Today, Dec 6, marks a particularly sad and horrifying anniversary, of the Montreal Massacre, where 14 women, mainly engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, were gunned down simply because they were women and in Engineering. Like many people of my age, I remember very well what I was doing when I first heard the dreadful news: I had just returned home (then Halifax) from a trip to take my 8 month old daughter, Sarah, to visit her grandparents. I remember hugging her very close, feeling sorrow for the fathers and mothers who had lost their daughters that day, and worrying—what would the world be like when she became a young adult?
The Montreal Massacre coincided almost exactly with an unpleasant episode on Queen’ campus a few months previously, when banners were hung out of residence windows mocking the nascent “No means no” movement. I shan’t repeat the slogans, which were in many cases intended to be funny, but weren’t, even then (and especially not after Dec. 6 1989). A lot of alumni wrote in to the university expressing how upset they were (I, by the way, was one of them). A few wrote in protesting “political correctness” on campus and arguing “boys will be boys”. It was not a happy time.
Nearly a quarter century later we as a country have made good progress in that few would question either the right or the profound success of women in engineering. Our own dean of Engineering and Applied Science is a woman, and three female engineers are presidents of leading universities out west. Our Faculty leads the country in enrolment of female engineering students. There’s similarly been a great deal of progress in social attitudes towards gender-based violence. I’d be really surprised (and profoundly disappointed) if anyone among today’s generation of Queen’s students found anything remotely humorous in the subject of violence against women (which includes a number of dismal subcategories apart from sexual assault).
Lamentably, we’re not past acts of violence against women yet, and among other things the vigils every Dec. 6 remind us, annually of one of the worst incidents. It should remind us that similar ones occur daily throughout the country. And, yes, they do occur on campuses including (happily rarely) our own.
That’s why our Blue Light system is important. For nearly three decades it has been a key part (the AMS Walk-home service is another) of our community’s commitment to safety, a literal beacon of security. You shouldn’t ever walk by a Blue Light without reminding yourself of why it was put there. Sadly, there are some in our community who think it funny, daring, or fun, to set off our Blue Lights maliciously, or to vandalize them. There have been 38 activations categorized as mischief already this academic year, although the number could be much higher, as Campus Security was unable to determine the cause of another 142 activations. Some of these malicious activations are related to a drinking game in which students try to earn a faculty jacket bar. While admittedly malicious blue light hits have decreased in 2012 as compared to 2011, this act still represents an incredible lack of judgment.
I would like to commend the AMS on their recent campaign to educate students on the use and misuse of blue lights and would also add that this AMS initiative can be looked on as a model for future initiatives promoting student safety.
I’m not usually this direct in my blog space, but guess what? It’s not funny. There are lots of arm bars you can earn for your jacket that mark worthy activities. Wearing the Blue Light bar says, to all students, female and male alike as well as your professors, “Look at me! I value my ability to set off or vandalize an important security alarm so I can have this badge much more highly than I value the safety of a student who might depend for her safety on its being functional! I think it’s cool to take our security teams away from watching for real incidents by distracting them with false alarms. Ha ha!”
If you are wearing it as a sign of having “pushed the button, drunk the beer, taped the can, and run”, then the Blue Light bar is, frankly, a badge of shame. Let me urge you not to pursue it, and not to engage in malicious triggering of Blue Lights (or, for that matter, fire alarms). Next time you see someone attempting to engage in one of these “harmless” pranks, ask them how they would feel if it were their sister or girlfriend were unable to receive assistance because of it. And remind them why we remember December 6.
Dear Queen’s community member. Below please find the text of a letter emailed earlier this morning to all Queen’s faculty members with respect to the recent discussions, in media and on-campus, re the recent CAUT report involving the University’s response to an incident in the Department of History. While the letter is directed to members of our academic staff, the matter is of interest to the wider Queen’s community, so I share it here.
I wanted to write a personal note to you and share my perspective on an issue related to our university that is currently the subject of significant attention, both internally and in the media. While I have addressed this issue in letters to some of you and in a recent blog, I thought it important that I continue to keep you informed on this issue.
