My annual “goals and priorities” letter to the Board of Trustees (part of the regular employee/employer process) has found its way online and is now generating discussion on blogs, twitter and Facebook. Three of our employee groups have recently written to me about it.
Given all this, I thought I’d write a little about the context in which the document was written.
Every year, the Principal, Provost and Vice-Principals undergo a systematic review of the previous year and a goals-setting exercise to prioritize for the coming year. My own review is conducted by the Human Resources Committee of the Board (the Chair and Vice-Chairs plus the Chancellor). I conduct the review of the Provost and Vice-Principals.
In my case, the HR committee seeks feedback on my performance from a cross section of internal and external respondents. It is through this process that I receive helpful indications about things that are going well, and things that may require more attention from me over the upcoming year. Following this exercise, I set goals, which are approved by the Board. I then work with the Provost and Vice-Principals on goals for their portfolios, which align with mine. The document under discussion is the product of this year’s exercise.
Such documents are only useful if they are frank, clear, and identify areas that need to be addressed without equivocation. My letter covers a range of things, including external relations and fund-raising, the completion of the Senate Academic Plan exercise, and labour relations and financial matters.
Regarding the last two, which are intimately connected, I was direct with our Board about my assessment of the situation. Like everyone, I fervently hope there will be no labour disruption on campus this year. I have lived through a sufficient number of these at other institutions to recognize the disruption and ill feeling they occasion. But the issues in negotiation are challenging and we must be prepared: my letter to the Board simply makes this explicit. Not to have provided them with my realistic assessment of the situation—both on the labour front and with respect to my concern (shared by members of the Board and our employee groups) about the ongoing erosion of the quality of education —would have been to abdicate my responsibility.
However, although the labour and financial issues standing in our way are complex, I believe they are soluble. I leave the negotiations to those at the table (as is appropriate). The processes are moving forward with mediation continuing this week with CUPE and beginning Aug 11 with QUFA.
I am looking forward to the point in time when agreements are in place (as they will, of course, ultimately be) and we are able to focus again fully on what I think all parties would agree that we are collectively here to do – teaching, research and scholarship, thinking, learning, innovating, achieving.
We want to resolve the ongoing negotiations before the start of the academic year, so that our students benefit fully from “the” Queen’s experience, that we all recognize and cherish. This will require good will, a focus on goals rather than positions, and flexibility.
We want both to take advantage of the maximum pension solvency relief that is on offer by the province and get the best possible plan valuation on August 31, so that we can focus our resources on our academic endeavors, on our world-class research and on supporting our faculty, staff and students, in and out of the classroom. This is what Queen’s is about. This is what we should be looking towards.
There is a lot of work ahead; as I note in the letter, we are now competing for students, staff and faculty among universities in Ontario (and across Canada) that have increased the quality of their offerings incredibly over the last several years. This is a testament to the overall quality of the PSE landscape in our province and country. We have been among its leaders for almost 175 years and we need bold and transformative plans to distinguish ourselves for the 21st century. The academic planning process, the strategic research planning process, our ongoing commitments to internationalization and diversity— these will all shape the Queen’s of the future.
Change and evolution are necessities – this year and beyond. That is what underlines my letter to the Board and what I see around me every day.