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Reviewing non-academic misconduct

The November 6 issue of the Queen’s Journal included an op-ed regarding the current review of the university’s non-academic misconduct system. Below is my response, which has been submitted to the Journal for publication.

Re: Student self-government at risk

One of the things I’ve always respected and enjoyed most about Queen’s is its tradition of student leadership, in everything from faculty societies and university governance to extracurricular activities and community events. Because of that, it was not surprising to read that some of our former student leaders have concerns about the current review of the university’s non-academic misconduct system.

I would begin by correcting one wrong impression: the review concerns the overall arrangements for administering and adjudicating cases of non-academic misconduct. It is not specifically about the AMS’ non-academic discipline system (NAD), except insofar as that system is part of a wider set of systems including those administered by the SGPS, Residences, and Athletics and Recreation.

The university is committed to student safety, and both independent experts and the Board of Trustees have identified our current system as a risk. That simply cannot be ignored – change of some kind is required. We have waived confidentiality regarding the legal opinion on the board’s role in this matter, which can now be found on the review website.

I was an undergraduate student at Queen’s, and I recognize there are strongly held feelings on all sides of this topic. The review committee’s goal is to consider all of those perspectives in a process that ultimately results in a better non-academic misconduct system.

It’s important to correct a few of the assertions made in the Journal piece. Firstly, the Board does indeed have both the authority and responsibility when it comes to the administration of these matters. That responsibility has been delegated to Senate, but it remains the Board’s to delegate. Secondly, contrary to popular impression, the oft-repeated notion that the Senate delegated this responsibility to the AMS in the late nineteenth century is a belief based on no foundational document. Thirdly, even if that were not the case, circumstances and social expectations change, and it is not reasonable to assume that a system put into place for a university of fewer than 3000 students should pass unexamined and unmodified into use by a 21st century university with a student population of over 21,000.

As I have stated from the outset, the purpose of the review is not to eliminate any of the current systems – including NAD – but to maintain the Queen’s tradition of student involvement in non-academic discipline while at the same time recalibrating the system to meet contemporary realities. The university plans to work with students, including the AMS and SGPS, and other stakeholders to build a new structure that maintains the positive aspects of the peer-to-peer system while ensuring the health and safety of all students and others at Queen’s.

Our timelines for the review will allow us to receive input from a wide range of Queen’s community members. The process was first announced in September, and consultations will continue into the spring. I invite all students and alumni who have thoughts on this matter to submit them to the committee at

Finally, I must confess to being completely puzzled by the signatories’ suggestion that Queen’s is in a state of “ongoing decline.” In actuality, this is a remarkable time for our university. One of our faculty members was recently awarded a Nobel Prize, we are headed towards the end of a hugely successful, $500 million fundraising campaign, Maclean’s has ranked us first in student satisfaction in our category, and we received one of the largest donations ever made to the university in the form of a $50 million gift to our School of Business. And, our students remain some of the best and brightest in the country, contributing to the university in infinite ways. That doesn’t sound like a decline to me, and this review will not change this upward trajectory.

Email to students regarding unsanctioned activity

On Sept. 10, the following email was sent to all students in response to reports of unsanctioned activity in the near-campus neighbourhood:

Dear students,

Normally at this time of year I like to send a message of greetings to new students and welcome back to returning ones. I am sorry to say that this is not that message. Since Sunday evening, we have continued to receive reports of disturbing and unacceptable behaviour in the near-campus neighbourhood. These include not only the large street party that resulted in the closure of University Avenue on Sunday evening, but also instances of individuals being surrounded and impeded while driving in the area around campus and having their property damaged.

Let me be clear and unambiguous: there is no tolerance for this kind of dangerous behaviour at Queen’s or in Kingston. It is also an embarrassment to both our student body, the university as a whole, and the city of Kingston. Individuals who are identified as participating in these incidents will be referred to the appropriate bodies, whether it be the Kingston Police or the non-academic discipline system.

There have also been reports of hundreds of students gathering at the Kingston waterfront, consuming alcohol and jumping into Lake Ontario; this is incredibly dangerous behaviour that could result in serious injury or the loss of a life. No one wants to see the tragic alcohol-related events of 2010 repeated.

Many students have spent many years working to overcome the reputational damage that was done as a result of similar incidents, the worst of which occurred in 2005 during Homecoming weekend. Early in my first term as principal, I had to extend the cancellation of Homecoming because the behaviour had not sufficiently improved. While things have improved in recent years (prior to this week), a regression will only serve as impetus to cancel this beloved tradition once again. I ask that you do not put me in that position; it will only hurt you, your fellow students, and our alumni.

We should all be able to take pride in this university; that cannot happen when individuals are behaving in a way that disrespects Queen’s, our neighbours, and the Kingston community. I commend and thank those of you who have distanced yourself from these gatherings and those who have taken on leadership roles to improve the situation. But in order for this to be truly effective, we need the entire student body to work together; we need upper year students to set a positive example for younger students; and, first and foremost, we need this behaviour to stop immediately.


Daniel Woolf
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Let’s talk

Heather Stuart and her group

Heather Stuart and her group gathered earlier this week

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada, a day dedicated to keeping mental health at the front of our collective consciousness. Certainly, it has been an important area of focus for me during my tenure as principal, particularly because we know that statistically, at least 30 per cent of post-secondary students in Canada report mental health problems. That’s why universities, including our own, are doing what they can to put better supports in place for our students.

