Friday, April 17, 2015

I write today from New Delhi, India. I’m at the midpoint of a two-week visit with various partners and colleagues, ensuring that there will be clear and effective transition to new leadership after my tenure as president ends. This week, I spent time at IIT Delhi, one of the universities with which the University of Alberta has an active research and teaching partnership. I also had productive meetings learning more about where Canada’s, Alberta’s, and India’s strategic research priorities intersect. These meetings were, first, with the deputy high commissioner and managing director of the Alberta Office in Delhi, and second, with the secretary of the Science and Engineering Research of India.  As there appear to be several potential opportunities for future collaboration and funding, these are conversations that will continue into the future under David Turpin’s lead.

I had an enjoyable and interesting dinner with one of our honorary degree recipients, Sunita Narain, and her staff at the Centre for Science and Environment. Again, potential opportunities for partnership and co-operation between the U of A and her organization have become clear after hearing more about many of the projects that her teams are working on.

Along with meetings at Petrotech, I closed this week with recruitment visits to high schools here in New Dehli and with a speech on women in leadership at the India Canada Business Chamber. Next week, I move onto Chennai, Mumbai, and Bangaluru.

Back on North Campus, there have been a few events of note that have occurred while I’ve been travelling. Last Friday, the U of A officially launched the Canadian Glycomics Network, a new $27.3M federally funded network centre of excellence. Under the leadership of Todd Lowary, carbohydrate scientist and director of the Alberta Glycomics Centre, GlycoNet will bring together 64 glycomics researchers from 22 institutions across Canada to strengthen efforts to explore and develop new treatments for a range of illnesses. The fact that the U of A was selected to host GlycoNet out of a competitive pool of 83 applications is the result of both recent achievements at the Alberta Glycomics Centre and the U of A’s long and proud history of outstanding carbohydrate research stretching back through David Bundle’s leadership of the Alberta Innovates Centre for Carbohydrate Science to the foundational research of Ray Lemieux.

On Monday, federal Minister of Industry James Moore was on campus to meet with U of A students and researchers in space science and engineering and to highlight the exceptional work being done here to develop and advance Canada’s leadership in space exploration and research. In particular, he was eager to meet with the student team responsible for designing, building, and, eventually, launching Alberta’s first satellite, ExAlta1. He cited the success of their project as evidence that strong, long-term public, private, and academic investment does indeed result in the development of new talent, scientific and technical innovation, as well as economic diversification. I highlight that his visit and his comments indicate our advocacy efforts are being heard. My thanks to Lorne Babiuk, VP (Research), Ian Mann, director of the Institute for Space Science, Exploration and Technology, Gregory Sivakoff, professor of Physics, and the AlbertaSat team for hosting the minister during his visit.

We had two other visitors on campus this week, these coming at the invitation of Resource Management Steering Committee co-chairs Phyllis Clark and Kerry Mummery. Larry Goldstein, president of Campus Strategies and specialist in higher education financial management, and Trudy Pound-Curtis, AVP and chief financial officer at York University, led two half-day information forums for the members of both the steering committee and working groups working on the U of A’s evaluation of a new resource management model. Larry and Trudy have extensive experience in planning and implementing budget models based on the principles of responsibility-centred management and were able to answer questions and provide critical information and advice to the teams working here.

Finally, let me close by sending my warmest congratulations to Lorne Tyrrell, professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology and the director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, for winning the 2015 Killam Prize for Health Sciences. This is one of Canada’s highest honours and is richly deserved by Lorne, whose award-winning research and leadership in Canada’s medical research community has been renowned for decades. Congratulations, Lorne!

Until next Friday,


Friday, April 10, 2015

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--April 10

I want to begin this week with a huge thank you for the farewell “Uplifting!” celebration held at the Winspear on Wednesday, April 1. I was truly honoured and moved to have my ten years as president of the University of Alberta marked by an evening that celebrated the ties between the U of A, Edmonton, and Alberta. I’ve been on an emotional high since leaving the auditorium and filled with a tremendous sense of pride for the U of A and the work we have accomplished together over the last decade. 

The efforts of many are behind the evening’s success. First, let me thank Debra Pozega Osburn, VP (University Relations), for her vision and her leadership of the event planning and communications teams. Board Chair Doug Goss provided instrumental support throughout the planning process and was responsible for bringing on the two sponsors of the event: ScotiaBank and Magna International. I was also delighted that former Board Chair Jim Edwards, who headed the board when I was appointed, was part of the event, along with Chancellor Ralph Young, Minister of Health Stephen Mandel and Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education Don Scott.

