Alan Davis

President and Vice Chancellor, Kwantlen Polytechnic University



Alan Davis was born in Reading, England, and attended University College London to study chemistry, and was awarded his BSc with honors in 1972.

He was accepted that year into graduate school at SFU where he received MSc (1975) and PhD (1980) degrees under the supervision of Fred Einstein in the use of x-ray crystallography to determine the structure of inorganic compounds. He then began 12 years as a chemistry instructor at the (then) Fraser Valley College. He was elected to the Chilliwack School Board in 1983, serving as Chair for seven of his 13 years as a Trustee.

In 1989 he joined the Open Learning Agency as a Director of University Programs, and in 1996 he was appointed Vice President Academic at Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University,

In 2003 he joined Niagara College as Vice President for Academic and Learner Services. He then served for three years at Vancouver Community College before joining the State University of New York as president of Empire State College in 2008.

Since 2012, he has served as President and Vice Chancellor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Dr. Davis is a member of the board of several organizations focused on higher education, and is also on the board of the BC Business Council.

In addition to his publications in chemistry, Dr. Davis has contributed and presented regularly in areas of higher education, and he is also a published playwright: his plays for young people have been performed across Canada.

He is married and is father of three daughters and a son.

Photo below: Davis in an SFU Theatre production of Marat-Sade, pictured lower right.


Why did you choose to go to SFU?

While in my last year at UCL I saw a picture of SFU: that aerial shot that looks over the campus and towards Indian Arm, with blue skies, the inlet, and snow-capped mountains. “That looks nice” I thought, and my girlfriend at the time was off to Nigeria for a year, so I thought I’d mail in the handy tear-off card. One thing led to another, and I was faced with the choice of going to teacher education or to Canada. I got an upper second in my degree, so that decided things for me. They even gave me immigrant status at Canada House in London which I didn’t realize the value of until I arrived.

Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?

Aside from the lab, in the SFU theatre (sometimes it was the reverse I think).

What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?

A group of us put on outrageous skits at the annual Chemistry Christmas parties, lampooning someone in authority in the department. People became fearful of who would be the focus of each skit, but it was all in good fun, although the heavily laced punch would be unacceptable these days.

Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?

Fred Einstein: he was a great supervisor and a very supportive friend. He knew that my future was likely not in pure research, but in teaching: I had a young family and diverse interests, and he respected all of that.

How has your SFU degree impacted your career?

As my career moved from research chemistry to chemical education to administration, I often joke that I have no formal education or training for my current job. My PhD in obscure areas of Inorganic Chemistry did however give me crucial transferable skills: to write concisely, to deal with a lot of data, the discipline to translate curiosity into some form of cogent investigation, and some ability to make sense of seemingly unconnected information.

What is your favourite SFU snow story?

On some winter days, the wonderful surprise of finding that while it was gloomy and damp at the bottom of the hill, hitchhiking or driving up above the clouds revealed the stunning snow-covered campus and sunny skies. It was “heavenly”. At the end of a marvelous day, it was time to descend back into the gloom.

If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?

I was strongly advised not to go to SFU in 1972 in favor of “you know where”. This only inspired me to go with my instincts, and I am so glad I did. So, dig deep, follow your instincts and make the most of any opportunity you choose.

What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?

Non-conformity: keep rejecting the status quo.