Former University of Victoria president Howard Petch at the Jeanne S. Simpson Field Studies Resource Centre in Cowichan. (UVic Archives photo)

UVic president Howard Petch remembered for growing the school

Petch called charmingly shy, razor sharp with no frills

Victoria’s academic community is remembering former University of Victoria president Howard Petch who died at 93 years old on Nov. 26.

As an academic Petch was a distinguished nuclear physicist. His switch to academic leadership was a boon for UVic as he oversaw major growth at the school during this term of 1975 to 1990. In that time, the UVic student body nearly doubled from 7,400 to 13,000 and experienced major growth in programs, faculty and buildings.

A celebration of life for Petch will be held on Dec. 16 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Arbutus and Queenswood rooms of Cadboro Commons.

Petch was, according to historian Peter Smith, a “charmingly shy man” who was honest, razor-sharp and plain-speaking with no guile, rhetoric, no frills.

New to UVic, Petch chose to live in the student residences on campus to gauge the general mood of the university, including the concerns of the student body, Smith added.

Amongst his legacies was the growth of co-operative education, as UVic became the second university in Canada to found a co-op program. Petch also supported the university’s athletic program, helping it reach great heights in the 1980s.

Ken Shields, who coached the Vikes men to seven consecutive national titles, recalled the 1978 report on athletics that Petch commissioned.

“Without his initiative and support, athletics wouldn’t have had a chance to grow like it did at UVic,” Shields said. “He was absolutely and completely on board — behind it from the day the report was delivered.”

During the Petch era UVic had expanded with new departments while he also pushed for greater gender equity in the faculty.

UVic added professional schools in nursing, child care, social work, business, law and engineering. In 1978, only 52 of 417 UVic full-time faculty were women. By 1990, 132 women were full-time faculty with new tenure-track hires almost evenly split by gender.

– With files from the UVic Ring


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