As some of you know, a recent report issued by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) criticized the university’s response to incidents involving a term adjunct professor. The report also called for a number of actions from Queen’s, including an apology.
Let me begin by saying that I believe the report’s findings to be incomplete, inaccurate, and based on a portion of the facts in this case. As a result, subsequent media coverage has portrayed this as an issue regarding academic freedom. I can assure you that the principles of academic freedom are central to this university’s values and are at the heart of everything we do. This particular case, however, is fundamentally not about academic freedom. It is about behaviour in the classroom that was reported to have created a hostile and unsafe learning environment for students. As a result, students expressed concerns, and the university took those concerns seriously and raised them with the faculty member in question.
As I stated to the Globe and Mail when asked for comment on this subject earlier this week, this is a complex issue and, for many reasons, it is not appropriate to discuss all of the facts of the case in a public forum at this time. As an employer, the university has been placed in a difficult situation when asked to respond to the CAUT report and concerns by faculty, students and alumni, because we must take care not to violate any privacy or confidentiality concerns.
It’s important to emphasize that the CAUT is not an impartial investigatory body, and that while its jurisdiction – or, in this case, lack thereof – in this matter is an important component of the university’s position on the report’s findings, it is by no means the only factor.
Any issue of concern regarding faculty should be a matter between the university and the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) – the sole legal representative of Queen’s faculty. Provisions related to academic freedom are set out in the Queen’s-QUFA Collective Agreement. While the university was prepared to conduct an investigation after the complaints were made, QUFA discouraged it from doing so. Weeks later, however, QUFA proceeded to ask the CAUT to investigate. Similarly, instead of using the grievance and arbitration procedure in the collective agreement, which would have allowed an independent third party arbitrator to assess the validity of the university’s actions, QUFA contacted the CAUT, whose mandate is to represent faculty associations and unions representing academic staff, to conduct the investigation. I ask you to consider why QUFA would prefer the CAUT instead of an independent third party arbitrator to consider this matter.
This matter is now currently in litigation between a member of the Faculty Association named in the CAUT report versus the Faculty Association, a matter in which Queen’s is an intervenor. Because of this, more details about the matter may emerge in the coming weeks.
Please know that as not only the principal of this great university, but also as a former student, practicing historian, and now a professor in Queen’s Department of History I believe in the protection of academic freedom. I also believe, however, that students and teaching assistants should be able to study and work in a safe environment in which they may raise concerns without fear of hostility and retaliation. This matter is about much more than academic freedom, and I hope you will take that into account when reflecting on the issues at hand.
The subject of academic freedom has come up at Queen’s lately, particularly following a controversial report from CAUT that has gained some attention in the media. Since academic freedom has been in the forefront of conversations of late, I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject.
Privacy rules prevent me from discussing the specific matter at issue in the CAUT report, save only to say that the report’s conclusions are both incorrect and based on incomplete information. We can, however, debate academic freedom itself. In fact, we should. While we would all agree that it is a core value of any university, there is not universal agreement as to its definition and scope, let alone how to apply it.
Let me be unequivocal: I believe in academic freedom, meaning the freedom to debate, discuss and argue (collegially and with sound evidence) difficult, controversial and, yes, sometimes uncomfortable topics. I do not believe that doing so is incompatible with inclusiveness and the principles of equity. I do believe that both faculty members and students (and for that matter, staff) can engage in difficult conversations and debate about complex matters, and that they can indeed use language that may not be “politically correct” (to use a phrase I do not find helpful) in our current climate.
That is what being at university is all about. It is about learning; learning about the past, the present, and the future. It is about learning about advances and new technologies and how our world is changing. It is about unraveling, deconstructing, testing and proving everything from a scientific theorem to a philosophical proposition. Academic freedom gives all of us the right to express our views in a safe environment without fear of sanction.
However, academic freedom does not occur in a vacuum. Our world has changed dramatically in recent decades, and our families, neighbourhoods and campuses reflect these changes. Queen’s strives to be an inclusive environment where everyone is welcome no matter their background. This is what makes us a destination for exceptional people. It is thus important that in having tough conversations about tough topics that they be appropriately contextualized.
