The 1.7 km2 (0.66 sq mi) Burnaby campus on Burnaby Mountain, located 20 km (12 mi) from downtown Vancouver, was established in 1965 and comprises more than 30,000 students and approximately 950 faculty members. Undergraduate and graduate programs at SFU operate on a year-round tri-semester schedule and it is the only Canadian university competing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). SFU is the first Canadian research university with U.S. accreditation and is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
SFU is consistently ranked as one of the top comprehensive universities in Canada, placing first in Maclean's annual University Rankings in 1993, 1996–1998, 2000, 2008–2013, 2015-2017. To date, SFU faculty and alumni have won 43 fellowships to the Royal Society of Canada, three Rhodes Scholarships and one Pulitzer Prize.
Simon Fraser University was founded upon the recommendation of a 1962 report entitled Higher Education in British Columbia and a Plan for the Future, by John B. Macdonald. He recommended the creation of a new university in the Lower Mainland and the British Columbia Legislature gave formal assent on March 1, 1963 for the establishment of the university in Burnaby. The university was named after Simon Fraser, a North West Company fur trader and explorer. The original name of the school was Fraser University, but was changed because the initials "FU" evoked the profane phrase "fuck you". In May of the same year, Gordon M. Shrum was appointed as the university's first Chancellor. From a variety of sites that were offered, Shrum recommended to the provincial government that the summit of Burnaby Mountain, 365 meters above sea level, be chosen for the new university. Architects Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey won a competition to design the university, and construction began in the spring of 1964. The campus faces northwest over Burrard Inlet. Eighteen months later, on September 9, 1965, the university began its first semester with 2,500 students.
The campus was noted in the 1960s and early 1970s as a hotbed of political activism, culminating in a crisis in the Department of Political Science, Sociology, and Anthropology in a dispute involving ideological differences among faculty. The resolution to the crisis included the dismantling of the department into today's separate departments.
The school's original coat of arms was used from the university's inception until 2006, at which point the Board of Governors voted to adapt the old coat of arms and thereby register a second coat of arms. The adaptation replaced two crosslets with books after some in the university asserted the crosses had misled prospective foreign students into believing SFU was a private, religious institution rather than a public, secular one. In 2007, the university decided to register both the old coat of arms and the revised coat of arms featuring the books. In 2007, a new marketing logo was unveiled, consisting of white letters on block red.