UBC president Santa Ono leaving for job leading University of Michigan

·3 min read
Santa Ono is seen at the Alexander G. Ruthven Building in Ann Arbor, Mi. on July 13, 2022, shortly before being named the 15th president of the University of Michigan. (Supplied by Luke Hales/Michigan Photography/University of Michigan - image credit)
Santa Ono is seen at the Alexander G. Ruthven Building in Ann Arbor, Mi. on July 13, 2022, shortly before being named the 15th president of the University of Michigan. (Supplied by Luke Hales/Michigan Photography/University of Michigan - image credit)

After six years as president of the University of British Columbia, Santa J. Ono will leave the school this fall to take a new role leading the University of Michigan.

Ono, 59, was unanimously named the U.S. school's 15th president during a lighthearted special Board of Regents meeting in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Wednesday.

"It's a very exciting day for me, I have to admit," said Ono, taking the podium wearing a striped tie in the university's maize and blue colours.

"I grew up on a college campus: the wonderful institution which is the University of British Columbia. I know a lot of people are watching from Vancouver and UBC. I want to start off by saying it's been an honour and privilege for me to serve you and I'm thinking of you on this day," he said.

The University of Michigan, located just west of Detroit, is nearly on par with UBC in terms of number of students and is one of the highest-ranked universities in the world.

The institution was ranked 23rd in the QS World University Rankings for 2022, while UBC was 46th. It also ranked 23rd out of nearly 400 American schools in the national university rankings for 2022 published by U.S. News.

"We have a lot to look forward to," said University of Michigan regent Denise Illitch, who co-chaired the search committee to find a new president.

"I'm telling you, it's a happy damn day."

Ono said he is moving to Michigan because it is one of "the greatest public universities in the United States" and because he and his wife, Wendy, wanted to be living closer to their aging parents.

Born in Vancouver but raised in the U.S., Ono was named head of UBC in 2016. His predecessor, Arvind Gupta, had abruptly resigned under a cloud of controversy just one year into what was intended to be multi-year term.

Ono, then 53, was introduced as the son of a former UBC math professor and award-winning biologist who was bringing his experience as a renowned university leader back to his birthplace.

He was appointed to a second five-year term in 2020.

The Michigan presidency was also vacated under controversy: the most recent appointee, Mark Schlissel, was fired in January and replaced by former interim president Mary Sue Coleman.

As president, Schlissel's annual salary was $927,000.

Ono's total compensation at UBC was roughly a third less: he received $611,712 in the 2020-2021 year, including a base salary of $479,400.

On Wednesday, UBC board of governors chair Nancy McKenzie congratulated Ono on his tenure. A statement said the school will be releasing more information on the process and timeline to replace Ono as it "becomes available."

Ono holds a biology degree from the University of Chicago and an experimental medicine PhD from McGill University. He has held prestigious positions at Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, University College London and Emory University.

Before UBC, Ono had been president of the University of Cincinnati since 2012.

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