The case for post-secondary education in a changing world

February 12, 2024
Meeting new SFU students during Welcome Day is one of the best parts of my job.

Earlier this month, SFU Board Chair Angie Lamarsh shared that I have been reappointed for another five years as president and vice-chancellor of Simon Fraser University.

There is no place that I would rather work than SFU. I am grateful and honoured that I have been given the opportunity to keep serving this university and communities across B.C., and to see through the work that I started in my first term as president. I am also incredibly excited about the future. I believe—and I always have—that SFU punches well above our weight when it comes to world-class programs, ground-breaking research and community impact.

We live in a polarized world. A world where we see an increase in misinformation and a decrease in empathy while the impacts of global challenges like climate change affect communities across borders and boundaries.

During my time as president, I have seen first-hand that education, research and dialogue are critical to addressing these issues. I’ve watched students, faculty and staff step up to contribute to shared challenges, effecting incredible change in our communities, our country and the world. And I have come to believe, more firmly than ever, that universities will be key to advancing a more inclusive and sustainable future for all of us.

As I reflect on the first few years of my presidency and look towards the future with hope, I want to share the work I’m most excited about at Simon Fraser University.

Upholding Truth and Reconciliation

Across the country, we continue to grapple with our history of colonialism and the intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools and anti-Indigenous racism. Many atrocities committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada were done in the name of education. As a place of learning, I believe that SFU has an inherent responsibility to advance Reconciliation and contribute to the process of healing and redressing past injustices.

To this end, we are committed to Upholding Truth and Reconciliation in everything we do at the university. Last year, SFU welcomed Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis as SFU’s inaugural Indigenous Executive Lead. Under his leadership, we will create a renewed Indigenous Strategic Plan and Indigenous governance structure for SFU, as well as continuing work in progress, including work around Indigenous naming and the construction of the First Peoples’ Gathering House.

This is a moment for SFU to step up and be a leader in this space, and to think carefully about how we support and partner with Indigenous students, faculty, staff and Host Nations. I am grateful to Chris, the Office for Aboriginal Peoples, the Indigenous Student Centre and all those across our campuses who are leaning into this important work.

Engaging in Global Challenges

At SFU, we have built a reputation for ourselves as Canada’s Engaged University. As the world changes around us, so too must the way that we talk about engagement, but one thing remains the same: the willingness of our students, faculty and staff to roll up their sleeves and do work that has an impact.

One thing that excites me when I think about SFU’s future is the quality of our research. SFU researchers are passionate, community-minded and finding solutions to humanity’s toughest challenges, from food security and protecting democracy to clean energy and more. We are among Canada’s fastest growing research-intensive universities and recently welcomed three Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERCs)—among the most prestigious research positions available globally. We are also ranked the #1 university in the world for our impact on sustainable cities and communities and #5 in the world for climate action, according to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.

Visiting the SFU field school at the Arusha Climate Environmental Research Centre and meeting with our partners at the Aga Khan University has been a highlight of my time as president so far.

Last year, I travelled to Tanzania to visit the Arusha Climate Environmental Research Centre. Through our partnership with the Aga Khan University, SFU is a founding partner of this project, which provides nearly 4,000 acres of land to researchers for use in advancing experiential learning and innovation in sustainability and environmental science. During that trip, I met with SFU students participating in a field school at the reserve. I was so impressed by their passion and drive, and proud of how their SFU education is providing unique learning opportunities that will benefit them for years to come.

Making a Difference for B.C.

At SFU, we do not subscribe to the model of the ivory tower—instead, we want to be a university rooted in community. Over the years, we have built incredible relationships with government, industry, businesses and community partners in order to use our knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the communities we serve. In today’s ever-changing world, as B.C. is impacted by increasing inequities and overlapping crises, that collaborative mindset is more important than ever.

SFU offers an exceptional education for students, ensuring that the skills they learn here are invested back into local communities to propel the economy and strengthen the fabric of the province. We continue to contribute to public dialogue, pluralism, innovation and arts and culture in B.C. And we’re just getting started.

In my second term, I look forward to continuing conversations around establishing the SFU Medical School, which will aim to embed Indigenous knowledge systems and perspectives into programming alongside graduating physicians who can provide team-based health care and serve B.C.’s diverse communities. In collaboration with the provincial government, the Fraser Health Authority and the First Nations Health Authority, the SFU Medical School is another exciting way in which SFU looks to contribute to our communities and improve life for all British Columbians.

Transforming the SFU Experience

None of the work we are undertaking at SFU would be possible without our outstanding students, faculty and staff. As president, it is my responsibility to ensure that we create the conditions for our community to flourish while moving the university forward.

Much of this work is internal and related to improving processes and systems—I am grateful to my team for leaning in on this work. We are actioning our Equity Compass and People Plan, and continue to evolve the Provost and Vice-President Academic role to ensure that our decisions are driven by SFU’s academic and research mission. During the years ahead, we will focus on creating systems that promote student success, improve campus vibrancy and create space for everyone to do their best work.

What's the point of being president if you can't have a little fun? I enjoyed chatting with students (and admiring this life-sized bear) at last year's Winter Warm-Up.

It is an honour and a privilege to serve as SFU’s president for another term. I am taking forward with me the whole-hearted belief that post-secondary education is critical to creating a kinder, more inclusive, more sustainable world—and the whole-hearted belief that we are leading the way at Simon Fraser University.