Written by: Amneet Mann
The process to determine SFU’s next Vice-President Academic (VPA) and Provost is gearing up in preparation for the end of current VPA Professor Jonathan Driver’s term on August 20, 2020.
The VPA provides leadership for academic initiatives at SFU such as student experience, curriculum quality, engagement, and faculty and staff.
Driver has served as SFU’s VPA from 2008–2016, and has been holding the position on a pro tem (for the time being) basis since the beginning of the 2019 academic school year. He joined SFU faculty in the Department of Archaeology in 1982.
Consultations with university community to shape VPA requirements
In an email interview with The Peak, Secretary to the Vice-President, Academic and Provost Search Committee Kera McArthur wrote that “the recruitment process [for a new VPA] began in the fall” with the formation of a search committee as per policy GP 29 Search Committees for Vice-Presidents and Associate Vice-Presidents.
“As the search for the new Vice-President Academic gets going, which is really going to happen during this term, one of the requirements of that search is that the search committee consult broadly with the university community about the challenges and the opportunities that the next Vice-President Academic will face,” said Driver in an interview with The Peak.
McArthur remarked that the feedback provided during the consultations will be used to create a Position Description and Candidate Profile, documents that will guide the search committee as they “conduct interviews, review references and undertake any other necessary steps to evaluate candidates.”
“We are expecting to conclude the search by late spring, 2020,” wrote McArthur.
Current VPA weighs in on past accomplishments
When asked about current areas of focus for the VPA’s office for the past few years, Driver pointed to SFU’s Academic Plan, which outlines the focus of the office in five-year intervals. Driver noted that many aspects of the current academic plan are working to enhance the student experience at SFU.
“You could look, for example, at the development of the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Prevention, Education, and Support policy and the development of the office that supports that policy,” offered Driver as an example. “You can particularly look at the work that’s being done around student health and wellness and especially around mental health,” he added, noting the release of the My SSP app which provides mental health support services to students.
Driver noted additional VPA initiatives, such as the development of a more integrated approach between online and in-person education at SFU, a focus on reconciliation and support for Indigenous students, and work on equity, inclusion, and diversity for all students on campus.
Future challenges of the position
In respect to some of the challenges the VPA’s office has faced the past few years, Driver stated that “the biggest challenge, really, is how do you create change? How do you build new services for students while working within a budget that puts limits on what we can do?”
For the next VPA’s term, Driver predicted three main challenges that the office would face.
“I would say that the first challenge is going to be balancing the affordability of education against increased demand for resources,” said Driver. He listed examples such as demands for smaller class sizes, greater support for mental health and wellness on campus, and creating more welcoming spaces on campus for students.
The second main challenge, according to Driver, will be how to create a campus community that is more inclusive of a diverse student population.
The third challenge the future VPA would face, as Driver identified it, is how to close the gap between SFU’s reported international reputation and the actual quality of teaching and research that occurs at the university, as reported by more objective figures.
“I think there’s some work to be done around ensuring that the great work that gets done here is better recognized and communicated to the outside world and that, in particular, the research achievements of our faculty members, the high-quality teaching that goes on here, and the achievements of our students after they leave the university need to be highlighted,” said Driver.
“We need to be more than just ranked as Canada’s #1 comprehensive university.”
Driver acknowledged that, while these were the three main challenges he had identified for the new VPA, he was certain that the search committee’s consultations with the university community would yield a much broader and more comprehensive list of challenges and opportunities for the new VPA to address.