President Peter Stoicheff offers his thoughts on priorities for the new year (photo by David Stobbe).

President sets priorities for 2017

There will be memorable centennial celebrations as well as inevitable challenges and changes, but Peter Stoicheff is looking forward to seeing all that 2017 has in store for the University of Saskatchewan.

Now serving his second year as president of the U of S, Stoicheff is focused on both short-term priorities and long-term goals as the university commemorates the 100th anniversary of its alumni association with multiple events, while Canada celebrates the country’s 150th anniversary—its sesquicentennial.

“I am looking forward to us participating meaningfully in the country’s sesquicentennial and I am looking forward to the fact that this is the 100th anniversary of our alumni association as well,” said Stoicheff. “Building engagement with our alumni is something that is a very high priority for me . . .

“And I am also very excited that we have the mission, vision and values document in place now. I find it a very inspirational document and just what the university needs at this time in its history.”

For the first time in 24 years, the university has updated its mission, vision and values, reflecting the plethora of changes that have occurred on campus since 1993, while staying true to the tenets and traditions that have successfully guided the institution over its 110-year history. Stoicheff is determined to bring that newly revised mission, vision and values document to life.

“I am looking forward to the ways that the university will engage in making that document real,” he said. “In other words, strategic planning, in terms of the things that we do.”

Stoicheff said the university remains firmly focused on constantly improving the student experience as one of the country’s leading research-intensive institutions and continuing to build on the major funding initiatives and progressive programs and projects that have been started across campus.

From the ongoing construction of the Collaborative Science Research Building and the new hotel complex on campus to continuing the Home Ice Campaign to complete funding for Merlis Belsher Place as the new home for hockey and basketball, there are a variety of projects underway that will continue to enhance the look of the university. However, the foundation of the university remains built on research, teaching and outreach, and Stoicheff is looking forward to seeing tangible results from multiple major recent funding announcements.

“It’s exciting to start to see the outcomes of the many different high-level research initiatives that we have embarked upon,” said Stoicheff, noting that the U of S was the only university in the country to be awarded two Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) awards, totalling $115 million in federal funding. “Seeing what will happen with the two CFREF grants that we received and the wonderful addition of Canada Excellence Research Chair Leon Kochian, all of these things are really exciting. And I have to mention the transformational work that has been done in the College of Medicine that has really positioned that crucial college for success.”

Among the president’s priorities in 2017 is completing the search for the university’s first vice-provost of Indigenous engagement, as well as continuing to pursue the possibility of re-opening the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus.

“We are moving on the vice-provost Indigenous engagement position,” he said. “The committee was struck, I am chairing it and it is beginning to meet. So it is very much in the works.”

As for the Kenderdine project, fundraising will be a key component in the process to re-open the satellite campus that was temporarily closed in 2012.

“We have a professionally designed site plan that combines some of the buildings that are there and are good enough to remain there, with a whole new capacity for that campus,” he said. “So we are moving on Emma Lake. Giving you a date for its opening would require knowing where the funding is coming from and all that I can say there, and what people deserve to know, is that we are putting a strong push on a quiet phase of fundraising for that.”

Fundraising remains a crucial area of support for the university, which is also dealing with budgetary pressures at the provincial level. Despite a great deal of success receiving federal funding in support of specific research and infrastructure projects, the U of S experienced a mid-year adjustment that took back $5-million from the 2016 provincial operating grant, and anticipates the upcoming provincial budget this spring will create more financial challenges for the university.

“It was a mid-year adjustment and it was disappointing,” Stoicheff said. “(But) I do not read it as a signal that the province does not support the value of the University of Saskatchewan. And the province has stated the adjustment is one-time. “But it was disappointing. As (interim provost) Michael Atkinson stated, this does not yet mean that we are going to be diminishing our academic program offerings, diminishing our support for research, or cutting positions anywhere in the university.”

To accommodate the budget shortfall, the university dipped into its reserve fund for the second straight year, an unsustainable practice for any institution.

“We have been excellent stewards of our financial situation and as a result, we have had the appropriate percentage of our overall budget devoted to reserve funds. Not inappropriately large, entirely appropriate within the post-secondary education sector in the country,” Stoicheff said. “We’re glad that we did have that and we are now in a situation where we are using that. But as with any reserve funds, that situation isn’t eternally sustainable.

“The point we continually make to the provincial government is that investment in us is an investment in the future and in the province’s capacity for innovation, growth and solving the social challenges we face.”

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