"Think about it"

Piper invites campus to redefine its mission

There have been 10 other presidential installations at UBC but the campus has never seen anything quite like the one that took place Sept. 25.

President Martha Piper set the tone for her term of office when she dispensed with the formal trappings of the ceremony to don a ballcap bearing her speech's theme, "Think About It."

More than 1,000 "thinking" caps were distributed to the audience as they left the ceremony in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

The University Singers performed a spirited Think About It gospel song to end the ceremony.

The song came at the end of a speech in which Piper told the audience that UBC is poised to become Canada's pre-eminent university, but must redefine its academic mission to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Piper challenged faculty, staff and students to engage in a "full and open discussion" to redefine the nature of the university's research and learning environment.

"Over the next several months, we will collectively engage in developing the academic vision for the University of British Columbia for the 21st century. I invite each of you to participate in this dialogue and to actively think about our future," she said.

Piper said that in redefining the academic environment, the university community must take into account three trends: increasing internationalization, inter-disciplinarity, which allows for the cross pollination of knowledge, and the rapid expansion of information technology.

As well, universities must re-examine the purpose of the undergraduate educational experience, she said. In particular, ways must be found to integrate research activities -- a strength at UBC -- with undergraduate education.

"Such is the challenge: to create a learning environment, based upon our outstanding research and scholarship, that will prepare the next generation to think -- to think about themselves, to think about the world in which they live and to think about the key roles they will play in the betterment of the human condition," Piper said.

Chancellor William Sauder led Piper in the oath of office. Board of Governors Chair Shirley Chan conducted the official robing, exchanging Piper's academic robes from McGill University, where she earned her doctorate, for the robes of UBC's president.

Representatives of 30 Canadian universities delivered their greetings to the new president. As well Piper congratulated 77 new students who had won major entrance scholarships.

The ceremony capped a day of events, many of which featured students in prominent roles. It began with Piper meeting a randomly chosen group of 25 students for breakfast.

Later in the morning, the new president took part in a forum titled "Thinking the Future of Learning," an exploration of the possibilities for undergraduate education at UBC. At the forum, Piper challenged the university community to come up with innovative methods of learning.

An informal outdoor reception for the entire campus community was held at the Flagpole Plaza immediately following the installation ceremony.