Simon Fraser University’s new president is already laying a foundation for making her institution more inclusive.
“We’ve got a lot of education to do across the university, both on anti-Black racism and also on equity issues writ large,” Joy Johnson told the Straight by phone on the third day of her five-year term. “So we’ve got some plans to do some educational work from the executive on down.”
She feels it’s imperative to ensure that people who face challenges related to discrimination and racism are made aware of where they can go for support.
One of her goals is for SFU to eventually appoint an associate vice president for equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“We don’t really have a clear statement for the university on inclusion,” she added.
As a result, Johnson said that the university will develop a process whereby this can be created as a signal to the three campuses that this issue is a central concern.
Prior to being hired as SFU’s vice president of research in 2014, Johnson was scientific director for the Institute of Gender and Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
In that position, she devoted a great deal of attention to ensuring that medical researchers focused more attention on the effects of different medications and treatments on people of different genders. She’s going to continue addressing these types of issues in the future, too.
“I’m going to actually be cochairing a panel of experts looking at equity, diversity, and inclusion for the granting councils in Canada,” Johnson revealed.
Prioritizing reconciliation and student experience
As president, Johnson also hopes to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, describing this as a “top-of-mind issue”. She pointed out that some recommendations from the university’s Aboriginal Reconciliation Council still haven’t been implemented.
In addition, she plans to focus on the student experiences at SFU. That includes ensuring that students make the most of learning in the community, though she concedes that there will be some face-to-face instruction.
“We are looking at trying to increase the opportunities for our graduate students to be on campus in small seminars, in particular, starting in January,” Johnson said. “It is essential that we look at ways to safely bring people back.”
Moreover, she wants students to feel comfortable seeking advice about careers and help with their mental health.
“We also want to make sure we have great services in place for them in terms of just supporting their well-being,” she said. “So that’s another priority area.”
All of this will have to be accomplished within a tight funding envelope.
That’s because Johnson succeeded Andrew Petter as president just as SFU is coping with financial challenges created by the pandemic.
Expect a deficit
She’s well aware that the board of governors of B.C.’s largest research university, UBC, recently approved a $225-million deficit in a $2.9-billion budget.
That shortfall was due to UBC’s board anticipating lower-than-expected tuition revenue and far less income from events, parking, housing, and investments.
SFU faces similar challenges. However, it doesn't have venues that attract as much revenue as the Museum of Anthropology at UBC or the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
“We’re just starting our budget cycle,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at where we stand right now. We are going to have a deficit this year. There’s no question about it.”
However, she added that it won’t be as large as UBC’s.
When asked if the Ministry of Advanced Education will allow an operating shortfall, Johnson replied that university officials are still in discussions with provincial officials about this.
“That whole issue hasn’t landed yet,” she said.