Building on a tradition of change
Dramatic changes are in store as Queen’s strives to claim its place among the world’s elite post-secondary educational institutions.
In the University’s 171-year past, we have seen two prior major inflection points, or “junctures” that have fundamentally altered the shape and direction of Queen’s. At both points, a combination of internal factors and external circumstances triggered and then facilitated dramatic change. On both occasions the University was prepared to depart from its past in order to secure its future.
The first of these junctures occurred in the last two decades of the 19th century, when Principal George Monro Grant, having seen the role that a national educational institution could play in the building of a young country, turned a small liberal arts and divinity college into a comprehensive undergraduate university with a Canada-wide purview. This satisfied both the need to broaden the University’s reach and ambition, and the national need for a school of leadership, initiative, and achievement, which could draw young men and women from coast to coast and prepare them for a higher social purpose. The Queen’s tradition of producing leading public servants for the country and its provinces matured through the 20th century, but it was conceived in Grant’s time.
The second juncture occurred during the period from the early 1950s to about 1974. Queen’s tripled in size during the tenures of Principals Mackintosh, Corry, and Deutsch, added a strong stable of graduate programs and became a research institution as well as an educator of undergraduates.
As in Grant’s time, this change was driven both by a sense of what needed to be done to maintain Queen’s place as a leading institution of higher learning, but also by external factors including a post-war Baby Boom, an imperative to diversify Canada’s economy, the country’s positioning of itself as a middle power and a peacekeeper, and the need to increase scholarly research and innovation. And, as with the changes of the first juncture, this transition, too, took time to mature and entailed a commitment of the entire university to a re-imagination of our mission.
Queen’s progress toward research excellence in particular has continued largely unabated, in part owing to a massive infusion of federal research funding during the last 15 years, and in part owing to the superb quality of faculty hired in the past three decades and the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows whom they have trained.
A third such juncture is upon us – one that is just as momentous as those earlier ones, and one that will determine the University’s destiny and its likelihood of success for decades to come. A unique combination of economic instability, technological change, and the globalization of education and knowledge has brought us to this juncture. Our challenge now is to preserve those aspects that are essential to the Queen’s of the past and present – a reputation for quality, a history of producing outstanding graduates at all levels, and an institutional commitment to turning academic knowledge into public action – while seizing the opportunity to reinvent the University yet again for the world of the 21st century.
Among those things that we should reasonably regard as essential, the student experience is at the core of Queen’s identity and reputation. It is the latter in particular that continues to attract extraordinary young minds to our campuses. The quality of that intake is demonstrable in key indicators such as the number of students admitted from across the country and abroad (with an entering average this past year of 88 per cent across all faculties). And our students are more than just very bright: they are game-changers.
The “Spirit of Initiative,” a phrase that aptly describes the distinguishing feature of Queen’s students and alumni, as well as its faculty and staff, encapsulates the three central traits this University seeks to continue to foster in all those who are part of the Queen’s community: an unwavering pursuit of excellence, the ability to think and act independently and imaginatively, and a determination to improve the world.
As we embark this autumn on both a major capital campaign and on the implementation of Senate’s Academic Plan, we will likely change many elements of our approach to teaching and learning. We must be open to significant change, as our predecessors were. However, we must also take care to preserve and enhance those things that have made Queen’s one of Canada’s foremost universities – as we now aspire to have Queen’s recognized as being among the world’s best.
This column is an abridgment of the Principal’s essay “The Third Juncture,” which he released in May 2012. To read the full text of the essay, please visit http://bit.ly/LJ9hHz