Office of the President

Andrew Petter, President and Vice-Chancellor

President's Agenda 2010/11

Being new to Simon Fraser University, I have prepared this President’s Agenda with a degree of caution influenced by two factors. 

First, the remarkable qualities that drew me to SFU are evidence of a strong and successful university.  In addition, the Academic Plan 2010-2013 and the Strategic Research Plan 2010-2015 are almost as new as my own presidency.  Thus there is no immediate need to revisit or revise the operational priorities reflected in these plans.

Second, universities are diverse institutions that function on a basis of collegial governance.  Academic freedom and independent critical thinking are essential ingredients for high performance.  It would be presumptuous and counter-productive to establish new directions without first engaging students, faculty and staff, and without consulting alumni, partners and other key stakeholders in our extended communities.

I therefore propose with this plan to set out my general approach to the coming year rather than a prescription for programmatic change.  It is relevant to begin by identifying those attributes that I see as most compelling in SFU’s favour.  There are three:

  1. A commitment to delivering an outstanding undergraduate program.

     

  2. An exceptional record of research and program of graduate studies amongst Canadian comprehensive universities.

     

  3. A reputation for community engagement that is unequalled in the country.

These are not merely positive attributes.  They are qualities worthy of nurturing; and suggest goals in and of themselves.

 

A University of Choice for Undergraduate Students

SFU is a large, complex institution with all the attributes of a research intensive university.  Yet it has maintained a strong commitment to fostering an outstanding undergraduate program and associated student experience.

SFU’s research excellence and intensity are important parts of that undergraduate experience.  Exposure to ground-breaking research and to mentors of the highest calibre – amongst  graduate students and staff as well as faculty – enrich the academic atmosphere, creating value and opportunities for SFU undergraduates that they could not find at smaller institutions.  The same holds true of the broad opportunities SFU provides to its undergraduate students, allowing them to connect with civil society and to undertake international pursuits. 

The situation is not perfect.  The previous President’s Agenda pointed to course availability as an area requiring improvement.  Attention must also be paid to the quality of student services and the availability of student financial aid.  The need to address these issues is already recognized in the Academic Plan which sets provision of “an outstanding student learning experience” as a major goal.  Thus SFU can be proud of its undergraduate program even as it continues to work on improving it.

A Research Leader amongst Canadian Comprehensive Universities

SFU has shown tremendous research strength and graduate program growth in recent years and, by some measures, is already ranked a research leader amongst Canadian comprehensive universities.  In the past five years, Re$earch Infosource has singled out SFU for having the highest research intensity and research growth amongst  comprehensive universities (2007) and for being the top comprehensive university for publication effectiveness – a measure of research impact relative to cost (2006). 

The success of SFU researchers in competing for peer-reviewed funding, combined with the university’s own fundraising efforts, has enabled SFU to break into the top 20 Canadian universities in terms of total research income.  Graduate student satisfaction rates are also high, as is the rate of graduate student awards. 

In sum, the fundamentals with respect to research and graduate programming are excellent and provide a strong basis for future development.  Guided by the Strategic Research Plan, SFU needs now to further seed, bridge and support research activities.  In a fiscally constrained world, we also must also seek research support from all available sources in both the public and private sectors.

A National Model of University-Community Engagement

Each of SFU’s three campuses is, in its own way, a model for community engagement:

  • The Burnaby Mountain campus now includes UniverCity, a visionary development that supports and enhances the university and its surroundings even as it demonstrates best practices in sustainability.

     

  • In downtown Vancouver, SFU has become what the Vancouver Sun describes as the “intellectual heart” of the city.  In addition to Harbour Centre, the University boasts the Wosk Centre for Dialogue, the Segal Graduate School of Business and an impressive new School for the Contemporary Arts in the reincarnated Woodward’s complex.

     

  • Across the Fraser River, SFU’s stunning suburban campus is, with the enthusiastic support of Surrey municipality, on its way to becoming the nucleus of a vibrant new Surrey city centre.

Last year, SFU’s community integration was honoured by the Institute of Public Administration with a gold award for public sector leadership in education.  The Institute noted that SFU had “turned around the fortunes of struggling communities and set the stage for new levels of university-stakeholder partnerships that enhance the region’s ability to support growing knowledge-based economies with a highly trained workforce.” 

The Institute went on to note that SFU has “built a template for institutionally-driven urban renewal that schools across the country are now studying.”

SFU’s connection to local communities enables it to deliver different programs in different ways – and provides exciting learning and research opportunities.  It also opens doors to important new challenges.  The South Fraser, for example, presents a diverse and growing population whose advanced education requirements SFU is well positioned to address.  At the same time, the ethnic and cultural diversity of Lower Mainland represents a critical strength that can assist SFU to attract more international students and to promote other forms of internationalization.  And SFU has recently taken on the challenge, though its Aboriginal Strategic Plan, of better meeting the needs of Aboriginal students and of forging closer ties with Aboriginal communities.

Teaching, Research, Engagement – A Truly Comprehensive University

SFU’s combination of strengths in relation to undergraduate education, advanced research and graduate studies reflects its deep commitment to a comprehensive model of university education. 

At a time in which many small universities are committed mainly to undergraduate teaching, while some other large universities are devoting their energies to research and graduate programming, SFU remains dedicated to fostering a university environment in which there is a positive and productive interplay amongst undergraduate education, advanced research and graduate studies.  In such an environment, intellectual engagement and academic enquiry are energized by valued undergraduate students who, in turn, benefit from their exposure to leading scholars, talented graduate student mentors and advanced research practices. 

This interplay of academic strengths, combined with the university’s extraordinary community connections, provide an opportunity for SFU to define and differentiate itself as a university that is student centred, research driven and community based.

The Coming Year

I plan in the fall term to spend much of my time meeting SFU students, faculty and staff.  My goals in doing so are both to become more familiar with SFU and to set the stage for a strategic visioning process that I hope to initiate in the spring.  The goal of this process will be to generate a broad vision and associated set of goals that draw upon SFU’s strengths and help to differentiate it from other Canadian post-secondary institutions.  The process will also seek to foster a culture of collaboration and inclusion, to align priorities and develop widely supported criteria for success, and to encourage initiative and celebrate achievement. 

Through this process, I intend not only to hear from students, faculty and staff, but also to provide a forum for them to engage with each other, to seek common ground, and to discover synergies that will help SFU concentrate its efforts where it can enjoy the greatest successes.

I will also use this process to engage with external stakeholders both to highlight the important role that SFU plays in the community, and to seek input concerning how best to strengthen that role in the future.  This engagement will also serve to showcase the social and economic benefits of investing in SFU and in post-secondary education generally, demonstrating to community and government leaders the dividends that flow from such investments.

The best possible result of this process would be a strategic vision that is not exclusively the President’s, but one that belongs to the entire Simon Fraser University community.

I was attracted to SFU because of its successful integration of undergraduate teaching, advanced research and community engagement.  I was drawn to an institution that (as its tagline suggests) is Thinking of the World and (as its actions demonstrate) is Connected to the World.  The challenge now, as I see it, is to forge a strategic vision that harnesses and builds upon these strengths so as to enable SFU to be recognized for providing its students, faculty, staff – and the communities it serves – the Best of All Worlds.

Andrew Petter
President and Vice-Chancellor