Although George Iwama won't be staying on for a second-term as president of UNBC, his years in Prince George were productive ones under challenging circumstances.
Iwama started in 2009, succeeding former president Charles Jago, who had returned on an interim basis for a year to calm the waters after the disastrous tenure of Don Cozzetto, which ended with a half-million dollar payout less than two years into his term.
UNBC's Board of Governors learned from that costly mistake and made a wise and careful choice in Iwama, a 55-year-old mild-mannered dean of science from Carleton University in Ottawa. His collaborative leadership style and his eagerness to engage Northern B.C. residents and the region's colleges in joint efforts earned him praise.
Although his contract doesn't expire until the end of next June, Iwama gave plenty of notice to the Board of Governors to get busy finding his replacement. Although he was offered a renewal on his five-year contract, he refused, citing his desire to spend more time with his family (he became a grandparent during his time at UNBC) and a desire to return to his true love of scientific research (he's a renowned fish physiologist).
Iwama's time in the president's office up on the hill was certainly not easy. He started by having to deal with the dismissal of Len McNamara as the school's athletics and recreation director. Then the provincial government started squeezing post-secondary education budgets. Student enrolment stayed flat, thanks to low unemployment, a booming resource sector and young workers filling up trade programs at CNC and other area colleges, rather than pursuing degrees over four years.
Then he was saddled with the Wood Innovation Design Centre and had to create two academic programs out of thin air in a fraction of the time and budget needed and was forced to house the programs not on the UNBC campus where they belong but in a downtown building mired in controversy and now legal battles. Iwama was the loyal soldier in public, stressing the positives of WIDC when asked, but he knew a political hot potato when he saw one and stayed well in the background, doing only what he was asked and not a stitch more.
Now the Board of Governors has to find and hire a new school president, by far the most important job it is ever tasked with doing.
The enrolment and budget issues remain, perhaps even more pressing and urgent than they were four years ago, when Iwama took the helm. Expectations are high in Prince George and across the North for UNBC to lead the region to a more diverse and prosperous economy, so the new president will have to make some meaningful contributions towards that expectation.
Most importantly, the Board of Governors needs an ambassador and an administrator. In the ambassadorial role, the new president must spread the good word about UNBC and Prince George, attracting students, faculty and money to the institution. In the administration role, the new president must build on UNBC's successes, unite diverse and competing faculties, all while keeping rising costs in line.
When put that way, maybe it explains why Iwama decided he had had enough and turned his attention belonged with his family and finishing his working career back where he started as an academic, teaching, conducting research and writing papers for peer-reviewed journals.
Whatever his reasons, Prince George and Northern B.C. owe Iwama their thanks for taking such good care of our university. We can only hope his successor will follow his lead.