JUNE 5, 2009

Eminent Chancellor Morgan-Silvester, President Toope, President Emeritus Piper, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Owram, graduates and their families, UBC (O) faculty, ladies and gentlemen. First I would like to thank the UBC Okanagan Senate for conferring this honour on me. To be recognized by one’s former colleagues in this manner is very special.

In considering what I would say to you today, I was reminded of one of my favourite radio programs. The narrator would begin by telling you the end of the story. Only then would come “the rest of the story.”

Today’s convocation is the end of the story that I’m about to tell you. Convocation is a time-honoured tradition of recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of a university’s graduates. You have worked hard to earn your degrees and now can look forward to a promising career that your education has prepared you for.

But today is also a celebration of another milestone -- the first convocation for students admitted to the newly-minted UBC (Okanagan) four years ago.

Now for the rest of the story!

On March 17, 2004, in Kelowna, Premier Campbell announced,

  1. the establishment of UBC (Okanagan),
  2. the creation of the new Okanagan College and
  3. the closure of Okanagan University College.

Four weeks later, on the recommendation of then UBC President, Martha Piper, the Provincial Government appointed me as Public Administrator (Transition).

The Public Administrator’s terms of reference were very clear. I was to maintain Okanagan University College’s operations and take all steps necessary to wind up OUC by September 1, 2005. To fulfill this responsibility, I was vested with the full authority of both the Board of Governors and the Education Council of Okanagan University College. In addition, I was directed to facilitate the establishment of both UBC (Okanagan) and Okanagan College. The main guide to this entire process was an eight-page Memorandum of Understanding between UBC and the Ministry of Advanced Education.

The Memorandum of Understanding provided some limited instruction on the governance structure. There was to be a Transition Management Committee to determine the policy framework and to make the major decisions. This committee had three members–the Public Administrator as chair, UBC’s senior representative for UBC (Okanagan), Barry McBride, and a representative from the then prospective Okanagan College, Jim Hamilton, who went on to become the College’s first President.

Our work was supported by a second committee, the Integrated Transition Management Office or ITMO. (Universities DO tend to work by committee!)

The ITMO membership was made up of faculty and staff from both OUC and UBC. The UBC representatives on the ITMO included a number of veteran and seasoned faculty administrators. I should also note that other UBC faculty members were on campus developing the academic plan, the campus plan and meeting with the local community.

The role of OUC members was a bit more complex. They had to take into consideration the continuing operation of OUC, its eventual dissolution and the establishment of the two new institutions, one of which would ultimately become their employer.

There were no manuals for us to consult. There were no case studies for us to examine. The time line was relatively short. Perhaps the most significant challenge was the need to maintain Okanagan University College’s operations, while simultaneously both dismantling the institution and facilitating the development of the two new institutions. For example, UBC needed OUC’s permission to construct the additions to both the Arts and Science buildings. If UBC (Okanagan) was to have sufficient space to accommodate its new students by September 1 2005, OUC’s approval was never in doubt, but there were conditions attached to the approval—minimal disruption to OUC’s operations, and UBC’s acceptance of liability for any damages.

One of the first decisions the Transition Management Committee made was to establish a dispute resolution mechanism. How was a deadlock between UBC (Okanagan) and Okanagan College to be resolved? The process decided upon was relatively simple. The Public Administrator would choose one of the two positions leaving the other party with an opportunity to file an appeal to the Ministry. The resolution mechanism was used only once and that was with respect to the division of the government operating grant. It was, as they say, a difficult decision, and the decision was not appealed. Another early decision was to advance the date for the transition to July 1, 2005 from September 1, 2005 which, in turn, increased pressure on the Transition Management Committee to make major decisions as expeditiously as possible.

What were the key decisions that had to be made? Among them were the division between the two new institutions of the student Full Time Equivalents, OUC’s 750 employees, the provincial operating grant, assets such as furnishings and equipment, the vehicle fleet, the art collection and the Okanagan University College Foundation’s endowment funds. Every contract, leasing agreement and licensing agreement entered into by OUC needed to be examined and was either assigned to one or both of the new institutions or cancelled. Surveys of the properties to be transferred were necessary and that turned up a few surprises. An extensive agreement was negotiated among the three parties and the provincial government outlining the details and the terms and conditions of the asset transfers, environmental issues and other matters.

