President's Report - January Board meeting

February 13, 2024

This report contains general updates and a summary of the topics discussed at Open Session of the January 25 Board meeting. Items discussed at this meeting represent matters of importance at the highest level of the institution, and these reports will help provide context and clarity around the progression of major projects and decisions.

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.

I hope everyone had a good rest over the holidays and is coming into 2024 feeling refreshed and renewed. At SFU, the energy of a new year has coincided with the energy of a new term. Meeting students at our Welcome Month events and seeing the start of their SFU journey has energized me about the year ahead of us. Although we have encountered challenges in the first few weeks of the year, including inclement weather and a transit strike, I am optimistic about the year ahead of us. I was especially inspired by our joint Board-Senate retreat and the work underway to enhance collaboration between the two governing bodies of our bicameral system.

I am also honoured and grateful to have been reappointed by the Board for an additional five year-term as president and vice-chancellor of SFU. Thank you to everyone who participated in this important process and shared your feedback. I shared some of my takeaways and hopes for the future in a message to the community.

Administrative Updates


Preliminary estimates for the spring 2024 semester show improvement on the summer and fall 2023 semesters, despite continued downward pressure on international undergraduate student enrollments. Overall, undergraduate enrollment remains mixed. Preliminary spring 2024 estimates combined with summer and fall 2023 actuals suggest that for 2023/24, SFU will be 8% below its goal for international enrollments and 6% above its goal for domestic enrollments.

Recruitment and international visa cap

In order to bolster enrolment numbers, our recruitment team is working hard and has represented SFU at more than 460 recruitment events and school visits around the world in a span of three months. Recruiters attended conferences and presented to and met with thousands of prospective students, families and school counsellors, reporting increased interest in SFU among prospective students in Mexico, Japan, Indonesia and Manitoba. Student Services is now developing email campaigns to engage with students while recruiters connect 1:1 with international applicants to build relationships. Student Services is also collaborating with SFU Communications & Marketing to plan an international marketing initiative in 2024 that will support further institutional and recruitment initiatives.

These efforts have been complicated by the federal government’s announcement on Jan. 22 that they will be capping the number of international student permits over the next two years. We are disappointed by this decision. International students bring so much value to our classrooms and communities. We continue to watch the situation closely and are working with the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, as well as our colleagues at other universities, on plans to move forward.

The Board and the executive team had an extensive conversation around this topic and we recognize there is more to learn. We will keep the community updated as we receive more detailed information from government.

Board-Senate Retreat

Thank you to all Board members and Senators who took the time to attend this year’s Board-Senate retreat. Our time together was spent discussing best principles for governance and brainstorming ways to enhance collaboration between Board and Senate moving forward. It was a productive session with great ideas shared and I am excited to see collegial governance being strengthened at SFU.

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

  • The Office of the Indigenous Executive Lead was launched in late 2023, with Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis appointed to the role of Indigenous Executive Lead in November. Initial priories for the office include the development of a strategic roadmap for the office and the implementation of the Indigenous governance framework.
  • The Indigenous Welcoming Procedure was advanced in the fall, with significant engagement on the procedure taking place with Indigenous community members in November. Key work currently underway on this procedure includes the development of an information technology platform to support the administration of the work and securely hold confidential information, while adhering to Indigenous data sovereignty principles.
  • We also continue to move forward on Indigenous naming and are working with Host Nations to find names for spaces on Burnaby campus.

Engage in Global Challenges

  • Late last year, SFU participated in COP28 in Dubai with nine on-site delegates and two virtual delegates. Delegates included Vice-President Research and International Dugan O’Neil and climate scientist Kirsten Zickfeld, as well as faculty, staff and students who work on climate action. Special attention was made to ensure Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) representation in the delegation. While in Dubai, SFU partnered with 18 organizations to host eight official events in the Blue Zone. This includes hosting its first COP meeting (in partnership with UBC) with the B.C. government delegation, student participants and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman.
  • SFU Sustainability (SFUS) reports that all six vice-president portfolios have written detailed implementation plans to achieve the goals and actions within the SFU Strategic Sustainability and Climate Action Plan. 200 activities across the six portfolios will be undertaken throughout 2024 with the support of SFUS.

Make a Difference for B.C.

  • Vice-President Research & International Dugan O’Neil and Associate Vice-President, Knowledge Mobilization and Innovation Elicia Maine participated in the Canadian Science Policy Conference last November. The annual gathering of the Canadian science and innovation policy community was an opportunity to showcase SFU’s research and innovation excellence to a national audience.
  • Working closely with the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, SFU has been awarded 500 new tech-relevant seats in Data Science, Computing Science, Statistics, Software Systems, Agritech, Social Data Analytics and Business Analytics and Decision Making to meet the demand for technology workers. In addition to increased funding for the seats, SFU also received capital funding which will enhance access to programs in demand to Make a Difference for B.C. as part of the provincial Stronger BC Future Ready Action Plan.

Transform the SFU Experience

  • In SFU’s Strategic Research Plan, the university pledged to “set a university-wide minimum funding level for PhD students”. Senate has now approved a PhD minimum funding regulation for incoming PhD students starting in fall 2024. Eligible students will be guaranteed minimum funding of $28,000 per year for the first 12 terms of their PhD program. Compared with faculties of Graduate Studies across Canada, SFU’s policy establishes the highest minimum PhD funding level in Canada.
  • We are proud to share that the Marianne and Edward Gibson Art Museum has won a prestigious Canadian Architectural Award of Merit, the highest recognition for excellence in the design stage in the Canadian architectural sector. Congratulations to SFU Galleries director Kimberly Phillips, Hariri Pontarini Architects and Iredale Architecture for this achievement.
  • SFU received provisional certification as a Living Wage Employer on December 4, 2023. Full certification will be achieved when all direct (SFU) employees are brought up to the living wage, which is anticipated by May 1, 2024. The current estimated impact to SFU’s operating budget to meet the living wage is $4.3M. Note that if all listed contractors elected to participate in the tuition waiver program, the total operating budget impact would be reduced to approx. $3.9M.
  • More SFU students than ever are facing challenges accessing healthy food. Our year-end 2023 annual giving campaign raised funds for the SFU Food Security Program Fund, providing grocery vouchers and gift cards to undergraduate and graduate students in need. As of December 31, our donor community has contributed $71,026 to help alleviate student hunger. This is in addition to a $40,000 commitment from SFU through the spend account of the President’s Priority Fund, which is a donor-funded endowment.
  • At its recent meeting, the SFU Alumni Council endorsed the finalized Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Council. The TOR, along with a website introducing the Alumni Council members, TOR and contact information, will be launched in early 2024. The Alumni Council also met to adjudicate the 2024 Outstanding Alumni Award recipients. A major outcome from this adjudication meeting was a desire to review all processes and procedures with the program, ensuring alignment with SFU’s Honorary Degree timeline and a review of award categories to ensure a decolonized, future-focused approach. We look forward to welcoming everyone to the 2024 Outstanding Alumni Awards on April 24.

Joy Johnson
President & Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University