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CD#35 - An Interview with Principal Patrick Deane

Queen’s University’s new Principal, Patrick Deane, visited the Castle this fall to represent Queen’s University at the special memorial concert for Dr. Alfred Bader. It was his first official visit to the Castle since his appointment as Queen’s University’s 21st Principal and Vice Chancellor. The Castle Drum took the opportunity to catch up with Principal Deane before he left, so that he might introduce himself to the faculty and staff and also share some insight into his vision for the future of the BISC.

CD: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your journey to becoming Principal of Queen’s University?

WEB Patrick DeanePD: Typical of people of my position- I wasn’t trained to do this work. I came into it by a series of unplanned routes that were taken. I’m a South African by birth, and it was my intention to become a lawyer, specifically a human rights, or constitutional lawyer, because of the period in South African history. I grew up in a time of apartheid and I was an undergrad at the time of the Soweto riots, so during that time I acquired a very powerful sense of the role of education institution in advancing social justice causes.

My university refused to enforce the rules of apartheid. It was bastion of protest against that government. I do remember the Vice Chancellor presiding over protest meetings on campus in full academic dress which is what he had to do to comply with the Riotous Assembly Act of that time, which outlawed any displays of resistance by more than 2 people, and I remember thinking, “There is a really extraordinary contribution being made to society by an educator”. After the riots, the government was returned with an even greater majority, so I left the country. I had a Canadian passport because I have a Canadian mother and a South African father. Intended to finish my law degree, but never did. I followed my other love of literature.

I became an academic and was a professor at the University of Toronto for 14 years or so. It was there that I became interested in academic leadership. I wasn’t conscious of that Vice Chancellor’s earlier impact as an undergrad, but I ended up taking a job as VP Academic at Winnipeg. That had never been the plan! I became acting president very quickly. During those years, I came to understand how important leadership is. I was recruited for VP Academic at Queen’s in 2005. My love of the work and sense of its importance deepened. I built a very powerful relationship with the institution. By 2010 I began to be aware of another role in that would be interesting - that of presidential functions. A role was offered at McMaster – and I had 8 successful years there and learned a lot.

And was it a wrench to leave Queen’s?

Most certainly! I didn’t expect to return. I had bonded with the institution in a way that took me by surprise. I am deeply committed to this work, and in its highest form, I do think the education and development of young people, advancing the boundaries of knowledge – there is no higher calling in life. I’m still keen to keep doing this I was delighted when the opportunity to return to Queen’s came up. So, the three things; my pre-existing love of the institution, my experience there, and my understanding of what Canadian institutions need to succeed, now much deeper and more nuanced than it had been 10 years before, made me think I could actually be useful at Queen’s.

Can you tell us about your first visit to the Castle?

That first moment when you first come down the hill and catch sight of the towers is actually quite magical. There’s a crude expectation that the Castle will be an elevated and imposing structure. It’s actually the opposite. It sits in a valley and makes it a much more humane kind of setting - one of the things that makes it suitable place for the purpose it currently serves - more of a home than a place of defence. It has that historical charm obviously that all the students enjoy, but it is nevertheless a home of sorts and I think that human dimension was what I was struck by the first time and remain very aware of whenever I’m here. It is extraordinary. I can only imagine what it would be like to work in a place with such a sense of history.

While you’ve only had a chance to pay a flying visit this time, could you give us some impressions of the changes you’ve seen at the Castle since you were last here as VP (Academic) about 10 years ago?

WEB20Bader20Memorial20Concert20DSC 2784It’s difficult to say, as I’ve only been in the job a few weeks, but ten years on, I think much of it feels very familiar – the intimacy of the place, the solitude with which work is done here, and yet the interaction with history is all the same. The student body seems less international than it was which I’m sure is related to complex factors outside the university such as immigration etc.  I have always been aware that there will be a consistency to what happens here because of the ethos and mission of the place, but there will also be changes that are driven by context and politics. Some of the changes I’m sensing are related to that - changes in ways students want to learn and need to learn - changes in pedagogical issues and students’ assumptions and aspirations.