The first major policy decision reached was the division or allocation of OUC’s student Full Time Equivalents, the building block of provincial funding. The agreed ratio was 40 per cent for UBC (Okanagan) and 60 per cent for Okanagan College. This same ratio was applied to other critical decisions such as the allocation of support staff and the allocation of faculty positions, as opposed to individuals, from the Faculties of Arts and Science which were to be split. It also applied to the vehicle pool and the art collection. In instances where a specific degree program was assigned to either institution, such as Education to UBC (Okanagan) and Business to Okanagan College, the entire faculty complement was transferred.

As should now be evident the process was complex, and at times stressful. Perhaps the most challenging matter was the people dimension. Before we dealt with “things,” we felt we must first address the concerns of the people involved. The announcement of UBC (Okanagan) had come as a complete surprise to Okanagan University Colleges employees. When I arrived on campus I encountered a variety of emotions ranging from denial, to resentment, anger, regret, acceptance and embracement. Underneath all of this was the fear generated by the climate of uncertainty. To individual employees, the question was, “Will I still have a job?” Students asked, “How will this affect my degree and my graduation?”

Perhaps the most important decision the Transition Management Committee made was to make a clear statement that all Okanagan University College employees would be offered jobs and alternatives such as early retirement incentives. Because Okanagan College would continue to offer transfer programs in Arts and Science, it was necessary to divide the teaching faculty according to the 60:40 ratio.

Faculty were asked, but not obliged to respond, to indicate their preference as to whether they wanted to go to UBC (Okanagan) or Okanagan College. All the support staff were given the same opportunity. As a result, the expression of faculty and staff preferences helped to expedite the process. By the end of November 2004 this part of the process was complete. All Okanagan University College employees received offers of employment from the two new employers at the same time outlining the position, salary, benefits and, in the case of Okanagan College, location being offered to them. They were given several weeks to reflect on and to make their decisions. I should add as a footnote that all office furniture was to remain in situ with the exception of people’s office chairs which they could take with them to their new jobs!

In my opinion, this process, and the manner in which it was conducted, represented a turning point. By removing the issue of job uncertainty, individuals could look forward to the future. To be sure there were a few reviews and reconsiderations but, for the most part, it went very well. While people could now think about their new jobs and responsibilities, they still had to continue fulfilling their existing jobs. As the June 30, 2005 deadline neared, most of Okanagan University College’s employees were, in effect, doing two jobs, winding up OUC and starting up UBC (Okanagan) and Okanagan College, and putting in very long days. Their dedication and professionalism ensured a successful and harmonious transition that took effect on July 1, 2005.

So, now you know the rest of the story.

On July 1, 2005 OUC formally transferred its property and assets to UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College. To commemorate the transfer there was a special ceremony of turning over the keys from OUC to the two new institutions to bring closure. Special keys were made to symbolize this historic moment.

As you leave this ceremony look at UBC’s flag outside by the pool. As it turned out, UBC did not have a flag so one was designed for the occasion. It was first raised four years ago. Paradoxically the date chosen was July 4 as the University was closed on July 1! This July 1 – remember to wish UBC (Okanagan) a very happy fourth birthday.

The transition was a learning experience for everyone involved. It demonstrated the importance of employee and student engagement, recognizing their and respecting their very real concerns, listening to them and, where possible, giving them choices.

Today’s graduates are the first group to complete their degree programs from start to finish at this University. Some degree programs such as Education were continued from OUC while others such as Engineering and Management are new. You have witnessed the launching of new programs, been taught by both former OUC faculty and new and new faculty members, experienced an interdisciplinary curriculum and joined in the excitement of being active participants in building a new university. You have helped to shape its norms, values and culture, building on the traditions of both UBC and OUC. In choosing UBC (Okanagan) you demonstrated that you were risk takers, prepared to take a chance that this new and untested university would fulfill your academic goals. By all accounts it has been a 10 win-win situation—a great success—and you played an important part in ensuring that it WAS a success.

Fifty years ago this month I was sitting where you are now, a freshly minted mechanical engineer graduating from UBC. In that half century I have been fortunate to have had a number of occupations and experiences. One of the most rewarding was my involvement with the transition to UBC (Okanagan) and Okanagan College and today to see how the dreams, vision and efforts of so many have become a reality. Thanks for your attention and good fortune in your future endeavours.