The diversity of our classrooms and lecture halls does not mean that we cannot have those difficult discussions; it does not mean we should not discuss issues that make some members of our community uncomfortable because their views have been challenged. It does mean that we need to be aware of our surroundings and our audience, and ensure our comments, even when made for reasons of provoking discussion, are being made for sound academic, scholarly and pedagogical purposes.
Academic freedom and freedom of expression are enshrined in our way of thinking at Queen’s, and will continue to be. I encourage you to continue the debate.
This morning we wrapped up two days of meetings of the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU). The Board essentially consists of the principals (or presidents or vice-chancellors) of the seven members of the MNU, who routinely bring their Chief International Officers and sometimes their Provosts or equivalent to the meetings.
The MNU, for those who don’t know, is a now 3 year old initiative involving ‘7 Sisters’ (the word ‘Matariki’ is Maori for the constellation the Pleiades, or 7 sisters), one—and one only–from each country. Apart from Queen’s, the sole Canadian representative, the universities are Dartmouth (US), Durham (UK), Western Australia (AU), Otago (NZ), Tübingen (Germany) and Uppsala (Sweden). All are mid-sized, research-intensive schools with a strong reputation for teaching and residential experience; none is in a national capital. For more details you can visit some of my previous blogs, for instance on the MNU meetings 21 months ago in Perth, Australia.
This was the 3rd meeting of the Board since the MNU was formed and it was very good to see every member institution represented, even if Hurricane Sandy caused one or two people to have to cancel and occasioned some schedule reshuffling. It was especially useful to have delegates in Kingston and at Queen’s, many for the very first time. Among other things, they got a good sense of our geographic situation, size, architecture etc. Lots of student activity was evident (which hasn’t been true in a couple of our previous meetings which occurred outside academic term-time for the host university).
The Network has thus far been quite successful at putting like-minded researchers from member universities together. Several research workshops have been held, including one two years ago at Queen’s on sustainable energy. Joint research projects have ensued, and our respective Vice-Principals (Research) met a few months ago to advance this agenda. It is worth noting that a great undergraduate initiative, Inquiry@Queen’s is open to video-participation from Matariki-enrolled students, which takes some doing with the time zone differences involved!
Much of our time at the Board meeting just finished was spent on 3 related issues:
1) how we can collectively improve student mobility, taking advantage of the special relationships within the Network. A key follow-up item from the meeting will be greater connections between our own student affairs personnel at all schools, and international program offices;
2) Benchmarking (in essence, comparison of how all of us are performing on a variety of metrics both in research and teaching, including curriculum development, and how we can learn from ‘trusted international peers’ of similar character;
3) Reputational enhancement. This is a very important one for Queen’s as I have often noted that we are very well known in Canada but less so abroad, something I would very much like to change. It turns out that our sister Matariki schools face the same reputational challenge in other countries than their own, so we have agreed to mutually promote each other by various means. Our Alumni, Communications and Marketing Directors will be in touch with one another, and Queen’s own Director of Marketing, Kathleen Vollebregt, weighed into our discussions with some useful suggestions.
I’m often asked why all this is important and whether resources should be devoted to it. I think the answer is an unqualified and loud ‘yes!’. Apart from the benefits our students will derive from access to programs and opportunities at 6 other extraordinary universities, the Network can provide a key plank in our overall internationalization strategy. As the reputation of the Network itself and its name recognition grows, the expectation is that this will translate into higher international profile for each member individually.
From my point of view the meetings, which I chaired as the Network Chair for the past 21 months (an honour and pleasure which has now passed to Prof Christopher Higgins, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of the University of Durham), were very productive. The trick now, as with most such exercises, is to ensure that we follow through on the best of the many good ideas that were floated in our discussions. Meanwhile, let me express my thanks for the outstanding work of staff in the Office of the Vice-Provost (International), the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research), the Principal’s Office, and Innovation Park, as well as the faculty and staff who joined particular meetings to lend their expertise. Conferences such as these are not put together without a lot of hard work and planning and the Queen’s team did a fabulous job.
