The Academic Role of the College

Below is a short description of the UBC Emeritus College and of how the College is defining its academic role along two trajectories: interdisciplinarity and community outreach.  

A number of factors provided a supportive context for the emergence of the UBC Emeritus College in 2018. A recent increase in life expectancy, the abolition of mandatory retirement, and the cultural shift toward a delayed and more flexible retirement have all led to retirement being seen in North America as a pathway rather than a single point in time. In addition, it is clear that the single most important factor in the establishment of the College was the enthusiastic support from UBC’s President, Santa Ono. In this context, an Emeritus College - a relatively recent innovation in higher education - offered an intellectual pathway to retirement while maintaining a close connection to the University and academia. The College was created to promote the continued intellectual, scholarly and social involvement of retired faculty members. 

Within Canadian universities, the UBC Emeritus College is the only fully recognized academic unit representing emeriti. As an integral part of the University the College has moved beyond the goals of being an advocacy group for benefits and the promotion of a social community. These goals were the motivation for the establishment of the UBC Association of Professors Emeriti in 1988. In this new, visible role, the potential of the College to add to the internal and external lives of the university is significant. Like other research-intensive universities, UBC is a rich and complex system. The outputs of this system, complex in themselves, significantly benefit society as a whole. The role of the Emeritus College is to add to the richness of that complexity and therefore to the value of the outputs. The College does this by providing an identity continuum from one’s academic career, through transition, into a productive post-retirement association with the University.  

As our terms of reference make clear, the College seeks to enrich intellectual focus and continued intellectual involvement for all retired UBC employees who hold emeritus status granted by the UBC Senate; to promote active participation of Emeriti within the functions of UBC; and to increase UBC’s profile, status, and involvement within local, national and international communities. Through research and engagement, our intent is to foster global citizenship and advance a sustainable and just society. Our partnership with the university enables our members to continue contributing their creative, intellectual and scholarly talents to the mutual benefit of the University, the College and the community at large.  

The language here emerges from our own recent history, but also resonates with some of the key themes contained in UBC’s Strategic Plan 2018-2028, Shaping UBC’s Next Century (accountability, collaboration, inclusion and engagement). Members of the College are accountable in a way that is different to their time as faculty within particular departments and faculties/schools. As an inclusive interdisciplinary academic unit, the College is responsible for providing an integrated and more far-reaching contribution to problems of social importance that face society. Structurally, the College is set up to collaborate and the intention is to make this one of our major commitments. We hope to create and help define a collaborative and inclusive research culture and, in turn, contribute to sustainable and positive change.

The Emeritus College is a unique academic unit at UBC in that members represent almost all academic disciplines and fields. It follows that the culture and environment of the College should provide a natural growth opportunity for interdisciplinary projects and programs and events. While our College shares the general vision of the handful of other emeritus colleges, all located within the United States (Baldwin and Zeig, 2012, 2013a 2013b), it has the additional aim to provide a nexus for interdisciplinary collaboration (UBC APE, May 10, 2018). Signaling this commitment to interdisciplinarity, the College in April 2019 celebrated the first year of its founding by holding an interdisciplinary symposium: Scholarship and the Future University ( There is broad acceptance that interdisciplinarity is of paramount importance in addressing the most pressing issues facing science and society; there is also an acknowledgment of the difficulties involved in fostering this direction in leading research universities (Frodeman, 2010). An emeritus college, with its wide-ranging membership, is uniquely positioned to contribute to strengthening the culture of interdisciplinarity in institutions of higher education.

Because the College is committed to increasing UBC’s profile, status and involvement within the local, national and international communities, we intend to cultivate an outward orientation in our community development. Our aim in doing so is to help enable the translation of knowledge into policies and practices that contribute to the public good. Where possible, we will align our efforts more closely with the priority issues in BC and beyond. We can and should demonstrate the public relevance of the work done by our members. We are committed to forming and strengthening intellectual, social and community volunteer networks.  


At the September 2019 Council Retreat, we adopted interdisciplinary and community outreach as the two guiding principles for the College’s academic work. Building upon these commitments, the College has embarked on two major pilot projects in the 2019- 2020 academic year. First is the appointment of a UBC Emeritus College Visiting Professor.  Our visitor will be expected to spend two weeks in residence on campus and the College will actively seek the support of all the relevant academic units on campus with the expectation that our visitor would give a limited number of lectures in conjunction with these other units. We are combining our choice of Visiting Professor with the general theme of our annual symposium. The Visiting Professor will provide the keynote address.

A number of potential themes (The Future of Democracy, The City in Transition, and, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism) were discussed as possible guides for pursuing suitable candidates. The first Emeritus College Visiting Professor (Dr. Joe Berridge) was duly appointed in January 2020 for a planned visit in April, 2020, The Symposium "Cities of the Future" and the visit has been postponed for a year because of the Covid-19 medical crisis.

Second is the establishment of Public Intellectual Community Forums. Here, the College is taking a lead from “Strategy 16: Public Relevance” of UBC’s Strategic Plan (p. 65). The aim of the Initiative is to build connections and capacity between researchers at UBC and the community at large in areas that are likely to lead to public benefit. Examples of the type of issue we discussed include Migration and Immigration; Public Health and the Opioid Crisis; Property Defined as a Commodity; and Community Action and the Climate Emergency. The sentiment was that each knowledge area should have particular relevance for our community but should also resonate with national and international communities. The issues that the College takes up will inevitably depend on the expertise of our members. An Outreach Committee was established in October 2019 and the plan is to mount pilot forums in 2021.


The foregoing is a short description of the UBC Emeritus College and of how the College is defining its academic role along two trajectories: interdisciplinarity and community outreach.  An underlying assumption that surfaces in various ways is the attachment to increased accountability and the need to contribute to positive change. The two new program initiatives are designed to fulfill this objective 


Baldwin, R.G. & Zeig, M.J. (2012). Making Emeritus Matter. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 44(5): 28-34.

Baldwin, R.G. & Zeig, M.J. (2013a). Emeritus Colleges: Enriching Academic Communities by Extending Academic Life. Innovations in Higher Education 38:355-368. 

Baldwin, R.G. & Zeig, M.J. 2013b. Tapping into the Potential of Late Career Professors. Inside Higher Ed, May 10. 

Frodeman, R. (2010). Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. Oxford University Press. 

The University of British Columbia. Shaping UBC’s Next Century, Strategic Plan 2018-2028, UBC 2018.

University of British Columbia Association of Professors Emeriti (UBC APE) (May 10, 2018). Proposal to Establish a UBC Emeritus College.  

UBC APE (July 2018). Extracts from the UBC APE 2017 Survey [of UBC Retired Faculty and Librarians].

UBC Emeritus College – Home.

UBC Emeritus College – Symposium Program 2019. (Scholarship and the Future University, April 11-12.)

-Edited version of the document prepared by Donald Fisher (Principal, 2019-2020) for the College Council Retreat, September 2019