Queen's University

A castle for the keeping

The University’s 1993 acquisition of Herstmonceux Castle, the home of the Bader International Study Centre, touched off a heated debate in the campus community. Today, the facility has emerged as the focal point of the University’s global outlook. However, Queen’s came perilously came to selling the historic property.

AT THE 1929 CONVOCATION, newly-appointed Principal James Richardson, BA’06, LLD’29, urged everyone associated with Queen’s University “to remember that neither her name nor her history indicates that she should be confined by narrow geographical lines.” At the time, Richardson was talking about transforming Queen’s from a regional university into a national one. Times have changed. Now, Queen’s is taking on—and taking in—the world.

In Principal Daniel Woolf’s document Where Next: Toward a University Academic Plan, he states that internationalism should be one of the four key principles driving Queen’s forward. “We must seek to support local and regional economic development and look beyond our location in Kingston and Canada to seek our place in the world, by providing international educational experiences for our students, research collaborations for faculty, and service beyond our national borders” Woolf writes.

Herstmonceux Castle, the home of the Bader International Study CentreHerstmonceux Castle in southern England is the home of the Bader
International Study Centre.

International experience is already a vital part of the fabric of Queen’s, with more than 1,000 students going abroad each year for periods of three weeks or more, whether for student exchanges with partner universities, studies at the University’s own Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in England, independently arranged studies abroad, field work, internships, or other overseas experiences.

According to Vice-Provost (International) John Dixon, surveys have shown that a majority of Canadian students come to university with the hope they will gain international experience during their studies. But across Canada fewer than three per cent of students actively participate in study-aboard or exchange programs. He notes that this pattern is not uniform across the country: in fact, more than 83 per cent of Commerce students at Queen’s now go abroad for at least one term of study. Queen’s also has many international students and faculty coming to Kingston as well offering, as the August 2010 document Imagining the Future: Toward An Academic Plan for Queen’s University states, “a range of experience and perspectives [that] greatly enriches the learning environment for all people at Queen’s (students, staff, and faculty).”

Of course, the truly extraordinary part and a focal point of the University’s international program is Herstmonceux Castle, the magical-looking, 15th century crenellated manor house that is home to the BISC—the building having been renamed in July 2009 in honour of Isabel Bader, LLD’07, and husband Alfred Bader, Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86, who donated the Castle facility to Queen’s in 1994.

If anyone ever questions the University’s dedication to international study, a look at the BISC, nestled in the lush countryside of East Sussex, England, provides ample proof of the extent and nature of the Queen’s commitment. Not only is Herstmonceux a breathtakingly beautiful and historic setting, it’s also an extraordinary overseas campus.

The BISC as it is colloquially known, was a visionary gift from the Baders, and yet as magical as it was and is, this was a gift that nearly disappeared.

About 340 students attend programs at the Castle each year. Some go for their first year in Arts and Science. Others are upper-year students who are taking core and elective courses, while some others are studying international law. Not all students at the facility are from Queen’s, though. The BISC is open to students from universities across Canada, as well as those in about 10 other nations, including Mexico, China, Russia, the United States, Japan, and Korea, among others. Field studies take students to London, Paris, and Dieppe, to name a few destinations, while inexpensive airline flights allow students to explore Europe and Britain on their own.

The small class sizes and community atmosphere at the BISC allow for students and faculty to engage in real learning, to experiment with cross-disciplinary courses and new teaching/learning styles, and for academic curiosity to flourish. And what’s more, it’s a campus that now makes money for Queen’s.
The BISC as it is colloquially known, was a visionary gift from the Baders, and yet as magical as it was and is, this was a gift that nearly disappeared.

In 1996, just three years after taking ownership of the Castle, Queen’s considered selling Herstmonceux. What saved the ISC was not magic, but a combination of determination, foresight, practical problem solving, passion, and, of course, cash. The story, untold until now, is an intriguing one.

ONE EVENING IN JULY OF 1992, Isabel and Alfred Bader were on a train traveling through the English countryside. Alfred was perusing the Times newspaper when an advertisement caught his eye. He turned to his wife and asked, “Isabel, would you like a castle?” She replied that no, she would not; castles have far too many rooms to clean.