Today we will have a campus community “sneak preview” of the public launch of Queen’s Initiative Campaign. This campaign, the most ambitious in Queen’s history, will bring much-needed resources to the University, and it will also allow us to tell our story, already familiar in a national context, to a wider, global audience. It is a campaign with some bold targets, and one which is built on the theme of “initiative”, the spirit of which has long been a Queen’s trademark and, in my view, remains a distinguishing feature of our University among a pool of very fine Canadian research-intensive institutions. I see evidence of Queen’s spirit of initiative everywhere I travel, in student-led activities, in the efforts of our faculty to improve teaching and pioneer new areas of research, and in the commitment of our staff to go above and beyond, both on campus and in the outside community, every day. I see it in our alumni, who have gone on to great success in their own careers because for decades we have attracted students committed to both thinking and doing, and because we nurture those qualities during their time with us.
The Campaign goals reflect Queen’s priorities, as worked out over the past 3 years in a series of rigorous planning exercises, during which our various campus constituencies, faculty, students and staff, were widely consulted. The Academic Plan and Strategic Research Plan, along with various Faculty-specific planning documents, have provided us with the general priorities for which we will raise funds, and with a clarity of mission that will be extremely helpful in telling past and potential new benefactors not only about where we have been but about where we are going.
Because the Initiative Campaign is all about supporting what it is we do, and do well, it is fitting that it be unveiled at home on the Queen’s campus. I do hope that you will all support the Campaign in whatever way and at whatever level you feel comfortable. Nothing speaks more loudly to our alumni and our potential supporters than the support we ourselves commit to our own initiatives.
As we proceed full steam ahead into the Initiative Campaign, I want to thank you for all you do for Queen’s and look forward to working with you as we press ahead to successful conclusion, in 2016, when Queen’s University will celebrate its 175th birthday.
Much as I love the summer (I’m a warm weather person, despite my fondness for my home town of Winnipeg and its 40 below winters), there is something special about its waning in August. The temperature slips a few notches after mid-month, the days start ending noticeably sooner (great for astronomy buffs), and most of all, the campus begins a slow buzz that within a couple of weeks will become a loud roar. The students are starting to come back (of course many, especially graduate students, have been here throughout), and I am starting to see upper years drift into town. The big shift of course will occur on Labour Day weekend, when over f0ur thousand frosh will arrive (along with some 2nd years who spent last year at the castle, and transfer students from other schools). As I’ve said before in this blog, January 1 may be the start of the calendar year, May 1 the fiscal year and income tax reporting deadline–but for us in the academic realm, like schoolteachers, the REAL start to the year is September.
My wife and I are looking forward to our annual walkabout the residences on our two Kingston campuses when we chat to incoming first-years and their families. It’s truly an exciting time. For me, it reminds me of my own transition to Queen’s in the late summer of 1976, when I arrived here (having never set foot in Kingston in my life–one didn’t ‘check out’ schools then; one just applied, and there was no internet) as a 17 year old (coming from Manitoba and having a late birthday I was at least a year or two younger than most people on my floor). Frosh week is the week of the year that most allows me, like Proust with his madeleine wafer (check out that literary reference, frosh!) to revisit in my mind the magic of arriving in Kingston, and on Queen’s campus. It’s an odd combination of exhilaration, some anxiety, mixed emotions about leaving home, and that feeling that after months on the tarmac of life, your personal plane is finally airborne. I can remember my first day on campus and the first people I met in my residence and in my gael group, as if it were yesterday.
I hope that all our new students will have such experiences here during orientation (and that it will be fun, informative, and most important, SAFE). And I wish that you, like me, will be able to look back in 2, 3, 4 and 5 decades, at this next few weeks as a magical time of transition in your adult or soon-to-be-adult lives.
Best wishes on the packing and the moving, and see you in a couple of weeks!
I read with interest the editorial written by the outgoing AMS Executive in today’s Queen’s Journal. Let me begin by saying that I, along with other members of the Queen’s administration have worked collaboratively with the AMS executive on many initiatives over the past year. It has been a relationship based on respect and working towards shared goals.
