Outgoing U of A president looks back at what makes him most proud during tenure

David Turpin reflects on his five years as president of the University of Alberta, and the legacy he leaves behind.


David H. Turpin remembers vividly attending last year’s Changing Lives brunch, where University of Alberta students who have received support from donors get to meet them.

“Students talked about how important the award they received was and some of them looked at the donors with tears in their eyes. Those personal connections are just unbelievable,” he said. “I think it’s one of the most amazing things I got to see as president.”

During Turpin’s five-year term as its president, the U of A set records in donor support, twice surpassing $165 million in a year. What he quickly points out about those numbers is the impact the support provides to students, and how it strengthens and enhances the university’s teaching and research mission.

It’s part of the legacy he’s leaving behind as he prepares to embark on the next stage of his career, which he said he will take time to consider exactly what that will be before making a decision.

One thing is clear: making sure students have opportunities to learn and grow in and out the classroom is important to Turpin. He said the university’s decision, which he championed, to allocate 15 per cent of incremental revenues to provide financial assistance to students in need, was very important.

“We want to make sure we’re not excluding outstanding students based on their financial needs,” he said.

In an interview in which Turpin was asked about his accomplishments as president, he also cited the residence guarantee and the national recruitment strategy, which resulted in a 16.2 per cent increase in the number of students attending the U of A from outside the province.

“If you want an educational experience that is amongst the best nationally, you've got to meet people from across Canada,” he said. “It really helps students understand this country.”

He cited with equal pride the connections made with Indigenous communities and the 40 per cent increase in enrolment of Indigenous students since 2016.

The work conducted with the university’s governing bodies in building what Turpin refers to as a “toolkit for economic sustainability,” which will help the U of A deal with the significant financial challenges it faces, is another significant accomplishment.

Included in the toolkit are three-year budgeting cycles, the elimination of a structural deficit, the integrated asset management strategy and a new activity-based budgeting model, which rewards performance in teaching and research activities.

A significant effort was undertaken to identify the university’s signature areas of teaching and research, where it is—or will be—recognized as a global leader. So far, they include energy systems, precision health, intersections of gender, situated knowledges: Indigenous people and places, and AI 4 Society.

This is Turpin’s fourth presidential transition and he said he remains fully engaged, continuing to lead the university as it manages its response to the global pandemic and discussing a wide variety of issues every day with incoming president Bill Flanagan.

“He’s involved in the strategic meetings and is moving into the operational domain,” said Turpin. “Bill’s a very talented individual and we’re working hard to bring him up to speed so he can move in seamlessly. The U of A will be extremely well served by his leadership.”

Whatever Turpin decides to do next, he said he will always be a big supporter of the U of A. 

“This is an amazing institution with outstanding students, faculty and staff. It continues to make a major difference in this country and in the world. We're leaving a legacy for generations to come.”