Through the past five years, Davis has learned how to better navigate his presidency
Alyssa Laube, Coordinating Editor
As the President of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Alan Davis has been praised, condemned, and often called on for comment regarding community issues over the past five years.
Since beginning his first term in 2012, he has been navigating issues such as the once-possible Kinder Morgan-KPU memorandum of understanding, the lack of available space for students, staff, and faculty on campus, and everyday concerns raised by those working and studying at the university.
He has also achieved a great deal since being appointed, playing a personal role in improving the status of KPU, creating a more transparent relationship between university administration and students, and striving to diversify programming as much as possible.
“Obviously, when I was hired in 2012, I thought I was pretty damn good,” says Davis, who had previously been President at an American college and a Vice President Academic for a number of different institutions. “I think the thing that surprised me about KPU is that it’s a very complex and large institution. It really forces you as a president to decide where you’re going to focus your attention.”
In the end, Davis set his attention primarily to finding a reliable team to work with, and to making decisions that are “more strategic, more external, and more impactful on the institution from [his] relationship with the government and industry.”
“I learned some patience and something about persistence. You come in with a lot of hope and expectations and suddenly you realize, ‘Hold on a minute. I’m going to have to rebuild things. I’m going to have to think about things more, and I’m going to have to think about the longer game,’” he says. “With my second term and transitioning, I want to be much more strategic about how I spend my time on things that really will impact KPU.”
One way that Davis hopes to accomplish that goal is to ensure that in-depth community consultations are held before the university makes any important decisions. Revisiting KPU’s policies to include consultation was a part of his efforts to move towards inclusivity and transparency with the administration—as was working on efficiency in the Board of Governors and Senate.
Yet conflict still occasionally arises between the administration and KPU’s faculty, staff, and students.
“There are no secrets, but the downside of not having any secrets is that you know when people disagree with you, and you have to be able to roll with that,” says Davis.
One such conflict is the ongoing debate surrounding space allocation on-campus. With the newly-signed Maple Leaf Education MOU, international high school students will soon be using university space for their studies—a notion which many KPU students and faculty have taken issue with due to struggles with finding the space they need.
“Our overall utilization rate isn’t 100 per cent. There is space, but it depends on the time of day,” says Davis. “If we had more classes stretched out from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., we would have available space … It’s just being more directive and having better information and being able to say that we can avoid these clashes if we use the full timetable. We can use all our campuses and try to keep accessibility for students.”
The new KPU campuses, such as the design school and Civic Plaza, will also provide more space for the community in the future, and Davis is hoping to build another classroom block or potentially student residences on the Surrey campus.
Over the next five years, he plans to continue bolstering community engagement, expansion south of the Fraser, and KPU’s reputation as a polytechnic university. Davis also aims to provide an education for first-generation learners, mature learners, and anyone else who is regularly faced with barriers to going to school.
“We do things differently. We do things well. We serve students in our region,” says Davis. “It’s about making people think more positively and consistently about KPU and its role in the higher education system, and being proud of that.”