My warm thanks as well to Tommy Banks for creating an inspired, entertaining program, displaying the diversity of Alberta’s musical talent. No one who attended will soon forget the unexpected surprise of hearing Harry Knight—seven-year-old prodigy on the flamenco guitar—wow the audience. The fact that the program included several U of A alumni, students, and former and current U of A faculty was an added pleasure. Special thanks to Lemonia Anagnostopoulos, master’s student in the School of Public Health and one of the first recipients of a grant from the Indira V. Samarasekera Global Student Leadership Fund, for speaking to the value of having an international experience during her studies.

Dedicated teams within both Advancement and University Relations ensured that all the event details and logistics were handled, from the compilation of invitation lists to the management of ticketing for a full-house at the Winspear to the writing of the emcee’s script. Lynn Hruczkowski, Senior Director (Campaign Planning), and Andrea Smith, Senior Administrative Officer (University Relations) were co-leads on the organization of the entire event. My sincere thanks to them and also to Jodeen Litwin, Wanda Rawluk, Ron McPhee, Laurie Sekulich, Laura Young, Tracy Salmon, Shelley Bindon, Helen Seaborne, Cherene Griffiths, Fatima Jaffer, Debbie Keehn, Alison Turner, and Scott Lingley. Your efforts were absolutely critical to the evening’s success.

The event also marked the launch of “Because We Dared”—a major multi-platform communications project including a new video, website, and commemorative booklet. All three outline and celebrate the breadth and depth of the work we’ve accomplished as we have endeavoured to fulfill the vision of Dare to Discover. I invite you to visit the website watch the video:

This was a cross-portfolio effort, drawing on the talents of individuals across University Digital Strategy, Marketing and Communications, and Internal Communications. Many thanks in particular to Anne Bailey, Willie Lee, Sean Townsend, Trevor Horbachewsky, Vic Mach, Marcey Andrews, Hallie Brodie, Michael Brown, Richard Siemens, and Ted Erickson for their tremendous work.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who attended the event. Being there together and sharing a strong sense of community with so many faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the university was inspiring. As I said that night, it is my honour and privilege to serve as the president of the U of A and to be part of a community so clearly dedicated to serving the public good. This has been my own lifelong purpose and to have shared the journey with you over the last decade has been incredibly rewarding for me.

It is now my turn to thank you and I ask that you place a hold in your calendars for a special campus event on the afternoon of Friday, May 8 from 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm for all faculty, staff, and students.  I will share more specific event details next week.

Until next Friday,


Friday, March 27, 2015

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--Mar 27

As you know, the provincial government tabled the 2015 budget yesterday afternoon. The budget underscores the fact that the province is in a period of transformation, and I am encouraged that the government has developed a 10-year strategic plan to reduce its dependency on uncertain oil and gas revenues through investments in other areas of the economy. The University of Alberta will be a critical part of that transformation, with the expertise and education that we offer in areas central to the province’s future social, cultural, and economic well-being, whether we speak of the health sciences, agriculture and forestry, science and technology, education, law, or arts and culture. We will be working with government in the coming weeks and months to ensure that research investments continue to be made in all of these areas.

As part of the long-term plan, the government has indicated that the overall funding model for post-secondary education will be changing. This is change that we as an institution expected, and we are well into the process of our own transformation. We have been given the time we need to manage reductions to the Campus Alberta grant, and I believe we have many reasons to be optimistic. With the plans and work we have already done or set in motion, I am confident that we will continue to achieve our own goals and vision for excellence in teaching and research. Along with all of the members of the executive team, I want to assure you that I will be working with government to ensure that the right frameworks are in place to increase alternative sources of revenue. Also important to note is increased investment in 2015-2016 of $14 million to student aid programs; this funding will help to ensure that students continue to have access to post-secondary education.

Now let me turn to the short term. Funding to the Campus Alberta grant will be reduced by 1.4 per cent in 2015-2016 and 2.7 per cent in 2016-2017. The 1.4 per cent reduction equates to an $8-million shortfall in the U of A’s institutional operating budget for 2015-2016. As you know, the U of A’s institutional budget was approved by the Board of Governors on March 13, and as I reported then, that budget includes a 1.5 per cent reduction that will be applied to the operating budgets of all faculties and administrative units in 2015-2016. We will not be altering this budget plan. We will immediately begin working on plans to manage the $8-million shortfall without increasing the already planned reduction to faculty and unit budgets.

