Brian Sullivan to Step Down as VP Students

At last Wednesday’s meeting of the UBC Vancouver Senate, President Toope made the unexpected announcement that Brian Sullivan, UBC’s VP Students since 1999, would be stepping down on March 18, 2011. Last year, Sullivan had been appointed to a two-year term which was supposed to end July 31, 2012.

In a Feb 22 letter Toope explains that the university had enlisted consultants to review the VP Students portfolio. The consultants’ report, which came back Feb 17, contains a number of recommendations for the restructuring of the VP Students portfolio. The reason given for Sullivan’s abrupt departure is that the university wants to start implementing some of the recommendations as soon as possible and that the restructuring should occur under the tenure of an incoming VPS rather than an outgoing one. A pro tem VP Students appointment will be made to allow the university to undertake a broad search for a new permanent appointment.

Sullivan, who will transition over to an advisor position with Alumni Affairs, leaves a legacy of being a important and effective advocate for students at UBC, as well as pulling off the extremely difficult feat of being admired and well-liked by pretty much everyone at UBC. In Brian’s honour, March 18 will be Bow-Tie Appreciation Day. Please wear a bowtie on that day to show your appreciation for the tremendous job he’s done over the last decade!

It's easy to see why Brian Sullivan was very popular with students.

As for the contents of the consultants’ report, read it if it interests you. I’ll try to keep the summary below short.

There is no clear preferred model for representing student interests at the senior admin level amongst North American universities. Many people at UBC, students especially, view the current situation with an actual VP Students portfolio directly “at the table” during admin discussions as extremely valuable. However, they aren’t convinced the current structure is the most efficient, nor is it representative of Place and Promise.

We note, but with significant reservations, the commonly held view that the structure of the portfolio “works” on a day-to-day level, while affirming, without any reservations, the view of many staff, administrators, and faculty that the same structure fails in a strategic sense. The current organizational structure, many features of the two-campus approach, and the multifaceted nature of the portfolio are all obstacles to coherent planning, execution, communication, operations, and assessment.Strong and effective people have attempted to compensate for the portfolio’s structural complexity but too much time and effort are now required to overcome the inefficiency inherent in the existing organizational placements, arrangements, and reporting lines. We do not believe that the current structure offers UBC the best administrative arrangement for achieving the goals of Place and Promise.

They propose two models for reorganization of the portfolio. The first retains the VP Students portfolio but envisions significant reorganization:

  • Enrolment Services is removed from the portfolio; moved under the provost.
  • Classroom Services relocated to Finance, Resources, and Operations.
  • Strategic Enrolment Management and the International Student Initiative absorbed into Enrolment Services under the provost.
  • The VPS portfolio’s responsibility is concentrated almost exclusively at the Vancouver campus; having the AVP Students, Okanagan report to the Deputy Vice Chancellor or Provost.
  • Student Development and Services, including all current units maintains status quo in the VPS portfolio.
  • Student Housing and Hospitality Services develops a parallel reporting relationship to
    the Vice-President, Finance, Resources, and Operations. The only part of the VPS portfolio that exists as a single entity at both Vancouver and Okanagan.
  • Athletics / Recreation either stay put in VPS, or moved under Finance, Resources, and Operations.
  • Addition of Community Service Learning from the Vice-President, External, Community, and Legal
    Relations portfolio.
  • Addition of Graduate Student Services currently being run through the faculty of Graduate Studies

The second model envisions getting rid of the VP Students portfolio altogether with the top administrator in charge of student issues being an Associate or Vice Provost under the Provost. Most of the reorganization proposed in the first model would also occur, with many of the units being moved under the provost.

Keep in mind, these are merely recommendations. Clearly, UBC does intend to do some re-organization of the portfolio, but may not agree with all of the proposed changes, or have some of their own in mind. By stating they will appoint a new VP Students, they have already clearly rejected the suggestion of removing the VP Students portfolio altogether, a decision we strongly support.


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  1. A well written article. Some of the changes may be well placed in the university. It’s going to be really hard to find someone to replace Brian however.

    Posted by Cappellacci | March 4, 2011, 4:41 pm
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