UNBC Celebrates 25th Anniversary
Prince George, B.C. – It started as a petition drive to impress upon the provincial government of the day the need and unbridled desire for a university in the north and for the north. And on Saturday some of the 16,000 people who signed that petition and paid their five bucks were on hand to witness the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the university they helped create.
The celebration included several acknowledgements of the First Nations culture that is woven into the fabric of the institution. Khast’an Drummers lead the procession of speakers and guests into the Charles Jago Sport Centre and Chief Dominic Frederick welcomed everyone to the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh. He noted that while our two cultures have started to improve relations, “we have to do more.”
Gitxan artist and carver Ron Sebastian told the audience about his experiences in making the university’s Talking Stick, Ceremonial Chairs and his carvings on the doors of the Senate.
There were several speakers including UNBC alumni Cam Bell, Hazel Nyce and Ryan Matheson, who was announced by President Dr Daniel Weeks as the new chair of the UNBC Board of Governors, the very first alumnus of the university to be named to that position. First year UNBC student Samantha Unger spoke about what the university has meant to her following a video presentation in which her father, Wendell Unger of Burns Lake, spoke of signing that petition way back in the late 1980’s only to see all three of his children attend UNBC. Two, Jocelyn and Christopher, have already graduated with undergraduate degrees.
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond spoke of the immense value of the university, both in terms of the horizons opened to its students and the effect the institution has on the city and the entire northern region.
There was plenty about the past, including President Weeks’ reflection that in the late ’80s “the province was coming off the high of hosting Expo 86 and people were emboldened by visions of the future in technology, culture, economics and more. To realize these visions a university education is being touted as the path of choice for youngsters finishing high school. And the North is bleeding talent.”
He noted that people were heading south to go to university, they weren’t staying here. Then came the seed, the discussion about a university, the petition drive, the letters to Victoria, all of it culminating in the passage of Bill 40, the UNBC Act.
But that’s all past. As far as the present is concerned Dr. Weeks says a number of factors are hurting UNBC’s enrolment numbers including a drop of five thousand graduates from District 57 schools between 2001 and 2013. He says “roughly two-thirds of our students come from Northern BC, two-thirds of a shrinking pie.”
He notes as well that the number of undergraduate degree-granting institutions in BC has increased from 14 in 1997 to 24 in 2013. As a result UNBC has seen a drop in the number of students from southern BC from 1,059 in 1997 to 638 in 2013. He says recruitment initiatives include targeting markets where students may be more likely to come here, a new web portal to interact with potential students, scholarship opportunities and pursuing growth in international education. He also says the university’s Canada Winter Games tuition waiver resulted in 10 students registering for next September with another six applications in line.
What does Dr. Weeks see for the future of UNBC? His vision focuses on resiliency, connectivity and confidence. He says “being Canada’s green university is good business and makes sense as sustainability is becoming more and more the norm in our society.” He notes UNBC’s reputation as an outstanding research university.
He says UNBC has to be connected “with Prince George, Northern BC, Canada and the world. I am strongly committed to connecting with communities, as this is where our future lies.”
Dr. Weeks says university operations have to be nimble enough to adapt to change, “we’ve committed to changing how we plan and budget, making positive steps forward with integrated planning.” He says “these are steps I felt we needed to take in order to become more resilient, and a university in which the community has continued confidence. Once we have transitioned to this operational model I’ll be able to direct my focus on the work expected of me: student recruitment, fundraising, enhancement of UNBC’s national and international exposure and our connectedness to communities and the world.”
Dr Weeks has announced a number of initiatives including the development of an Integrated University Planning Team, which will combine academic planning, administrative planning, finance and the budget within an integrated planning perspective. He also announced the President’s Ambassador Program which will help develop student leadership skills by providing specialized training.
Dr. Weeks plans to honour people who have provided exceptional service to UNBC and said he will forward a proposal to the Senate Committee and Board to recognize, first of all, the academic efforts of Charles McCaffrey.