Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I marked the day’s end by going to a great event at the Stauffer Library, the dedication of the Alan Green Reading Room on the 2nd floor. Prof Green, who died about 10 months ago, was a long-serving Economics professor at Queen’s, and a highly regarded economic historian. But above all, he was the champion who caused the Stauffer Library to be built and the Douglas Library to be renovated. He did this in the late 80s and early 90s on top of his ‘day job’ in the Economics department, where he was a very popular instructor.
The depth of respect he attracted was evident in the room; apart from many colleagues in the Economics department, the Faculty of Arts and Science and the library, several members of his extended family including his wife and children were there (son David, also an economist, spoke very eloquently of what the project had meant to his father). The evening was capped by a rare performance by internationally renowned soprano Edith Wiens, sister of former University Librarian Paul Wiens. Ms Wiens is now retired as a full time singer so it was a special treat to hear her.
The library, as a staff member observed to me during the reception, is one of those places on campus that really binds us together. I think of it as in some ways housing the soul of the university, a place where the line between student and faculty blurs: we all use the same books, articles and computer terminals.
It was great also to see again Mr Denny Jordan, of the Stauffer Foundation, who worked with Prof Green to secure from the Foundation one of the biggest gifts the university had at that point seen. As Martha Whitehead, University Librarian, noted the library was a product of Prof Green’s vision and determination, and the Foundation (along with other generous donors) helped turn that into reality.
One just has to walk out of the building and see the desks and terminals filled with students to see what an impact the combination of vision and philanthropy can have.
I recently spent a very pleasant and exciting morning reading the Senate Academic Planning Task Force’s proposed academic plan, which on Tuesday will go to Senate for discussion and debate. It is moderately long, but very rich. Built on four pillars, and very student-focused, it also states very clearly Queen’s position as a pre-eminent research university.
As with the Academic Writing Team report, Imagining the Future which began to circulate just over a year ago, the Task Force has wrestled with some extremely complex issues. The document itself is the result of months of discussion and wide consultation, and without prejudging discussion or suggested revisions at Senate, I think it has captured both the notion of a ‘balanced academy’, excellent in both teaching and research–melded in the notion of learning–and the idea that we can build on our great traditions while contemplating some serious changes or revisions in the ways in which we teach our undergraduates. It is clear on the important role of graduate students as fellow researchers and TAs (but above all, students) and of postdoctoral fellows. It speaks to the importance of having sufficient professional staff to handle many of the administrative tasks (what a former colleague of mine at another university was fond of calling “the monkeys on the professors’ backs”) that are necessary but take up professorial time. It speaks to the critical place of writing and communications skills. Above all, it asks some very big and fundamental questions. What kind of students–and we get the best and brightest in Canada as well as an increasing number from abroad–do we wish to graduate? What kinds of skills (in the broadest sense of the word) do we wish them to acquire? And how can we best deliver these?
This is the most complex academic planning exercise that Queen’s has ever undertaken, at least in modern times, and I for one am eagerly looking forward to the Senate deliberations. Beyond that I look forward to being part of the voyage that lies ahead into a world of learning that our Task Force, chaired by Prof Peter Taylor, and building on the earlier fine work of the 2010 Academic Writing Team, has opened up for the Queen’s community of students, faculty and staff.
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.
Today I responded in a press conference, and in several subsequent media interviews, to the coroner’s recommendations with respect to the deaths of Cameron Bruce and Habib Khan. As with the other deaths that occurred this past year, these were terrible tragedies that have deeply affected the Queen’s community. This blog entry however will focus exclusively on the recommendations flowing out of the coroner’s report on Cameron’s and Habib’s deaths.
We appreciate the work the Coroner has done in reviewing these tragic deaths. We have complied fully with his office since the fall and we commit to moving forward immediately in response his recommendations. Indeed, we have been active for some months already in this regard, including the re-empanelment of an alcohol working group which works closely with a working group on student safety. We are reviewing our policies around alcohol consumption and looking for ways in which we can strengthen them.
Clearly, we want to do all we can to minimize the chances of these kinds of accidents recurring. Doing so will require administration to continue working in partnership with student government leaders, in particular with respect to non-academic discipline, which has been delegated by Senate to a student peer judicial process for nearly a century, an arrangement which has by and large served Queen’s well. Our joint commitment must be to maximizing student safety and success at Queen’s. In other words: we all have a role to play in maximizing safety on campus.
Like other universities across North America, we are wrestling with the societal issue of alcohol consumption and excessive drinking in the student-aged population. Queen’s, like other universities, encourages safe and responsible decision-making and good citizenship, and discourages under-age drinking. We expect students to adhere to our Code of Conduct and community standards in residence.
I want to recognize the leadership of Associate Vice-Principal and Dean of Student Affairs John Pierce and the staff, students, alumni and faculty members he has been working with over the last several months to review and enhance student health and wellness.
