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A stunning finish for Queen’s Initiative Campaign

Ten years ago, Queen’s launched the Initiative Campaign with a goal of raising $500 million to advance the university’s mission, while a separate goal of confirming $100 million in future estate gifts was also established. Today, I am pleased to report that our benefactors have enabled us to reach and exceed our ambitious goals in spectacular fashion.

The campaign officially concluded on April 30th, and although we are still finalizing the official total, I can tell you that the Initiative Campaign’s final tally will exceed $640 million. Additionally, future gifts to Queen’s total $115 million. The Queen’s family was “all in” for the Initiative Campaign, with 35,000 members of our Queen’s alumni among the contributors. Notably, 97 per cent of all gifts were directed to specific campaign priorities, and nearly all of our campaign priorities were realized, with several projects on the cusp of completion. Certainly, the momentum of the Initiative Campaign will inspire us to continue seeking out new opportunities.

Our Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments provided an additional $94 million towards two campaign priorities, the new building for Queen’s School of Medicine and the magnificent Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Government support was essential in making these projects possible and the university is enormously grateful for these investments.

Joyce Announcement

The numbers and the projects are impressive, but the enduring legacy will be found in the impact the funds will have on our programs of teaching and research, our ability to attract talented students and faculty, and our capacity to provide leadership and personal growth opportunities for students to enrich their non-academic interests. We will be reminded of our community’s generosity every time we welcome a student to Queen’s who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it, and as we attend concerts at the Isabel or football games at Richardson Stadium. In so many ways, the campaign lives on.

I am truly astonished by the success of this endeavour. When I first took on the role of Principal, I must admit that the ambitious fundraising goal made me a little nervous. However, over the last six years, I have been continually reminded of Queen’s strong and generous community of which we are all a part. There are many people to thank for their hard work on this campaign including our many volunteers, our students, our faculty leaders, our advancement staff across Queen’s, our Trustees, Senators, and Councillors, and of course, our Campaign Cabinet. Thank you for your enduring support and for proudly championing the dreams we have for this university.

In the coming weeks and months, we will release a detailed breakdown of the Initiative Campaign, including stories about the impact that this unprecedented fundraising effort has had on our students, our professors, our staff members, and our campuses – stories that will become an important part of the history of this university and the legacy we leave for later generations of the Queen’s family.

Learning with our international partners

Although it has been just over six months since we launched the Comprehensive International Plan for Queen’s University, I am happy to report that a recent trip to China and Hong Kong proved that we are making great strides in delivering on its goals. The delegation to these priority regions included (in addition to me) Provost Alan Harrison, Brenda Brouwer, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, and Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International) and took place over one week in March.

Trips such as this one are crucial to the realization of our internationalization goals in many ways. There are measurable deliverables such as the signing or renewal of exchange agreements or 2 + 2 arrangements with our international partner institutions that help attract brilliant students from around the world to Queen’s and, relatedly, give our domestic students a diverse set of opportunities to study abroad. Yet, there are also less quantifiable outcomes that provide us with a broader view of higher education policy beyond our own borders.

As the Queen’s delegation travelled to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, we met with officials from Tongji, Fudan and Beijing Normal universities as well as representatives from the Shanghai Municipal Foreign Affairs Office, the Ministry of Education and the China Scholarship Council. We were also able to spend time with many Queen’s alumni and prospective students. At each of these meetings and events our delegation reiterated our commitment to working alongside our international counterparts to build stronger post-secondary experiences for all of our stakeholders.

Representatives from Queen’s – Associate Vice-Principal (International) Kathy O’Brien, Provost Alan Harrison, Vice Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies Brenda Brouwer, along with Zhiyao Zhang, Director, Queen’s China Liaison Office, back, third from left, and Professor Yuxiang Wang, back, fifth from left – meeting their counterparts from Tongji University in Shanghai.

There are, of course, significant differences in context and operating practices between us and the post-secondary institutions that we visited. China has had the advantage of a political system that has allowed it to create new universities and build new campuses without the degree of consultation with provincial or local governments (never mind the universities themselves) that would be required in Europe and especially North America. The result has been a dramatic recent output of graduates, especially in STEM disciplines, that far exceeds that of Europe and the US combined.

Having scaled up over the past 15 years, China is now, interestingly, beginning to focus on issues of quality and on outcomes in learning. This was a recurrent theme on our trip to China where there was, I’m pleased to say, significant interest on the part of Chinese universities and government officials in work being done right here at Queen’s on these issues.

Through each of our meetings in China and Hong Kong it became clear that although we operate halfway around the world from each other, we face common challenges such as the development of learning outcomes, program evaluation and assessment, and providing our students with an enhanced learning experience.

Meeting with Steven Simkovits (MBA’97) and Andrea So (Artsci’14) during an alumni event held in Hong Kong.

