Retirees' Association

Retirees Association of Queen's

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A Selection of Past RAQ Activities

Henry Dinsdale Reports….on the RAQ Fall Reception and the Monday Morning Forum Talks

Henry DinsdaleProvost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Benoit-Antoine Bacon made time in his busy schedule to accept an invitation to speak to RAQ members on October 11 as part of the RAQ Fall Reception.  Dr. Bacon is the university’s chief academic, budget and operating officer. This position brings with it the wide-ranging responsibilities of developing the university’s budget, ensuring integration of operational planning and overseeing academic program development, all of which comprise Queen’s University Quality Assurance Processes.

Dr. Bacon’s scientific career began with studies in cognitive neuroscience focussing on perception in visual and auditory systems. He began taking on additional administrative responsibilities initially at Bishop’s University and later Concordia. He joined Queen’s University in August 2016. Dr. Bacon emphasized that a major focus for him was the student experience at Queen’s. Students accepted by Queen’s were highly qualified with a secondary school matriculation average of 89.1%.

Faculty renewal is a priority. Taking into account retirements, the appointment of 40 new tenured faculty members each year would be ideal. Although the budget grew 6.7% to $552.2 million this year, it provided for only 22 new appointments.

Queen’s has a strong academic base, emphasized by the recent Nobel award to Prof. MacDonald. However, research and innovation move rapidly and need to remain a priority.

Dr. Bacon’s enthusiasm and good sense provided reassurance that in spite of inevitable fiscal challenges, the university is in good hands.

The Monday Morning Forum (MMF) has featured prominently in the list of RAQ events for a number of years. It is due in large measure to a singular initiative by Agnes Herzberg and is sponsored by RAQ with the support of Queen’s University, Cunningham Swan Carty Little and  Bonham LLP, and the Frontenac Club Inn.

The first MMF was a presentation on September 25 by Merlin Donald, Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University.  Professor Donald  was a member of faculty at Queen’s for many years before becoming chair of the Cognitive Science Department at Case Western Reserve University. His presentation was titled “How does information technology affect human cognition?” 

Professor Donald has a longstanding interest in the effects of the evolutionary changes in primates that have led to the cognitive abilities now possessed by humans. He has been attracted by the possibility that growth in the size of our social groups has driven brain development more than the cognitive demands of activities such as tool-making or orienting oneself in the environment. Immersion in a network of communication is essential for the human brain to achieve its potential. This begins in childhood where the developing brain is embedded in a cultural network.  Early skills become automatic or unconscious and provide a base for the conscious mind to be a mediator of novelty and new learning. Although unconscious or “intuitive” decisions are often the best, conscious supervision is usually the ultimate tribunal.

Professor Donald’s lecture provided an insightful approach to the “human” elements underlying behaviour and brain function. The impact of living in our technology-supported culture with its capacity for external storage and retrieval of information is still to be determined. His presentation was a reminder of the remarkably broad range of research into the function of the human brain that extends from examining social groups down to the single cell. It brought to mind the rhetorical question: “Will the human brain ever understand itself?”