John, and his successor, Ann Tierney, will continue to drive change and progress on campus as we respond to the Coroner’s recommendations.
This has been a week for reflection, at the tail end of a long and hard winter (by Kingston standards) and a rather difficult year for Queen’s.
This past week we lost another student, another member of our community, announced to the university in what these past several months has become an unfortunately familiar message.
Once again, our Emergency Response Team immediately assembled to begin handling the many issues flowing out of a student death—notification of next of kin, support for fellow students, organization of memorials, interaction with the police. It’s a longer list than that, and I wish I could say that our team had to work through a dusty and unfamiliar protocol. Regrettably, after a year that began last March 27, 2010 with the death of Jack Windeler, the team knows the routine by (heavy) heart. Yet familiarity hasn’t dampened their compassion or their attention to detail, so I would like to record here my profound appreciation of Dean John Pierce’s leadership and the work of his colleagues, in particular Chaplain Brian Yealland and Dr. Mike Condra, throughout the Student Affairs portfolio. I should also note the heroic efforts of Eric Windeler, father of Jack, who in the year since his son’s death has become an impassioned activist on behalf of mental health issues (a subject I will return to below) at Canada’s school and universities through The Jack Project.
On Tuesday night, we will gather to grieve for Andrew Lloyd, just as we have mourned Robert Nason and Jack Windeler, as well as Habib Khan and Cameron Bruce, the latter two who died as the result of falls last term. (In the past, we have sustained other losses of students, out of town, too, which are not forgotten.) In early May, we will open a fifth consecutive Board of Trustees meeting with a moment of silence and a report on this latest tragic event.
It isn’t death in itself, however, that is tragic, even if it is always sad. We are accustomed to announcing deaths on campus, as we say goodbye to long-serving faculty or staff members, mostly after full lives, and typically marked by as much joyous remembrance of their achievements and contributions to the world and their families as about regret at their passing. The Queen’s Alumni Review similarly records the ending of lives, shorter or longer, among our graduates, along with happier events like births and marriages.
But it is a different and much sharper sadness when it is our young who are being mourned. While we can and should focus on the positive aspects of our brief interactions with a young soul now prematurely departed from this world, we are also deeply aware of the promise unfulfilled, of all the good that they might have done in the world. My wife Julie and I have occasion to talk about this sense of loss personally, as she lost her older sister Lisa (who was only 19) many years ago in a way that was preventable (in Lisa’s case, a misdiagnosed illness that could have been cured easily if properly identified. She wanted to be a vet.) There is no getting around it: there is little more melancholic at a university, a place that normally glows with the incandescent energy of youth, than the early extinguishing of one of its thousands of candles.
And yet, it is at these moments that we come together as a community, and show ourselves at our best. If it has been a tough year in this and other respects, it has also been one for celebrating achievement, which we will do in a few weeks at spring Convocation. But this blog isn’t the place to highlight our many successes in research, teaching and learning, nor our superb varsity athletics performances, nor all the good news that comes out of the dozens of socially responsible actions that our students, staff and faculty take every day, at their own initiative and with no thought of reward apart from the satisfaction of having done good.
Rather, I want to close with a pair of inspirational initiatives taken by our students in response to the most recent tragedy (Doubtless there are others, but these are the two that have come to my attention in recent days). Third year arts and science student Kevin Imrie has initiated “Queen’s Loves U” for Thursday, April 7, the end of classes. We are all encouraged to speak with our peers, friends and colleagues and wear the external symbols of our little commonwealth of learning, whether it be tricolour clothing, a Queen’s pin, a tam etc. Various events have been suggested to go along with this. If you have ideas, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or post to the Queen’s loves U Facebook page. The day should be an occasion, as Kevin suggests, not only for providing mutual solace, but for reminding ourselves of all the good things that we have collectively and individually done. Above all, it’s a day for reaching out. To quote the novelist E.M. Forster’s words, ending his A Passage to India: ‘Only connect’.
The second inspirational act comes from a moving Facebook entry by incoming AMS Academic Affairs commissioner Mira Dineen, drawing attention to the issue of mental health which has been made topical this year by some of our unhappy episodes, and which is rapidly emerging across all campuses in Canada as a major challenge. Mira’s remarks note the necessity for openness on the many issues pertaining to mental health and well-being, too long hidden in the shadows. I will write a bit more about that subject in a later blog, as it deserves attention in its own right, but Mira, like Kevin, encourages us to support one another.
Let me close by wishing all our students success in their exams—a time of anxiety as noted in last week’s Journal. But I also want to encourage you to do as Kevin and Mira have suggested: watch out for each other, and if you yourself are having difficulties, don’t hesitate to talk to someone. Queen’s does love you; our faculty and staff, as well as your friends, are here to listen and help.
