People Profiles

Alan Davis, PhD, Chemistry

October 15, 2015
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According to the Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) web page, Dr. Alan Davis’s job title is President and Vice-Chancellor. They forgot one: higher education rabble-rouser. 

Davis was the President of Empire State College at the State University of New York (SUNY) and the Vice President Academic at Athabasca University. He completed both a Master's and a Doctoral Degree in Chemistry at SFU, finishing the latter in 1980. 

Throughout his extensive career in administration, Davis has worked to make post-secondary education more meaningful, affordable and accessible to students—and he's not afraid to break down a few ivory walls in the process.

“Institutions need to share the knowledge they have, not safeguard it. They need to evolve to address individuals’ needs as opposed to delivering 'one-size-fits-all' content and exams that measure nothing. In all the positions I have held, I have worked to create alternatives to the traditional model of education,” explains Davis.

Davis is now continuing to pursue those principles at KPU by working to ensure that no one, as he puts it, is left behind. “My goal at KPU is to open up our educational offerings to people who haven’t had the same opportunities that I’ve had. My dad’s motto was that anyone can benefit from education and should be able to. I believe that,” he says.

Some of Davis's previous work creating more accessible educational opportunities include his 'Open SUNY' proposal. Though SUNY is often toted as one of North America’s most radical universities due to its rejection of tests and lectures, Davis took it a step farther by calling for all the SUNY colleges and universities to form the largest public open and online system in the United States.

The same determination to push the status quo that has been so central to his career as an administrator, can also be seen in his career as a graduate student.

“I was at the University College London, now ranked number four in the world. When I told my professors there that I was going to SFU they thought I was crazy. They said if you ­have to go to Canada, then at least go to McGill or U of T. That just made me more determined to go to SFU,” he says.

The risk paid off. Davis explains that his SFU supervisor, Dr. Fred Einstein, was a brilliant mentor who not only trained him in the research and scholarly skills required of an academic, but also supported him to explore other areas.

“Fred didn’t believe everyone was destined to go onto academia, but that everyone had to find their own path. He knew my strengths and guided me towards them,” he says.   

Author: Jackie Amsden

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