President's Report - September Board Meeting

October 26, 2023

This report contains general updates and a summary of the topics discussed at the September 28 Board meeting.

You can read Board Chair Angie Lamarsh’s report from the meeting here, provost and vice-president academic Dilson Rassier’s latest report from Senate here, and you can view my submitted Open Board Report here.

Bargaining and relationships with employee groups

SFU is pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with TSSU. Since the last Board meeting, SFU has also reached agreements with Poly Party, CUPE and APSA. The university and the SFU Faculty Association (SFUFA) continue to have productive discussions regarding bargaining and are working toward reaching an agreement. Status updates on collective bargaining can be found here.

Administrative updates

Leadership Renewal

Since the last Board meeting, we have welcomed Professor Dilson Rassier, SFU's new provost and vice-president academic, to the SFU executive team. We have also welcomed several new members to the senior leadership group. Professor Mary O’Brien has joined SFU as our dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, Professor Daniel Laitsch has commenced his new role as dean of education, Professor Peter Hall has started his new role as vice-provost and associate vice-president, Ms. Jennifer Sanguinetti has joined us as our associate vice-president for facilities and capital planning and Professor Valorie Crooks has started her term as associate vice-president research pro tem.

Enrolment and Budget Planning

Following some continued downward pressure on international undergraduate student admissions and enrolments in the summer term, the fall term looks promising, due in part to increased efforts from across the university. Domestic demand is close to target and international admissions have exceeded the target for the first time in several semesters. Moving forward we need to be more focused on retention, particularly retention of international students. To this end, a working group has been established to develop plans that ensure sustained student enrollment.

We have also begun planning for the development of the 2024/2025 budget. It is clear that the university will continue to experience budget pressures. To ensure that budget planning is closely aligned with university priorities, the budget office is now jointly reporting to the Provost and the Vice-President Finance and Administration. Their teams will engage in robust consultations this fall to understand the opportunities and constraints being experienced by faculties and other units at the university. These inputs will be used to develop a university budget that focuses on ensuring we can deliver on SFU’s vision and priorities. Faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the upcoming Budget Information Session to learn more about the 2024-2025 budget.


On September 18, SFU Special Advisor on Football, Bob Copeland, released his final report via press release. The report is extensive and the findings confirm SFU has no place to play football in the NCAA or United States. Another key finding in the report is that we must develop a strategic plan for Athletics & Recreation that will guide decision-making as we strengthen supports for varsity programs.

Some of the changes recommended by the report are already underway, but we are also taking time to thoughtfully review the recommendations and make decisions around next steps. For myself and the executive team, it is clear that our focus must be on setting the right foundation for Athletics & Recreation and supporting student-athletes. We will keep the Board and the community updated as we work through the findings.

Research Ethics Board

In March, a Special Joint Committee with representatives from the Board of Governors, Senate and the Research Ethics Board was formed to review and, if appropriate, recommend changes to the policy and procedures of R20.01 (Ethics Review of Research Involving Human Participants).

The committee has now completed their work, and their subsequent recommended changes to the policy were approved at Senate and Board on an interim basis until January 30, 2024. This fall, the changes will go through the regular community consultation process before being resubmitted to Senate and Board for approval this winter.

International student housing

At the end of August, the federal government announced that they are looking to address ballooning international student enrolments, which they contend are putting unprecedented levels of demand on the housing market. One option proposed included putting a cap on the number of international student visas issued each year. The B.C. Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills is also floating the idea of a cap on international student numbers. Several media outlets have reached out to SFU for comment, and we shared a response indicating that international students are an integral part of our campus community and that the university would have concerns about putting limitations in place. UBC and the province of Quebec have voiced active opposition to this proposal.

SFU recognizes the challenges both domestic and international students face in terms of the rising cost of living and housing availability and we are committed to supporting students and investing in more on-campus housing to help address these ongoing challenges. We will be monitoring further statements from the federal government as this issue progresses.

