SFU Vision Launch Remarks

February 20, 2012

SFU Vision Remarks
Launch Event
Bill Reid Gallery

Andrew Petter
President and Vice-Chancellor

Thank you for joining us to launch SFU’s new vision as – unreservedly, undeniably, enthusiastically – “The Engaged University.”

I am delighted to see so many here for what is, in a way, a return engagement.  It was just over a year ago that many of us came together to launch a process called envision>SFU.

At that time, we contemplated a strategic vision for two main reasons:

First it is critical, always, to identify and understand SFU’s qualities and strengths. If, as Mclean’s magazine says, we are the best comprehensive university in Canada, we want to make sure we know what makes us so.

And we want to make sure everyone else knows, too. That’s a responsibility we owe equally to our students and alumni, to our faculty and staff, and to our funders and supporters.

SFU graduates seeking jobs and researchers seeking funding deserve recognition for the quality of their work.  And everyone, from philanthropists to taxpayers to parents who help with tuition, should know what value they are getting for their investment.

The second goal of a vision is to set a strategic direction. We’re not here to rest on the laurels that others have garnered. Our responsibility is to make this great university even better.

So we envisioned SFU. We listened to thousands of students, faculty and staff, along with thousands more alumni, community partners and supporters, in what turned out to be one of the most extensive consultations undertaken by a major Canadian university. 

What we heard was both reassuring and energizing:

  • People said they appreciated our adventurous spirit, our willingness to embrace bold initiatives, and our readiness to engage with others;
  • They said they liked our commitment to teaching and learning;
  • They liked the quality and mobility of our research; and. 
  • They hugely valued our connection to communities.

But the envision process revealed another insight – that our commitments to students, research and communities are mutually supportive; and that we can derive strength from the “dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research, and far-reaching community engagement.”

You should get used to that phrase, because it forms a key part of our vision. Beginning today, SFU is committed: “To be the leading engaged university defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research, and far-reaching community engagement.”

What does that mean, exactly?

Let’s consider it in relation to the vision’s three goals:  “engaging students”, “engaging research” and “engaging communities.”

When we say we are committed to “engaging students,” we not only mean that we are committed to providing a high-quality classroom environment in which they acquire knowledge and an ability to think critically …

We also mean that we are committed to harnessing our research strengths to enable students to learn first-hand the joys of discovery and to acquire aptitudes for lifelong learning …

And we mean that we will offer them opportunities – through co-op programs, internships and other forms of experiential learning – to engage with communities, close to home and around the globe, where they can acquire workplace skills, cultural knowledge, and civic understanding.         

By providing a “full-spectrum” education, SFU will, in the vision’s words, “equip … students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences that prepare them for life in an ever-changing and challenging world.”     

Likewise, when we say we’re committed to “engaging research,” we not only mean that we will continue to support discovery-based research in the library and the laboratory …

We also mean that we will enlist more students in the research enterprise so that it benefits from their energy and fresh ideas.

And we mean that we will encourage our researchers to engage with communities: to share their insights and help find solutions to the pressing issues of the day.

By doing so, we aspire for SFU, in the words of the vision, “to be a world leader in knowledge mobilization” … to the benefit of both the university and the communities we serve.

That’s always where we land: engaging community.

Of course, all universities make some effort to connect with communities. But for SFU, community engagement is part of our core mission. 

We reach out because it’s part of our DNA – and because we recognize that we gain as much from the community as we give back in energy, expertise, cultural enrichment, and infrastructure investment.

Our students learn and thrive. Our researchers hone their skills on real-life problems, and see their innovations in action.

That’s why we’ve made it our mission, again quoting the vision, “to be Canada’s most community-engaged research university.”

And, given the community connections and contributions of our three campuses, we’re well on our way: 

Building on our presence at Harbour Centre, the Wosk Centre for Dialogue, the Segal Graduate School of Business, the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – and with our amazing collection of Northwest Coast Art here at the Bill Reid Gallery – we will forever fulfil the role ascribed to us by the Vancouver Sun as the “intellectual heart of the city.”  

In Surrey, we will continue to reach out and expand our presence. We will work to increase student spaces in that fastest growing region of the province, ensuring that those spaces are amongst the most valued in the country.

On Burnaby Mountain: well, come see us on a sunny day. Or better, come see us on a dreary, drizzly day, and you will see a vibrant campus made more so by UniverCity – a model sustainable community that is injecting new life and capacity into our university.

This fusion of university and community exemplifies our vision of an “engaged university.” 

Our challenge now is to make this vision a reality. And it is OUR challenge … a challenge for all of us who cherish SFU’s past, are excited by its potential, and have a stake in its future.

As Rosabeth Moss Kanter has observed, “A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” 

To that end, I ask each of you to find yourself in SFU’s vision – to consider not only how it might benefit you, but what you can do to help realize its ambitions.

Of this I am sure … achieving this vision – and with it, the recognition the SFU deserves – will produce huge benefits: for our students, staff, faculty, alumni, partners, supporters – as well as for our communities, locally and around the globe.

There is much work to be done.  But the opportunities are boundless.

Thank you for helping to launch our vision on this auspicious day.