Emily Carr University of Art and Design, about to leave Granville Island for a new campus in East Vancouver, will undergo another major change next year: After more than 20 years in the position, its president and vice-chancellor will be stepping down. Ron Burnett will leave at the end of July, 2018.
"After 21 years as president and with the campus nearing completion, I think it's really time for a change both for myself personally but also for the institution," said Dr. Burnett, who turns 70 next week. "Getting new leadership into the institution I think at this point, with the incredible transition that we're going through, will be a healthy move for everyone and will allow a lot of things that are going to be happening over the next five to 10 years to be accelerated and further developed. So I see it as a very positive move for me – and for the institution."
Dr. Burnett arrived at Emily Carr in 1996 from McGill University in Montreal, where he was director of the graduate program in communications. The growth under his leadership has been tremendous. The institution was granted the authority to offer graduate programs in 2006; it received full-fledged university designation in 2008; and then turned its sights toward building a new campus at Great Northern Way.
"The campus is the cherry on the cake, so to speak, of that entire trajectory," Dr. Burnett said.
He added that he is particularly proud of the growth in international students, who now make up more than 22 per cent of the student body, and the university's international reputation.
"It's very rare now to travel in Asia or in Europe and not hear comments like 'that's such a fantastic school; look at all the things you're doing,'" Dr. Burnett said.
The firm Caldwell Partners has been hired to conduct an international search for the university's next president. Kim Peacock, chair of the university's board of governors, said there will be an extensive consultation process with the university community ahead of time to nail down criteria for the hire.
The hope is to create a shortlist this fall and complete the negotiations at the latest by January or February of 2018. The plan is for there to be some overlap between Dr. Burnett and his replacement.
"It's been such an honour to get to work for these last two years alongside him and to see this vision that he created and happened really because of his creativity, inspiration, sheer hard work and commitment to it," Ms. Peacock said. "His energy level is incredible."
Dr. Burnett plans to take a nine-month sabbatical after retiring from his position and then return to Emily Carr to run a small research lab that will focus on digital media, including virtual reality.
"So I won't disappear," he says.