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Queen's University

Principal Woolf’s Report to the Board of Trustees

September 23, 2011

Speaking notes

Check against delivery

As I start my third year as principal, it’s helpful to reflect on what’s been accomplished over the last two years, and then look ahead to the future, both immediate and long-term.

First, we have a totally new senior team to move us forward in a new model.

Alan Harrison has joined us as Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)

  • All V-Ps are even newer to their jobs than I am to mine!
  • We have a new Dean and AV-P of Student Affairs, Ann Tierney, who returned to Queen’s in July.
  • There have been several other hires to Queen’s in the past 24 months that have made a big difference

To all of you I say, “Welcome aboard!”

I’m going to use a sailing analogy this evening – this IS Kingston, after all – so I would say that the administrative crew of our ship is in place. Together we are working within a provostial model of administration that has been in place for just over a year.

I am now focusing more and more on strategy and vision for the university, external relations, and especially Advancement-related activities. Fundraising, development, and building and maintaining strong relationships with our alumni are all crucial as we head into a comprehensive campaign. And while I’m out and about, Alan and the V-Ps are managing the day-to-day affairs of the University.

We’ve made considerable progress in introducing integrated planning to the university over the past two years. This means the various parts of our decentralized operation are learning how to move more in tandem to ensure the decisions we make every day are made with all the required information and with a long-term lens.

Our academic planning initiative is moving forward, as intended.

After my document, “Where Next?” was released in January 2010 and was responded to by all the faculties, students and staff, the Academic Writing Team and most recently the Senate Task Force on Academic Planning have consulted and collaborated with the community on defining themes, issues and priorities.

This coming week (Sept 27), Senate will consider a draft of the Plan, which is available on the web. Once Senate has completed its deliberations and approved the Plan, it will be presented to Board for information and discussion. I would hope this will happen by December.

I find the draft plan quite exciting!

It recognizes Queen's distinctive role as a balanced academy in which both teaching and research find their place and argues for a task-based curriculum where students take part in the search for new knowledge.

This model fits our student body, arguably the strongest in Canada, and our emphasis on a community of learning. It also supports our argument to government that Queen's is about quality, not just numbers and size. Professor Peter Taylor and the task force members are to be congratulated on such a thoughtful and comprehensive draft.

On the government relations front, progress has been made in re-engaging with federal, provincial and municipal politicians and civil servants. This is a very challenging time for universities with regard to public policy. We hear comments from government that the “business model for universities is broken” and we need to get our costs under control. At the same time, government expects us to meet their policy objectives, while maintaining and improving a quality experience for students.

The fact that tuition-related promises are front and centre in the current provincial election tells us how important our mission is to the future of our province and country.

This is exactly why we need an academic plan and integrated planning – so we can chart our own course while remaining responsive to the climate of government policy.

Internally, on governance, as you know, we have been successful in our application to Parliament to amend our Charter. We are gradually reducing the size of this Board to bring it in line with how other university boards are composed to increase effectiveness. The changes also give University Council the flexibility to determine its optimal size and means to best serve Queen’s. At next month’s meeting of Council’s Executive Committee we will discuss how best to move forward with that agenda.

Marketing and Communications has completed a year-long process that has culminated in the brand idea – “spirit of initiative” -- that is now being workshopped across campus so that faculties, departments and units understand how best to apply it to their unique activities and communications.

At this point, a major focus is using it to develop our campaign theme.

Our goal is to bring our community together around a central idea – to tell the Queen’s story consistently and clearly– so that we continue to effectively enhance our profile and reputation around the world.

We have worked long and hard recently in the area of labour relations, in response to increased unionization – not uncommon at universities these days -- and in response to the normal cycle of collective bargaining.

I’m pleased that to date, the university and employee groups have concluded six multi-year collective agreements. These were extremely complex and, at times, difficult negotiations, and they required compromise and positive action on both sides. They were successful due to a shared commitment by the parties. The new agreements reflect the significant contributions of our faculty and staff in making Queen’s the premier post-secondary institution that it is, while recognizing our financial situation.

