size, scale or programs that will allow us to achieve those broad values. While the response to the strategies may vary, the areas that we’ll ultimately focus on – people, Aboriginal learning environments, graduate and international strategies, and sustainability will be common to the university as a whole. Having two campuses allows us to employ more diverse strategies than might otherwise be the case in achieving our vision.

Dave: As Doug and I both chair the strategic planning initiative we are already working collaboratively to define and draft the vision, mission and values of the university. This is very much a “bottom-up” process so we are asking the university community to share with us their perspectives. The responses that are coming back indicate that we are on the right track; they speak of a university that is globally influential; a university that provides leadership in the area of teaching and learning; and a university that is performing innovative research. We can see that the university community recognizes our role in transforming society. Through this process we have been able to clearly identify the things that UBC values, in particular, our people. We have an Aboriginal strategic plan nearly completed and we are working diligently on strategies for graduate students. We continue to work on what a strategic plan might look like from an undergraduate learning environment perspective, how we frame areas of internationalization, sustainability and develop a viable research strategy. Once those pieces are all in place, we will share it with the UBC community, coupled with a sustainable and responsive budget model, and solicit feedback. Those responses will come from both campuses.

2. How do you leverage the strengths of each campus?

Dave: Our strengths are complementary. We have a very large, comprehensive university campus in Vancouver so we have the ability to try many things within a large, complex environment. The Okanagan campus is a smaller, more integrated unit and there are tremendous advantages in that as well. The strategic planning team is working on a system-wide vision and recognizes that there are significant strengths on both campuses. The Vancouver campus will likely grow more at the graduate level. Meeting the needs of the graduate program is an important consideration for the Vancouver campus. Having said that, we are extremely proud of the effort we have put into our undergraduate program and feel it is one of our greatest success stories.

Doug: There are obvious differences between the two campuses, particularly with respect to size and the role of graduate and undergraduate programs. The Okanagan campus has a larger emphasis on undergraduate programs and because of its size can innovate more easily. This often allows us the unique opportunity to try things a little differently. We strive to be an intimate learning community with more focused research, while the Vancouver campus has a long and distinguished tradition as having much broader and widely diverse areas of excellence. UBC Okanagan is currently expanding and can help to fill the undergraduate needs of the province. In that capacity, we will be the campus for growth at the undergraduate level, while contributing to UBC Vancouver’s growth plans at the graduate level. This is yet another example of the different but complementary roles each campus can play in fulfilling overall objectives.

3. How has the relationship between UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan evolved over the past three years?

Doug: UBC had a long history as a single campus university and adding a second campus meant a substantial paradigm shift for the institution as a whole. That process is still evolving. In fact, there are three entities now: UBC Vancouver, UBC Okanagan and UBC as a system. In the beginning we had to build our financial structure, our human resource systems and other processes, and learning how to integrate those systems into UBC as one entity truly tested the relationship. But perhaps the most important issue for UBC Okanagan was how to assert our own unique identity into the mix. We had to find our own place within the system. To some extent it was an uneven relationship for the first few years, but it is beginning to stabilize. It’s by no means a finished process, but it’s evolving rapidly.

Dave: Over the past three years UBC Okanagan has become more self-sufficient in many areas as it continues to develop capacity. Vancouver and the Okanagan are working hard to articulate their respective roles within the system and this is vitally important. We can’t expect the national or for that matter the international academic community to understand us, if we cannot articulate how the system works. Vancouver is just beginning to understand the advantages that the larger system can bring. There is recognition in some quarters that there are opportunities with respect to the different environments that our campuses offer.

4. How will you know that the strategic plan has been a success?

Dave: I think UBC is one of a small group of universities that is poised to redefine the role of universities in the 21st century. Universities are changing and the role of universities in society is evolving and UBC is one of those special places that demonstrate leadership in this area. Five years from now, if we are successful we will be recognized as a 21st century university. UBC will be seen as one of a group of truly global universities that is providing leadership regionally, nationally and internationally.

Doug: If this strategic plan is successful, and by extension UBC is successful, the system as a whole will see UBC Okanagan as an integral part of that success and the value it contributes. The unique coexistence of both campuses will play a defining role in UBC’s ultimate success. I see UBC as one of the very few Canadian universities that can have a tremendous international impact. UBC, as a value-based institution, will see itself representing some very important values that reflect the best of university traditions and the best of Canadian traditions.

What do you think? Submit your comments to our Question of the Week.

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