What’s Next: The SFU Strategy

Since launching What's Next: The SFU Strategy earlier this year, our strategic priority co-leads have begun the implementation process. Over the summer, they gathered with their Strategic Priority Teams (SPTs)—comprised of key stakeholders from leadership and programs across the university—and completed draft one-year strategic plans. These plans include high-level goals, objectives, metrics and actions to drive our work as a leading research university, advancing an inclusive and sustainable future.

Our new provost, Dilson Rassier, has stepped into a co-sponsor role for the SFU Strategy and brings expertise from McGill to further enrich our approach. Since introducing our community to the strategy, we've also implemented an internal communication plan, which will include a year-end report.

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

  • Construction began on the First Peoples’ Gathering House, a space long advocated for by Indigenous students, faculty and staff. I look forward to seeing how this space will benefit Indigenous community members on the Burnaby campus.
  • On Sept. 6, Chief Jen Thomas of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation (TWN) and I signed an inaugural relationship protocol agreement between SFU and the Nation. SFU’s Burnaby campus is located in the core territory of the TWN and we have had a long-standing relationship going back decades. This protocol agreement will help deepen this relationship to address TWN priorities and guide SFU as we walk the path of Reconciliation. Thank you to all those who attended the signing ceremony, including the TWN Council, SFU senior leadership and Indigenous faculty and staff.
  • This fall, SFU held its first-ever Welcome Feast for new and returning Indigenous students. The ceremony was developed to ground students and take care of spirit.
  • On Sept. 12, we shared that the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner approved a Special Program application from SFU, allowing the university to conduct a limited and preferential hiring of at least 15 Indigenous staff. Our application process for an additional targeted hiring of Indigenous faculty is underway.

Engage in Global Challenges

  • SFU received the 2023 Deshpande Symposium Award for The Entrepreneurial University, in recognition of our leadership in entrepreneurial programming and innovation support, and ranked 13th in Canada in the 2023 QS World University Rankings, maintaining our 2022 position.
  • Five SFU researchers have been awarded as new and renewed Canada Research Chairs, allowing our researchers to make even more of an impact as they tackle top global challenges in health governance, Indigenous sovereignty and more.
  • We also recognized nine outstanding faculty members as 2023 Distinguished SFU Professors—these faculty members have achieved exceptional performance and distinguished accomplishments relative to their rank and years of service, and their research is having a huge impact on campus and in the communities we serve.

Make a Difference for B.C.

  • SFU submitted the business case for the SFU Medical School at the end of August. Over the summer, the team revised workforce, capital construction and interim space options and related costs. A series of “deep-dives” into aspects of the business case with officials from both Ministries have begun, and the business case will be presented to Treasury Board in late October.

    The team has also begun setting the foundation for what will become a school of medicine by starting development on an implementation plan that focuses on the period between business case submission and first student admission in 2026. A key part of the plan is securing medical leaders to assume key developmental roles in the formation of the school. An acting dean and special advisor, Dr. David Price, has been hired, as well as an associate dean of Indigenous Health, Dr. Evan Adams. We are actively recruiting for an operations lead and a programs lead (associate dean academic). In addition, the search for a founding dean has begun and we are hiring administrative and support staff to support the academic roles.

Transform the SFU Experience

  • We broke ground on the Marianne and Edward Gibson Art Museum during an Indigenous-led ceremony on August 1, recognizing an incredible donation from Marianne Gibson and generous contributions of $1 million or more from the Djavad Mowafaghian Foundation, the Tuey Charitable Foundation and an anonymous donation in honour of SFU president emeritus Andrew Petter. The museum will transform the cultural landscape at SFU, providing free exhibits and programming for SFU and neighbouring communities.
  • SFU marched for the first time in the Vancouver Pride Parade on Sunday, August 6. It was so meaningful for me to lead our group and to see the SFU community come together in unity and solidarity to celebrate equity, inclusion and support for the 2S/LGBTQIA+ community. Thank you to all those across the university who helped bring us together, including the Alumni Relations Office, the Equity Office, the Beedie School of Business and Communications & Marketing. I look forward to this becoming an annual initiative and tradition at SFU.

Joy Johnson
President & Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University