For 2016-2017, we have, as I’ve mentioned, been given the time we need to tap new sources of revenue and continue work on the challenging task of finding further efficiencies—work that is already well underway at all levels of the university. I am pleased to report that the provincial budget also includes a $50-million fund that will be used to help Alberta’s post-secondary institutions manage the transition to new financial realities. We will begin preparing submissions and proposals to access that fund per forthcoming government guidelines.

Please join me for a campus forum on Tuesday, March 31 at 3:30 p.m. in Telus 150, where we will be able to discuss immediate and long-term institutional plans and priorities in more detail.

Until then,


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Links to 2015 provincial budget

The Government of Alberta tabled the 2015 provincial budget this afternoon.

The senior leadership team is now reviewing this information and determining its impact on the university. Further communications with the community will be forthcoming as details emerge.

For more details on today's budget, please see Government of Alberta budget 2015 website, which includes:

For information on the University of Alberta's 2015-2016 institutional budget, approved by the Board of Governors on March 13, 2015, please visit Change@UAlberta.

To register for President Samarasekera's Campus Forum on March 31 at 3:30 p.m. in Telus 150, please click here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Upcoming communications regarding provincial budget

Tomorrow (Thursday, March 26), the Government of Alberta will table the 2015 provincial budget at 3:30 p.m. I am committed to keeping you informed as we come to understand how the provincial budget will affect the University of Alberta’s Campus Alberta grant.

Because of the timing of the event tomorrow (late afternoon), you may hear from me and Board of Governors Chair Doug Goss in the media before I have an opportunity to communicate directly to faculty, staff, and students. However, as there is information to share (e.g., links to the budget speech and budget documents), it will be posted on Colloquy for your easy reference. On Friday, I will send a further update in my weekly bulletin.

Please note that I will also be holding a Campus Forum on Tuesday, March 31 at 3:30 p.m. in Telus 150. All are welcome. Please register at

Until Friday,


Monday, March 23, 2015

University of Alberta welcomes Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications

On February 27, the Canadian Ministry of Science and Technology announced a new harmonized open-access policy. The Tri-Agency Open Access Policy requires that all peer-reviewed journal articles funded by Tri-Agency grants, which includes those provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), be made freely available online within 12 months of publication. We welcome this change at the U of A, and we thank Vice-Provost and Chief Librarian Gerald Beasley for his leadership in this area. To help support this open-access model, the University of Alberta Libraries is extending its current e-journal hosting service. The U of A’s efforts to promote open-access have been ongoing for the past eight years, with U of A libraries freely hosting more than 30 scholarly journals with strong affiliations to the university. This service will now expand to include all Canadian scholarly journals. We hope that this will make it easier for university researchers and students, as well as the public, to access a wide range of publicly funded research.

This policy supports researchers’ academic freedom and authors’ rights to choose the appropriate journal to publish their research findings.   Researchers may satisfy the Open Access policy requirements by publishing in journals that make articles openly accessible within 12 months of publication and by archiving publications in open access repositories. Researchers are encouraged to do both, and the cost of publishing in open access journals is an eligible expense for Tri-Agency awards. The full policy and a Toolbox of open access resources is available online.

NSERC and SSHRC funded researchers will have to comply with this policy for all grants awarded May 1 2015 and onward. CIHR funded researchers have been held to similar requirements since 2008 and they are also required to deposit bioinformatics, atomic and molecular coordinate data into the appropriate public database immediately upon publication of research results.

If you have questions about the University of Alberta’s open-access repository service, please visit the Education and Research Archive (ERA). You can also learn more about the university’s Open Journal System hosting service by visiting the e-journals information page.

Olive Yonge, Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

Lorne Babiuk, Vice-President (Research)

Friday, March 20, 2015

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin - March 20

The official opening of the Physical Activity and Wellness (PAW) Centre today is cause for celebration.  Let me begin by congratulating the Students’ Union, Graduate Students’ Association, and Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation for their leadership on this project and all U of A students for strongly supporting the vision and construction of this fantastic new facility. Don Hickey, vice-president (facilities and operations) and his team are proud to have played a partnership role in building a lasting legacy for students and the community—my thanks to them. Support from the Government of Alberta has also been instrumental. Finally, a very warm thank you to alumni Dick and Carol Wilson for their tremendous gift of $10 million—generosity that will be celebrated through the naming of the Wilson Climbing Centre and the Hanson Fitness and Lifestyle Centre (named in honour of Carol Wilson’s father). The PAW Centre represents the best of partnership, both in the collaboration that underpinned its construction and now in its operations as a facility that will support individual and community fitness and well-being.

