Community Says Farewell to Outgoing VIU President Dr. Ralph Nilson

Dr. Ralph Nilson, outgoing VIU President and Vice-Chancellor, speaks at the Ralph and Suzanne Nilson Celebration Gala on Monday, June 24, 2019.

June 28, 2019 - 1:45pm

After more than 12 years as President and Vice-Chancellor of Vancouver Island University, Dr. Ralph Nilson is retiring on June 30, 2019.


“It’s been an incredible privilege to be here, and I look forward to watching the continued growth of this institution.”

Dr. Ralph Nilson may be retiring as President and Vice-Chancellor of Vancouver Island University (VIU) at the end of June, but he will not be forgotten. His last month at the helm has been full of tearful goodbyes, heartfelt speeches, thoughtful awards, gifts bestowed and tribute events.

At a farewell event for VIU employees last month, Board of Governors Chair Makenzie Leine announced that the new Centre for Health and Science would bear Nilson’s name. The building is VIU’s most complex construction project to date and one Nilson stayed on for an extra half-term to help complete.

“This project would not have been possible without the vision, tenacity and tireless efforts of our fearless president, who secured the support from government and other funders to make the Dr. Ralph Nilson Centre for Health and Science a reality,” Leine explained at the event.

During Nilson’s final convocation ceremony on Friday, June 21, he received the University’s first President Emeritus designation for outstanding accomplishments, effective leadership and his “relentless focus on accessibility and excellence,” Manley McLachlan, Board of Governors Vice-Chair, announced near the end of the ceremony.

The Ralph and Suzanne Nilson Celebration Gala on Monday, June 24 was an opportunity for community members to say farewell – and contribute to the Nilsons’ legacy fund to support non-traditional and marginalized learners. The fund is nearing $125,000, including a generous contribution of $100,000 from the Nilsons, and people wishing to support it can do so by visiting VIU’s Donors page.

William Litchfield, Associate Vice-President of University Relations, said Nilson leaves behind an enduring legacy as a social justice leader who sincerely wishes to see all students thrive through access to post-secondary education.

“Dr. Nilson’s impact on VIU and the entire region can only be described as transformational,” said Litchfield. “Under his leadership, VIU has achieved university accreditation, implemented a bicameral governance model, constructed more than $130 million in new infrastructure, expanded program delivery, enhanced access to education, and implemented programs that have developed VIU’s national reputation for social justice.”

Ruby Barclay, a Child and Youth Care alumna, is one of the students whose life was changed by VIU’s decision – spearheaded by Nilson – to become the first institution in BC to allow former youth in care to study tuition-free. Speaking at the gala, she explained that while studying at VIU, she discovered a gap in services provided to students in the program. Encouraged by Nilson and other senior leaders, she created a peer support navigator position to fill that gap.

“You taught me not only that I matter here, but I belong here, and I can help others belong as well,” she said. “Great leaders are invested – they listen and they take action. You taught me what it is like to be invested in the future.”

Chancellor Louise Mandell thanked Nilson for making “poverty less hereditary.”

“Thank you for being the force that pushes the boundaries of opportunity, showing the power of opening doors for one another,” she said.

Nilson’s successor, Dr. Deborah Saucier, an accomplished neuroscientist, experienced administrator and dedicated educator, starts a five-year term as President and Vice-Chancellor on July 4, 2019.


Videos from the Gala can be viewed here:



Jenn McGarrigle, External Communications Advisor, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

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