President's Report - November Board Meeting

December 19, 2023

This report contains general updates and a summary of the topics discussed at Open Session of the November 30 Board meeting.

You can read Board Chair Angie Lamarsh’s report from the meeting here, and you can view my submitted Open Board Report here.

It has been, and continues to be, a very busy couple of months at Simon Fraser University. Amongst our regular business, there have been opportunities to celebrate at our fall Convocation ceremonies and with the news that SFU has once again been ranked the #1 comprehensive university in Canada by Maclean’s. However, members of our community have also experienced challenges this fall.

Students, faculty and staff are still feeling the effects of strike action as they make up for lost time in the classroom. The upcoming budget cycle is going to be very difficult for SFU, as we face significant financial shortfalls. And the ever-escalating war in the Middle East continues to affect Jewish and Palestinian members of our community, as well as those with ties to the region. There are tensions on campus, and people are tired.

But in the past weeks, I have seen our community’s strong capacity for kindness and empathy. People are coming together to support their colleagues, classmates and friends, and to stand against hate in all its forms. It has been remarkable to see—and it gives me confidence that we will weather this storm, which I shared with the community in a statement last this month.

Administrative updates


The university is very pleased that the university has reached formal agreements with both TSSU and SFUFA.

We are grateful to the entire SFU community for their patience during this negotiation process. Our focus now turns to strengthening relationships in our community to support the academic success of students and nurture a thriving, world-class research environment at SFU.


In November, SFU leaders conducted budget conversations with students, faculty and staff to inform them about the budget forecast and planning process for the upcoming year, take questions and get feedback about priorities. SFU will face a financial shortfall in the 2023/24 fiscal year, due to lower international enrollment and increased cost pressures. We expect that these enrollment trends and the effects of inflation will continue, and SFU’s budget will remain tight over the next few years. The university has now implemented a hiring freeze to mitigate the financial shortfall.

Despite these pressures, we are committed to prioritizing our academic mission and achieving key initiatives outlined in What’s Next: The SFU Strategy. Starting this year, the Budget Office is reporting to both the Provost and Vice-President Academic and the Vice-President Finance and Administration to ensure that financial and operational decisions at SFU are made through an academic lens.

Enrolment and Budget Planning

The fall semester shows improvement on the summer semester, with overall enrollments 3% above target, but with continued downward pressure on international undergraduate student enrollments. Currently, domestic students are 5% above target and international at 5% below target.

Provost and Vice-President Academic Dilson Rassier is developing an international strategy to support international student recruitment and retention. A number of events and activities are planned to target key regions of the world.

Alternate grading options

We heard from many SFU students that their learning has been impacted by job action during the fall term. In response, the relevant Senate Committees have passed motions to support students. This term, undergraduate and graduate students can choose an alternate grading option if they have concerns about how their grades will affect their grade point average. The course withdrawal deadline was also extended to allow students to receive their assessments and make an informed decision if they are considering withdrawing from a course. I would like to thank members of Senate involved in these decisions, and express my appreciation to faculty and staff who have worked hard to support students in the transition back to regular classes.

Leadership renewal

The Provost has launched a search for a new dean of the Beedie School of Business, with an open forum held on November 14 to gather feedback from the community. The search for the Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Learning and Teaching (AVPLT) has been paused; thank you to Kris Magnusson, senior advisor, who is serving as the acting AVPLT until December 31, 2023.

What's Next: The SFU Strategy

At the November Board meeting, we presented a draft three-year implementation plan for actioning What’s Next across the university. The draft plan was based on input from priority co-leads, strategic priority teams, deans and senior administrative leaders, and included a reporting approach and strategic dashboard with preliminary metrics. We are in the process of designing an implementation infrastructure that considers inputs from key stakeholders and interfaces with other institutional planning processes, and look forward to sharing this work with the Board and the broader SFU community once complete. Thank you to teams across the university who have been hard at work ensuring that we have a fulsome implementation plan for the strategy.

Advancing Strategic Priorities 

There is work occurring across the university to advance the What’s Next strategic priorities. Several key examples are highlighted below.

Uphold Truth & Reconciliation

  • We are very pleased to share that Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis has been appointed as SFU’s inaugural Indigenous Executive Lead, effective Nov. 20, 2023. In this position, Syeta’xtn will continue to foster community, bring together Truth and Reconciliation activities from across the university and lead the creation of a renewed Indigenous Strategic Plan. The executive team is excited to work with him as we deepen our commitment to Upholding Truth and Reconciliation together.
  • We were honoured to welcome Phyllis Webstad, founder of Orange Shirt Day, to the Burnaby campus in a special event commemorating the 10th anniversary of Orange Shirt Day. It was a profoundly moving event, as was Phyllis’ address when she received an honourary degree during our fall Convocation ceremonies.

