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This is the first of hopefully many updates I can provide to the Queen's community through this website. The past few weeks have been hectic, but they have helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the history of this place and its vital importance to our future.
I recently took a trip to Ottawa for an Initiative Campaign launch event with Rico Garcia, President of the Queen's Student Alumni Association and a Don in the JDUC residence. En route to the event, we chatted about the historical core values of Queen's and how they may affect its future.
We often hear of the "good times" of Queen's from alumni and friends of the university, as students we recognize that these stories and reminiscence may be coming through rose-coloured glasses. Still, it's important to recognize that Queen's people who have come and gone from this place have many great things to say about it. Certainly myself and numerous students could talk ears off about the amazing experiences we have had during our time here. There is a flipside to that coin, however; since there are many challenges we still face as a community including: fiscal difficulties, increased enrolment, lack of physical space, lower faculty to student ratios, drastic changes in culture and institutional identity, and more.
As current students, we see our rankings slip internationally and we begin to wonder what is happening internally that may be causing our external reputation to change. We hear stories from upper-years and alumni about traditions and experiences that they cherish and we are left with gaps in our own "Queen's experience", because nothing was planned to replace those moments. We see our classes growing and our seminary experiences dwindling, our tutorials disappearing, our professors retiring without replacement, and our teaching assistants moving from graduate to undergraduate students.
Our conversation led to a question, one that I posed to Rico and I think should be posed to all students: Throughout history when have businesses, organizations, or countries gone from great to good - to bad - to good and great again? We will continue to feel the effects of our decisions over the past decade or more, but how will we innovate and adapt to a changing post-secondary educational environment without losing our core traditional values that have defined our institutional identity?
Queen's is going through significant change right now and as students we need to be louder. We need to ask more questions.
Allow me to expand on a current issue that my Office and others have been working on for the past few weeks. I hope that you will take time to think critically about how these decisions outlined in the following paragraphs may impact all parts of the University, on a macro and micro scale.
Recently, the Board of Trustees voted in favour to approve the expenditure of $400,000 for the planning of two new residence buildings. The residences, if built, will support 550 students in total. It has been unclear as to what type of students will live in these residences, if they are built. I would like to remark that the Provost has shown intent to place as many new first year students in these residences as possible.
We currently have a number of graduate students who were displaced from the JDUC residence space and who are now being housed in the Confederation Hotel. There is a large overflow of first year students currently residing in converted common rooms. Upper-years are having more difficulty each year finding housing close to campus and there is currently no residence space to fulfill demand from upper-year undergraduate students.
It would appear that there is a clear need for these new residence buildings. However, we have not been given confirmaton on who will fill those spaces. If recent history were to predict the situation, we would have 2000 new students on campus by 2018. Take a look at the Quinte Lodge space that was recently converted to a Waldron Tower expansion and the JDUC graduate residence both of which have housed only new first year students. Very few common rooms were converted back to their original purpose, if any at all.
"Our plan is for a steady-state increase of 2000 additional students in undergraduate study by 2018, much of it in Arts and Science, accompanied by increases in Business and Engineering and Applied Science." - Queen's University's Proposed Mandate Statement
There are a number of risks we will take on with an increase in enrolment to Queen's. I will not list them here, but I will forward your attention to a recent op-ed written by Eril Berkok, Student Senate Caucus Chair in the Queen's Journal - read it here.
It has been said that new residences are a different issue than increased enrolment, but it is difficult to seperate them.
"You can't grow without a new residence, but you don't have to grow if you have a new residence" - Alan Harrison, Provost in the Queen's Journal
If we increase enrolment where shall the new students be housed in their first year?
The Provost was quoted as stating that "the proposed new residences won't necessarily lead to an increase of student enrolment." However, after reading through the proposed mandate statement by our Principal that was recently delivered to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, it is clear that an increase of 2000 students is a part of future plans for Queen's. If the new residences are not to house those 2000 new students, then should we be expecting more residence plans in the near future?
Please view the proposed mandate statement and you should find the plans for increased enrolment in Table 3.1 under the heading: "Enrolment by credentials and level of study".
How do we reconcile with these changes? Can Queen's continue to be a competitive institution that attracts the best students in Canada and the World? Will an increase in enrolment damage our institutional identity and force us away from our core values? What are the drivers for these changes and are they in the best interests of our students and faculty? Queen's has been unique among post-secondary institutions in Canada for over a century, should we be looking to follow other institutions now as they blaze the trail into the 21st century?
May you have one important takeaway from this update - asking questions and thinking critically are not meant to be confined within the classroom alone. Be free to question our future and how we have arrived at our current destination. You may be surprised with some of the answers you will find.
Princeps Servusque Es,
Rector of Queen's University