We have (four) more first contract negotiations coming up and I am confident we have the expertise and strategy in place to work collaboratively with our employee groups to reach our common goals.

During my first two years as Principal, I have been working to connect the position – and me in the position – to the wider community. This has occurred not only through twitter, my blog, my occasional appearances on CFRC and at smaller meetings at every level of the university, but by literally walking around the campus regularly, bumping into people I know, meeting new people, and taking in and sharing the incredible spirit of the place.

As a community, we have suffered some blows – the tragic deaths of several students – the tension that sometimes comes with contract talks, and sobering financial news, so there has necessarily been a degree of stress on campus.

One of my priorities this year is to work to renew the strength of our community.

We have a long history to build on… We have many opportunities ahead to show the country and the world the many ways in which Queen’s provides a premier education and all-round experience to its students and how, as graduates, these exceptional young people are making a difference and using their initiative to contribute to the betterment of society.


To further that sailing analogy – there has been much “patching of the sails” and I feel our boat is well prepared to set off on the next phase of its journey. In order to support students on their journey of learning and discovery, I announced the launch of a Principal’s Commission on Mental Health earlier this month.

Led by former Health Sciences Dean Dr. David Walker, this small non-representative group of faculty, staff and a student will look at best practices and get input from the community about student health and wellness at Queen’s. The commission will make recommendations to me next spring that will include how we can promote an inclusive and healthy environment, how best to raise awareness and reduce stigma, and how best to support students.

Mental health, and health and wellness generally are critical areas – this is an issue of priority for me personally and the work of the commission will be an important additional step in our proactive approach to ensuring the teaching and learning environment supports our students in all facets of their lives, including their mental health.

In terms of other immediate priorities, as I mentioned, we have more contracts to negotiate with some of our employees

The focus will remain on reaching agreements at the bargaining table and moving forward in a spirit of community and collegiality with our faculty and staff to achieve the primary mission of the university: the provision of outstanding teaching and research in an unparalleled learning environment.

The Provost and Deans will lead the implementation of the Academic Plan. Meanwhile, Vice-Principal Liss will complete his strategic research plan and we will make progress on an internationalization strategy that will identify priorities as we position ourselves on the global landscape. For example, it’s imperative that we increase awareness and profile outside of Canada to continue to attract high quality undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.

Campaign strategy and preparations continue apace and external outreach – among alumni, friends and supporters – will fill more and more of my time.

The meetings and events I have attended are wonderful opportunities to talk about the spirit of Queen’s, its unique qualities and the initiatives that we want to pursue that will help us:

  • support students financially, academically, and socially
  • support our excellent faculty in their teaching and research, and
  • build our infrastructure: our programs, services and facilities to support our teaching and learning environment to bolster the educational experience


Let me close with some thoughts about the medium and longer-term future. I believe Queen’s should aspire to be an internationally recognized, balanced academy that offers the best students an unparalleled experience, in and out of the classroom.

In the past, a solid reputation in the province combined with healthy government funding was a comfortable place for Queen’s. The fact is the world has changed around us, and Queen’s must change with it, while preserving the essence of the Queen’s experience and identity.

In the metaphorical and literal sense, Queen’s simply cannot afford to be complacent.

I see two stretch goals for the university:

1) We must find a financially sustainable model for the future. For two decades we have made across-the-board cuts. While we may have no choice but to continue in this fashion in the short term, this cannot be the model for the future or else we risk hollowing out the institution;

2) We must capitalize strategically on our competitive strengths and make them known outside Ontario. If the future is one of increasing interconnectivity and mobility on the global stage, Queen’s must become more of a global player.

As we all know, Queen’s is a fantastic university.

It is a leader in admission standards, retention rates, ratings for student satisfaction and the ratio of faculty with major research awards. It may offer the best residential experience in the country. It has the cachet of many great residential universities south of the border, without the Ivy League tuition cost. These are things to be proud of and we should not keep them secret.

Nearing the mid-way point of my first term, I am proud of the changes that have occurred. Now it is time to plot the course for the future. The Queen’s community of students, faculty, alumni and staff are our most important collaborative in this enterprise and I am confident that, together, we will continue to be proud of our university.

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