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.”