Those following my twitter stream will know that I spent a good chunk of federal budget day, March 22, right in the heart of the action, the Centre Block of Parliament. I was one of about 100 people invited to participate in the ‘lock-up’, an interesting ritual that I had heard about but not experienced. I was already going to Ottawa for the evening to have dinner with the Speaker of the House (and Kingston MP) Peter Milliken, some MPs, and several Kingston industry reps including KEDCO CEO Jeff Garrah. So, extending the trip to attend the lockup was relatively easy though both invitations sadly caused me to have to reschedule a long-scheduled lunch with one of my own undergraduate professors, and to miss an annual Queen’s event that I really like, the annual dinner at Benidickson House for student senators.
I had been warned by a colleague that a lockup is a ‘crashing bore’. Was it? Not at all, even if not razor-sharp, edge-of-seat excitement. Here’s what happens:
Arriving at Centre Block, I went down through the first floor security entrance, lining up with officials and reps from various organizations collectively called “the stakeholders” (there was a separate media lockup which began earlier). I was affiliated for the day with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and sat with its CEO Paul Davidson, V-P Christine Taussig Ford and members of their team.
Once through security (I had to give up a pair of scissors that were in my briefcase and claim them back on the way out), I joined another line to collect a visitor’s badge as my name was ticked off the list of invitees. I signed an undertaking re confidentiality (agreeing to the rules of the lockup—no phones, tweets, blackberries etc). Then, in small groups, we were herded over to the front of the lockup room, where I duly surrendered my blackberry and Ipod.
Once in the lockup, you can’t leave until the budget is tabled. After a quick hello to a few people (including a former colleague from the University of Alberta), I chatted with other stakeholders and with a couple of Ministry of Finance staff. I was in my seat by 2:30 p.m., and just before 3:00, we were welcomed by Ministry of Finance staff, who had been floating around the room, and who handed out copies of the full budget document, a pamphlet with an executive summary, and the Finance Minister’s impending speech, due to start at 4:00.
At that point, the room got silent. The idea of the lockup is that the people in it get the first public look at the budget, which is embargoed (that is, not for public comment or communication) until the instant Minister Flaherty stands up in the house to begin his speech.
During the intervening hour, I pored over the documents with the AUCC team, identifying things that would be good (or not) for universities. Although fully cognizant of the fact that the budget had little chance of passing a confidence motion (and we learned soon thereafter that the Opposition Leaders would not be supporting it), we were pleased to see a number of key agenda items for universities in the document. Highlights include significant base increases to all three granting councils (and an especially good increase for SSHRCC relative to its usual share of such increases), an expansion of the Canada Excellence in Research Chairs program, tax breaks for part-time students, an expansion of the Canada Student Loans program, and various initiatives to support both student mobility outside Canada and bringing international students into Canada. For Queen’s, there are potential additional benefits in the establishment of a Brain Research Fund (we have a great Neuroscience group), and significant multi-year funding for climate-related research. If there was an area of disappointment, it was that there was very little new on the Aboriginal file, a key priority for both Queen’s and the AUCC.
Just before 4:00 pm, the visitor badges were collected and those of us who wanted them were given media room badges. At that point, the deathly hush of a library turned into something out of the old movie “The Front Page” as we all queued up like sprinters ready to exit the lockup the second the doors opened. We streamed out, got our blackberries, and dispersed. I went to the media room where Dr. Davidson and I provided comments on the budget to a number of reporters (the reporters did dozens of interviews so I was not at all surprised when these didn’t show up in print).
After that, Dr. Davidson and I retreated to the Speaker’s Office where the staff kindly allowed us to use a room to participate in the post-Budget AUCC teleconference. Then, I had only a few feet to walk to the dining room and a very nice supper courtesy of the Speaker, who will now have a very busy post-Budget week! Guests included Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett, Kedco’s Jeff Garrah and a number of local industry leaders including David Yake from Dupont. As one may imagine, the Budget and its aftermath were the main topics of conversation.
After that, it was back in the car about 8 o’clock for the drive home.
All in all, it was an interesting experience of an annual event in the political process.
March 16, 2011
There has been ongoing discussion about Rector Nick Day’s recent letter to the federal liberal party leader. For some, there may be remaining questions about my perspective.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental principle at universities and Mr. Day chose to exercise that right.
He and I have a difference of opinion regarding the appropriateness of the use of the office of Rector to put forth personal views beyond the confines of the institution.
I met with Mr. Day last week to share my perspective. As Queen’s principal, I am continually thinking about the overall direction and well-being of the university and the complex interaction among its constituent parts.
In this capacity, my institutional responsibility necessitated that I convey my concern to the Rector. I felt it was important to air my view and share with him my own belief that leaders must consider the broad spectrum of opinion within their constituencies before taking a stand on their constituents’ behalf.