The university has many vital partners; two of the most important are Alberta Health and Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions. Earlier this month, Alberta lost one of its most influential and effective health sciences researchers and advocates when Cy Frank, CEO of AIHS, died suddenly. An alumnus of the U of A, Cy Frank spent most of his illustrious academic and medical career at the University of Calgary before taking on the leadership of AIHS two years ago, and as Lorne Babiuk (vice-president, research) and Richard Fedorak (interim dean, FOMD) noted on Colloquy on March 5, he was a friend and partner to many here at the U of A. I join with Lorne and Richard in extending sympathies to Cy Frank’s family and friends. A feature obituary by AndrĂ© Picard in The Globe and Mail this past Tuesday (March 17) notes that a memorial will be held to celebrate Cy Frank’s life tomorrow on the U of C campus at 1 p.m.

I have an update on the establishment of a land trust. As you know, the Board of Governors approved the establishment of a U of A land trust at its June meeting. In late February, the board received government approval to form the trust and I am pleased to report that as of March 11, 2015, the University of Alberta Properties Trust, Inc. has been officially incorporated. The founding board of directors has 10 members and includes representation from municipal planning, the business and land development sectors, and senior administrators.

Next week will bring definite news on the provincial budget. The budget speech will be delivered in the Legislature on March 26 at 3:30 p.m. I will keep you informed, but please plan to join me at a campus forum on Tuesday, March 31 at 3:30 p.m. in Telus 150. I will outline the details of the budget, its impact on the university, and next steps. To register for the event, please click here.

I’d like to close this week with three final notes of congratulation. The first is to Lesley Cormack who has been reappointed for a second term as dean of the Faculty of Arts. Lesley has provided outstanding leadership through a period of major change in the faculty and David Turpin will be fortunate to have her experience and wisdom on the senior leadership team. Congratulations to Lesley and many thanks to all who served on the Dean Review Committee.

Second, I’d like to send my best wishes to Garry Bodnar, long-time director of General Faculties Council services. On March 5, Garry retired after a 35-year career with the university—25 of them in governance. With an encyclopedic understanding of the university’s academic governance system, Garry provided advice and leadership to many of us as we navigated responsibilities on Deans’ Council, GFC and its nine subcommittees. Any president relies on governance staff to help manage the complexities of the institution, and I was fortunate to have Garry at my side. I wish him the best in his retirement.

The last note of congratulations must go to the Golden Bears Hockey team. Last weekend, they won the CIS national championship for the second year in a row and for the 15th time in the history of the program. A great moment of pride for all of us!

Until next week,


Monday, March 16, 2015

Dean of Arts Reappointment

It gives me great pleasure to announce the reappointment of Dr. Lesley Cormack as Dean of the Faculty of Arts. A duly constituted Dean Review Committee concluded its deliberations, and the Board of Governors approved the Committee’s recommendation that Dr. Cormack be reappointed for a second five-year term of office, to be effective on July 1, 2016, following an earned administrative leave from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. I am also pleased to announce that Dr. Lise Gotell, has agreed to serve as Acting Dean in the Faculty of Arts for that same period of time. 

Dr. Cormack has guided the Faculty through a great deal of change and has been an articulate and respected voice for the Faculty of Arts. She has provided leadership on a number of issues including the budget, the administrative reorganization in Arts, and the quality of undergraduate and graduate programs. She is committed to effective and innovative teaching, recognizing this as a core strength of the Faculty of Arts. Dr. Cormack has led a drive to enhance and diversify international recruitment in the Faculty. She is a strong scholar and a passionate advocate of faculty and student research. The University of Alberta is fortunate to have a Dean of such high calibre. We wish Dean Cormack continued success in her next five years. 

I wish to thank members of the Dean Review Committee for their commitment and hard work, and to thank all of you who participated in the review process. 

Olive Yonge 

Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

Friday, March 13, 2015

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--March 13

Today, the Board of Governors approved the 2015 Comprehensive Institutional Plan, a document that includes the 2015-2016 institutional budget, as well as the University of Alberta’s long-term academic strategic plan and capital plan.

The provincial government is clearly facing significant budgetary pressures and appears to be contemplating transformative change. We are preparing for a number of possible scenarios; however, we have not yet received definitive indication from government about how those pressures will affect our operating grant. As a result, the institutional budget approved today by the board is based upon the assumption of a zero per cent change to the Campus Alberta Grant, and we continue to make a strong case to government that stable and predictable funding is essential.