As I returned to Queen’s campus, I couldn’t help but think about how global trends in higher education policy inevitably affect us locally, and while that has likely always been true, I believe it is happening much more rapidly these days. Developing relationships with high-performing institutions around the world is critical to keeping Queen’s at the leading edge of both global and Canadian changes in PSE. We have much to learn from, and much to share with, our partners.

Hear, hear! Dr. Art McDonald recognized in the House of Commons

Earlier this week, I had the honour of watching Dr. Art McDonald and his SNOLAB collaborators, seated in the Gallery, rise to be recognized in the House of Commons. It was another remarkable moment for Queen’s University and Canadian science, as it was when Dr. McDonald accepted his Nobel Prize in Stockholm this past December.

Their recognition was made, shortly after Question Period, by the Member of Parliament for Sudbury, Paul Lefebvre. His address to parliament follows:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise to salute the fantastic achievements of Dr. Arthur McDonald, the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics. Dr. McDonald, a professor at Queen’s University, led a global team of over 270 researchers from 13 international institutions to the discovery that neutrinos can change identities, thereby confirming that particles have mass. This discovery upset the standard model of physics and changed our understanding of how the universe works.

The team conducted these experiments at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, or SNOLAB, in the Creighton mine, located two kilometres underground in my riding of Sudbury. The lab is the deepest clean room facility in the world, allowing scientists to study the particles free from cosmic radiation constantly bombarding the earth’s surface.

Residents of Sudbury and all Canadians have reason to be proud of Dr. McDonald’s scientific achievements.

I invite all members to join me in conveying our deepest congratulations to the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics winner, Dr. McDonald, and his team of collaborators.”

Just before Question Period, Dr. McDonald had the opportunity to have a meeting with the Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, where she presented him with a certificate of recognition signed by Prime Minister Trudeau. We were then fortunate to be invited to meet briefly with the Prime Minister himself just before entering the House of Commons.

PM Trudeau Nobel Recognition

A moment with Janet McDonald, Prime Minister Trudeau, Dr. Art McDonald, and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan outside the House of Commons

The formal recognition in the House was followed by a lovely reception hosted by the Speaker of the House, the Honourable Geoff Regan, and the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable George Furey. The reception provided us with an opportunity to meet with a number of Ministers and Members of Parliament, as well as members of Canada’s wider research community who attended, including the current President of the Royal Society of Canada, Dr. Maryse Lassonde and University of Waterloo President (and current chair of the U15), Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur. It was a great reminder of the importance of Dr. McDonald and his team’s discovery to Canadian science, and another sign of the new government’s interest in university-based research.

Dr. McDonald speaks to a packed house at the Ottawa Alumni event.

Dr. McDonald speaks to a packed house at the Ottawa Alumni event.

That same evening, we were thrilled to see nearly 200 alumni join us for a special event celebrating the events of the day. The Queen’s spirit was indeed alive and well that night at what was probably the biggest gathering of the Ottawa Alumni Branch in my memory.

The next day, Universities Canada hosted an event featuring Dr. McDonald as the keynote speaker, providing us with yet another opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of higher education, research and innovation. Several senior-level bureaucrats were in attendance, including Gilles Patry, the President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation; Lois Claxton, the Senior Advisor to the Governor General; and Lawrence Hanson, Assistant Deputy Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Overall, the trip to Ottawa was an exciting one for all of us, and it added yet another highlight to the phenomenal year we have had at Queen’s. Let’s do our very best to build upon this momentum as we head into our university’s 175th anniversary.


Mental Health: An Evergreen Priority at Queen’s

As our campus evolves and strategic targets are reached, new priorities take the place of the old. In my six years as principal, I’ve seen ambitious goals come and go as they are met, but there is one priority that remains high on the list year after year: mental health.

Some might consider this a failure, but I believe the opposite is true. We have made far too many strides in improving awareness of the mental health-related challenges that are inherent in university life, and the resources that exist on our campus to help our students manage these challenges, for us to write it off as such. However, we know that we still have a long way to go in building the most responsive and supportive community that we can. On paper, we can set deadlines and targets, but in reality, this issue is complex, pervasive and constantly evolving. At Queen’s, mental health has become our evergreen priority.

We are working to support mental health research at Queen’s, and yet each time we address a challenge, new concerns present themselves. For instance, Dr. Michael Condra, our former director of Student Wellness Services, and Dr. Heather Stuart, our Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair, are two researchers who have been studying ways to reduce the shame and stigma associated with mental illness on campus. We are now witnessing the positive outcomes of their important work. As the stigma has slowly dissipated, and the number of requests for accommodations has risen, we have responded by increasing the number of advisors available to Queen’s students and we recently piloted a first-year transition program for students with disabilities.

Of course, we have also been working hard to improve our counselling and wellness services across campus, and we know that we must continue to increase access to them. We are now actively exploring ways to co-locate services that promote physical and mental wellness with other academic and student services offices as a way of integrating health with the entire student experience. The proposed new wellness and innovation centre will be complemented by our embedded counselling services within faculties and campus buildings, which serve to reduce stigma and offer easier access to care and programming that is customized to the needs, culture and environment of each faculty.