Mr. Day’s choice would not have been mine, but his choice must be respected. Ultimately, he is answerable only to those who elected him.
There are processes underway to respond to the Rector’s actions by both the AMS and the SGPS. This is as it should be – students debating and discussing the role of their elected representative.
As always, as Principal, my interests and passions remain focused on fostering an environment here at Queen’s that promotes open and vigorous discourse. I expect that at all times this discourse is respectful and productive. I request that all those involved in the current discussions maintain these standards. Individuals should feel safe participating and engaging in dialogue. This again, is what universities are all about.
March 10, 2011
This afternoon, I met with Rector Nick Day to express my concerns about an open letter he wrote earlier this week to the federal Liberal party leader. He wrote the letter as Rector, and not as an individual citizen.
The University’s position is that this was inappropriate.
The views in the letter are not the issue – agree or disagree, he is entitled to them – it’s the context in which he communicated his personal opinion.
Mr. Day’s views do not and should not be seen as being representative of those of the University or Queen’s students.
The university has been contacted by students, alumni, and others, who believe Mr. Day should no longer have the privilege of holding this office.
As a student-elected representative, the Rector is answerable to Queen’s student body. The issue is being discussed tonight at AMS Assembly.
I take this situation very seriously and I will be monitoring developments. In our conversation, I asked Rector Day to consider the impact of his actions and take steps to separate his personal views from the university position he currently holds. I am hopeful he will do so immediately.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
As is not uncommon some days of the week, yesterday (March 8 2011) I had different types of meetings right through the day beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner, and including lunch.
Breakfast saw me down at the Holiday Inn addressing the annual meeting of the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce. A repeat performance of my earlier Community Breakfast back in November, my talk focused on building Kingston’s economy and particularly working with local businesses to develop career opportunities for our grads and our students so that more of them will remain in the city after graduation. Even though the head table featured a number of Queen’s grads, including current Chamber president Megan Coughlin (Arts 01)
and Mark Siemons (Artsci 89) president of Altair Electronics, a very small number of students remain in Kingston after graduation. They would like to–Kingston is a great place to live–but don’t often see long term career opportunities. It is widely agreed that we need to change that situation for Kingston really to develop economically in the way it ought.
Lunch was a little more intimate: every term I have a one on one check in with the faculty deans; yesterday it was Dean Reznick of Health Sciences, who is just back after a short leave of absence. We had a great chat about everything from transplantation programs to internationalization. Like me, he is very excited about the forthcoming opening of the new Medical Building in a few months.
Dinner changed it up again–I was at Ban Righ in the private dining room with Leggett 1E, for a floor high table. I do two or three of these a year (we aren’t able to accept or schedule all requests, so apologies in advance if we can’t make yours work–last night’s was scheduled as far back as August!). I spoke with the students, one of whom was having a birthday, about volunteerism and community (a theme for their floor this year) and offered the opinion that the type and level of initiative shown by Queen’s students in this regard is a real differentiator of Queen’s from other institutions; I also think that while we have a long standing tradition of it, the current generation of students has really raised the bar from my era in the 1970s when such activities certainly occurred but I think were much less common a part of the overall student experience.
And speaking of my era, I got a few inevitable questions about my life in residence back in the day. It’s always fun to reminisce in this regard, even though some of the memories are getting a little bit foggy….It was a very nice evening, and the students as always for these events were very smartly turned out!
After that it was home to catch up on some paper and get ready for my trip to Ottawa a bit later today (March 9).
A short commentary (written on the road to Toronto and the airport–don’t worry, I’m not driving) on the recent faculty and AMS campaigns, which ended last night. Although the turnout was a little lower than hoped for (the weather probably didn’t help), I was very heartened by the buzz during the campaign, as I am every year. All those who participated in the process, whether as returning officers, voters, canvassers, campaign supporters and of course candidates are to be congratulated for taking initiative and participating in the democratic process. Given that the last days of this campaign occurred while events elsewhere in the world are unfolding in connection with people’s right to choose their governments, this is all the more important.
This promises to be an interesting year on the external political side, with a provincial election forthcoming in the fall and the possibility of a federal writ dropping at virtually any time. I encourage all members of our community to participate in these campaigns and above all to exercise your vote, on the basis of which party you personally feel best addresses the issues that resonate for you.
I can’t help but think about some of the material I was teaching a History 121 class on Groundhog Day (during the big blizzard, and last hours of voting). The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) postulated that an act really isn’t entirely or absolutely good if it is done out of inclination as opposed to duty. In our society, democracy does not function if we don’t all participate in some way. Consider it a ‘categorical imperative’, as Kant might have said, to participate, whether it is Department Student Council elections, AMS elections, or a vote for the next member of parliament.
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