Even with the assumption of a zero per cent change to the Campus Alberta Grant, the university must take action to minimize a deficit in the operating budget, given that university expenditures continue to increase while operating revenues do not. To achieve a manageable $2.6-million deficit in the operating budget, a 1.5 per cent reduction will be applied to all faculties and administrative units in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. As I noted on Colloquy on November 28, 2014, faculties and administrative units will also take on responsibility for merit and across-the-board salary increases beginning in 2015-2016. In the event that the Campus Alberta Grant is reduced in the upcoming provincial budget, no further reduction will be applied to faculties and administrative units in 2015-2016.

I recognize that a further 1.5 per cent reduction to operating budgets will not be easily achieved. We have all worked hard over the last several years to realize efficiencies, consolidate processes, and change organizational structures to minimize the negative impact of decreases in the Campus Alberta Grant. To face further decreases is a challenge. However, we are also working hard to identify and seek alternative sources of new revenue to help maintain quality in teaching and research. We are doing this work because we take seriously our responsibilities to as a public institution committed to stewarding public investments in post-secondary education wisely and effectively to the benefit of our students and the communities we serve. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the long-term sustainability and well-being of our university. To do this, we must continue to advocate strongly for public investment in the post-secondary sector. And we must continue to seek new ways to responsibly manage compensation, administrative expenditures, and program costs.

The provincial government announced last week that the provincial budget will be announced on March 26. As details emerge, I will keep you informed. Information on the U of A’s 2015-2016 budget is now available on Change@UAlberta under “Sustainable Finances.” These web pages will be updated often in the coming weeks as the interim provost, vice-presidents, deans, and I make further decisions in response to the provincial budget. I will be holding a Campus Forum on Tuesday, March 31, at 3:30 p.m. in Telus 150 to review the details and potential impacts of the provincial budget on the university. All are welcome. Please register here.

Before I close for this week, I would like to offer my congratulations to the students who will serve on the 2015-2016 Students’ Council and Graduate Students’ Council. The incoming SU Executive includes President Navneet Khinda, VP (Student Life) Vivian Kwan, VP (External) Dylan Hanwell, VP (Academic) Fahim Rahman, and VP (Operations & Finance) Cody Bondarchuk. GSA’s incoming executive includes President Colin More, VP (Academic) Harsh Thaker, VP (External) Alphonse Ndem Ahola,VP (Labour) Sarah Ficko, and VP (Student Services) Alireza Talaei. My warmest thanks to all departing executive members for your service and leadership over the past year. I have enjoyed working you and wish you the best in your future endeavours.

Until next Friday,


Note: This post has been updated to reflect the results of the VP (Academic) re-election, which were announced on March 20, 2015.

Friday, March 6, 2015

IVS Weekly Bulletin - March 6

Events this week clearly demonstrated how the University of Alberta is a community that celebrates diversity, creates space for differences of perspectives, and allows for debate. Pride Week took centre stage with the parade on Tuesday, the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services’ release of the “You Can Play” video, and other events throughout the week. My thanks to the organizers and volunteers for all of their efforts in making the week such a success, and for ensuring that the U of A continues to grow as a community that supports LGBT*Q and allied students, staff, and faculty every day of the year.

I shared my pride in the U of A for being precisely this kind of community with alumni in Calgary at an event Wednesday evening.  About 180 people were in attendance for my last alumni event there as president—a tremendous turn-out. Michael Houghton (Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology) was featured as keynote speaker and his presentation was very warmly received. Over the years of my presidency, I have visited Calgary often and the evening was a wonderful opportunity for me to remind the community there of all the U of A brings to the province and to thank our alumni in Calgary for their continued support. Although in my calendar long before oil prices began to slide, this event created a critical opportunity to be able to advocate for the university and, with Michael Houghton’s help, demonstrate in tangible ways the far-reaching benefits of the work we do.

Today, I am in Victoria speaking at WESTVAC, which is an annual meeting of vice-presidents academic and vice-presidents research from western Canadian universities. Along with Peter McKinnon, interim president of Athabasca University, I’ve been invited to speak about the challenges and rewards involved in being president, a topic that I have been thinking about more and more as I work with David Turpin through this period of transition.

Student leadership is also in transition this week with elections for both the Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association. At the time of writing, the official results have not yet announced, but I look forward to welcoming a new slate of leaders early next week. I also thank all of the candidates for taking on the challenge of running a campaign and for wanting to be a force for change on campus. This takes time and effort that could be devoted elsewhere, and the U of A is a better place because of the students who choose to make our university their cause. Thank you!

Next week promises to be busy with General Faculties Council on Monday afternoon and Board of Governors on Friday. Agendas for both are available on the Governance website.

Until next week,