SFU's next president Andrew Petter heaps praise on UBC's former president Martha Piper

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      The next president of Simon Fraser University has said that he wants to emulate the approach of former UBC president Martha Piper. In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Andrew Petter praised Piper for her ability to “work with government in a very positive vein”.

      “Martha Piper was a fierce advocate, but Martha Piper was also an example of someone who understood government and understood that it wasn’t about complaining all the time,” Petter said. “It’s a matter of having a vision and getting people excited about it, and when government comes to the table and supports that vision, really giving recognition where recognition is due.”

      On January 20, SFU announced that Petter, a former B.C. NDP cabinet minister and University of Victoria dean of law, will succeed Michael Stevenson as president on September 1. Petter said he was attracted to SFU because of its strengths in research, scholarship, and student-centred undergraduate education, as well as its connection to the community. “I don’t think it gets as much recognition as it deserves,” he declared. “And one of my roles as president will be to make sure it’s better known.”

      Piper demonstrated a knack for attracting attention and raising funds during her tenure as UBC’s president from 1997 to 2006. For example, the university would sometimes take out full-page advertisements in the Globe and Mail to praise the then-Liberal federal government after it funded research on campus. Petter said that during his time as the provincial minister of advanced education, he noticed how well Piper would align her arguments with his government’s objectives.

      “She pushed really hard, but she knew when to stop,” he recalled. “And when she got as much as she possibly could, then [she would] celebrate and set the stage for the next goal or aspiration. And I’m a huge admirer of the way she went about that. It was a real model.”

      Petter said his team at the UVic law school was able to raise significant amounts of money from the federal and provincial governments for initiatives that worked for both parties. As examples, he cited the establishment of a chair in aboriginal economic development and the strengthening of clinical programs at a time when the B.C. government was cutting legal aid.

      He maintained that people working in government want to leave a legacy, regardless of their political stripe. And he said that in the area of education, they want this legacy to be positive. “But sometimes, people in universities don’t fully understand how to align their needs with those of government,” Petter said. “And conversely, people in government have difficulty figuring out universities. I have the advantage of [having worked] both sides of the street, and I think I have some experience in being able to help align in a very positive way the needs of one institution with [those of] another.”



      Clayton Burns

      Jan 28, 2010 at 7:07pm

      Let's hope this is not going to be a phantom SFU presidency, as with the mysterious case of UBC's Stephen Toope. Even if Petter looks somewhat like Peter Quint in the photo here, he probably means well. A better idea than buying pointless celebration ads in The Globe and Mail: "Dedicated transfer payments to the provinces for post-secondary education." For this idea alone, Ignatieff deserves to win the next federal election. Now that his university tour has been such a success, Ignatieff should visit all the faculties of law in the country, then do all the faculties of medicine. (For some reason, Harper is wary of universities.) What Ignatieff should focus on in the law schools is that Canada is a society governed by law, not the authority of The Leader.

      The Peak student newspaper at SFU is carrying some interesting articles on education at that campus. For example, about the classic bind of senior students who cannot get into the courses they need and end up being forced back into lower level courses, where the lecturing may be uninspired. As the issues arise, universities have to solve them. So what specifically does Petter propose should be done about profs who read from PowerPoint and put students to sleep?

      SFU has had a chronic problem with Essay Experts, which likes to post notices (appropriately enough) near the Cognition and Perception Lab. An example of unconscious SFU irony. Is there any reason the SFU admin has not asked the RCMP to bust the Essay Experts HQ and seize the business records of this miserable and predatory outfit? Writing essays and theses for students is the lowest form of activity on this planet, next to murder and such. As long as SFU allows Essay Experts to post notices on campus, you will know the university is a candidate for closer examination by federal and provincial officials.

      Nonetheless, despite its frequent timidity (and even helplessness), SFU has some endearing qualities. The downtown Vancouver arts operations look quite promising. However, we want to stay away from anachronism. "Post"-economic-collapse, buying full page national celebration ads should trigger an investigation.

      clayton burns

      Janet Hudgins

      Jan 29, 2010 at 9:43am

      Petter is off to a false start if his model is Piper. Far better to maintain university principles and build on those than to incorporate. Pandering to business at the cost of the integrity of the school was not then and is not now anything students think of as the mark of a fine university president. What we have now in Toope is a little more like it.


      Jan 30, 2010 at 11:13am

      I second Janet's thoughts. Martha Piper was absolutely reviled by most critically aware students and faculty during her tenure for her pro-business emphasis on "research" and reputation with outsiders. And it was under her watch that the privatisation of public land through the construction of condos on the Endowment Lands, further alienating the student body. I would much rather a president who is an advocate for the university's own constituency than a corporate/government suit, especially given the lies the Liberals have told about sustaining funding for advanced education.