Dr. Verna Yiu appointed as university provost and vice-president (academic)

Dr. Yiu began her five-year term on January 1. She plans to continue the work that she started, and hopes to leave the role in a position that allows for continued success.

On July 1 2022, Dr. Verna Yiu officially began her two-year appointment as interim provost and vice-president (academic). Now, as of January 1, Dr. Yiu is the university provost and vice-president (academic) for the next five years.

Dr. Yiu was selected following a national and international search. During her previous interim appointment, Dr. Yiu was involved in developing the University of Alberta’s 10-year strategic plan, SHAPE, and an activity-based budget model. She also helped review the new college model, and led the creation of the deputy provost (students and enrolment) role.

She was asked to come into the interim role by President and Vice-chancellor Bill Flanagan after she left Alberta Health Services in 2022. At the time, Dr. Yiu was aware that the university was going “through some really difficult times,” she said.

“There was a big budget cut, going through the pandemic at the same time. A lot of restructuring, which is very difficult for everybody. A lot of grieving over people who had left. And the people who were still there having to do new work that they were unaccustomed to,” Dr. Yiu said.

“The morale and culture was struggling. Because of my deep ties to the U of A, I just felt I could provide some help in, at least, stabilizing the institution.”

Dr. Yiu’s roots with university run deep, interim role was a “homecoming”

Dr. Yiu emphasized that it’s a privilege to serve in leadership roles. She is “fortunate to have served in the two most important public institutions in Canada: health care and education.” Returning to the U of A, however, was “a bit of a homecoming” for Dr. Yiu.

Former 1974-79 President and Vice-chancellor Dr. Harry Gunning sponsored Dr. Yiu’s entire family to come to Canada from Hong Kong when Dr. Gunning was still a chemistry professor. Dr. Gunning visited Hong Kong in the early 1960s and was then introduced to Dr. Yiu’s father.

Her family came to Canada in the late 1960s. Her parents found jobs at the U of A, but her father left to pursue accounting. Dr. Yiu’s mother, however, worked in the department of physics for 25 years. Dr. Yiu herself graduated from the U of A, and went on to work in leadership roles in the faculty of medicine and dentistry from 2000-11.

“I grew up visiting my mother in her office at the university. Our whole family went to the U of A, including my current family [and] children. We’ve got really deep roots to the U of A.”

SHAPE, budget model, and SEAP among reasons why Dr. Yiu wanted to continue working in role

A major reason why Dr. Yiu applied for the five-year role is she felt that her work was incomplete.

“[In] the past 18 months, I would say that I made a positive contribution. I just don’t think that my work was complete. There’s still a lot of things that I would like to do.”

According to Dr. Yiu, one of the biggest things she’s been involved in is the development of SHAPE. Because it’s a “very ambitious 10-year plan,” Dr. Yiu said that the three-year action plan currently being created is key.

“At every year of those three years, there’s going to be key milestones that are going to be aligned with the strategic direction of SHAPE. For me, being participatory and leading the action plan is going to be really important.”

Additionally, work is still being done on the activity-based budget model, which Dr. Yiu has been involved in. “For the first time in the university, the budget is actually going to be transparent,” she said. “That’s obviously been a lot of hard work.”

However, Dr. Yiu is particularly excited about the Student Experience Action Plan (SEAP). SEAP, which is launching in January, “really brings the student to the front.”

“I really wanted to make sure that the student experience was up front and centre. I’m really excited about that because I think the themes are what students are telling us are important to them. And I think many of them are doable,” Dr. Yiu explained. “Those are some of the reasons why I really wanted to continue doing what I was doing.”

Addressing student issues such as tuition increases and affordability

During Dr. Yiu’s time in her interim role, affordability and tuition grew as student issues, accompanied by exceptional tuition increases for 2023-24. Dr. Yiu said she was quite involved with tuition during her roles in the faculty of medicine and dentistry, where tuition is higher than the average at the U of A. During that time, she also sat on the Campus Food Bank (CFB) board, because she “realized that [CFB] was one of the potential mitigators.”

“So when I came in as provost, I was also very cognizant of the tuition and the tuition increases,” Dr. Yiu said. “One of the things that we worked very hard at was to make sure that we had broad consultation with students. There are no secrets when it comes to tuition increases.”

Dr. Yiu added that new scholarships and bursary programs have been set up. Although “that’s not the entire answer,” she said the Registrars Office has done a good job of increasing bursaries and student awareness of what’s available.

“We’re really trying to do everything possible to try to offset on some of the additional costs,” Dr. Yiu said. “Students are so important to the university, and I hope that I’ve been able to really emphasize that.”

A successful leader is one that cements programs that aren’t dependent on one person, Dr. Yiu added.

“One of the most important things for any leader is that [when] you leave a role, the continued success of whatever strategies, programs, and initiatives continue in your absence. Someone who can leave and watch what they helped build continue to blossom, grow, and get better. That’s what I hope will happen when I finish my term.”

Lily Polenchuk

Lily Polenchuk is the 2023-24 Managing Editor at The Gateway. She previously served as the 2023-24 and 2022-23 News Editor, and 2022-23 Staff Reporter. She is in her second year, studying English and political science. She enjoys skiing, walks in the river valley, and traveling.

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