Engage in Global Challenges

  • In November, I travelled to East Africa with an SFU delegation that included Dugan O’Neil, vice-president research and international and Naomi Krogman, dean of the Faculty of Environment. While there, we formalized partnerships with the Aga Khan University (AKU) and the Nelson Mandela Africa Institution of Science and Technology, as well as officially welcoming the first SFU students to the new Climate Change and Community Resilience Field School in Tanzania as part of SFU’s partnership with AKU. This is an incredibly exciting partnership with many opportunities for future research and collaboration discussed. 
  • SFU is pleased to welcome three new faculty members as Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERCs), among the most prestigious and generous chairs available globally. This is the first time SFU has been successful in the competition. The university will be investing additional resources in all three areas, including adding new faculty members. We are excited to welcome Dr. Darren Grant, Dr. Thomas Jennewein and Dr. Nicholas Reo to SFU.
  • Three SFU scholars—Dr. Caroline Colijn, Dr. Isabelle Côté and Dr. Bohdan Nosyk—have been named to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), the country’s highest academic honour. This brings SFU's total number of active RSC members to more than 80 researchers. I recently travelled to Waterloo to celebrate our scholars’ induction into the Society and to announce that SFU will be hosting next year’s RSC Celebration of Excellence and Engagement, focused around community-centred climate innovation. This is an opportunity for SFU to showcase our leadership in this area and I look forward to sharing more details with the community. 
  • For the second year, SFU has sent a formal delegation to COP 28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in the United Arab Emirates. Dugan O'Neil, vice-president, research and international is attending with an interdisciplinary group of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff.

Make a Difference for B.C.

  • Following the confirmation of $10M in government funding for the SFU Medical School for fiscal 2023-24, teams across the university continue to work towards building momentum for the school. We have launched our search for a Dean of Medicine and filled several senior leadership positions, including welcoming Dr. Evan Adams as acting associate dean, Indigenous Health and Dr. Maria Hubinette as acting associate dean, Academic and Faculty Development. Pressing priorities as we move forward include preparing the foundation for accreditation, securing interim space for our operations and a comprehensive review of existing medical school curricula to determine the extent to which we can accelerate our curriculum development process. Senate will play a key role in this process as the curriculum is advanced and approved at SFU.
  • At the end of October, I and several SFU representatives, including Board Chair Angie Lamarsh, deans and student representatives, travelled to Victoria to meet with members of government to advocate for SFU and talk about how we are making a difference for B.C. students and communities. We had great conversations with representatives on topics including Truth and Reconciliation, the SFU Medical School and how SFU is preparing students for jobs of the future. I was especially proud to see our students advocating on topics important to them, including affordability and housing.
  • From November 6-19, TransLink held another round of consultation focused on the Burnaby Mountain Gondola. SFU worked with TransLink to support these efforts by promoting the survey to the SFU community through multiple channels, including social media, newsletters, in-person activations and an op-ed in the Burnaby Now.

Transform the SFU Experience

  • Engagement activities have occurred throughout the fall to ensure that lines of communication remain open between faculty and staff and the executive team. SFU’s inaugural Leaders’ Forum brought together 300 leaders from across the university to hear from members of the executive team and discuss issues related to leadership at SFU. And I have embarked on my annual faculty tour—over the months ahead I will be visiting each individual faculty to take questions and hear feedback directly from those who are carrying out our academic mission.
  • This year we will not be holding our President’s Seasonal Donor Appreciation Reception, which was originally scheduled for December. Instead, we have decided to use funds from the President’s Priorities Fund endowment spend account to match year-end donations to the SFU Food Security Fund. Contributions to this fund will provide emergency grocery gifts cards for undergraduate and graduate students in need. 
  • SFU has been ranked among the country’s 2023 Top 100 Charities by Charity Intelligence Canada, which looks at a charity’s results, costs and impact with a goal to give donors greater confidence when making their philanthropic decisions. Congratulations to Erin Morantz, vice-president advancement and alumni engagement, and her team for this accomplishment.
  • SFU’s Accessibility Committee, made up of 27 members from across the SFU community, had its first meeting in September 2023. Moving forward, the committee will be working to craft a response to the accessibility standards draft shared by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction to organizations in B.C., alongside drafting an accessibility plan for SFU and offering subject matter expertise on accessibility issues to the Accessibility Secretariat. 
  • In 2022, the provincial government passed the Anti-Racism Data Act in recognition that data collection is a key part of supporting equitable and accountable decision-making. As outlined in the Equity Compass, SFU also aims to regularly collect data in order to identify systemic barriers and measure progress towards fulfilling institutional commitments to EDI. As part of this work, we will be launching a survey that allows faculty and staff to share their demographic data, allowing us to better understand the makeup of the SFU community, inform evidence-based decision-making, track progress towards our diversity goals and create a more inclusive campus community. SFU’s EDI Data Taskforce, alongside the EDI Data Student Working Group, have drafted a preliminary survey, which will go to key stakeholders for consultation this fall.

Joy Johnson
President & Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University