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UVic mulls creation of new faculty with health-based focus

A new faculty would unite the 200-plus academics at UVic currently involved health research.
The University of Victoria campus near the Mearns Centre for Learning-McPherson Library. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The University of Victoria is looking to establish a new faculty focused on the study of health to raise the school’s competitiveness in B.C.’s growing health-education sector.

The project is explained in a memo to the university senate from UVic academic leaders Elizabeth Croft, vice-president academic and provost, and Helga Hallgrímsdóttir, deputy provost.

“UVic is not contemplating a medical school; instead, we seek to serve a different need for the province with respect to community and allied health,” the memo said, adding that UVic’s existing interdisciplinary health programs would be based out of the new faculty.

The memo noted that Simon Fraser’s new medical school is creating additional urgency for UVic to raise its health profile in an increasingly competitive post-secondary environment.

Since May, preliminary work on developing the faculty has been entrusted to an ad-hoc committee of 21. The university conducted an online survey in September asking students, staff, and faculty for their opinions.

UVic’s webpage about the new health-related faculty said that planning and consultation will likely continue for months, and that few concrete decisions have been made.

“Trust is essential for any change of this size to be successful,” the university said. “We will seek to earn support from faculty and staff early on — especially those potentially affected by this work.”

Erin Campbell, vice-president of the UVic Faculty Association, said that its members are both keen and concerned about development of a new faculty. “This could potentially bring us more students, more funding, more interdisciplinary research. In a sense it’s highlighting what we already do and bringing that more to the surface.”

“As a communications tool, I think it’s going to be fantastic,” she said, adding that not everyone is aware of the massive work that’s currently being conducted in the health area at UVic.

But a new faculty that aims to bring together about 200 academics at UVic currently involved in health-related teaching and research would constitute one of the most significant structural changes at the university since the early 1990s, when the faculty of arts and sciences was split into three.

“It’s always nerve racking when units merge or amalgamate or move, and the process and people that you’re used to change,” she said.

The Faculty Association is watching closely, Campbell said.

UVic has yet to determine which departments or faculties will be included in the changes, but Campbell said that the faculty of human and social development will be the likeliest starting point.

The university has 10 faculties as well a medical sciences division, which primarily supports Vancouver Island’s medical doctor program in partnership with the University of British Columbia.

There have been internal discussions of potentially creating a shared health research facility at UVic since 2021.

A progress update on creation of the new faculty is expected to be presented at the university senate by the end of 2023.

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