The two final candidates for the Vice-President (VP) students position at UFV held presentations for faculty, staff, and student as part of their application process Wednesday, Feb. 13 and Thursday, Feb. 14. The two candidates, Dr. Alisa Webb and Dr. Chris Rogerson, were invited to to present on the opportunities and challenges they saw for the VP students position, and why they should be the person to take them on.
The VP students is a senior member of the executive team at UFV, reporting directly to the university’s president. They direct a team of over 60 full time staff, with a total budget of $9 million. Overseeing many student-oriented services falls under the VP students portfolio, including the office of the registrar, athletics and campus recreation, counselling services, financial aid, the centre for accessibility service, and the career centre, to name a few.
The job description summarize the position, describing the VP students as the “voice and leadership in fulfilling the university’s commitment to student engagement, support, and success both inside and outside of the classroom.” VP students works collaboratively with many areas of the university developing student services, programs, and initiatives to ensure students needs are being met while at the same time fulfilling UFV goals and strategic plans.
Webb has spent 15 years working at UFV. In 2014, she became the associate dean of students before moving on to interim as VP students last year. She received her PhD in philosophy from SFU where she studied print culture, European gender history, and popular culture.
Webb said that the path she took to her current interim position has been different from the path many other take to administrator roles, and has given her unique insight into the needs of students on this campus.
Webb focused her presentation on two major areas in the VP students portfolio she saw as opportunities for improvement: Indigenous students and the mental health of all students.
According to Webb, during her time at UFV the university has seen an increase in demand for counselling, crisis appointments, and need for faculty support. Response from UFV, she said, has up until this point been reactive instead of proactive.
“We can’t staff and fund our way out of the problem,” Webb said.
Her goal in this area would be to look at providing the support students and faculty need around mental health in a way that would be sustainable long term for the university, in a way that proactively found solutions instead of reacting to issues as they came up.
Webb went on to discuss Indigenous students, and the barriers they are facing at public institutions like UFV. Although UFV has been working on Indigenization, including the creation of the senior advisor for Indigenous affairs position and Indigenization of curriculum, Webb said there is more the university needs to do.
In the future, she said the university should look closely at barriers that may prevent Indigenous students from accessing services on campus, such as financial problems, racism, and not having proper documentation of illnesses that may prevent proper support options from being available. Inclusive spaces for Indigenous students, on-campus allies, and Indigenous representatives on campus, so students can see themselves reflected in the university’s structure, are other things that should be done by the university.
Rogerson has spent over 20 years working in student services at post secondary institutions in B.C. Most recently, he has held positions at BCIT; first as associate director of student services, then director of student services, for five years. Rogerson received his PhD from SFU in educational field of study post-secondary educational leadership, with research focusing on student violence and behaviour that results in high risk to students at universities.
For his presentation, Rogerson chose to discuss three categories relating to the VP students position where he saw areas posing opportunities for change at UFV: enrollment planning, the financial viability of services and initiatives, and the student experience and demands.
For student enrollment, it is forecasted that post-secondary institutes throughout B.C. will see a decline in domestic student enrollment in the coming years. Although UFV’s is a lower dip than many, Rogerson emphasized this was an area to look into for VP students, in particular recognizing the opportunities to support the growth of specialized student populations on campus, such as athletes, Indigenous students, international students, and trade students.
“For me, it’s about student outcomes,” Rogerson said. “One of the things I operate in my world is a data driven model, developing an understanding of our data, our students, the pathways of our students, and what it shows. ”
Rogerson went on to discuss challenges around increasing cost pressures associated with many areas of student services, noting that students services are often a large cost centre for a university while not bringing in a lot of revenue. An opportunity in this area, Rogerson said, is the diversification of income options which can lead to the university reaching out to external partners and bringing in more options for student services.
Finally, Roberson spoke on the role of VP students in creating the experience students want at the university through both formal and informal dialogue with students, faculty, and stakeholders. Data, Robertson said, indicates that students are reaching more and more for experiential learning opportunities and ways to connect their university experience with future jobs. He emphasized the need to have methods of assessment that analyze if the time and resources used are creating measurable, meaningful changes.