One thing we don’t talk a lot about, however, is the question of substance use, even though the two issues can often be closely connected and may be elicited by the same factors. Mental health problems can lead to substance use problems, and vice-versa. No matter which comes first, it’s clear the issue is one that we should be paying attention to.

One of our own professors, Dr. Heather Stuart, is trying to do just that. In her role as the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair, she has been championing a new initiative that is focused on the mental health needs of a specific campus demographic: our first-year male students.

Working together with her colleagues, Dr. Shu-Ping Chen from Public Health Sciences and Dr. Terry Krupa from the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Dr. Stuart set out to create a new initiative on campus. Armed with a $1.7 million grant from Movember Canada, they developed Caring Campus, a student-led program addressing mental health as it relates to substance use. It kicked off last fall.

The 25 male students Dr. Stuart and her colleagues enlisted for the program recently gathered to talk about their experiences in the first term and their hopes for the program moving into the future. From all accounts, things are progressing very well so far: not only are the young men learning to work together as part of a team, they have reported that they already feel their efforts are making a difference.

In the fall term, they hosted an awareness-raising Battle of the Bands night, which was attended by students from across campus. They’ve also created a targeted Facebook page populated with information and reference tools. They have made videos promoting their group and ways they can support other male students. They have also created a chat room – a safe space for students to post questions and to chat about substances and substance use issues. These young men are not only developing important leadership lessons, they’re also learning how to talk about mental health and substance use issues (not to mention how to listen!).

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these young men and their initiative in wanting to go out into the community to make things better for their peers. I’m particularly pleased to hear that they unanimously agreed to continue in their roles for the foreseeable future. We’re lucky to have them.

Today and every day, let’s talk.

A Strategic Framework for our balanced academy

The image shows Queen's unique position (upper right quadrant) as the balanced academy.

The image shows Queen’s unique position (upper right quadrant) as the balanced academy.

At Queen’s, we talk a lot about being the quintessential balanced academy. It’s a vision that sets us apart from the country’s other universities. But what it means is simple: we want Queen’s to be “the Canadian research-intensive university with a transformative learning experience.” We want Queen’s to be a destination of choice for top-notch researchers and graduate students, but also for bright and curious undergraduates who will make the most of the research-informed education that faculty members deliver. With a well-earned reputation already in place, it might seem that simply building on past success will ensure such a future.

But as I wrote two years ago in The Third Juncture, in these times of economic change, technological advance, and the globalization of education and knowledge, we cannot simply take that continued success for granted. Increased competition and significant financial challenges threaten our ability to achieve our vision and to strengthen the student experience and our research prominence.

That’s why, over the past few months, I have worked closely with the Provost and the Board of Trustees to develop a Strategic Framework to guide the university’s decision making over the next five years – from now through until 2019. Queen’s will have to make deliberate, and sometimes difficult, choices to ensure that we continue to advance our vision.

The Strategic Framework serves as a capstone to a sustained period of planning at Queen’s. It saw the development of the Senate-approved Academic Plan and Strategic Research Plan, as well as the submission of our Proposed Mandate Statement and the implementation of our activity-based budget model. At last weekend’s Board meeting, the Trustees approved the Campus Master Plan, which will guide the development of campus infrastructure for the next several decades. The framework is closely aligned with all of these foundational documents and initiatives, reflecting their values and ideals.

At its core, the Strategic Framework identifies four strategic drivers – or priority areas – where we will focus our attention as we move forward: the student learning experience, research prominence, financial sustainability and internationalization. Essentially, these priorities will help support our vision and guide our decision-making over the next five years. The Framework also lays out specific objectives for each of the strategic drivers and identifies a series of performance metrics that will serve as yardsticks to measure our progress as we move forward.

Of course, the framework is not meant to be unduly prescriptive. Ultimately each of our faculties, schools and service units, enabled by our incentive-based budget model, will be responsible for determining the specific actions they will take to support the university’s objectives and overall vision. While all faculties and support units will be expected to align their priorities with those of the institution and will be regularly evaluated for their contributions to advancing the university as a whole through their own and collaborative, cross-unit activities, there is enormous scope for local innovation and creativity. In short, we all have a role to play in the university’s success over the coming years.

Here are a few links that might be of interest:

The strategic framework website is here – or you can read about it on the Queen’s News Centre. If you would rather download the Strategic Framework document, you can do that here.

Counting our students

In April, I blogged about the importance of counting Queen’s students in Kingston’s electoral boundaries. That blog was in response to an ongoing debate about postsecondary students, and whether they are considered Kingston residents.

Since then, the Alma Mater Society, a Queen’s law student and the Sydenham District Association challenged Kingston City Council’s decision to modify electoral boundaries in a way that does not represent the student population.

This process culminated in an Ontario Municipal Board appeal, and I have learned that the OMB ruled on the side of our students and their co-appellants. This decision is undoubtedly the result of much effort on the part of our students, as well as others.

As I said in the aforementioned blog post, we consider Queen’s students to be members not only of the Queen’s community but also of the Kingston community. We actively encourage them to get involved in the city in which they live, work and volunteer. Our students respond by doing just that, in a variety of important ways.

In this instance, they worked with and were supported by community members, challenged a decision they believed to be unfair, and remained dedicated to that cause through a lengthy and resource-intensive appeal process. I congratulate them on a job well done, and for their unwavering commitment to being counted.

Daniel Woolf
Principal and Vice-Chancellor