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Queen's University

Principal Woolf’s Report to the Board of Trustees

March 3, 2012

Speaking notes

Check against delivery

Good evening

In my December report to Trustees, I spoke about the complex political environment, continued economic uncertainty and its impact on the post secondary sector…

Tonight, I want to update you on the evolving external context and then talk about how we are rigorously engaged in long-term planning across the university, despite many unknowns.

Update on the external environment

As I remarked to Senate in January, the entire Ontario university system is unsustainable in its current form and we face the possibility of significant and substantive changes to the way the sector has operated for 50 years.

This is challenging, to be sure, but with change comes opportunity and Queen’s is ready to seize it.

We are in a very fluid government policy environment right now

  • Drummond report positioned our sector for modest increases in spending, validated our stand for tuition increases, and argued for funding for quality
  • Other recommendations touched on sector-wide bargaining, more emphasis on teaching excellence and learning outcomes, and compressed degrees that can be completed in 3 years by using our academic infrastructure year-round.

At the same time, we have a very energetic and reform-minded Minister (Glenn Murray) 

  • Starting to see the first hints of his “revolutionary” approach to PSE –for example: helping students get through their education faster, using a combination of compressed degrees and on-line learning.  However, a recent survey of Ontario students shows that there may be some difference of opinion between their beliefs and the Minister’s vision so there will undoubtedly be further discussion. 
  • Minister Murray is making a major speech on March 9th to the Canadian Club in Toronto and Provost Harrison will be there to hear what he has to say as I will be in Berlin with the U15 presidents.

Universities are still a cornerstone of federal and provincial economic strategies based on growing our knowledge economy in a globalized world.

But how this will play out when we anticipate austerity budgets at both levels of government for the foreseeable future is still unclear.

Planning at Queen's in this difficult environment

So as everywhere else, there is much uncertainly. Still we obviously can’t just sit and wait for clarity. We may be waiting and waiting…and waiting…

Indeed, over the past two years we've made great progress as an institution in moving towards a culture of planning.

We need to forge our path ahead, staying true to our institutional priorities, character and values, and mindful of how our decisions may well fit with current government thinking so that we can maximize support and leverage.

We have our Academic Plan and an annual Senate-based process for considering a new planning issue or set of issues.


While our Academic Plan is tailor-made by Queen’s people for Queen’s, there are useful areas of synergy with government priorities for higher education in the province.

Here are a few examples:

One of the Plan’s guiding principles speaks to promoting innovation for the common good. You will hear more from Provost Harrison about some of our academic innovations at tomorrow’s session.

On the federal side, the value of innovation and funding for industry-research partnerships was the focus of the AUCC’s annual Advocacy Day on Parliament Hill in January.

AUCC members wanted to demonstrate the impact, relevance and the human side of the important research underway on campuses across the country.

Queen’s was one of nine universities to bring along a private sector partner to demonstrate an example of success and help make the case for sustained federal funding for these initiatives.

David Dolphin is president of Endetec, a company based at Innovation Park that sells water quality monitoring technology developed at Queen’s. He was able to talk about how the company’s research partnership strengthened Endetec’s product development program, created jobs in Kingston and helped globalize the technology.


The Academic Plan talks about enhancing the on-campus integration and experience of international students, something that our provincial government is also keen to see carried out, as it wants greater numbers of students from around the world to attend Ontario universities and hopefully stay here after to settle and work. 

I have just come back from two weeks in China where I met with many prospective students and their families, as well as with graduates now living in China – all of whom gave me insight into what draws smart and spirited people to Queen’s from that country.

The Plan also speaks of the importance of internationalization, a term that is broadly defined to include initiatives on campus and around the world, where we can provide additional opportunities for our students to experience different countries and cultures.

Queen’s already has over 180 active bilateral student exchange partnerships with universities in more than 50 countries. In an interview with the Globe and Mail several weeks ago, I reiterated the hope that more of our students will spend some study time in another country.  Canadian students are under-travelled, even across Canada, compared with their peers elsewhere.

In terms of the value of on-campus activities, the Plan emphasizes the importance of promoting awareness of Canada's aboriginal roots as well as an international perspective among our students.  

One recent example of this being put into action is the announcement that the new Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures will be integrating Arabic and Hebrew courses into its curriculum and will be offering a Mohawk language and culture course in the fall.

Finally the Academic Plan identifies engagement with the local community as essential to a student’s path of learning and discovery – whether that’s curriculum-based, through work or through volunteerism, student support the growth of the Kingston and area. The role of universities as engines of economic development is a clear priority of all 3 levels of government. 

So there is a happy convergence in what we, as an institution, have determined to be central to the student learning experience at Queen’s  (innovation in teaching and research, partnerships, a global reach) and what governments are hoping to see from Canadian and Ontario universities.


Under the direction of the Provost and the new Vice-Provost (Planning and Budgeting) portfolio, the University is coordinated by a more integrated approach to planning within a strategic planning framework that will incorporate the Academic Plan, the Strategic Research Plan, the Strategic Enrolment Plan and the Campus Master Plan. 

This framework in turn will be informed by the work of other planning committees including, but not limited to, the Climate Action Plan advisory committee that has recently started meeting about this important topic. 

The Provost will provide an update on our planning model in the morning and in particular will focus on the Academic Plan and related activities. 

Finally, work is beginning on planning the new Budget Model, which will ensure that resource allocation is linked to our academic and enrolment planning priorities and that our Faculty and School Deans are provided with the incentives and tools they need to encourage and sustain innovation


It’s a credit to the team we have in place that we are making good progress. I’m very proud of the way everyone is pulling together as we continue to move forward.

Externally, Queen’s also continue to enjoy a strong and positive profile. Although many universities increased their media coverage over the past year, Queen’s gains were particularly high. I am also pleased with many recent fundraising successes.  We have secured several mega-pledges for the Goodes Hall Expansion and a very generous gift from an alumnus for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science who said his time at Queen’s transformed his life.

I remain grateful to all faculty members who make time for media interviews, write op-eds and letters to editor and agree to be pitched on breaking news and current events. This helps to enhance their own, and our reputation and positions us well as the public phase of our campaign approaches.

Thoughtful planning - despite, or perhaps, because of the difficult juncture Ontario universities find themselves in, is critical to our future. Our planning will continue to try and keep us true to our self, while responding to the reality of the environment we live in.

These are interesting times but a renewed emphasis on planning at Queen’s will not only help us meet ongoing challenge but to see and seize the golden opportunities that we need to capitalize on in the future.


Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000