I recognize the importance of dialogue and debate and the value of student voice on matters affecting our community. However, I find some assertions in the editorial misleading.
Last year the Coroner recommended we look at our alcohol and non-academic student discipline policies. Ignoring the Coroner’s recommendations that we examine those policies was, and is, not an option.
Two committees, both of which include students, are actively engaged in reviewing the policies, and all views are being considered in any recommendations for changes. While much work has been done, no final decisions have been made on either policy, nor will any decision be finalized over the summer, with students absent, as is suggested in the editorial.
This has been a year of change and growth for us as a community and I will continue to work cooperatively with student leaders to address the challenges, on these and other issues, that still lie ahead. I have a scheduled dinner with the executive on Monday and I look forward to further conversation.
I don’t usually use this blog to endorse any particular activities – there is so much going on at Queen’s, I could hardly do it all justice.
However, in light of Queen’s long tradition of public service and our close connections with the Canadian Public Service in particular, I wanted to bring a really neat opportunity to the attention of students.
The federal government is recruiting right now for its next Student Ambassador at Queen’s.
It’s a part-time job for a full-time student who will raise awareness among peers of the breadth of the employment opportunities available within the federal public service and help fellow students apply for these positions.
I recently met with this year’s Student Ambassador, Alexandra Petre, who is more than enthusiastic about the role. I had also met with her immediate predecessor, Xiren Wang, who shared Alex’s enthusiasm. Alex is one of only three students in the country who work on their campuses to spread the word about the value and role of public servants and the impact of their work on the lives of Canadians.
Alex runs workshops and information sessions about how to apply to federal summer job programs and what the government is looking for in new recruits. She holds weekly office hours (in the 3rd floor lounge of Career Services, Gordon Hall, every Wednesday from 1-3pm) and gives advice on job searches, resumes and cover letters. You can follow her on Twitter (@Queens2gov) and Facebook (GCAmbassador Queen’s).
Alex is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Studies this spring and she will be working at the Canadian Embassy in Washington for the summer. She told me her role as Student Ambassador made her resume stand out among potential employers.
She says the position provides exciting opportunities for the student in the job to have regular interactions with senior public servants, including key members of the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Chief Human Resources Officer, and gives the student a valuable perspective on how the federal government works.
Queen’s is lucky to have had this program in place for the past three years. I encourage interested students to check out this job opportunity. It has just been posted to Alex’s Facebook page and the deadline to apply is March 16th by midnight.
I recently returned from two weeks abroad that included several destinations (a visit to silicon valley and San Francisco among them) but which was built around an 8-day, two city trip to China. In that country, I travelled to the campuses of several universities, met with representatives of government bodies (a highlight was the China Scholarship Council, which funds many graduate students at Queen’s and this year will begin to fund select undergraduates for year-long visits), the Canadian consulate in Shanghai, attended two combined alumni/recruitment events (joined by international recruiter Andrea McIntyre and Queen’s School of English Director Elaine Armstrong), and enjoyed a number of meals with senior alumni or Queen’s parents. Owing to internet access restrictions, and an exceedingly busy schedule, it was not possible to blog from China, so I am providing now an overview of the mission and what we learned and achieved.
This was the first visit to China by a principal of Queen’s since 2000 when Bill Leggett travelled there. Ideally, there should not be another such gap. China, much like India, is not a country one can drop into on occasion, leave some business cards and brochures (though in fact we did that) and then tick it off the ‘to-do’ list. Relationships are both institutional and personal, and they require frequent contact and regular, if less frequent, visits.
We have yet to map out the international strategy for Queen’s over the coming years–appropriately, the academic plan needed to come first–but it is in progress. Without prejudging that exercise, I think it hard to imagine that China would not feature prominently in our internationalization plans. For one thing, it is by a substantial margin the biggest source of international students for Queen’s at both the undergraduate and graduate/professional level. For another, it is the fastest growing economy in the world and it is important that our graduates be able to engage meaningfully with it and that, ideally, they learn something about its culture and practices.
