President's Report - May Board Meeting

June 13, 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, Provost and Vice-President Academic pro tem Wade Parkhouse’s latest report from Senate 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 May 25 Board meeting included updates on the implementation of What’s Next: The SFU Strategy and how we are Upholding Truth and Reconciliation across our campuses. We also had a presentation and substantive discussion on work to date related to Indigenous Governance.

Support for graduate students

Several graduate students attended this Board meeting in order to voice concerns and advocate for increased funding. SFU’s executive team and the Board are alive to these concerns. We hear you, and we are working together to support graduate students in a number of ways.

At last month’s Board meeting, the Board requested that SFU’s executive team explore options for increasing graduate student support in the 2023-24 Budget and Financial Plan and report back at the June Board meeting. The executive team is committed to following through on this request and we look forward to sharing a proposal with the Board next month.

SFU, as part of Universities Canada, also continues to advocate for more federal investment in research and graduate student support. At the beginning of May, SFU graduate students, faculty and staff joined others across the country in a walk-out to demand more federal funding for researchers. I was thrilled to see our students joining forces with others on this important priority. On May 8, I had the opportunity to join a meeting with the federal Minster of Industry, Science and Economic Development, where we discussed the pressing need for additional funding for research and graduate students.

Thank you to those who attended this meeting to advocate for themselves and their colleagues. The executive team is committed to finding a path forward in order to support graduate students and the important work they do at SFU.

Key university positions filled

Last month, Board Chair Angie Lamarsh shared that Margarita Fullerton has been hired as our new University Secretary, effective May 23. We are thrilled to welcome Margarita to the university.

We also announced that Dr. Dilson Etcheverry Rassier will join SFU as our Provost and Vice-President Academic starting August 15, 2023. Dr. Rassier comes to SFU from McGill University, where he has been working in academic leadership for over 15 years. He is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Canada Research Chair in Muscle Biophysics (Tier 1) and a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Thank you very much to Dr. Wade Parkhouse for his service as Provost pro tem over the past year, where he played a key role in advancing university projects and priorities, including the SFU Medical School. He will be working closely with Dr. Rassier over the next few months to transition the role.

What’s Next: The SFU Strategy implementation

Since approval from the Board of Governors at the beginning of the year, we have been working to ensure that What's Next: The SFU Strategy is fully integrated into everything we do at SFU.

We introduced the strategy to faculty, staff and students in March, followed by an employee town hall to introduce the co-leads responsible for advancing each of our four strategic priorities. At the end of May, we brought together our strategy implementation co-sponsors and priority co-leads in a facilitated session where we looked at how we will embed the strategy as the foundation for university governance and define milestones for the year to come.  

We continue to develop dashboards with key indicators that will give Board members an at-a-glance view of progress towards each priority. These dashboards will be finalized over the summer and launched in September.

Advancing strategic priorities

Although we are still taking steps towards implementation, there is work occurring across the university to advance our strategic priorities and several key examples are highlighted below. Further details on many of the items below can be found in the Vice-President leadership reports.

Uphold truth & Reconciliation

  • We celebrated the City of Burnaby’s $5M commitment to the First Peoples’ Gathering House on Burnaby campus. I am thrilled at the support we have received for this project and look forward to seeing it come to life.
  • I was honoured to attend SFU’s inaugural Honouring Indigenous Students Powwow, hosted by the First Nations, Métis & Inuit Student Association for the first time on Burnaby campus. It was a wonderful day full of ceremony, dancing, food, connection and community. Thank you to the student organizers for their work.

Engage in global challenges

  • SFU is partnering with the world’s top agritech university, Wageningen University & Research (WUR), to collaborate on projects related to agritech and food security. Thank you to the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation for hosting an event in celebration of the partnership, and to Netherlands Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher and WUR President Dr. Sjoukje Heimovaara for visiting us at the Surrey campus.

Make a difference for B.C.

  • Many people across SFU worked hard on the final Business Case for the SFU Medical School, which was submitted to the government on May 31. Thank you to all for your efforts.
  • We officially opened our Phase 2 Residences (369 student beds), joined by Minister Selina Robinson. Phases 3 and 4 are expected to have 445 and 520 beds respectively, relieving pressure on the rental housing market and providing more students with the opportunity to join our community on Burnaby Mountain.
  • At the beginning of May, Joanne Curry, Vice-President External Relations, and I met with B.C. Premier David Eby and Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey to share updates from the university and discuss ways that SFU can use its expertise and capacity to support the province in Making a Difference for B.C. It was a positive and productive conversation and I look forward to future work with the provincial government, especially when it comes to supporting recently-released Future Ready Action Plan.

Transform the SFU experience

  • Led by Vice President, People, Equity and Inclusion, Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, SFU released two institution-wide strategies, the People Plan and Equity Compass, to align our people strategies, equity office and faculty experience at SFU over the next five years. Congratulations to Yabome and her team on this important milestone.

Major issues of note

Last month, I announced that Bob Copeland, Senior Vice-President of McLaren Global Sport Solutions, has been selected as the Special Advisor to review options and search for a sustainable way forward for football at SFU. That work is underway and will involve consultation with many stakeholders across the SFU community.

I also recognize that this has been a difficult situation for many in the community, and our hearts are with the football student-athletes who have had an incredibly challenging time over the past few weeks. Our energy is currently going towards supporting current football student-athletes—including ensuring that their scholarships continue through degree completion and connecting them with other teams if they choose to transfer.

Other notable discussions

Indigenous Governance Update

At this meeting, Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis, Director, Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation, and Kera McArthur, presented on work to date around creating an Indigenous governance structure for SFU. The proposed governance structure is the result of extensive consultation with Indigenous students, faculty and staff, Host Nations and post-secondary partners, and I am incredibly proud to see it coming to life.

The proposed governance model includes the creation of several senior leadership positions, including an Executive Lead and Vice-Provost who will lead Reconciliation work at the highest level across the university. Under this model, an Indigenous Caucus for SFU students, faculty and staff and an External Advisory Group would provide ongoing counsel and insight to the Executive Lead and Vice-Provost to ensure that all decisions made at SFU involving Indigenous peoples are made with input from the community.

Upholding truth and Reconciliation has been established as one of SFU’s core priorities moving forward, and embedding Indigenous governance structures at SFU will ensure that this work continues across the university in an inclusive, consultative and coordinated way. Thank you to Chris for his efforts, and I look forward to sharing further updates as we move forward.

Joy Johnson
President & Vice-Chancellor
Simonr Fraser University