Catherine Dauvergne, SFU’s new vice-president, academic (VPA) and provost.

Faculty and Staff

Meet SFU’s new vice-president, academic and provost, Catherine Dauvergne, QC

December 04, 2020
Print

One of the first things you notice in conversation with Catherine Dauvergne, SFU’s new vice-president, academic (VPA) and provost, is that she’s listening.

From a first meeting with part of the VPA team where she took the time to individually listen and engage with a dozen people on a Zoom call, to a conversation about equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), Dauvergne demonstrates this everyday skill and holds it up as an important first step.

“There’s all sorts of ways the institution needs to think about EDI,” she says, as an example. “Demographics, what we choose to teach and how we teach. Most importantly we need respectful engagement and listening ­– that’s one way we value individuals and respect the differences between them.”

About the VPA

As vice-president academic and provost, Dauvergne provides vision and leadership to SFU’s academic activities. Her role oversees a vast and varied area of the university, including eight faculties working across three campuses. She also oversees Lifelong Learning, Graduate Studies, Faculty Relations, the Office for Aboriginal Peoples and Student Services. The VPA represents about two-thirds of SFU’s total budget, and two-thirds of the university’s full-time continuing positions.

“I think many people would be surprised to know what the provost does,” she says. “It’s a behind-the-scenes role. It’s the chief academic officer of the university. All the ways that students encounter the university, from faculty members to student services, are the responsibility of the provost.”

Her priorities

What drew Dauvergne to the role were SFU’s priorities around EDI, reconciliation and student experience.

“We’ve had a lot of moments over the past nine months (due to the pandemic) to come face to face with the way members of our community are differently situated,” she says. “I think an ethos of inclusion is about making time to think about how others are differently positioned. And making time to think about the ways we can not only improve access to the university, but also to make sure we welcome people from different backgrounds and ensure all of us feel at home here.”

Dauvergne comes to SFU from the University of British Columbia where she recently finished her five-year term as the dean of law at the Peter A. Allard School. During her term, she implemented an experiential learning curriculum, developed a post-graduation debt-relief pilot program—the first of its kind among law schools in Western Canada—and led the school with the implementation of Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

“In my time as dean, I learned a lot about reconciliation,” she says. “It’s important for all of us, in particular non-Indigenous leaders, to understand we don’t have all the answers. There’s not a formula for this. It took 150 years for the relationship between settler Canadians and Indigenous people to get to the state it’s in. We need to recognize it will be a long and iterative journey to reconciliation. It’s more about being willing to be open, to listen, and to engage.”

Being a lawyer has helped

“I think legal training is fabulous for public leadership in all sorts of areas,” she says. “Legal skills include a good understanding of dispute resolution, the importance of listening to other people’s perspectives, a strong commitment to thoughtful advocacy, and experience in procedural fairness, which is the backbone of institutional leadership and management.”

About family and the student experience

At the end of the day, there’s also her three grown children who have taught her much about being an effective academic leader when it comes to the student experience.

“My children have attended four different universities between them. The lesson I’ve learned over and over is that what you think you’re doing as an administrator is not necessarily what students are experiencing. We can’t learn much about the student experience by sitting around with administrators and talking about the student experience. We need to listen to students and have different ways of engaging with them.”

When she’s not working, Dauvergne is an avid swimmer who kind of likes that current COVID-19 restrictions are forcing public pool swimmers to stick one to a lane.

“It’s kind of blissful,” she says about her morning routine.

To find out more about Dauvergne and the role of the VPA, please see her full biography on the VPA website. At SFU, Dauvergne is part of the School for International Studies.