But an idea was born in that moment: They would buy the property and give it to Queen’s in order to create an international study centre.

Isabel and Alfred BaderDrs. Isabel and Alfred Bader

Alfred Bader recalls that when he phoned then-Principal David Smith, LLD’94, to offer Herstmonceux Castle to Queen’s, Smith paused, and then politely said he’d have to consider the idea. But when Kingston MP Peter Milliken, Arts’68, who had been visiting England, went to the Castle and gave a favourable report, Smith began to see the possibilities. In October of 1993, Smith himself visited the castle. As Bader writes in volume one of his memoirs, Adventures of a Chemist Collector (1995), Smith “was as enchanted with the Castle as we were.”

The agreement was made, and Bader began the process of purchasing the historic building for his alma mater.

Of course, enchantment was not enough. What Smith and Bader both saw in Herstmonceux was opportunity. Tremendous opportunity. A Queen’s campus in England would provide unique learning opportunities for students, boost the University’s national and international profile, and facilitate even more relationships with universities and other organizations worldwide. Bader and Smith weren’t the only ones who saw the Castle’s potential. Former Principal William Leggett, LLD’04, was Vice-Principal of McGill at the time the announcement was made. He recalls people asking him whether McGill should have a castle, too.

Negotiations to buy Herstmonceux took nine months between getting planning permission from British authorities to use the site as an educational facility, raising purchase capital by selling some shares of the chemical supply company that Bader had started in 1951, and countless other meetings. Bader’s initial donation to Queen’s was £6 million, including funds to convert the castle into a functioning facility with lecture rooms, offices, a cafeteria, and residence hall. Further challenges arose with arranging for faculty to be hired (should they be from Queen’s, and therefore requiring visas, or should they be from the UK?) planning courses (what should be offered?) and publicizing the ISC to attract students.

Dreams, however, must be based in reality, and financial needs are very real indeed.

Opponents of the ISC worried that while it was a beautiful and magical building, it was a financial drain.

Just as Queen’s itself had started in 1842 with two professors and 13 students and then faced financial ruin in 1867, so, too, did the ISC struggle. With lower-than-projected enrolments, unforeseen costs, and the strength of the British pound, by 1996 the ISC had cost Queen’s more than $14 million.

But the there was a distinct difference between the early years of Queen’s and the early years of the ISC. Queen’s in the 1800s had to struggle on its own, while the Castle is just one campus of the larger, now well-established university. Therein lay both security and a source of tension.

Opponents of the ISC worried that while it was a beautiful and magical building, it was a financial drain. The University dipped into its endowment fund for $10 million dollars to pay the Castle’s debts, and naysayers began to call it a “white elephant” and a “money pit.” People also questioned the academic standards and the cost for tuition in comparison to the main campus. With tuition set at nearly $7,000 for a 12-week term—more than double the cost of a term in Kingston—some people began to question whether Queen’s was taking money away from less fortunate students at home to subsidize an overseas playground for the rich.

Then, in 1996, Queen’s and the ISC faced what former-Principal William Leggett called “a perfect storm of circumstances.” The year before, then-Ontario Education Minister John Snobolen had urged the Conservative government of Mike Harris to drastically cut funding to education in order to “create a useful crisis” for instigating major reforms. For Queen’s, that meant a budget shortfall of $17 million. A crisis, indeed.

Former Queen's Principal Bill LeggettFormer Queen's Principal Bill Leggett

While Leggett struggled to trim the budget by $17 million without resorting to layoffs, discontent understandably grew. People had watched the Castle lose money for two years, Leggett recalls, and “Cries to ‘Get rid of it!’ got louder and louder.”

Shutting down the Castle and selling it seemed like an obvious way to balance the budget. Herstmonceux may have been called the jewel in the Queen’s crown, but some thought the jewel should be sold for the good of the kingdom. And so one day in the winter of in 1996, Bill Leggett faced one of the most difficult decisions of his life. On February 29, he told the Queen’s Senate that he was going to propose closing and selling the ISC.