I spend a lot of my time trying to work out about what students want from their education. I think the culture at large is trying to convince students that they should have narrow goals and those goals should be focused on employment and acquisitional skills. That’s definitely not what this place exists to do. There’s a larger vision that the BISC is here to advance. I regard it as a travesty that the culture as a whole is encouraging young people to construe their futures in such a narrow way and that they are being told (whether by families, by government or business leaders) that there are certain skills worth having and others that are irrelevant. That’s nothing less than a tragic disservice to young people.

As my daughter has always pointed out to me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. You have one shot at it.” What a place like this needs to and has indeed been doing, is encourage students to expand their horizons and be open to many new possibilities for themselves – and more than that to have goals that excel the self- goals that are not just about having a good job, but goals for society - communal aspirations -  goals for a world they want to inhabit, and the world they want to make.

Could you share a fondest memory, or perhaps offer a few words about the legacy of Alfred Bader at Queen’s University from your perspective?

I remember him with deep affection and admiration. One of my fondest memories was my last year at Queen’s in my old position. I remember speaking with Alfred at Isabel’s 80th birthday. We had some long conversations about the Castle – its potential and his vision as he had first conceived it. I also regard that vision as critically important, valuable and necessary to be preserved. The international dimension of what Alfred imagined for this place remains critical for the way in which I see our future. He was extraordinary. His contribution to the Castle is incalculable and he has facilitated something here that has had a profound effect on many students lives enormously.

When Alfred conceived this place and offered it to David Smith, he was light years ahead of his time. At the time as a whole, Canadian institutions had a rather parochial world view, largely unconcerned about international engagements. He was so far sighted. Almost no other Canadian university was thinking in terms of establishing a beachhead across the Atlantic and fostering a capacity for global activity and engagement on the part of the student– bringing students together under the aegis of this notion of global citizenship. Now it’s commonplace.

What part could, or should the Castle play in Queen’s International Strategy?

The Castle needs to be at the very front of Queen’s international strategy. We have an asset which very few Canadian universities can boast of. We have a point of confidence. It’s a beachhead. And so, we need to have developed for ourselves an integrated vision of what we want to achieve in terms of internationalization. We ourselves need to get over the challenge facing the government and get beyond thinking it’s just about mobility. One of the beauties of the Castle and something it has done from the very beginning is that certain courses here should look different to a similar course in Canada.

The ELO program at the Castle is wonderful because it’s making use of the Castle’s location and access to primary sources. It’s that idea that the content of properly internationalized higher education will change in response to its international context – to me it’s critically important. We’ve been doing it here for years. The goal of internationalization is not just mobility - It’s about transforming the parameters in which students imagine their futures and understand the subject matter.

Our 25th anniversary celebrations marked an important milestone for the BISC. For the benefit of the current staff and faculty, can you speak a little to your thoughts on what the next 25 years at the Castle will hold?

My aspirations for the Castle are inseparable for the conversation we have just had. Like it or not, globalization has a pernicious dimension. Despite the recent surge of nationalism, the world is a much more fluid place. There’s no going back on Alfred’s original vision which is an education that is suffused with global awareness in which trans-cultural skills are not just something nice to have, but assumed to be utterly essential to the education of any person wanting to be an effective contributor to human prosperity and well-being.

The future of the Castle has to be an intensification of everything that has gone before. We need to refocus on the outcome that Alfred was envisioning and marshal the resources of the Castle toward that. In a structure like this, you’re reminded that 25 years does not make education at the Castle a mature thing. However, we’ve learned a lot and everything we’ve learned, situated in an integrated international philosophy, has the potential to be hugely successful. We need to get away from the notion that the Castle is just a smaller version of main campus – it has a much more focused mission.

What I would hope for is a much clearer alignment of the BISC towards a well defined aspirational goal – tied up with the cultivation of global citizenship, awareness and agency in young people.  I’d also like it to be a focus for international research exchanges, collaborations and conferences. We should continue to be a place where professional faculties come to bring the people within those faculties into an international context. It’s that fulfillment of the mission of this place. The importance of Alfred’s vision needs to be restated.    

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Bader International Study Centre
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