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Finding ways to thrive at Queen’s

I am grateful every day for the opportunity to serve the Queen’s community as its 20th Principal and Vice-Chancellor. It is a privilege to work alongside some of the most talented and intelligent individuals I’ve ever met, and I am incredibly proud of the students we attract, teach, and graduate. And yet, as wonderful as this position is to hold, there are elements of my work life that are inherently stressful.

I would confidently assume that my counterparts at other post-secondary institutions similarly manage conflicting deadlines and extended work hours while making quality time for family. There is also that underlying feeling – a similar one to when you become a parent – of discomfort that when things are going well, the other shoe might be about to drop. I don’t even believe these stressors are unique to this type of position; they are common ones in many occupations. And yet, they are important for me to identify personally, so that I might manage my physical and mental health in appropriate and proactive ways.

Since arriving at Queen’s, and making the mental health of the Queen’s community a priority, I knew that I would need to set a good example and create some boundaries in my work and home life. This involved challenging myself to maintain, if not improve, my health in a variety of areas. A treadmill and a set of weights await me at home to use on days when I don’t reach 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. Julie and I do our best to watch our intake of high-carb foods and have salads and fresh vegetables as often as possible. I aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, and began to incorporate naps into my routine on weekends and when evening events are booked in my calendar. I also set blocks of time in my workday to leave room to deal with pressing issues that come up unexpectedly, so surprises don’t pile on top of my regular obligations.

These changes have not eliminated stressors from my work life, but they have proven that when I take care of my mind and my body, I am better prepared to handle issues appropriately and at my fullest capacity. I believe the same to be true for many of us – including the staff, faculty, and students of Queen’s. And, this is why I’m supportive of an important annual event called Thrive Week.

Thrive began at the University of British Columbia in 2009, when two colleagues decided to create wellbeing programming that included various groups of the university’s community. For its first year, 20 events were organized over one week under the tagline “Health, Community, Commitment.” In just a few years, the idea spread to 100 events at campuses across the country, reaching 35,000 people in 2014 alone. Queen’s adopted Thrive last year with great success.

Thrive Week

Thrive Week 2015

This year, Queen’s will celebrate Thrive Week from October 31 to November 4, with numerous stress-busting events held across campus each day. You’ll find me at the Kick-Off Booth on Monday morning, and on Wednesday I’m hosting a walk around campus over the lunch hour. Whether you’re feeling stressed out or not, I encourage you to participate in at least one activity; invite your colleagues and classmates to join you.

As a series of events and activities, we could never expect Thrive Week to solve all of the issues related to mental health and its associated stigma that are prevalent in workplaces and on campuses across the country. Together, we must see it as a mindset, and recognize that when our individual health – mental and physical – is respected and cared for, we all benefit.

My First Ten Days at Queen’s (Part Two)

(For part one of this blog see here)

Day Six: Thursday, September 16

In the afternoon, we get our sectioning envelopes back with classes that have now been assigned by some mysterious process unknown to us. I’m a little disappointed as I have classes pretty much every day of the week, and my last class, History 121, won’t finish till 2:30 on Friday. I’m told that one can request a section change and I knock on a couple of doors in History, ultimately ending up chatting with the pipe puffing Professor William McCready, undergraduate coordinator in History, who patiently explains why sections are evenly balanced and that a move is not likely unless I find someone who wants to switch. Apparently, the timetabling is not done for my convenience! It will turn out that I will love my section and my History instructor, the late Professor Stewart Webster; I’ll also end up doing a couple of courses with the same Professor McCready in future years, the resident medievalist. Conclusion: the timetable thing was nothing to get stressed about.

In the evening we are all taken off to Lake Ontario Park where there is a mini midway with rides and miniature golf. At the miniature golf line I first make the acquaintance of a student from New Brunswick named Lyse Doucet. 39 years later, in 2015, I will be reading a citation for Lyse at Convocation as she gets an honorary degree as one of Canada’s most high profile and courageous international journalists. One simply does not know who is going to end up doing what at that point, and who will continue to figure prominently in one’s life.

Day Seven: Friday, September 17

Registration. We’ve heard fearsome tales of this. We take our sectioning envelopes, and our cheque books, and pass through a kind of Rube Goldberg human machine in the Jock Harty Arena (then a few years old, torn down in 2008) from station to station. By the time we get to the end of this assembly line we are registered, have paid our fees, and know exactly where we need to be on Monday for class. The whole system has worked quite flawlessly, the design of a famously eccentric Queen’s math professor, Ralph Clench. And indeed, the History department has assigned those of us in History 121 some advance reading on the subject of intellectual history, so I have homework to do for Tuesday’s first history class.