Shutting down any academic department is never easy. While at McGill, Leggett was involved in recommendations to close the schools of Dentistry and Oceanography. He says that these are always difficult decisions that provoke strong emotions. Yet, the emotional impact of closing the ISC was particularly strong for Leggett. He recalls that when he took up the Principal-ship of Queen’s, the University had a very limited standing on the world stage, and internationalizing the campus became a priority and a passion for him. So, in recommending closing the ISC, he wasn’t just closing a department that was under-performing; he was recommending the abandonment of his own vision for Queen’s. Not only that, he also worried it would “poison the well” for other initiatives.

What followed were two weeks of what Leggett describes as a roller coaster ride. On March 1, he presented his proposal to the Board of Trustees, and deliberations extended into the next day. “I’m not ashamed to say that I wept at the meeting,” he says.

The most Queen’s could hope to realize from any sale, real estate experts said, would be $10 million. Simply put, no option was a good one. But selling the castle was the least expensive one.

First, Leggett reminded the Board that part of the original agreement to acquire the Castle was that it should never produce a net drain on the University’s operating budget, and that Bader had agreed back in 1993 that Queen’s could sell Herstmonceux if ever became unviable, either financially or academically. Leggett had spoken to Bader, he said, both over the phone and in person, and although “he was very concerned and upset, Dr. Bader remained true to his commitment that it was possible to withdraw from the Centre” read the minutes from the March 1996 Board meeting. “He indicated to the Principal that he was strongly committed to Queen's. His main concern was that the Castle should be given a longer lead time.”Leggett presented the current financial state of the ISC, but made it clear that, although he was making the recommendation to close the castle, this was not a meeting in which he expected his decision to be rubber stamped; there was much to be considered.

“The Principal said it would be a great temptation to look back and point fingers. However, he believed the people who entered into the Herstmonceux project did so in good faith with the best possible information at the time. It was a complex operation which took time to understand, especially the operating costs,” the minutes of the Board of Trustees meeting read. “He asked everyone to proceed in a constructive spirit. They knew how the Principal felt about the recommendation. He made this recommendation with real sadness.”

The finances were saddening. The projected deficit was two million dollars annually, or a half-million dollars with significantly increased enrolment. Ending classes and running it as a conference centre would cost Queen’s $600,000 to $700,000 per year, and even mothballing the facility would cost more than a half-million dollars per year. As for selling it, that was unlikely. The market for castles was limited at best.

The most Queen’s could hope to realize from any sale, real estate experts said, would be $10 million. Simply put, no option was a good one. But selling the castle was the least expensive one.
Not surprisingly, the Board of Trustees’ finance committee supported Leggett’s decision. But many others did not, especially students.“Many students spoke eloquently,” Leggett says.

According to the minutes, then-student Julie Breen, Com’96, “implored the Board not to close the program. As a commerce student, she would be tempted to look at the numbers. She questioned the validity based on one year of operation, without an assessment of the benefits. She felt that in efforts to address the short-term funding crisis, the Board might ignore the long-term objectives.”

Others saw the problem more as a question of real estate. The Castle may represent a dream of internationalization, but in reality, it is nothing more than bricks and mortar. The loss of real estate should not be considered a tragedy, as long as the vision behind it remained, maintained then-Rector Peter Gallant, Sc’91, PhD’01. Could the ISC continue without the actual castle?

Other students spoke of their shock. Why was the decision being made so quickly, without consultation? Faculty echoed their concerns. Were all the deans aware of the situation? By the end of the first day, two things were clear. The decision couldn’t be made yet: not without more time, and more information. The next day, the Board agreed to the creation of a task force to look into options. The ISC may not be viable in its current state, they agreed, but it would stay open for now.

Leggett recalls that the reprieve sparked a flurry of activity.

“Here comes the point at which I learned the greatest lesson on human nature ever. Virtually all the voices [discussing the castle] were negative. They were legion. The minute the recommendation was made to close it, those voices went silent. The other thing that happened was when the nay voices went silent, the yea voices suddenly appeared.”

Alfred and Isabel Bader also helped considerably, donating another million dollars and offering to cover any budgetary shortfalls for a period of five years—something they did until 2006, when the ISC climbed out of the red.

