An open letter to the UBC Vancouver Senate.

May 1st, 2021 § 6 comments

Thank you for your diligence to the academic mission of our university.

I write about the award of an Honorary Doctorate in Science to Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer. By nominating Dr. Henry, the UBC Vancouver Senate, is making exceptions to two important guidelines governing these awards.  Your Criteria Section for honorary degrees (accessed April 29th, 2021) states: honorary degrees are not normally awarded to current or former UBC faculty members. Dr. Bonnie Henry is listed as a core clinical faculty (accessed April 29th, 2021) member at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. Similar exceptions have been made in the past for Emeriti and Clinical Professors.

More importantly, the criteria also states: honorary degrees are not normally awarded to those currently holding political office. While Dr. Bonnie Henry not a politician, and is a civil servant, she holds significant oversight over the functioning of our university (especially during the ongoing public health emergency). Dr. Henry’s office is encouraging all post-secondary institutions in British Columbia to plan for a return to full capacity with no social distancing in September (see letter dated, March 8th 2021, available at:  While all of us are looking forward to normalcy, we are also concerned. The return of over 66 thousand students, from all over the world, many likely unvaccinated, to large capacity crowded classrooms is hazardous. It is also uncertain, as new travel restrictions emerge in the face of evolving variants of concerns. The Provincial Health Officer’s instructions are creating stress and uncertainty on campus. Significantly, they are making it difficult for those in the University from determining what is safe and appropriate for its employees and students. Over the coming month, these tensions within the University will escalate. At the same time, we (the University of British Columbia) will also roll out our pomp and circumstance (as much as is possible on Zoom) to award Dr. Henry her Honorary Doctorate. I am deeply uncomfortable with this scenario.

There is prior precedent in UBC awarding honorary degrees to serving civil servants. Most recently, Chief Sophie Pierre was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Laws in 2012 (accessed April 29th, 2021). At that time Chief Pierre held the position of Chief Commissioner at the B.C. Treaty Commission. There is also prior precedent to awarding an honorary degree to a serving Provincial Health Officer. Dr. Gregoire Fere Amyot was awarded a Honorary Doctorate in Science in 1961 (accessed May 1st 2021). The award was made just before his expected retirement as Deputy Minister of Health, and Provincial Health Officer. Unlike the current awardee Dr. Henry, neither Chief Pierre’s task of resolving contentious land-claims in British Columbia, nor Dr. Amyot’s work as Deputy Minister, and Provincial Health Officer, required direct engagement with our University.

These guidelines are designed to ensure that we do not honour  those wielding immediate influence on the University. Dr. Henry’s award is completely out of line with that spirit. In addition, the timing of the award is extremely problematic.  To ensure the long-term credibility of our honorary degrees, I request you reconsider the award. At the minimum, please consider postponing it to after the current public health emergency is over.


Sumeet S. Gulati, Ph.D.
Professor, Food and Resource Economics.
Land and Food Systems | Food and Resource Economics | Wildlife and Conservation Economics Laboratory
The University of British Columbia | Vancouver Campus | Musqueam Traditional Territory
341-2357 Main Mall, MacMillan Building, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC. | Vancouver BC | V6T 1Z4 Canada
Phone +1 604 822 2144 | Fax +1 604 822-2184 | Twitter: @sgulati

Some relevant links.

  1. UBC’s Campus Return Plan is available at:

§ 6 Responses to An open letter to the UBC Vancouver Senate."

  • John Mazurkewich says:

    As an alumnus, what is of greater concern to me is how much my degree has been devalued by the erosion of free speech on campus. You owe all alumni an apology.

    • Bullwinkle J. Moose, PhD (Whassamatta U) says:

      “I have felt for some time the once well deserved reputation of Canadian universities for academic freedom has been on the wane. Unfortunately UBC has not been an exception to this trend. The most ill considered cancellation of the aforementioned lecture on the farm laws in India, the subject of massive ongoing protests in the country, doesn’t behoove a world class university.

      I had threatened to publicly torch my UBC law degree if the university cancelled the aforementioned event due to pressure from anyone. A friend had reminded me the City of Vancouver doesn’t allow the burning of waste within the City limits. To conform to the City rules and to avoid causing pollution, I have consigned the degree to the yellow recycle bag picked up by the City.”

      IMO UBC is pretty much a laughing-stock. “Freedom of speech, as long as no one feigns an anxiety attack…if they do, CANCELLED!”

  • David Ivaz says:

    This letter is filled with nothing but complete truths. There is no way she should be getting an award of any kind. Especially with the anti-science approach she engaged in as the pandemic spun out of control. We alum need to see this is a university and not a branch of the NDP government..

  • Wesley Burchnall says:

    I would like to thank Dr. Gulati for expressing his concerns both succulently and appropriately. He brings up many valid points about the recent nominee, Dr. Bonnie Henry.

    Likewise, I feel criticisms could be leveled at other award winners, this year. For example, giving a PhD to a student who has not even graduated high school, due to absenteeism, while having a substantially higher carbon footprint than the average citizen of any country, and has clearly not put education as a priority in her life. Celebrity and giving a few speeches should not be sufficient achievement to be granted a honorary doctorate, in my humble opinion.

    If any UBC student were to fail to attend courses, they would not be granted a PhD for it and alluded. It is become increasingly apparent that there seems to be a political class of tier being granted privileges, despite lack of achievement, for having a particular ideology and expressing it publicly. These awards in my opinion brings academic integrity of UBC and UBC-O into disrepute. Publicly, when these announcements were made on websites like “” the general public, substantially downvoted the comments with the most frequent emoji or emotional-reaction being laughter and the second being anger. The majority of the general public, as represented on that one news site, was literately laughing and outrage at UBC decisions.

    Is UBC not a publicly accountable institution anymore?

  • Alison Norris says:

    I agree with these concerns. Conflicts of interest for Dr. Henry and for UBC should not be ignored.

  • Bullwinkle J. Moose, PhD (Whassamatta U) says:

    “The return of over 66 thousand students, from all over the world, many likely unvaccinated, to large capacity crowded classrooms is hazardous.”

    How hazardous? Let’s see some numbers quantifying the risk and comparing it to other common risks, e.g. skiing, horseback riding, driving a vehicle on the highway, etc.

    “Significantly, they are making it difficult for those in the University from determining what is safe and appropriate for its employees and students.”

    What do you mean by this? What is desired beyond what Henry is suggesting? Compulsory vaccination? ZOOM classes forever because it’s ‘safer’ than in person instruction? I mean, if it saves one grandmother who doesn’t take Vitamin D or Zinc…

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