A snapshot from the 1976 TriColour Yearbook.

A snapshot from the 1976 TriColour Yearbook.

Evening fun is a boat cruise, then called, the ‘booze cruise’ in those less vigilant days. I don’t drink at this stage and have no objection to alcohol, but will admit to having felt a bit awkward being the only one who doesn’t imbibe. I had earlier decided to take the alternative Friday entertainment, a concert by the David Bromberg band (a blues group still around 40 years later!). But at the last, when it’s clear I’m the only one doing so, I switch back to the boat cruise. Listening to Dave will have to wait a few years.

There are also meetings of faculty societies and we are introduced to ASUS. People run for their year society. On a whim, I run for treasurer of Arts ’80 and discover a few days later that I have been elected. Apart from a couple of years of involvement in the History department student council, later on, this will be my sole experience of student government.

Day Eight: Saturday, September 18

I finally update my family at home on how I’m doing. Phone calls are expensive in those days and they will be minimal. Some serious homesickness is setting in as I’ve now been here for a week. But there is a football game against Bishop’s (an institution I’d never heard of but will end up teaching at for a year, exactly a decade later), and in the evening there is a dance in Leonard Cafeteria featuring a past-its-prime Canadian band called Edward Bear.

A snapshot from the 1976 Tricolour Yearbook

A snapshot from the 1976 Tricolour Yearbook

Day Nine: Sunday, September 19

This is clearly intended as a calming day. The idea is to get us out of ‘fun’ mode and into ‘academic’ mode. Back then there was a charming tradition called ‘Frosh-Prof dinners’ where faculty members would invite a Gael group to their house for an informal meal. We get pizza at the home of an anatomy prof named Dr. Mackinnon. I never saw him subsequently but remember the meal and the back yard and have met many people over the years who were taught by him (Dr. Mackinnon sadly died a few years ago).

After our dinner, we are all marched over to either the Bews or the Bartlett gym. We sit on old bleachers and our dean, a man called Dr. Duncan Sinclair, who wears a turtleneck sweater, speaks to us about life at Queen’s and academics. One line sticks with me: “there are only students at Queen’s; some of us are on the other side of the desk, but we are all students”. Later in life, as a dean and then principal, I will frequently quote this (I have related this account to Dr. Sinclair, an award winning, Medical Hall of Fame physiologist as I’ve gotten to know him quite well in the past few years, and he is one of the many elder statesmen of Queen’s whose voice still carries great weight on campus). I will not see Dr. Sinclair again till he hoods me at my Convocation in June 1980.

It’s back to the residence and a reasonably early night, though it’s a pretty noisy hallway with lots of stereos blasting. Dave Bellamy, a Sci ’79 student across the hall, plays Supertramp’s ‘School’ frequently and loudly. I will retaliate in due course, when my record player arrives, with a lot of Carly Simon and K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

Day Ten: Monday, September 20

Finally, the first day of class is here. My alarm clock goes off. The first song I hear on my first day of class is George Baker’s Paloma Blanca, a schmaltz top 40 hit from the summer of ’76. (To this day it is not clear to me why I remember this fact.)

After lovely weather during frosh week, it is pouring outside. I find Kingston Hall and my first class, English 110. Good news! My new pal Gayle from my frosh group is in this class. So are three people I don’t know yet but who will each become good friends. David Elmy is from Belleville, has a single room (and a TV!) in Gordon House. We will lose touch in the 90s but have reconnected—he is now a successful businessman in Vancouver, having won the medal in English in our year. Kate Revington is from London, Ontario and she will be in my Philosophy and Classics sections also. Also an English Major, she is now the University Secretary at Guelph. And, there is Glenn Stairs, from Trenton, son of a minister and now a Kingston social worker and one of the smartest people I will meet in my four years. I am still in touch with all three.

The prof is a 5’ 6” slight bundle of energy called Professor W. Craig Ferguson (“Mr. Ferguson” he prefers to be called, regarding “Professor” as superfluous and “Dr.” as an affectation). He wears a gown like professors from a Hollywood version of academia. I am not unfamiliar with universities given my academic family, but I am not prepared for this. He seems a bit of a disciplinarian (note: Glenn Stairs, mentioned above, and I, now take Craig, now retired for some years, out for lunch from time to time.) The class ends with our first essay assigned: on the Wife of Bath’s tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Fortunately my Grade 12 class read some of Chaucer the previous year.

