An exhaustive seven-month process to find a president for the University of Victoria ended with a recognizable name earning the high-profile appointment.
Jamie Cassels, who spent 10 years as the university’s vice-president academic and provost beginning in 2001, was named Thursday as the replacement for outgoing president David Turpin. Cassels, 56, has been with UVic’s faculty of law since 1981.
“I have never seen anyone better,” Turpin said of his successor at the formal announcement. “Jamie is a visionary who brings an extraordinary mix of passion, dedication, hard work and enthusiasm to everything he does.”
Cassels will take over for Turpin, who’s been president and vice-chancellor since 2000, as of July 1, 2013.
When asked what attracted him to this new position, Cassels said: “This university. This university is on the move, it’s growing, it has an international reputation as one of Canada’s finest universities, and what an opportunity to be a part of it.”
Cassels received a unanimous recommendation by the university’s 20-member search committee. He’ll be the university’s seventh president in its 50-year history.
Committee chair Susan Mehinagic, also on UVic’s board of governors, called Cassels “a visionary” and the most qualified person for the job, even with the committee looking externally, as well, to fill the position.
“He understands the UVic community and understands how to affect change,” Mehinagic said.
While Cassels acknowledged the positives of Turpin’s career as president, he said his first focus will be to go out and speak to the university community about “developing a further shared vision of where we want to go and how we get there.
“Inspirations, aspirations should never be fully achieved, or else you’ve set your sights too low,” Cassels said. “I have a very ambitious sense of where we can focus and what we can accomplish together.”
Emily Rogers, chair of the University of Victoria Students’ Society, also sat on the search committee. She says Cassels’ track record at UVic is what made him the best fit for the job.
“Professor Cassels has an incredible passion for this institution, and his knowledge of UVic is absolutely unparalleled. He really is uniquely positioned to fulfill the strategic plan and take this institution to the next level,” she said.
As vice-president academic, Cassels oversaw the expansion of undergraduate and graduate student programs and services, and the development of strong programs of Indigenous education at UVic.
While dean of law, he launched the ground-breaking Akitsiraq law program that delivered legal education to Inuit students in Canada’s far north, incorporating both western and Inuit legal concepts and traditions.
Cassels has received numerous awards for his scholarship and teaching, including a 3M National Teaching Fellowship, Canada’s highest award for university teaching. He was named a BC Queen’s Counsel in 2004 for his scholarly and service contributions to the legal profession.
An author of a number of books linked to legal issues, Cassels published The Uncertain Promise of Law: Lessons from Bhopal in 1993 about the environmental and human cost of the devastating 1984 explosion at a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India.
He earned his law degree from the University of Columbia. A backgrounder on Cassels notes that he has three children, and when not practicing law, is an avid outdoorsman and boater, enjoys building canoes and furniture, and repairing diesel engines.
Cassels says he’s both excited and humbled about the opportunity that awaits him.
“This is a remarkable time to be taking the helm of this university. The University of Victoria is celebrating its first half century, so this is a chance to take stock of our accomplishments, but more importantly, to look ahead to the next 50 years and to define our path.”