Office of the President

Andrew Petter, President and Vice-Chancellor

President's Biography

Andrew Petter brings to the presidency of SFU a life-long commitment to education and extensive experience as a university teacher, constitutional scholar and academic administrator.

Prior to joining Simon Fraser University, he completed a term as the longest serving dean of the University of Victoria’s highly regarded Faculty of Law where he oversaw the establishment of an innovative new graduate law program, pioneered significant Aboriginal initiatives, and secured funding for major facilities upgrades.   

Petter was born (1953) and raised in Victoria (Oak Bay). His family moved to Nelson, where he graduated from L.V. Rogers Secondary School as class valedictorian.

His post-secondary studies were at Nelson’s former Notre Dame University (where his father was a professor) and he did a stint in the early 1970s as CKKC Radio’s open-line show host. There, he got a first-hand taste of politics interviewing the likes of newly elected premier Dave Barrett and former premier W.A.C. Bennett.

An avid follower of U.S. politics, his own political experience began at 19 when he was asked to serve as executive assistant to local MLA Lorne Nicolson.

Petter attended the University of Victoria (UVic) in 1976 to study political science.  Encouraged by the law school’s first dean, Murray Fraser, he entered the law program in 1978.

Graduating from UVic Law in 1981, he received the Law Society of BC Gold Medal for finishing top in his class, and went on to earn an LL.M (Public Law) with first-class honours from Cambridge University. 

He briefly practiced law in Saskatchewan before becoming an assistant professor at Osgoode Hall Law School (York University) in 1984. He joined the UVic Faculty of Law in 1986.  He has taught and written extensively in the areas of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, and is currently a member of the B.C. and Saskatchewan law societies.

Petter taught in the UVic law faculty for five years before heeding Premier Mike Harcourt’s call to run as NDP candidate in Saanich South in the 1991 provincial election. Petter spent the next decade as an MLA and held a series of key cabinet posts:

1991-93: Minister of Aboriginal Affairs

1993-96: Minister of Forests

1996: Minister of Health and Minister Responsible for Seniors

1996-98: Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations, and Minister Responsible for Intergovernmental Relations

1998-2000: Minister of Advanced Education, Training and Technology, and Minister of Intergovernmental Relations

2000: Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Human Rights

During his political career Petter played an instrumental role in the Nisga’a treaty negotiations and led the province’s efforts to work with First Nations and the federal government to create the B.C. Treaty Commission.

He also oversaw the establishment of B.C.’s Forest Practices Code and the creation of the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund to support investments in research infrastructure. 

As minister responsible for the Provincial Capital Commission, Petter brought about the restoration of St. Ann’s Academy and spearheaded the development of the Galloping Goose and Lochside trail systems, a popular walking, running and cycling network stretching from Sooke to Victoria (on old railroad rights-of-way) and to Sidney.  For that, and the parks and greenways he helped to create, Petter earned the tag of “Minister of Rails and Trails.”

Petter chose not to run in 2001 and instead returned to UVic to resume his teaching career. He soon filled the vacancy of acting dean of the university’s faculty of law and went on to serve as dean—the first graduate of the school to serve in that position—from 2002-2008.

While dean, the faculty created a new interdisciplinary graduate program and collaborated with Northern partners to deliver the Akitsiraq Law School for Inuit students in Nunavut.

As well, Petter founded a new National Aboriginal Economic Development Chair, and during his tenure the number of Aboriginal students in the faculty rose to more than eight per cent of the student body.  He also secured funding for major facilities upgrades, including a $5-million law library renovation.

Petter, who returned to teaching after stepping down as dean, was given an honorary citizen award by the City of Victoria in 2002 and received UVic’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2003.

He has written extensively in the areas of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, including works on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian federalism.  In 2008, he was awarded a residency as visiting scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy.

Since becoming President, Petter has led the development of a Strategic Vision for SFU following one of the most extensive community consultations ever undertaken by a Canadian university.

That vision, launched in 2012, seeks to establish SFU as Canada’s Engaged University “defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research, and far-reaching community engagement.” The vision forms the heart of SFU’s Integrated Planning Framework and is reinforced by the university’s new tagline: “Engaging the World.”    

Pursuant to this vision, Petter has helped to establish SFU as a leader in areas such as experiential education, research mobilization and community-based programming.  Under his presidency, the university has expanded community-based learning initiatives, promoted campus-community research collaborations, and developed community engagement centres to serve as hubs for these activities. Petter has also established SFU Public Square, a signature initiative to position SFU as the go-to convener for community dialogue around issues of public concern. 

In 2018, he was appointed to the Order of Canada in recognition of his commitment and leadership in advancing university-community engagement and higher education throughout the country.

Besides running 25 km a week, Petter spends his leisure time cycling, reading, and attending theatre, opera and movies with his life partner Maureen Maloney.  He is a fan of political biography, and has a passion for Marx Brothers and Frank Capra films.  His son Dylan lives and works in Vancouver. 

April 10, 2019