New Langara president Paula Burns shares her story

The new president and CEO Paula Burns plans to concentrate on Langara's culture


By Lauren Accili

This story has been updated to include comments from Langara faculty.

Paula Burns, who will become the fourth president and CEO of Langara College, says she wants to help the institution through the ongoing pandemic.

Ready for challenges

Burns, who has been president at Alberta’s Lethbridge College since 2013, will join Langara in June.

“My lived experience with the pandemic is going to be very different from someone else’s,” Burns said.  “But in the midst of that, as a leadership team, we needed to make decisions that move our organizations in the right direction.”

Burns is replacing former Langara president and CEO Lane Trotter, who held the position for eight years but has since moved on to Camosun College in Victoria.

Vice-president Yusuf Varachia, who was appointed acting president and CEO at Langara in November when Trotter departed, said a new president must become familiar with a college’s culture.

“It’s important to respect and improve upon the culture and vision that makes up our community,” he said. “But it’s also an exciting time and presents the opportunity to take the college further, building upon and reaching for new goals.”

Burns said she wants to meet the people at Langara, learn the culture and “understand even more about what’s really important to people.” She said serving the broader community is important to her.

“That is what excites me,” she said.

Faculty believe Burns will help move through the pandemic

According to news reports, in 2016 Lethbridge faculty passed a non-confidence motion against Burns. She subsequently signed another four-year contract with the college.

“There were some challenges as we worked through sort of what’s the best vision and the best work to be done,” Burns said.

However, Burns said she has since cultivated a “great relationship” with Lethbridge faculty.

“Now I have a great relationship with faculty association that we, you know, work through the challenges that we had to really create a cohesive team between administration and faculty,” she said. “And lots of great stuff is still going on there today.”

She said she plans on listening and paying attention to how Langara works, what programming is like and what students want to see. She says she does not have a polished plan for Langara just yet.

According to Keshav Rai, student representative of the Langara search committee, Burns was appointed because of the experience she has in academic leadership, along with her management style and her capability to adapt to different situations.

“She has the capability to stay calm under pressure,” Rai said, adding she was also “team-based, collaborative and consultative [and] has balance in her personal and professional life.”

Many faculty contacted by the Voice were unfamiliar with Burns and hoped she would be a good fit.

Shuhash Shimon, an economics instructor at Langara, said being a good president requires inspiration, especially in a pandemic.

“The world around us is changing … so we have to change with that,” he said, adding that Langara is on a good path right now, and it is crucial to maintain it.

Debbie Schachter, director of the library services and learning commons at Langara, said it is important to always keep the students’ interest in mind, and it will be important for the new president to take the time to understand the college’s learning environment.

“My concern with student mental wellness is really about making sure that people aren’t isolated,” Schachter said. “We really need to encourage our students to look to the future.”    

Watch this video on Paula Burns’ vision for her work at Langara College

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