China is not India, the other very fast growing Asian economy. Things can occur quite slowly in India, especially where government is involved. In China they move with lightning speed. At one university in Shanghai we toured a brand new library, about four times the size of Stauffer, that was built from shovel-in-ground to opening in barely a year. New universities are being created all the time, and there appears to be a limitless, or at least a very large amount of money to fund them: though, be it noted, the Chinese have decided on a very clear differentiation among their universities, ranging from ‘small’ (by Chinese standards) local ones through several higher gradations leading to the top tier of a very small number of institutions. These are Beijing’s Tsinghua (science and engineering mainly, though now with a medical school recently re-merged with it); Peking University, also in Beijing (very strong in humanities and social sciences, but with a polymer chemist as its current president); and Fudan in Shanghai, our long-standing anchor partner. There is a ’985′ group (this is not an area code, but refers to a particular party speech on a given date, articulating an ambitious vision for China’s universities) and a ’211′ group (same idea). Differentiation is a policy that in China, with a national, rather than state, jurisdiction over education (though in fact there are PSE institutions described as regional and even municipal) it is much easier to enforce than in Canada, with our provincial jurisdictions and, by and large, political reluctance to date, to enforce differentiation.
There are also specialist institutions, three of which we visited. CELAP in Shanghai, a training ground for senior civil servants, is a government sponsored institution with which Queen’s already enjoys a relationship, one that will be strengthened by our recent visit. We had the opportunity to visit the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing (a school with which I have a personal connection having, in my last job, negotiated a ’1 plus 3′ degree arrangement between it and my former university/faculty. In addition, its dean of international studies was in Kingston quite recently, as her son graduated from Queen’s last year and is now working in Moscow).
All of the visits were productive, some exploring possible new relationships, others advancing existing ones. A few schools have specific bilateral exchange arrangements with Queen’s faculties (in particular, Queen’s School of Business), which we would like to broaden. Memoranda of Understanding were signed to facilitate such discussions. Expanded relationships would include exchange opportunities for students in other faculties, and enhanced research linkages. Queen’s Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and Vice-Provost (International) John Dixon, both of whom travelled with me, were able to open doors for our researchers by raising awareness, at the universities we visited, of our areas of expertise.
The wisdom of Principal Emeritus Leggett and of Dr. Dixon (who will be leaving his international role later this spring after 12 years and 7 visits to China), of starting slowly in China, with a single major partner, Fudan, has I think paid off, as that relationship is especially strong. It can now provide the base from which to expand to other universities.
Fudan hosts our China office, staffed by Queen’s Political Science part-time PhD candidate Dr. Zhiyao Zhang (he already has a PhD from a Chinese university). Dr. Zhang, as our full time representative in China, helps students seeking admission to Queen’s, visits with other universities, and keeps Queen’s ‘on the radar’ in China. He has done a remarkable job of this in just five years (in 2007, Queen’s became the first Canadian university to open a China office, a pattern now being emulated by others, and a very good initiative on the part of Dr. Dixon).
Our delegation (one does not visit Chinese institutions, officially, as individuals, as I’ve learned over 4 different trips since 2005) also included Jonathan Kong (Arts ’11), who spent time in our Fudan Global Development Studies semester abroad program (a real jewel, which puts our students in the same class as Fudan students, not merely swapping places with them). Jonathan, now working for Queen’s Advancement office, was also a ‘Castle Kid’, who spent his first year at Herstmonceux, and we were struck at many of our meetings by the enormous interest in Queen’s presence in the southern UK, something that truly does set us apart from most other North American institutions. Fortunately we also had with us Dr. Bruce Stanley, the newly appointed Director of the Bader International Study Centre. Bruce’s vision for the BISC is to include many more international students and, eventually, international faculty members, who may wish to come for short periods or for conferences.
Was the trip worthwhile? Unquestionably. Its ultimate worth will be demonstrable down the road when we see more widespread recognition of Queen’s degrees and of the Queen’s name abroad, when there are greater opportunities for our students to spend time at a Chinese institution, and in an increased number of Chinese students choosing to come here either on exchange or for their full degrees. The ones that come have a good experience. We hosted two public events, in Shanghai and Beijing, for alumni and prospective students and their parents. At the Beijing event, a student from Tsinghua who had spent a term at Queen’s School of Business here in Kingston indicated enthusiastically that her term at Queen’s had been the best experience of her academic career. So we are off to a good start. But there is scope for much much more engagement between Queen’s and China.
