Category Archives: General

Informed respectful debate is central to academia

The principles of academic freedom, expressed through thoughtful, informed and respectful investigation, are a central tenet of the values Queen’s holds, and which it strives to instill in our students.

Far too often universities, and university academics, have been attacked by increasingly polarized interest groups seeking to stifle thoughtful or respectful examinations of opposing ideas. Hate speech aside, failing to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity, and threatens the very core of what Queen’s, and any university, should be about.

Throughout my tenure as Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s has advanced the values of diversity and inclusion, and it remains a predominant focus of my own work. I believe that everyone within the university community should feel able to explore and debate diverse and even uncomfortable viewpoints if that occurs in a respectful academic environment.

Queen’s law professor Bruce Pardy has organized a presentation by University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, to examine “the rising tide of compelled speech in Canada”. Already there are expressions of outrage that the event is taking place, and still others have condemned that outrage. Expressing one’s affront to an idea or position is completely acceptable in an academic environment, if supported by informed arguments and expressed respectfully; blanket calls for censorship however, are intellectually lazy and are anathema to scholarly pursuits.

Whatever one’s strongly-felt objections to particular points of view, their mere expression does not constitute a threat to physical safety; nor does that expression imply that the university itself accepts those views. To the contrary, if history has taught us anything, it is that attempts to shut down debate and limit speech serve no one well—even the groups calling for such silencing. They merely make it easier for the next group in power to silence others. A university cannot sustain its ancient mission of inquiry into the true, the good, and the beautiful under such circumstances, nor can it exercise its responsibility to pursue knowledge free of constraint.

Let’s be clear here: what is at issue is nothing less than our commitment to academic freedom. If the views expressed, however uncomfortable for some, are not a violation of Canadian law, related university policies or otherwise demonstrate an intention or effect of inciting hatred and violence, then as academics we should listen and present opposing ideas through informed and respectful dialogue.

Cast your vote for the future of the JDUC

On February 12 and 13, Queen’s students will face an important question. The AMS, along with the SPGS, is holding a referendum on implementing a new student fee to help fund the redevelopment of the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC).

I am a strong supporter of the role of student government within the university. Consequently, I do not normally express opinions or intervene in matters within student leadership’s domain. However, the JDUC renovation is important to the university as well, and I want to work together with the AMS and SGPS to create a modern student life facility, which is important to the student experience on campus.

Plans for the revitalized JDUC include making the building completely accessible, creating new space for clubs and faculty societies, and developing collaborative study spaces. The annual non-reviewable fee would be implemented beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year and charged for the following 20 years. This is a standard funding model for student-led capital projects at campuses across the country.

There is a long history at Queen’s of student-led fundraising and support for campus buildings. In fact, one of our most iconic landmarks, Grant Hall, would not exist without the generous contributions of both students and alumni. The building was originally to be financed by the Frontenac County Council, but citizens rescinded the proposal in 1901 when shovels were already in the ground. Queen’s students and alumni rallied together to raise the funds needed to complete the building, one-third of which came from the students themselves.

More recently, the AMS and Queen’s students contributed more than $25 million to constructing the Queen’s Centre and within it the Athletic and Recreation Centre, a facility vastly superior to those previously available. Today, students use that facility thanks to the contributions of those who came before them. As a proud alumnus myself, I know that Queen’s students value the important role they play in shaping the university’s legacy and to the students that follow in our footsteps.  If you have benefitted from the philanthropy of your predecessors by using the Queen’s Centre, please consider paying that forward now.

Graduate students may well wonder why they should contribute, given that they are more closely tied to their specific departments and often have office space. I would encourage you, too, to vote in favour. Increased graduate space has been something that graduate student leadership has proposed at various times over the past decade, but until this year I have never seen the kind of alignment between AMS and SGPS leadership that has now brought the project to this important juncture.

The university believes in the importance of this project and is proud to help fund it. The university intends to make a substantial contribution to this project and philanthropic donations will play a part, as well. I sincerely hope we have the chance to work with the AMS and SGPS to build a student centre of which we can all be proud.

Of course, this decision is not up to me. It is you, the students, who must decide about the future of the JDUC. I encourage you to learn more about the JDUC plans, ask questions about the project to your student leaders and make your decision. On February 12 and 13, cast your electronic vote and let your voice be heard. The quality of student life for future generations of Queen’s students and alumni depends on your participation.

A checkup on CBME

2017 has been another year filled with accomplishments for Queen’s. From the strong performance of our students, to the groundbreaking discoveries of our researchers, we have enjoyed great success and built a strong foundation for 2018. 