Suddenly, the campus seemed galvanized, and former roadblocks began to crumble. Some departments in the Faculty of Arts and Science had long maintained that they needed to have full-year courses only, Leggett recalls. That meant that students would have to either commit to two terms at the castle, or go for one term and lose the rest of their year. “Discussions about what we could do to facilitate the movement of students and make it easy for students who wanted to do so opened up completely,” Leggett says. “Full courses became half courses. Other policies across the campus changed too. Gradually, the mood changed.”

Alfred and Isabel Bader also helped considerably, donating another million dollars and offering to cover any budgetary shortfalls for a period of five years—something they did until 2006, when the ISC climbed out of the red. “This speaks volumes about the Baders,” Leggett says. “They were devastated to think we considered closing it, but were willing to help in spite of it all.”

By the time the Board met again at the end of November, the voices of support were now the loudest on campus. New academic programs for the Castle were being developed. Roadblocks were being removed. And new partnerships were being created with sister universities that would send even more students to the Castle. The ISC could – and would - remain open.

At the meeting, Leggett noted that Maclean’s magazine “had placed Queen's as first in quality, first in innovation and best overall: a remarkable achievement for a University set in a small town away from the centres of power.”

“On reflecting about possible explanations for this remarkable success, he found them in Queen's history, in its repeated willingness to chart a different course,” the minutes of the meeting read. “He recalled the early decision not to consolidate with the University of Toronto and the decision of the 1970s to resist unrestrained growth which distinguished Queen's from other research-intensive universities. These decisions helped shape Queen's and were vital to the future of the University. Queen's was looked to for leadership and in a position to supply it.” And that meant being committed to internationalization.

“The ISC would not be the only element in a policy of internationalization,” Leggett continued. “To be international a university must enhance support for international students, offer an international perspective in its courses, provide international exchanges for students and faculty. It must also serve the world community. The ISC can be a major symbol of Queen's ability to seize opportunities advantageously and enhance the range of internal experiences open to students.”

Newspaper article rekindled the controversy

For a while, the controversy about the Castle seemed to die down on campus. Although there were still opponents to the ISC, serious objectors seemed to be in the minority. By February of 1998, in the face of further funding cuts from the Ontario government, the Senate Budget Review Committee put forward a suggestion to sell the castle—along with other buildings, including the Donald Gordon Centre—in order to avoid raising tuition fees on the Kingston campus. The response to the suggestion was curt: the issue of the ISC had been dealt with in 1996, and it would not be brought up again.

However, two weeks later, a newspaper article in the Ottawa Citizen seemed determined to kindle the controversy anew. On February 28, a page one headline in the newspaper read: “The castle Queen’s doesn’t want,” and a secondary headline on an inside page read: “Castle: University debates selling gift.” Beneath was an un-captioned photo of two white elephants.

The reporter, Michael Woloschuk, wrote that “The university’s Senate Budge Review Committee wants the school to consider selling the castle rather than raise tuition to trim the budget deficit.”

This, of course, was true: the committee had suggested it in Senate. But the information was two weeks out of date. The debate—if it could be called such—had gone no further than a single Senate meeting. If the Committee debated the issue further, the results are not noted in later Senate minutes. And certainly the University as a whole was not, as the headline suggested, considering selling the castle. That information was two years out of date.

Michael Woloschuk was no stranger to Queen’s. Although he did not attend the University, he worked for a time at the Kingston Whig-Standard, and was well aware of campus issues. But his story was nothing if not inflammatory, particularly regarding Alfred Bader.

Woloschuk claimed that when Bader offered the castle to Queen’s, Principal Smith said the University would “prefer to have the money”, but “Mr. Bader insisted, and the university’s board of trustees, afraid to snub a wealthy patron who might take insult and stop future funding to Queen’s, grudgingly accepted.”
Woloschuk went on to question Bader’s motives, noting that his donation had been in shares of Sigma-Aldrich, which “Queen’s was then obliged to cash . . . buy the castle and give Mr. Bader a receipt, allowing him to write off the donation against his U.S. taxes.”

