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Queen's University

Principal Woolf’s Report to the Board of Trustees

May 4, 2012

Speaking notes

Check against delivery

Good evening.

I would like to begin by offering thanks to the Provost, VPs, Deans, Queen’s faculty, staff and students for all their hard work and contributions over the past year.

I would also like to acknowledge the dedication of this past year’s student government leaders:

  • The AMS team of President Morgan Campbell and Vice-Presidents Ashley Eagan and Kieran Slobodin
  • The SGPS team of President Jillian Burford-Grinnell and VPs Anne Marie Grondin, Irene Karagiorgakis, Andrea Phillipson, and Cody Yorke.

We welcome the incoming teams of:

  • AMS President Doug Johnson and VPs Mira Dineen and Tristan Lee
  • SGPS President Matthew Scribner and VPs Jillian Burford-Grinnell, Annie Clifford, Becky Pero, and Matthew Shultz

Our search for a new Secretary of the University is well underway and progressing as expected.  I have asked Sally Rigden from my office to take on the position in an acting capacity from June 1st until the new Secretary is in place, likely later in the summer.

In my previous reports to Trustees this academic year, I have used a sailing motif to explain how Queen’s is moving forward.

In September, I spoke of “mending the sails and securing a senior crew”:  alluding too many of the changes at Queen’s over the past two years.

In December I talked about “assessing the environmental conditions” to describe the impact of government and market forces on Queen’s.

And in March, I related my remarks to “charting our course”  referring to the large amount of planning that has occurred at Queen’s recently, and to introduce our three-hour planning exercise at the last Saturday session.

Today I will speak about “provisioning for the voyage”  which is a metaphorical sailing reference for talking about the budget.  The theme for today’s talk also gives me an opportunity to share my thoughts on the future of Queen’s from what I am calling The Third Juncture, a positioning document that I wrote recently and which was sent to trustees last week. As we all know, provisions from our usual “home port”  – the provincial government – are declining. The search for additional provisions from the Campaign, and new revenue streams will become increasingly important to our future.

While Provost Harrison will deliver specific budget information in his operational update, I would now like to provide some context for what he has to say.  In particular, I will speak about:

  • The impact of the recent federal and provincial budgets on universities;
  • The big picture trend for Ontario post-secondary education; and
  •  What we need to do to continue to succeed in the changing post-secondary environment 

Impact of Provincial Budget on Post-Secondary Environment

While the government remains committed to the 30 per cent tuition grant for eligible undergraduate students and to funding 41,000 new spaces to universities, that target will now take longer to reach owing to the government’s own constrained funds.

Several areas of the post-secondary education budget have been targeted for cuts.  Cutbacks of $28 million in 2013-14 will rise to $55 million  in 2014-15.  These are considered “policy levers” to induce efficiency targets in universities.  Unallocated capital funding for university projects was clawed-back, which is at least in the short term a setback for some of our capital plans with respect to academic buildings. The government will also reduce our base operating grants by an amount equal to $750.00 times the number of non-PhD international students, and will expect us to make up the difference through tuition. The reality is that Ontario universities need to cope with less provincial funding for operating costs, with tightly regulated tuition fees, and with significantly increased government oversight.

Main Impact of Federal Budget on PSE

The main impact on the post-secondary sector of the March federal budget relates to research and innovation.

In contrast with the provincial budget, the federal budget did ensure programming for basic research, talent (that is, scholarships and fellowships) and world-class research, and the Federal Indirect Costs program has been protected: a 10 per cent cut at NSERC, and the other funding councils and agencies is being taken out of operations and management.

However, there are indications that the Leaders Opportunity Fund, important to both recruitment and retention of faculty, will disappear. There are significant and worrying implications here also with respect to the acquisition and renewal of scientific equipment.

While Queen’s researchers continue to outperform their peers at other universities in success rates and funding rates it is increasingly more difficult to secure funding.  By far the biggest cut was from the National Centres of Excellence programs – whose budget was reduced by 28 per cent. Queen’s researchers currently receive funds from a number of these networks.

The Big Picture: Decreasing Funding Levels

As a public university, we are highly dependent on government funding. Under 50 per cent of our operating funds come from the provincial government, compared with over 75 per cent received in the 1990s, and much of our research activity depends almost entirely upon federal grants.

We cannot isolate ourselves from the impact of both budgets. Their effect on post secondary education is a reflection of the difficult financial state of both the province and the country and even the world. The overall trend is toward less funding and more intervention. The province is now very involved in monitoring capital funding, deferred maintenance funding and pension issues.

