Remembering Norma Mickelson


- University of Victoria

Chancellor Mickelson conveying a degree at a 1997 UVic convocation ceremony. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Remembering a champion of equity 

With heavy hearts, the University of Victoria community marks the passing of Norma Mickelson, the university’s eighth chancellor and an inspiring leader whose work helped make UVic a more equitable community, and guided a course towards better recognition for the contributions of female students and faculty in schools across Canada.

Mickelson never met a glass ceiling she couldn’t shatter, or so it would seem. Her list of accomplishments at UVic—all too often accompanied by the phrase “first woman to”—is extraordinary by any standard. That her contributions almost always ran afoul of convention, precedent and bias make them all the more remarkable, as Mickelson climbed a mountain of gender barriers not just to demonstrate that it could be done, but to make the landscape more equal for others to follow.

“All of us at UVic owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Norma Mickelson,” says Kevin Hall. “In addition to the thousands of students whose lives she touched directly, as an elementary school teacher, university professor, or as the chancellor who bestowed their degrees, Norma helped our entire university recognize the need for, and realize, fair practices that support access and equity for women in academia.”

Faculty and students at UVic during Mickelson’s career also recalled the importance of her presence and work. “To someone of my generation, it would be an understatement to say that Norma was a pillar of the university community,” says economics professor Ken Stewart. “In fact, she was someone of almost legendary stature.”

A student at both of UVic’s forerunner institutions, the Victoria Normal School and Victoria College, Mickelson graduated from the latter in 1963, and became one of the first graduate students at the newly established University of Victoria that fall. A UVic master’s in education followed, and she served as UVic faculty while completing her PhD at the University of Washington.

Mickelson became the first female academic dean of any major Canadian university when she assumed leadership of the Faculty of Education in 1975. As UVic began to address its historic gender biases and imbalances, Mickelson then served as the first advisor to the provost on women’s academic roles, and played a key role in establishing UVic’s equity office—a unit she would be asked to lead in 1986 as the inaugural UVic advisor to the president on equity issues.

Among other firsts, Mickelson served as the first female president of the UVic Faculty Association and was the first female recipient of the UVic Distinguished Alumni Award. In 1990, the Canadian Association of University Teachers established the Sarah Shorten Award to recognize outstanding achievements in the promotion of the advancement of women in Canadian universities and colleges, and the following year Mickelson became the award’s inaugural recipient. She was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2004.

In addition to the study of literacy, her first area of academic expertise, Mickelson also studied and wrote about the changing campus climate for women, contributing to the scholarship which helped advance the goal of equity in higher education across North America. She also wrote a memoir, Herstory: A Canadian Journey, recounting her youth in Victoria, the 15 years she served as an elementary school teacher before enrolling at Victoria College, and her career at UVic.   

The Norma Mickelson Legacy Scholarships at UVic are awarded to students in the Faculty of Education who have achieved academic excellence, and who are actively involved in the community and have a record of outstanding contributions to the community through their work as volunteers. To contribute to the scholarship fund, please visit this donation page.

There will be a Celebration of Life for her at Shannon Oaks (2000 Goldsmith St. in Oak Bay) on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023 from 1–4 pm.



In this story

Keywords: in memoriam, equity, leadership

People: Norma Mickelson

Publication: The Ring

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