One of the most innovative projects from the past year has been our national leadership on a new project that is revolutionizing the way we train doctors in Canada. I have asked Dr. Richard Reznick, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, to contribute a guest column to update us on competency-based medical education (CBME) at Queen’s. 


Queen's residents hone their skills in a simulation lab.

Queen’s residents hone their skills in a simulation lab.

At the beginning of the summer, Queen’s took a bold step and introduced a new approach to educating specialty residents called competency-based medical education (CBME). With several months of experience in the new system now complete, it is a good time to take the pulse of the project and update the community on our work.

In a CBME approach, the focus is on ensuring residents are evaluated more regularly and consistently, using the reviews to shape their learning over the course of their residency and allowing the residents to closely monitor their own progress and performance to ensure they learn the skills they need.

In addition, the expectations of the competencies expected to be developed in the program are clearly laid out through the delineation of what are referred to as “entrustable professional activities” or EPAs. These spell out exactly how and when residents are ready to independently take care of the many aspects of patient care in a given specialty.

The approach in place at most medical schools today assumes if residents spend enough time on a certain skill or discipline and receive regular feedback from their teachers, they will eventually master their required skills and be ready for their exams and the working world.

Today at Queen’s, written reviews are stored digitally on a resident dashboard. Once filed, a resident has a clear and up-to-date picture of their progress and their next steps. Faculty members have a detailed and comprehensive record to refer back to when evaluating their residents, and the whole system is more accountable for all involved.

Though we had previously implemented competency-based learning in our Family Medicine department, implementing CBME across the board at Queen’s has been achieved years ahead of other medical schools. While others are deploying CBME one program at a time over five years, it was my belief that the best way to deliver this new style of learning was to work as 29 united medical residency programs coordinated by a central team of educators.

This initiative has required a mammoth effort by an incredibly dedicated team of leaders, program directors, educational consultants, and residents, who collectively have used a systems-based approach to effect dramatic change.

It has been a busy fall for me personally, as medical schools and professionals the world over turned to us to learn how we made the transition. In recent months I delivered seven presentations across Canada, the US, and Asia as other schools seek to learn more about how Queen’s made the switch to CBME.

Additionally, dozens of medical leaders attended our November conference on campus and many more are expected at our upcoming CBME webinars.

Our faculty and residents have been equally busy in the ‘classroom’, with over 3,134 resident assessments (and counting) completed by our faculty. This represents a dramatic increase in the amount of feedback these residents would have typically received by this point in their residency. And it is not just the quantity of feedback which makes this important – it is the quality.

There are still several months to go before this year’s cohort of residents completes their first year. Even so, we have been actively seeking ways to continuously improve this system – from refining the review forms to analyzing the assessment results and trends.

Feedback on the CBME program continues to be positive from residents and faculty, and for more on their experience I invite you to read more about CBME in the most recent edition of the Queen’s Alumni Review magazine.

This change has been driven by our goal of preparing doctors for the future of medicine. In order to achieve this, we must ensure each new group of residents is receiving the best possible education. We believe this new delivery method will ensure improved patient care and better outcomes for residents and society as a whole by emphasizing skills first rather than time on the job.

This is the evolution of medical education, and it is happening right here at Queen’s.

Why we all need to get out and vote

[Ready to Vote] Next week, on October 19, Canadians head to the polls to vote in the 42nd federal election.

At present, I am travelling in Europe – I presented two academic papers and met with alumni and partner institutions in Paris, and I’m heading to Germany, with stops in Stuttgart, Tübingen and Munich, again to meet with representatives from partner universities.

Being away from Canada just ahead of the election (I return home October 16) is a blessing, in a way – it gives me the opportunity to reflect on what it is to be Canadian and what makes Canada special. This country has so many strengths – a diverse population, democratic and individual freedoms, strong health-care and education systems, and a resilient economy, to name a few.

Election season, I think, is not only a great time to reflect – on individual and collective values – it’s also an excellent time to ask questions. What is important to me? What will make our country a better place? What and who will propel Canada into the future? These are all things I’m thinking about.

Of course, always top of mind for me is education, and how government can support our students and the work we do here at Queen’s. But, what we do here on campus has a broader sphere of influence – the learning, the teaching, the research – this all extends into our communities, our cities and provinces/territories, the country as a whole, and the wider world.

This is why I encourage you, all our voting-eligible students, to get out and vote on October 19. I encourage you to familiarize yourselves with the candidates and party platforms. Make your voice heard. Contribute to the ongoing discussions and debates that form our country.

I understand that when you’re young, you may not see the importance of your one vote. You also may not connect with some of the issues that swirl around in the lead-up to the election.