Principal Woolf’s view of the [Woloschuk] story is blunt. “It was nothing but shoddy journalism,” he says.

Woloschuk followed this up with another story on March 1, 1998, titled, “Queen’s castle donor finds it’s better to give than receive”, and yet another on March 2, 1998, headlined “Chemist has a history of donations that backfire.” In those articles, he stated that Bader “has a penchant for collecting and donating works of art to his favourite schools and galleries” and was being investigated by the IRS for profiting from overly-high appraisals of these gifts. In fact, Bader was investigated for this, but he had been cleared of the allegations against him in 1994. Cries of protest over the attack on Bader poured in.

Queen's Principal Daniel WoolfQueen's Principal Daniel Woolf

Principal Woolf’s view of the story is blunt. “It was nothing but shoddy journalism,” he says. Woolf explains that donations of shares instead of cash are not only commonplace, they are actually preferred by universities as they help the donors avoid capital gains taxes.

As for Bader receiving income tax write-offs from his donation, that’s also standard for donors; the tax benefits produce a win-win situation for both donors and recipients, he says. What’s more, the Castle is hardly the most controversial donation he has seen in his career, and, although he was not on campus back in 1993, he doesn’t believe for a moment that the Board was forced to grudgingly accept the Castle out of fear of snubbing a wealthy donor. “Donations can be—and are—refused if they do not fit the mandate of the University,” he says. “Donations are also sometimes returned."

Bader later offered to buy Queen’s the Old Vic Theatre in London. Leggett refused the gift, but Bader continues to be an enthusiastic Queen’s booster.

As well as being inflammatory, many aspects of Woloschuk’s article were simply incorrect. Financial figures were inaccurate, the date on which the castle opened was off by a year, and many people mentioned in the article claimed they were misquoted. The story quotes then-Alma Mater Society President Maynard Plant, Artsci’99, as saying “the Castle is a great burden on us. It’s a white elephant, and I personally believe we can’t afford to keep it.”

Plant, who now lives in Japan, where he is a musician and has an international recording career, says he was shocked when he read that 1998 article, as the comments had been misattributed to him. He says he tried to contact Woloschuk to complain, but to no avail. “I’ve always been a supporter of the Castle,” he says. “I hope that one day my own children will go there.”

As for Smith initially asking if Queen’s could have the money instead of the Castle, Bader says that was pure fiction; Smith never suggested that to him.

Doug Pochin, a Sussex resident, also complained about being misquoted. Woloschuk’s story had him saying, “My concern is that they are not making quite a success of it as they hoped. But I think there was always a question mark as to how viable it would be.”

Two weeks after the article appeared, Pochin wrote to Bader to apologize. “[The article] used misleading and inaccurate quotations from me, which gave a false impression of my views. I have written to the editor in the hope that he will correct the imbalance of the article.”

In fact, many people wrote to the Ottawa Citizen, including students, faculty, alumni, supporters of the Castle in England, and even faculty from other universities. Bill Leggett also wrote to the newspaper, noting the inaccuracies in Woloschuk’s article and demanding a retraction.

On March 7, the article was retracted in full.

But did the article have any effect at the time?

If the intent of the article had been to kindle debate on campus, it did not seem to succeed. Further mention of selling the castle is not listed in the Senate or Board of Trustee minutes, nor is it covered in the Journal or Gazette.

It is worth noting that Woloschuk’s article relied heavily on quotes from GSS President Steve Kammerer, MA’93, who sat on the Senate Budget Review Committee in 1998. Although Kammerer agreed to an interview, he was working in a fly-in community in Yukon at the time of writing and unavailable for comment before publication of this article.

Agnes Etherington Art Centre The Baders have been enthusiastic supporters of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's for many years.

Leggett says that the personal attacks on Bader were not only most unfortunate, they were unfair, especially since many of the donations he and his wife Isabel have made over teh years have sometimes gone virutally unnoticed. The Baders have donated millions of dollars to Queen's over teh years, as well as giving two Rembrandts and many Old Master paintings to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, helped to improve the Centre’s splendid collection of Victorian and Edwardian costumes (donated by the late Margaret Angus, LLD’73,) have founded several research chairs, and have funded many student bursaries. However, as Leggett notes, timing can greatly affect the public’s perception of a donation or new project such as the ISC. The gift of the Castle happened to coincide with the Harris government’s decision to slash funding to universities, and this added to the sense of financial crisis and the tense mood on campus. In contrast, other substantial donations got little publicity thanks to timing.