Tuesday, November 22 was a great day for Queen’s. First and most obviously, almost two years of discussion, documents, drafts, consultations, web-postings, petitions, town halls and hallway conversations culminated in the University Senate’s vote on the Academic Plan.
There was, once again, constructive debate . Specifically, a significant amendment to the Academic Planning Task Force’s motion was developed collaboratively by two Senators, introduced on the floor, debated, and then adopted. After its passage, the amended motion to adopt the Academic Plan was quickly passed, unanimously, and the APTF was discharged with the thanks of the chair and of Senate.
That the plan was not merely passed, but adopted by a vote of 52-0, speaks volumes about the ability of the community to work through differences, have debates, make compromises, and–even in very tough financial times–keep our collective eyes on the academic ball.
Is the Plan perfect? Of course not. Ten more years of debate would not make it so. Does it provide answers or guideposts to every question that will come up, or every new circumstance in which we will find ourselves? Also no.
What it does do is to identify, at a critical juncture in our history, some important principles that we share institutionally and externally. It does not bind deans, faculties or departments to particular courses of action, or to particular budgetary decisions. It will provide guidance to the alignment of scarce resources, but it is emphatically not, and never has been, a ‘cost-cutting measure’. It will certainly help me in articulating to our external stakeholders (alumni, government, industry and donors) what Queen’s is about, and the unanimity of the vote (accepting that there is still much that needs to be worked through) is already a powerful signal in that regard, and one that I happily relayed to our Campaign Cabinet (the distinguished volunteers who will lead our fundraising efforts) yesterday at a meeting in Toronto.
The Plan will be of enormous use to Provost Harrison, the Vice-Principals and the Deans as they work with faculties and departments to implement some of the values articulated in the Plan. But at the end of the day, the Plan should not be made into more than it is. It is a map or, as I said in Senate, a set of stars, by which we can sail the ship called Queen’s. There will be rocks, reefs winds, islands and unanticipated obstacles along the way, and doubtless some tempting harbours that we may wish to pass by. We will continually need to tack and adjust course to deal with these as they emerge.
In its final deliberations, Senate expressed the clear view that a single plan could not do everything, and that the process of the past year has worked sufficiently well to be replicated in some way to deal with other issues. We have yet to see how that will unfold, but it is encouraging to see that there is still, after two years, appetite for such discussions.
This leads me to the second reason why Nov. 22 was a great day for Queen’s. Again, it has to do with things that happened in Senate.
There were other features of Tuesday’s meeting that have caused me to reflect on the excellence of this institution and its people. First is the civil debate over the Plan and several other important issues. I must admit that when I arrived at Queen’s 2009 I was told repeatedly that Senate had been rather quiet for many years, and hadn’t tackled very many substantive issues. I cannot comment on the accuracy of that statement, but even if it were true at some point in the past, it certainly isn’t now. We have had a series of animated Senate meetings, including a couple which have gone into ‘extra innings’. And, yes, there have been some times in which things did not go exactly the way in which I, as chair, or the proponents of particular measures, had anticipated or hoped. There will be again. Such is the power of a functional university Senate over academic matters in a healthy model of shared governance.
The second feature of Tuesday’s Senate that I found quite remarkable was the presence of many guests, not least a number of students in the BFA program. These students obviously care very deeply about the future of their program, and their respectful presence in the meeting, within the rules of Senate, was impressive (as indeed was some of the art which they brought with them). I offer no comment on the decisions made about that program, which properly rest with the Faculty of Arts and Science in the first instance; rather, my comment is intended to draw attention to the fact that it is possible to engage politically within the conventions of governance and without disruption of the conduct of Senate’s business. That the business of the meeting was also being widely live-reported via twitter, and many guests applied for the limited number of guest slots, indicates a strong interest on the part of students, staff and faculty in the future of the university.
It was milestone day for Queen’s, and an important day for academic governance. I left the meeting very proud of our university.