But, as your life progresses, you’ll see more and more how your voice, your one vote, is an essential piece of the democratic puzzle. We need to let our leaders know what’s important to us. And what’s important to us may shift over time. While you may not feel that some of the issues impact you at this particular point in your life, down the road you may find yourself with fresh concerns – when you’re starting your first full-time job, when you’re buying a house or starting a family, for example. Your one vote now will help shape the Canada of the future.

On October 19, I’ll be heading to my local polling station. I hope to see you en route to yours.

For more information, visit the special section on Elections Canada’s website for students and first-time voters.

A sad 25th anniversary, and a time to reflect

ribbon 64

The white ribbon campaign has become one of the largest men’s anti-violence campaigns in the world.

Last week my wife and I attended a performance of the School of Music wind ensemble at the Isabel. It was a great performance of several recent and contemporary compositions. The one that stuck with me was ‘Polytechnique’, a moving piece by young Quebec composer Jonathan Dagenais that concluded with 14 chimes in memory of the women killed by a crazed and hateful gunman on 6 December 1989 at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. (Click here to watch a performance of ‘Polytechnique’ by another ensemble).

This Saturday will mark the 25th anniversary of that scar on our national psyche, and it has particular resonance given recent discussions on campus and in the media concerning sexual assault.  Among those who attend the memorials (here at Queen’s it is scheduled for Friday Dec 5) on campus, a great many will not even have been born in 1989. As with Remembrance Day, the commemoration of this date has passed to a new generation.

As I listened in the darkened hall to ‘Polytechnique’, played so beautifully by our students, I cast my mind back 25 years to my much younger self and the world of the time. On December 6 1989 I was 31 years and one day old (having celebrated my birthday the day before), a relatively new assistant professor in Dalhousie University’s history department. On that day, I was travelling home from Winnipeg, where I had taken my 8-month old daughter Sarah, at that point our only child, to visit with her grandparents. I was in the full flush of new fatherhood and proudly paraded Sarah to a series of old friends’ houses.

We arrived back to our house in the north end of Halifax and I knew before I stepped in the door that something was wrong. Sarah’s mother had an ashen look on her face and told me that news reports were coming in of a madman having killed a number of female students in Montreal. Over the next hours and days I felt for the victims and their parents and loved ones with a particular empathy that perhaps one can only feel as the parent of a daughter.

While few things compare with the magnitude of that tragedy – and I wouldn’t venture to compare them – I can’t help but recall that the fall of 1989 was a challenging one for Queen’s. That’s when a campaign on campus on the theme of ‘no means no’ was ridiculed by a number of students in the men’s residences (gender integration of the residences would be one consequence of these events, as historian Duncan McDowell points out in his forthcoming history of the university between 1961 and 2004). I won’t retell the events here other than to say that things got very nasty, very quickly and in a very un-Queen’s-like way. Then-Principal David Smith and his administration struggled to deal with a problem of which it is clear they were unaware. Many alumni—me among them—wrote letters of concern or even outrage to the Alumni Review. Then, when the Montreal Massacre occurred, what had been largely a campus incident at Queen’s alerted a lot of people to the fact that problems of misogyny, violence against women, and a highly sexist culture permeated the country.

A quarter century and a generation later—my daughter is now nearly 26 and has two brothers in their earlier 20s— it would be foolish to claim that we have not made progress. There is a much higher level of awareness of and, I think, much lower tolerance for, the attitudes that provoked the heated debate on our campus and ultimately led to the horror at Ecole Polytechnique. Departments of Women’s and Gender Studies such as ours (which was then in its infancy) are now well established at many institutions. We have much greater gender equity across many disciplines, including Engineering, the discipline that the victims in Montreal were studying (their very right to do so contested by their killer). We have in many ways moved on to other issues.

But we’re still not where we need to be. The allegations swirling around a recently dismissed radio celebrity have brought this to mind, and so, frankly, have the recent media reports on sexual assaults on our campus and others. It’s clear from talking to a number of our faculty and students in recent weeks that many women students feel unsafe. If ‘no means no’ was Principal Smith’s wake-up call, then I guess I’ve now had mine.

As I noted in the Queen’s Journal last week, I don’t believe that having a sexual assault policy is a magic bullet to fix attitudes and behavior—we need a broader strategy and an approach that brings young men into the solution, just as many of them were part of the positive discussions in the years after 1989. But I do believe that a policy will help, and that it will, most importantly, provide the basis for clearer and unambiguous support by members of our community to survivors of sexual assault.

I hope that, should I still be living in a further 25 years, my eventual successor will be able to look back on the next quarter century as a time of greater progress and of the eradication of sexual assault and the attitudes behind it.