Friday, March 17, 2017

From the President's Desk: March 17, 2017

The winter term is passing quickly. We have now turned the corner into the last month of classes, and this week has been particularly eventful. Let me begin by highlighting that March 16-18 is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Week at the University of Alberta. One of our university's defining features is its diversity of people, disciplines, and perspectives. Yesterday, I spoke to the Edmonton Region Urban Development Institute about the vital importance of preserving and championing this diversity, especially in light of isolationist movements and rhetoric we so often hear about in the media these days. EDI Week gives us a great opportunity to celebrate and revitalize our commitment to building an inclusive community. I'd also like to thank and congratulate the recipients of the inaugural EDI Awards for their inspiring work on our campuses.

Good news on budget

Yesterday also brought us good news from the Government of Alberta Budget 2017. As promised, the government provided a two per cent lift to the Campus Alberta grant, in addition to renewed funding for student mental health services and a modest increase in deferred maintenance funding. These increases will help us continue to deliver on our core teaching and research mission, providing accessible, affordable and quality educational experience to our students, and original, innovative research to the benefit of society.

We also received very good news on the capital side. The government has dedicated $149 million to the renovation of the Dentistry Pharmacy Building. This funding will be spread over the first four years of the six year project, with a further commitment to complete the project over the last two years. The retrofit of Dent/Pharm will add a much-needed 330,000 square feet of academic and administrative space. Through the renovation we will also address health, safety, and building code issues common in historic buildings, as well as reduce the building’s energy consumption and carbon footprint. We have been planning and preparing for this project since 2012 and I extend our thanks to the government for making it possible to move forward with this major capital investment.

I would also like to thank the government for the two per cent increase in the Campus Alberta grant, as it allows us to implement our 2017-2018 institutional budget as approved at today’s Board of Governors’ meeting. We based our budget on a number of assumptions, including the two per cent increase, previously approved tuition fee increases to international student fees, and modest growth in both research funding and investment income. The provincial government’s tuition freeze, along with negotiated compensation increases, the impacts of both the Carbon Levy and minimum wage increases, and other inflationary pressures were also factored into our planning.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to work with the government on both the tuition and fee review and the adult learning funding model review, each of which are critically important to our future.

New Board members

This week I also had a number of opportunities to meet and help orient the six new members of our Board of Governors appointed last week by the Alberta government. Dominique GrĂ©goire (Vice-President Finance and Chief Financial Officer, Alberta Blue Cross Benefits Corporation), Lynne Paradis (Superintendent of Schools for Suzuki Public Charter School), Lynn Parish (Hearing Chair for the Alberta Appeals Commission for Worker’s Compensation), Zahra Somani (Partner/Owner of Pirani Group), Sheri Somerville (Executive Director, Citie Ballet), and Owen Tobert (retired, former City Manager, City of Calgary) will bring a wide variety of experiences and perspectives to the table. I have enjoyed meeting them this week, and look forward to working with them and benefiting from their advice and guidance.

Mexico trip

At the end of last week, I travelled to Mexico for three days of meetings with academic partners and government officials. The U of A has several existing student mobility agreements and research collaborations with some of Mexico’s leading universities, such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the University of Guadalajara, and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. On this trip, I was able to meet key partners and deepen these relationships. I am pleased to report that the U of A was recently awarded three major research grants—totalling $14 million—through Mexico’s Ministry of Energy Hydrocarbon Fund, created to advance Mexico’s energy reforms. U of A researchers will work with colleagues in Mexican research institutions on projects aimed at developing new technologies, improving efficiency, and training the next generation of skilled workers for Mexico’s expanding energy sector. It was a pleasure to celebrate these awards with consular and government officials.

Signature Areas Campus Forum

This is a reminder to join members of the Signature Areas Development Panel and me for a campus forum on Thursday, March 23 at noon in Council Chambers.  We will report on the initial stages of our work, and seek advice and input from the community as we continue to move forward in the development process.

Indigenous Canada

Finally, I would like to mention one other recent event of note. On the evening of Wednesday, March 15, the Faculty of Native studies launched a new MOOC called Indigenous Canada. The MOOC is a timely exploration of Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada that highlights national and local Indigenous-settler relations. The course is free and open to the public, and I encourage all members of our community to take advantage of this unique learning opportunity.

Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and the rest of the weekend.

David Turpin
President and Vice-Chancellor


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