It’s pouring outside as I leave Kingston Hall. I head over to Ellis Hall for my first classical literature class. Prof Richard Bernabei is a polar opposite to Prof Ferguson. In shirtsleeves with no tie or jacket, and chain smoking through the fifty minutes (yes, this was allowed, and students could smoke too), he tells us about the books we will need and how fantastic the plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are. “You will never read better plays in any language”. “Including Shakespeare?” Someone murmurs. “Yes, including Shakespeare!” Prof Bernabei is a character in his own right, a keen follower of JFK conspiracy theories, and someone, we are unaware at the time, battling some inner demons that will, sadly, kill him prematurely before I graduate. I think of him often to this day.

After this class, I go to the bookstore in Clark Hall. I pick up my textbooks, spending a whopping $110.00 on them. (My tuition that year, by the way, was $600.00). It’s still wet, so I head back to the residence and my room, make a cup of tea, put on some music and reflect on the first ten days of life at Queen’s. Roommate Randy, a Science major, is having his day out in Bio, Chem and Math so we don’t see a lot of each other till the evening.

Bookstore 1976

A snapshot from the 1976 Tricolour Yearbook

Still ahead are Politics 110 with Prof George Perlin (who looks to most of us like Lenin), and on Tuesday I will have my first Philosophy Class with Prof Albert Fell and my first History 121 with Prof Webster. I stayed in almost constant touch with Prof Webster over many years, up till his death in the early 2000s. I run into Prof Fell (along with Prof Perlin, the source of my lowest grades in first year) a great deal these days and have always regretted not taking his Philosophy of History course later in my degree—as someone who works in Historiography I’d have found it very useful.

At this point I am ten days into “my future at Queen’s.” I know nothing of how the academic year will go, or indeed even if I will still be here a year hence as home seems a long way away. (All that’s behind me by January; the marks are generally okay, I’ve made a circle of friends, and now 18, then the drinking age, I can socialize a bit more at events like floor parties.) And, no, I have no idea that I will eventually teach here as postdoc in the mid 80s, much less come back a third time, as Principal.

So, to anyone in first year having doubts or fretting, you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Give it time. Talk to your dons and friends. Make this year, and your time at Queen’s, your own. You’ve no idea how your future at Queen’s will work out or where these roads you are exploring in your early weeks here will lead.

My First Ten Days at Queen’s (Part One)

Move in day is always a special time. It’s manifestly a huge day for new students and their parents, with a lot of goodbyes, hugs, some tears and a lot of hellos. It’s a big day for dons and residence staff, and for orientation leaders many of whom volunteer on move in even though the faculty part of the week doesn’t begin until Wednesday. Alumni even enjoy watching it and thinking back to their own arrival.

That’s always the case for me. On move in day I am usually to be seen along with my wife Julie wandering the residence halls and stairways randomly greeting new students and their families. And I always visit my old floor and room in Brockington House.

This year is special for me personally, as I mark 40 years since the day I first set foot on this campus. Things were different then. There was no Internet, and no elaborate campus tours. All I knew of Queen’s I had derived from a small blue booklet all applicants were sent, “Your Future at Queen’s.” I had applied to two other Ontario schools, but I was certainly keenest on Queen’s having heard of it for many years at a private school I had previously attended.

Visiting Brockington House 40 years after first arriving at Queen's

Visiting Brockington House 40 years after first arriving at Queen’s

I was, of course, thrilled to get in (I recall the day), and to get a second letter a few days later with a small but welcome scholarship. I enjoyed the summer, working at a local company that sold discount soft drinks, hanging out at local beaches and lakes with my high school friends, and getting ready for my university adventure. In August I spent a month in Europe, partly with my paternal grandparents in London, partly backpacking around.

I came back to Winnipeg at the very beginning of September and had a week to pack and say my goodbyes. On my last night, I went to two parties, one for a classmate who was getting married, and a smaller one thrown by a few of my closest friends. They had some going away presents for me including a small kettle, a couple of mugs, and small desk plaque that I still have reading ‘mafia headquarters’.

Here’s a day-by-day account of my introduction to Queen’s as I recall it 40 years on.

Day One: Saturday, September 11

I get dropped at Winnipeg airport and embark on a plane to Toronto along with two or three other students from Winnipeg all heading for Queen’s. At Pearson we all collect our bags and hop in a large car headed for Kingston. I am the second last to be dropped off, on the Collingwood Street side of Gordon-Brockington Hall. It is well past dark at this point. I am greeted at the door by a tall second-year engineer who happens to be on my floor, 3rd Brockington and helps me in with my suitcases (I’d sent a trunk ahead; it has the address sticker on it to this day). That young man is Charlie Lund, Sci ’79, son of two Queen’s alumni from Alberta and now himself one of our most loyal and active Calgary alumni. I am just getting settled when a fellow floormate, Michael Campbell, Sci ’79 pops his head in and introduces himself. Mike will end up as one of my closest friends over the next three years and he and I will share an apartment on Alfred Street in third year with two other engineers.

