UBC President Headed to Toronto

Stephen Toope

Nine months after announcing his departure, UBC president Stephen Toope reveals where he’s headed, and reflects on his eight years at UBC

When UBC president Stephen Toope announced last April that he was stepping down from his position after eight years, he gave little indication of where he was headed next—save for a vague reference to “academic and professional interests in international law and international relations.”
Nine months later, it’s been revealed that Toope, a law scholar with a focus on international human rights (he represented Western Europe and North America on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances from 2002-2007) is headed to the University of Toronto, where he will be director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, starting January 2015.
BCBusiness caught up with Toope by email shortly after the announcement of his next move, and asked him to reflect on his time at UBC: his proudest accomplishments, his greatest regret, and what he has in store for the Munk.
As you look back on your eight years at UBC, what do you feel most proud of?
I am very proud of the significant efforts that my colleagues have made to improve the student experience at UBC. Quality of teaching is now more firmly positioned as a prominent consideration in the tenure and promotion process for professors. UBC’s international profile has also improved. In Europe, we have concluded the first joint degree programs of any Canadian university, with prestigious partners such as Paris’s Sciences Po. In India, UBC leads the largest research consortium ever created between our two countries, and has attracted major federal and private sector funding. With the creation of our China Council, UBC is now clearly the Canadian leader in engagement with that hugely important country.
The success of UBC’s “start an evolution” campaign is also a source of great pride. It took courage by our board of governors to launch just after the global financial collapse! But we have already raised almost $1.3 billion of our $1.5-billion goal. Just as important, we will surpass our ambitious goal to double alumni engagement with the university to 50,000 annually. That is a huge vote of confidence and a great sign for the future.
Is there anything you wanted to accomplish that you were unable to?
I am not sure that locals fully appreciate what it means to have a globally influential university right on their doorstep. UBC attracts talent from across the nation and all over the world. It produces ideas, processes and innovations that are changing our collective future, not just in B.C. but across the globe. Its economic impact rivals that of many traditional industries in our province. I think it fair to say that UBC is one of the province’s greatest assets, as important as LNG and trees! I could have done more to share that story day-in, day-out right here at home.
What is the draw of your new position at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs? What do you plan and hope to accomplish there?
I hope to further establish the Munk as one of the handful of globally relevant schools of global affairs and international public policy. There are a lot of big problems facing humanity right now, from pandemic disease to climate change, from endemic poverty to global and regional security risks. We need the best brains to help us figure our way through these problems, and the Munk has convening power to contribute mightily to that much-needed endeavour.
How has your time at UBC changed the way you approach leadership?
UBC is a bold place, with bold ambitions. But it is also a big institution with a history and traditions. So I have learned a lot about when it is possible to push and when it is necessary to be patient. I have learned that you can’t accomplish anything of importance without surrounding yourself with a brilliant team. Finally, I have learned how lucky I am to have a spouse who has a wicked sense of humour and the patience of Job. A university presidency is relentless in its demands, and I can’t imagine having thrived without the haven of my family, especially Paula.
Responses have been edited for brevity.