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Married couple an uncommon academic alliance

What happens when a chancellor and a president share the same roof?

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | MAR 08 2010

It is quite likely a duo not seen before in Canada: husband Alex Michalos is chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia while wife Deborah Poff is president and vice-chancellor of Brandon University. “We’ve been asking friends if they know of any other case where this has happened,” says Dr. Michalos, “and so far we can’t find one. It seems we may have been the first to have this combination of a chancellor and a president in the same house.”

However unusual, their experiences balancing two academic careers may sound familiar. Now married 30 years, they met while she was a grad student and he a political science professor at the University of Guelph. But they spent the first 11 years of their marriage apart – he at Guelph and she at the University of Alberta and then Mount Saint Vincent University.

“It was hard,” says Dr. Michalos. The couple tried to see each other every two to three weeks and that “pretty much wiped out any savings we might have had.” They finally found common ground at UNBC. She arrived in 1993 as the founding dean of arts and science and went on to spend 10 years as vice-president, academic. He joined her a year later and is now a professor emeritus of political science.

Awarded the Gold Medal for Achievement in Research in 2004 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Dr. Michalos still has numerous projects on the go. He remains editor-in-chief of two peer-reviewed journals and is director of research for the Canadian Index of Well-being project.

Dr. Poff, meanwhile, says she appreciates having her husband around to help with her numerous social functions as president. “It makes it easier for me that he really loves meeting people,” she says. “If it had been earlier in his career, he would have been gone most of the time.”

Dr. Michalos’s three-year term as chancellor ends this May. His final official function was installing new UNBC President George Iwama last October, the same month Dr. Poff was installed as president of Brandon.

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