There are many de-stressing events and opportunities on campus, including the very popular "Critters on Campus” days where students can cuddle and hang out with dogs. The event is hosted by the student-run ASUS Lost Paws

There are many de-stressing events and opportunities on campus, including the very popular “Critters on Campus” days where students can cuddle and hang out with dogs. The event is hosted by the student-run ASUS Lost Paws.

We also know that we need to focus on the health and wellness of the entire Queen’s community, and not just our students. For example, approximately 24 per cent of reported sick leave absences among employees relate to mental illness. In addition, these absences tend to be the longest in duration and most difficult to overcome when returning to the workplace. In an effort to combat this, Queen’s hosted its first Thrive Week this past November, which comprised a series of events focused on building positive mental health for students, faculty and staff. More than 70 events were held on campus over five days, structured around Thrive’s mental health themes: sleep, stress, stigma, physical activity and nutrition. It was wildly successful for its first year, and the implementation team is now working to maintain many of the activities throughout the year, and explore ways to improve faculty turnout next year.

I think it is also fair to say that the issues our community members face evolve over time and our response needs to reflect the increasing diversity of our student population. Last week, our university chaplain Kate Johnson talked about how she has increased student access to faith-based support through the hiring of part-time chaplains of multiple faith, a new multi-faith space on west campus, and a values-based financial literacy program, which has seen the number of enrolled students double in the past year.

Today at Queen’s we celebrate Bell Let’s Talk Day, which serves as both an important reminder of the issues we face together and a unique fundraising campaign that has helped to funnel more than $100 million towards mental health initiatives in Canada since 2010. Today, we also celebrate the work of our researchers who are making it easier to ask for help. We celebrate the dedication of our students, faculty and staff to making Queen’s a safer and more inclusive place. We celebrate our accomplishments, while acknowledging that we still have a great deal of distance to go.


For more information on Bell Let’s Talk Day, see a recent blog post from our Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair, Dr. Heather Stuart.

Nobel win reflects Canada’s potential for world-leading research

The following op-ed was published in The Hill Times.


Professor Emeritus Art McDonald as he prepares to receive his Nobel Prize in Physics.

On Thursday, December 10, academics and dignitaries from around the world gathered in Stockholm for the annual Nobel Prize ceremony. Among this year’s laureates is Canadian Arthur B. McDonald, a professor emeritus at Queen’s University and co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics.

I was fortunate to attend the ceremony and, as I watched, I quite literally felt a thrill for my country equal to that which I experienced when the Blue Jays won two World Series.

Dr. McDonald is the first scientist at a Canadian university to win a Nobel since the mid-1990s. He earned his medal for the research done at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). SNO, now known as SNOLAB, is the site for a series of highly complex experiments costing millions of dollars and conducted two kilometres underground in a working nickel mine near Sudbury, Ont.

The results have been momentous. Dr. McDonald and the team he led as part of the initial SNO collaboration found that tiny particles called neutrinos change identities on their travels between the sun and the earth, and therefore have mass. This discovery has profound implications for our understanding of the universe and matter, and has set a path for new directions in the study of astrophysics.

Queen’s is very proud of Dr. McDonald. He is a dedicated scientist, a gifted teacher and a true trailblazer. He is a leader who values patience and persistence, and a person who epitomizes Queen’s approach of providing a transformative student learning experience coupled with an unwavering commitment to research excellence. But Dr. McDonald would be the first to tell you that he didn’t do it alone.

The project began in the mid-1980s and took a staggering leap of faith on the part of many individuals to conceive of the experiment. It took the collaboration of several partner universities, financial support from government funding agencies, the cooperation of industry (Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd and Inco), and a team of more than 270 researchers in Canada and around the world to bring the project to fruition.

While in Stockholm, I heard a number of non-Canadians speak with envy of the fact that an experiment such as SNO had been conducted in Canada. Looking back over the past 30 years, it is difficult not to be appreciative of the many contributions that made this project possible.

This includes the critical investments that successive governments have made in university-based research through various granting agencies and funding programmes. Canada’s commitment to supporting fundamental research was essential to the success of this research and this Nobel win.

However, despite past investments, Canada’s position as a research power is in some jeopardy. The infrastructure on Canadian university campuses is aging and facilities for conducting innovative research require urgent renewal. Most worrying of all is that we are at risk of losing the very people who conduct this sort of research. Success rates in applications to several funding programs of the three major federal granting agencies have dropped, and none of the agencies have had a real (greater than inflation) increase to their budget in years.

If we, as a country, want Art McDonald’s Nobel win to be the beginning of a golden age for Canadian research and scholarship, then we must be prepared to make new investments in fundamental research. The risks of not doing this run far beyond not getting another Nobel Prize for 20 years. They include losing the next generation of top-tier academics to other countries and allowing Canada’s position as a world research powerhouse to weaken.

Instead, let’s aspire to make Canada and its universities global leaders in research excellence and to be back in Stockholm with some regularity.