In 1998 Bader funded the creation of a research chair in organic chemistry at the University; the announcement was barely heard at all over the furor stirred up by Woloschuk’s article.

Since then, any controversy over the Castle has all but ended. It’s now part of the fabric of Queen’s, well-established, and now operates in the black. Of the $10 million loan taken out to cover early costs and amortized over 40 years, only $250,000 remains outstanding. For the fall of 2010, 180 students have registered at the BISC, and 22 students came from international institutions in 2009.

The BISC offers programs for first-year and upper-year students, as well as an international law program. It operates in all four terms throughout the year, has links with many Canadian universities, and hosts academic conferences. All courses and programs are approved by the Kingston campus, as are faculty, who are hired from Kingston, England, and Europe. And although the fees remain high, many bursaries help make the BISC accessible to more and more students, not just the wealthiest.

Things have changed a great deal on main campus, too. The Castle may be the most magnificent symbol of Queen’s dedication to internationalism, but it’s hardly the only one.

BISC opening at turning point for Queen's

Last year, 254 exchange students studied at Queen’s, representing 89 countries, and 1,120 students applied for visas to study abroad. Queen’s runs two programs at Fudan University in Shanghai, and earlier this year helped to found the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU), an international network of universities designed to promote linkages for both research and teaching. The University also runs the International Educators Training Program, which offers programs for businesses, organizations, and educational institutions in matters relating to international programs, including risk management and promoting cross-cultural sensitivity.

In fact, internationalism has expanded on campus so much that John Dixon’s position of Associate Vice-Principal (Academic and International) was re-named and re-directed as the Vice Provost (International) in July.

“Opening the BISC was a turning point for Queen’s,” Dixon says. “It gave us the impetus to ramp up other aspects of our international programing, such as international exchange agreements.”

However, he notes that “the BISC may be the jewel in the Queen’s crown, but it’s not the only gem.”

Leggett agrees. “Solving the problems of getting students to the BISC and creating an atmosphere on campus created the opportunity and removed the roadblocks for students to travel to universities around the world, and facilitated exchanges for faculty. I believe Queen’s now has the largest proportion of undergrads studying abroad of any university in Canada,” he says.

Dixon notes that internationalism is now not just a dream, but practically a necessity for any world-class university. “Our students are demanding these opportunities,” he says. “We need them to attract the best and brightest faculty and students.” Although he avoids the term globalization, which is fraught with debate, Dixon notes that the world has changed; many jobs and businesses now have an international component, if not a focus to them, and there is much more opportunity for mobility within careers. Having a global understanding will give our alumni an edge, and this doesn’t just mean a travel experience, Dixon says. It’s also about having an international perspective built into academic programs on the Kingston campus, having more students and faculty from other countries, and building links with businesses and organizations from around the world, he says.

Woolf committed to the BISC despite difficult economy

Principal Daniel Woolf is, of course, passionate about internationalism. He has stressed the need to create an internalization plan that will align with the University's academic plan. The process of writing the plan will begin in the Winter term of 2011. “It is exciting to have such a clear mandate,” Dixon says.

Despite all the changes, the Castle still has its critics. When Woolf began his “listening tours” before taking up the role of Principal 2009, he says that some people asked him when he would be getting rid of it. But Woolf is impressed by the decisions of his predecessors, calling Principal David Smith a “visionary.”

Queen’s is again facing tough economic times with all departments facing an across-the-board 15 per cent cut over the next three years. Woolf has often been quoted as saying that while we’ve often been asked to do more with less, perhaps we need to consider doing less with less in order to focus on our strengths while remaining viable. But he remains committed to the BISC.

“It will not be part of the less,” he asserts.

And so the jewel in the Queen’s crown continues to shine.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2010 Issue #4Queen's Alumni Review
2010 Issue #4
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