University of Michigan Names Santa Ono 15th President

Santa J. Ono, a biomedical researcher and the president and vice chancellor of the University of British Columbia (UBC), has been named the 15th president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (U-M), and will officially step into the role on Oct. 13.
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Santa J. Ono will serve as the 15th president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor starting on Oct. 13. // Courtesy of the University of Michigan
Santa J. Ono will serve as the 15th president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor starting on Oct. 13. // Courtesy of the University of Michigan

Santa J. Ono, a biomedical researcher and the president and vice chancellor of the University of British Columbia (UBC), has been named the 15th president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (U-M), and will officially step into the role on Oct. 13.

The U-M Board of Regents voted unanimously to appoint Ono during a special meeting July 13 in Ann Arbor. Ono previously served as the president of the University of Cincinnati and senior vice provost and deputy to the provost at Emory University.

“On behalf of all of us seated here and the entire University of Michigan community, here and around the globe, I’d like to extend my warmest welcome to Dr. Santa Ono and his wife, Wendy, who has joined him today,” says Paul Brown, chair of the Board of Regents

“We look forward to meeting your daughters Sarah and Juliana, and son-in-law David, very soon. We are thrilled and honored to have you here today and to welcome all of you to the University of Michigan family. I know you will continue to help us serve the public good.”

Ono, 59, is an experienced vision researcher whose pioneering work in experimental medicine focuses on the immune system and eye disease. His track record of leadership at universities in the U.S. and Canada includes prioritizing sustainability efforts, strong advocacy for mental health issues, and an open communication style.

He also has focused on accessibility and affordability in higher education through service in organizations such as the Posse Foundation, leadership of the Urban Health Initiative of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, and launching new programs at the universities he has served. At UBC, he led substantial efforts focused on truth and reconciliation for indigenous groups and others.

Ono is the leader of the University Climate Change Coalition, a network that connects 23 of the world’s leading research universities and university systems committed to accelerating climate action. Times Higher Education ranked UBC among the top seven universities in the world in its Impact Rankings in each of the past four years for taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Ono also serves as chair of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, a collective of research-intensive institutions like the Association of American Universities.

“The University of Michigan is recognized worldwide as being at the pinnacle of public higher education,” says Ono. “It is a singular honor to be chosen to lead such an extraordinary institution.

“I look forward to embracing the university community and supporting their education, scholarship, innovation, and service. And I look forward to joining Michigan’s 600,000 alumni in cheering for the Wolverines.”

Ono, who is of Japanese heritage, is the first Asian American to lead U-M. He was born in Vancouver, grew up in Pennsylvania and Maryland, earned a bachelor’s degree in biological science at the University of Chicago, and earned a doctorate in experimental medicine from McGill University in Montreal.

He has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, and University College London. While at the University of Cincinnati, he also served as a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Ono’s appointment followed a comprehensive search that began in February. A presidential search committee that included students, faculty, staff, alumni, and regents worked with executive search firm Isaacson, Miller to identify and review candidates.

The committee hosted seven public listening sessions earlier this year to collect input from members of the community about their hopes and expectations for a new president. An online survey collected additional thoughts from more than 1,000 respondents.

“Several clear and consistent themes emerged in regard to what our community wanted in a new leader,” says Regent Denise Ilitch, who with Regent Sarah Hubbard, co-chaired the search committee to select the new president. “Someone who could build trust, lead with integrity, and actively engage the full range of Michigan’s constituencies. Someone who had strong emotional intelligence and communication and listening skills.

“It is readily apparent to me after getting to know Dr. Ono and learning about his experiences as a university administrator that he is the right person to lead the University of Michigan at this moment in time.”

Ono’s five-year term as president will begin Oct. 13. He succeeds Mary Sue Coleman, who has been serving on an interim basis since the board removed former president Mark Schlissel on Jan. 15. She will continue in the role until Ono begins. Coleman led the university as its 13th president from 2002 to 2014.

Ono will receive a base salary of $975,000, subject to annual increases at the Board of Regents’ discretion, and $350,000 in deferred compensation starting after the first year. He also will receive regular university benefits and supplemental contributions to a retirement plan, housing in the President’s House, an expense allowance, and use of an automobile and a driver, all in accordance with university policies.

“In every sphere of human endeavor, you will find Michigan graduates among the leaders and best,” says Ono. “I look forward to connecting with alumni around the world because I view them as an integral part of the university community; part of our family.”

The University of Michigan was founded in Detroit in 1817, and began to establish its main campus in Ann Arbor in the 1840s.

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