With respect to pension issues, I remain concerned that the current solvency deficit, which will require massive payments starting in 2015, remains the single biggest threat to the university’s financial stability. I have recently joined COU’s working group on pension reform, which will continue to press government for permanent relief from the solvency test, something that has been granted in six other provinces. In the event that this does not materialize, we must plan, now, for ways to reduce the deficit without further erosion of the operating budget.

In Quebec, the post secondary sector is in turmoil and there have been major student strikes. There have been some questions around whether this action may spill over into Ontario and perhaps to Queen’s.  I think it is important to recognize that Quebeckers have a long history of social action and I think these protests are a manifestation of an activist sentiment that is deeply rooted in their cultural identity.  I have sympathy for Quebec’s post-secondary institutions who are caught in the middle of this dispute.

Like Queen’s, Quebec’s universities desperately need the increased revenue that a tuition increase provides.  I am hopeful that a resolution can be reached that ensures the much needed revenue flows to institutions while maintaining generous financial aid programs to ensure access for all students.  Queen’s – like other Ontario universities and many universities across the country – is at a pivotal point in its history. To use an expression made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, Queen’s is at a tipping point.

How to Cope: Moving Forward

In the Third Juncture, I propose that Queen’s has seen two major inflection points, or “junctures” that have fundamentally altered the shape and direction of the University.

The first occurred in the 1880s and 90s, when Principal George Monro Grant turned a small liberal arts and divinity college into a comprehensive undergraduate university with a Canada-wide purview.

The second juncture occurred in the 1950s and 60s when Queen’s tripled in size, during the tenures of Principals Mackintosh, Corry and Deutsch.  The University added a strong stable of graduate programs, diversified its faculties and professional schools, and became a research institution as well as an educator of undergraduates

Today, I believe that a third juncture is upon us one that is just as momentous as those faced previously.

How can we remain on course and chart a path for future success, given our current financial situation?

Here are four concrete things we must do:

1. As government funding continues to fall, and global competition to increase, developing alternative streams of revenue will be absolutely essential.  Many were assessed over the winter and several are now being pursued including: selling real estate, expanding professional programs, and growing distance studies.

2. We must also continue to enhance our global profile and attract top international students and faculty, recruit more highly qualified international students, implement an internationally-inspired curriculum, expand global research partnerships and international exchange opportunities for Queen’s students and faculty.

3. With guidance from our new Strategic Research Plan, we need to focus on those areas of research and innovation in which we can truly excel. Four key research clusters and themes have been identified:

Exploring Human Dimensions

  • Understanding and Sustaining the Environment and Energy Systems
  • Creating, Discovering, and Innovating
  • Securing Safe and Successful Societies

4. We must focus on our Campaign. Trustees have just heard about campaign strategy in closed session and we know the Campaign will be very important for several reasons. First, it will raise money for priorities. But second, it will provide us with an opportunity to tell our story to:

  • prospective undergraduate and graduate students;
  •  donors;
  • prospective faculty and researchers;
  • and government.

This will help build our profile nationally and internationally. All of these initiatives will support goals articulated in the Academic Plan.


We need to adapt, yet continue to be guided by our core values, including:

  • The centrality of the student experience;
  • Our role as mid-sized and residential;
  • The importance of our campus in the overall Queen’s experience;
  • Our goal of remaining a balanced academy of teaching and research;
  • Our role in service – from local to global. 

Now is our opportunity to continue the trajectory of the past 171 years by positioning ourselves as an institution that is old, established and reliable, but also fresh, nimble, adaptable and of value on a global, not merely provincial or national stage.

Tomorrow at University Council I will further expand on my vision for Queen’s. I look forward to the chance to hear ideas from many of you and from our Councillors about how Queen’s can prosper.

Before returning the floor to Bill, I would like to express sincere thanks on behalf of the Board and the entire University community for his valuable and dedicated service as Chair for the past 6 years.

Bill has served on over 15 Board and University committees in several capacities during his 16 years of service to the University, clearly demonstrating that his commitment to his Alma Mater goes above and beyond.

As Chair during one of Queen’s more challenging times Bill has worked with three Principals and has provided diplomatic, knowledgeable, and capable leadership.

During his tenure the Board has managed many significant issues including changes to the Queen’s Pension Plan and the Board reform process.

Based in Massachusetts for much of his time on the Board, the distance never affected his ability to serve.  He is a role model for other alumni based internationally in their potential to remain engaged with the University. In recognition of his extensive contributions to Queen’s, he will be honoured with a Distinguished Service Award at tomorrow’s University Council dinner.

I would like to extend my personal thanks to Bill for his support and guidance during my first term as Principal.

Thank you Bill.

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