Transform the SFU Experience

September town hall welcomes faculty and staff back to campus

September 18, 2023

The new academic year was off to a dynamic start as 300 faculty and staff gathered for a virtual town hall to connect with SFU senior leadership on September 13.

The event was moderated by SFU Public Square’s Executive Director Janet Webber and included President Joy Johnson, Vice President People, Equity and Inclusion Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, Vice President Research and International Dugan O’Neil, Vice President Finance and Administration Martin Pochurko and University Secretary Margarita Fullerton as speakers. 

After welcoming attendees, Johnson reflected on some of highlights of the past year as well as progress on upcoming projects and the implementation of What’s Next: The SFU Strategy

“When I think about the past year, I’m filled with so much gratitude for our community and for the hard work of faculty and staff.” 

The university’s new Provost and VP Academic Dr. Dilson Etcheverry-Rassier was unable to attend but was introduced via video message where he discussed his goals for centering the university’s academic mission and supporting faculty and staff in core activities of research, teaching and learning. 

Faculty and staff then had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session where a range of topics were brought forward including hiring, academic freedom, international student enrollment, and the campus experience. Attendees had the option to ask questions before and during the event, with more than 35 submissions altogether.

In response to questions about potential tensions between academic freedom and equity, diversity and inclusion, Gilpin-Jackson reflected on the importance of each to the university’s progress while reaffirming a commitment to engaging with colleagues who raise concerns. 

“Academic freedom and equity, diversity and inclusion go together in an institution like ours. They’re both upheld as values. At the same time, there are limits that all of us have as responsible citizens in order to uphold the human rights of everyone in our university community.” 

Building on Gilpin-Jackson's words, O’Neil encouraged community members to come forward with concerns about threats to academic freedom.

“If you ask me about the pressure on academic freedom, in my work, it’s research security discussions around who we’re allowed to collaborate with and what we’re allowed to work on in terms of international partners. Defending academic freedom is a very central priority and we’re spending a lot of time on it.”

Faculty and staff also heard from executive team members on process improvements for campus facilities projects, advocacy related to faculty and staff wages with the provincial government and plans for navigating fluctuations in international student enrollment. 

“International student enrollment is absolutely a key part of the financial equation for SFU, there's no doubt about it. In the short term, we’ve increased the contingency that the university is carrying to cushion whatever blows may happen. In the long term, it would require adjustments and community conversations as we move forward, and we’ll have our new Provost and VP Academic leading that discussion," said Pochurko.

While the event’s high attendance and level of engagement meant not all questions were able to be answered, town halls for faculty and staff will be held each term moving forward as part of the ongoing commitment to continued transparency at SFU. 

A recording of the town hall is available in full, or you can watch the opening remarks and Q&A portion separately.