It’s late, and I’m tired, so I save exploring for the following day. At this point I’ve still seen nothing of Queen’s campus. Oh, and I’m in a double room, but there’s as yet no roommate. Could it be I don’t have one?

Day Two: Sunday, September 12

I grab some breakfast at Leonard cafeteria, which normally isn’t open on Sunday’s but is this weekend. I recall my first view of the then-Leonard Field, the lake, Morris Hall and McNeill House. It’s a bit like Dorothy opening the door of her house on to a view of Oz. What is this place and why am I here? A first bit of apprehension hits – have I made the right choice in coming? There are no computer cards for meals; we have standard issue cardboard cards, which get holes punched in them as we queue up.

Later that morning I meet my roommate – yes, I have one. R.J. (Randy) McCullough is from Parham, Ontario, which he describes as ‘forty miles north of here’. The Parham farm kid and the 17-year-old from a large prairie city…how’s this going to work? (It worked just fine and Randy and I keep in touch from time to time).

My instructions say to head over to Jeffery Hall to find out the number of my ‘Gael’ group – I’m in 109. I later wander over to what is now Nixon Field where I meet my Gael group leaders, Marion, Greg (who knows my roommate) and Karen (now Dr. Karen Smith, Associate Dean of Continuing Professional Development for Queen’s School of Medicine). And of course I meet my fellow frosh. I do not recall all of them and much less their surnames though we are all asked to say where we are from: Frank is an aspiring meds student (and now a very successful cardiac surgeon). Elsie is from Delhi, Ontario. Lee is from Larder Lake. There is a girl from Ancaster who will later be in my philosophy class. And, there is Gayle Stoness, from Seeley’s Bay, a future Queen’s career administrator (and briefly at McMaster with her psychiatrist husband at the same time in the early 2000s) who 40 years later remains a close friend.

I head back to the residence for dinner where they have designated tables to meet floormates. One of the first people to introduce himself is Bob Pritchard (Sci ’80) whose roommate is Bob Spies, also Sci ’80 – they will be known on the floor as ‘the Bobs’. It turns out that I have the room to myself again tonight – Randy’s gone home to Parham for the evening. There is a Brockington House meeting in the common room where we meet the dons and the wardens (or senior dons – yes, they were actually called wardens). The wardens are John and Jane Johnston, he a young lawyer and she a nurse. I have seen them many times since my return to Queen’s in 2009 and in my more homesick moments in my first term – and there are a few – they will be great listeners.

Day Three: Monday, September 13

This is the first full day of frosh activity. We get a bit of a tour of campus. We are treated to a movie called The Academic Cloister, by a budding student filmmaker named Michael McMillan (who will go on with several of his friends to found the incredibly successful Atlantis Films). And, we are handed something called a ‘sectioning envelope’ with a class timetable. We get a library tour of Douglas. The entrance then is at the second level, and a security guard checks backpacks going out of the building, not in, to make sure that books have been properly checked out. There are two major reading rooms up top. There is first, the Reserve Reading room with lovely oaken paneling and stained glass (now known as the Harry Potter Room, but at that point J.K. Rowling is 11 years old and Harry and Voldemort are two decades from conception). And across the hall, in garish early 70s purple fabric, the so called ‘Purple Passion Pit.’

A snapshot of Orientation Week from the Tricolour Yearbook of 1976

Day Four: Tuesday, September 14

We are left to our own devices in the morning to visit academic departments and look into courses we might wish to take. I’m still dithering between English and History. Marion, the arts student among our Gaels, proffers advice on sections to take (and ones to avoid). I pick History 121 (intellectual history, the course recommended for potential history majors); English 110; a classics course (Intro to Classical Literature); Philosophy 117; and Politics 110. I try to pick sections in such a way that I will have Friday off. I’m not sure why, since going home is not a factor, but it seems others are trying to avoid Friday classes so I do the same.

In the afternoon we hand our sectioning envelopes, duly filled out with preferred timetables, to our Gaels. I’m pretty sure we all go and have dinner at Karen’s house at 81 Division St., which is still standing to this day.

Day Five: Wednesday, September 15

It’s Wednesday and I will admit that day is a bit of a blank. I have a bit of a sense that our Gaels are struggling to find things to keep us occupied. The modern arrangement for Orientation which has a residence half and a faculty half is a great improvement; I could have done with a bit more acculturation to residence life and my floormates (and feel a bit of a fish out of water, and an underage one at that, for most of my first term in residence).

…stay tuned for Part Two, coming next week, where I recount my first trip to Lake Ontario Park, my experience with registration and the first day of class.

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.