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 New university president Andrew Petter listens to international students’ stories during campus orientation for new students. International enrolment has increased 29 per cent this semester.

A Q&A with Andrew Petter

September 9, 2010

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New university president Andrew Petter wasn’t the only new face on campus when he began his first official day on Sept. 1. SFU welcomed more than 5,000 new students to orientation week at the Burnaby and Surrey campuses.

SFU News caught up with Petter at the end of August between his meetings with Vancouver area MPs and MLAs. Here’s some of what he had to say.

Q: So, you’re off and running?

Yes, though in fact I’ve been meeting with a wide variety of SFU supporters and stakeholders, including government and community representatives, over the past five months.

Q: Are you nervous about starting your new job?

I’m certainly excited. I’ll no doubt feel a sense of identity with the new students and their excitement, which obviously has a degree of trepidation attached to it. But mostly I’m anxious to get on with the job, to meet students, faculty and staff, and to get to know the institution better.

Q: You’ve had several other beginnings in your career; how does this one compare?

This is a major challenge. I feel like I’m climbing the mountain figuratively as well as literally. Going from being dean of a law school to being president of a university is quite a leap. But I have such positive feelings about Simon Fraser – both about its past achievements and its future potential – that I’m particularly motivated to succeed in this new role.

Q: What’s at the top of your to-do list?

My first priority is to become more fully acquainted with SFU and the Simon Fraser community. I’m going to be spending much of the fall term meeting with faculty, students and staff, telling them a bit about myself, but mostly listening to their views and seeking their input and advice.

In addition, I hope to set the groundwork for engaging the entire community in the development together of a strategic vision that will capture and communicate SFU’s strengths, and better position us for the future.

In more tangible terms, there are plans for expansion at Surrey that I will need to address; we’re about to open SFU Woodward’s; and there are goals within the academic and research plans, such as those focusing on improving the quality of the student experience, that will draw my attention.

Q: In terms of government relations, what do you see as the key issues SFU and other universities are facing?

It’s no secret that the downturn in investment markets and the general economic situation has created a much tighter fiscal environment for universities and for governments. So part of my job will be to work with other post-secondary institutions to persuade governments that ensuring Canada’s competitive position and securing our future—socially as well as economically—requires us to invest more, not less, in education.

There are also major challenges in areas such as health care, energy and the environment which Simon Fraser is uniquely well equipped to address. So I will be encouraging governments and communities to support educational and research initiatives that address challenges of this kind.

Q: How would you describe your style of leadership?

At UVic I used to say that my style was to lead from behind, in the sense that I like to get behind faculty and students who have ideas and support those ideas. The university is full of people with fabulous energy who don’t need someone to tell them what to do. What they need is someone who can help to create an environment and a vision in which they feel appreciated and supported in pursuing their endeavours.

Q: What’s the best perk of being a university president?

Well, I have a new iPhone that’s quite cool. More seriously, the best perk is the chance to be part of the university and to engage with and learn from people who have exciting ideas and who are working to make the world a better place.

Q: Has anything or anyone stood out for you since arriving?

I’ve been incredibly appreciative of the supportive way I’ve been received by everyone, particularly by outgoing president, Michael Stevenson, who’s just been magnificent. He’s obviously made a huge contribution to the university and he’s spent a lot of time and energy helping me get ready for this job.

Q: How is your partner Maureen Maloney doing with the move?

Maureen has already taken on the role of being a professor in the School of Public Policy. She does a lot of very interesting and exciting work in areas such as international human rights and dispute resolution, and she is looking forward to bringing that knowledge to students at the downtown campus.

Q: What do you dread the most about your new job?

It’s a little unnerving coming to a university that’s as well regarded as SFU. Some people have suggested to me that the only way to go is down. But hopefully I can add some value and bring some fresh ideas, and by doing so help to build further on that record of success.

Q: What are you most looking forward to?

I love meeting students during the first weeks of classes. There’s an excitement and an energy that is unparalleled and I’m particularly looking forward to that. But it’s just one piece of a much larger pie that I’m looking forward to devouring over the coming months and years.

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