President's Report - June Board Meeting

July 20, 2023

This report contains general updates and a summary of the topics discussed at Board.

You can read Board Chair Angie Lamarsh’s report from the meeting here and you can view my submitted Open Board Report, along with the Open Board Reports of each Vice-President, here.

My presentation at the June 29 Board meeting included a general update about activities at the university, as well as celebrating our June graduates. 

Bargaining and support for graduate students

Members of the Teaching Support Staff Unit (TSSU) were welcomed to this meeting and invited to speak to the Board. After they spoke, they left respectfully and we continued the meeting. Thank you to those who came to advocate on behalf of graduate students at SFU.

At the closed session of this meeting, the Board approved a first step in this work, which will have an immediate effect for Doctoral research students. A scholarship contribution of $5,400 will be awarded to approximately 800 PhD students entering programs this fall. The next step in the plan, as noted in SFU’s Strategic Research Plan, will set funding minimums of guaranteed support for all eligible PhD students in the 2024-25 term.  

I understand that this is a challenging time at the university and recognize that labour disputes can heighten emotions. During this time, we expect everyone at SFU to be respectful towards one another, despite differing views or opinions. Harassment and intimidation under any circumstances are not acceptable and not representative of our SFU community’s values and expectations around respect and personal safety.

SFU’s bargaining team continues to look for solutions to present to TSSU that could lead to a negotiated settlement with members and we are glad that the TSSU has returned to the bargaining table so we can continue negotiations. More information can be found on the Collective Bargaining website.

General updates

Since the last Board meeting, some top-of-mind issues for me have included:

  • Convocation: Last month, we held our annual June Convocation ceremonies—this time attended by a record number of guests. As we celebrated the accomplishments of our students during Convocation, we also honoured seven outstanding individuals with honourary degrees. Each of these individuals has made extraordinary contributions to the world and we were honoured to have them share words of inspiration with our graduands.
  • Medical School: A draft business case for the SFU medical program was submitted to the Ministries of Post-secondary Education and Skills Training and Health. This is a significant milestone. Over the summer months, we will work closely with the Ministries to refine the proposal so the business case is ready for Treasury Board Submission this fall. In the meantime, we are moving forward with implementation of the medical program so that we can be ready to enroll students in 2026. 
  • Special Program Application Accepted: At the end of June, we heard that the Human Rights Commissioner approved our Special Program Application to fulfill our commitment to limited and preferential hiring of at least 15 Black faculty, in tandem with approval for hiring at least 15 Black staff. I am thrilled by this progress, especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down affirmative action admissions programs. This approval is a key milestone in our work to build a more inclusive and diverse community and fulfill our Equity Compass objectives.

    Thank you to students and Senate motion co-organizers Gabe Liosis, Osob Mohamed, Balqees Jama, Giovanni Hosang and Marie Haddad for advancing this important initiative, Dr. June Francis for submitting a position support letter on behalf of the Black Caucus and the Equity Office for their work compiling the Special Program Application. Thank you also to community members who provided support, solidarity letters and consulted with their members on the application, including: Director, Indigenous Initiatives, Chris Lewis,  Faculty Association leadership, led by President Kumari Beck, Academic Women Board, led by Ouldooz Baghban Karimi and Administrative & Professional Staff Association, led by President Jill Sutherland. 

What’s Next: The SFU Strategy

At the end of May, we launched What’s Next: The SFU Strategy externally at our downtown Vancouver campus. The event was attended by more than 150 people, including dignitaries, donors, business leaders and members of the SFU community.

During the event, I shared SFU’s new vision, purpose and framework for action. There was an undeniable buzz in the room, and I was approached by many people afterwards who were energized about the future direction of the university. It is clear that SFU is ready to meet the moment.

Advancing strategic priorities

We are taking steps towards implementation and there is work occurring across the university to advance our strategic priorities and several key examples are highlighted below, with additional information highlighted in the Vice-Presidents' reports.

Uphold Truth & Reconciliation

  • As part of our Convocation celebrations, I attended SFU’s annual Indigenous Honouring Feast, hosted by the Indigenous Student Centre. Indigenous faculty, staff, students, representatives from Host Nations and guests raised our hands to honour of the achievements of graduating Indigenous students. Thank you to the Indigenous Student Centre organizers for putting together this wonderful event for Indigenous graduands.
  • We continue to make progress on hiring an Indigenous Executive Lead who will oversee Reconciliation efforts at the highest level and ensure that Indigenous voices and perspectives are represented on the executive team. A hiring panel has been formed and recruitment is active. We look forward to sharing future updates on this important search.
  • In late May, SFU and the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) were pleased to renew our three-year Memorandum of Understanding, strengthening our relationship and creating opportunities to collaborate on cultural, academic and research activities. I am excited to continue deepening this relationship in the years ahead.

Engage in Global Challenges

  • I am proud to report that SFU was recognized by this year’s Times Higher Education Impact Rankings as the #1 university in the world for our impact on sustainable cities and communities. SFU also ranked fifth in the world for our response on climate action. Thank you to the VPRI team for putting together a stellar nomination package. I am so proud of our community for their passion and hard work when it comes to the areas of climate action and sustainability.
  • I travelled to Hong Kong in June to attend the Times Higher Education Asia Universities Summit and the annual President’s meeting of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, as well as to connect with SFU alumni and partners in the area. During this time, I spoke at length about SFU’s leadership and commitment to advancing an inclusive and sustainable future, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn from and further build relationships with universities in the Asia Pacific.

Make a Difference for B.C.

  • In June, I was invited to speak at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade in order to share the role SFU plays in building a more innovative, sustainable and prosperous economy and future for all British Columbians. I highlighted the medical school and the SFU strategy, and we received a very positive reception at the event.
  • Last month I published an op-ed in The Vancouver Sun, detailing the continued importance of a university education in today’s economy and making the case that post-secondary institutions are key to helping the province achieve its economic goals.

Transform the SFU Experience

  • The newly-formed IT Strategies Committee is helping to ensure that IT investments are strategically aligned to support What’s Next and the academic, research and administrative needs of the university.
  • On July 4, I met with the SFU graduate student Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) group. Topics discussed included feedback regarding TSSU collective bargaining, the impact of use of language, the need for meaningful consultation and rollout on our plans for graduate student support. We look forward to continuing to jointly engaging with Grad COLA in advocacy for graduate student support at the federal and provincial level.
  • As part of ongoing efforts to improve the employee experience, SFU’s HR team has adjusted our Performance & Development program to operate in alignment with the academic calendar and help employees understand how their work and professional development aligns with What’s Next.

Joy Johnson
President & Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University