Queen's is distinguished from all but a handful of other Canadian universities by the fact that its most powerful official is a "Principal" not a "President." This reflects the university's Scottish heritage: the university's founders chose this more modest title, which emphasizes the Principal's role as an academic among academics, in imitation of Edinburgh University, the model for Queen's.

At first, the Principal of Queen's had to be a Presbyterian minister and always held the concurrent position of Primarius Professor of Theology. That requirement formally ended in 1912, when Queen's separated from the Presbyterian Church.

Still, the old tradition proved persistent; the string of Principals who were ministers was not broken until 1929. Since then, the office has been held by academics in a number of different disciplines, including a geologist, a classicist, two political scientists, three economists, a biologist, and an historian.

Throughout, as chief academic and executive officer, the Principal has remained the University's most important official. The Principal is accountable to the Board of Trustees for the management of the university (for administration, budget, and staffing, for example) and to the Senate for the implementation of academic policies.

The Principal chairs the Senate and serves as the link between Queen's two main governing bodies. The administrative responsibilities that accompany the office are considerable: the Principal is responsible for setting the overall budget allocations for each faculty and school, in consultation with the Vice-Principals and the Deans; the Principal must also approve every academic appointment, promotion, or award of tenure or leave, after receiving recommendations from the Vice-Principal (Academic) and relevant dean and department head.

The Principal also plays a major role in policy-making by formulating proposals for the academic and physical development of the University for consideration by the Board and the Senate. An important role in formulating policies is also played by advisory committees under the Principal's authority.

In recent years, these have included the committees advising on the status of women, gender issues, race relations, alcohol awareness, disabilities, resource issues, and corporate involvement. The Principal or his delegate is a member of most Board and Senate committees and the Principal chairs, the Senate Agenda Committee, and the Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees, as well as the Executive Committee of the University Council and all committees to select Vice-Principals and Deans.

The Principal is also responsible for representing the university on such external bodies as the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). Since 1974, Principals have been appointed for five-year terms, renewable subject to review.

The formal authority for the appointment of the Principal rests under the Royal Charter with the Board of Trustees. Recent Principals have been selected by a joint committee of Trustees and Senators, including faculty, students, alumni, trustees, and staff.

There has been some confusion about the official numbering of Queen's Principals because the University was led by an acting principal for four years in the 1850s. The current convention is to include that acting principal in the official count.

Our principals since 1841

Position Image Details
1 [Liddell photo]

Rev. Thomas Liddell (1841-46)
Queen's University's founding principal was selected by the Colonial Committee of the Church of Scotland and arrived in Kingston bearing the Queen's founding document, the Royal Charter.

2 [Machar photo]

Rev. John Machar (1846-53)
The Rev. Machar emigrated to Canada from Scotland to serve as the minister of St. Andrew's Church in Kingston. He was appointed principal of Queen's after the Rev Liddell resigned in 1846.

3 [George photo]

Rev. James George (acting 1854-57)
Born in Scotland, the Rev. George was appointed a professor of theology at Queen's in 1846 before stepping in to serve as principal. During his tenure, he helped establish the Faculty of Medicine.

4 [Cook photo]

Rev. John Cook (1857-59)
The Rev. Cook is the only person in Queen's history to have served as both principal and chancellor (1877-1879). Born in Scotland, he was one of the university's founding trustees.

5 [Leitch photo]

Rev. William Leitch (1859-64)
Under the Rev. Leitch's leadership, the Kingston Observatory merged with Queen's, ushering in a new era of scientific progress. He also presided over the creation of a Faculty of Law at Queen's.

6 [Snodgrass photo]

Rev. William Snodgrass (1864-77)
The first principal to live in Summerhill, the Rev. Snodgrass guided Queen's through some turbulent early years, during which Queen's admitted its first female students and expanded the library.

7 [Grant photo]

Rev. George Monro Grant (1877-1902)* During his 25 years of leadership, the Rev. Grant transformed Queen's into a dynamic national institution. His vision enabled substantial growth and saw the addition of graduate studies.

8 [Gordon photo]

Rev. Daniel Miner Gordon (1902-17)*
Under the Rev. Gordon's guidance, Queen's separated from the Presbyterian Church after more than 70 years of union. He also led Queen's through the early years of WWI.

9 [Taylorphoto]

Rev. Robert Bruce Taylor (1917-30)
During his tenure, the Rev. Taylor oversaw the construction of Douglas Library, the founding of the Alumni Association, and the introduction of the first commerce courses in Canada.

10 [Fyfe photo]

Sir William Hamilton Fyfe (1930-36) 
Principal Fyfe, who was recruited from Britain, was the first Queen's principal who was a scholar rather than a clergyman. He raised admission standards and established new scholarships during his tenure. 

11 [Wallace photo]

Robert Charles Wallace (1936-51)
A geologist, Principal Wallace guided Queen's through the last years of the Depression and WWII. During his tenure, he expanded facilities on campus and established the School of Nursing.

12 [Mackintosh photo]

William A. Mackintosh (1951-61)*
An economist and public servant, Principal Mackintosh was the first Queen's graduate to become principal. During his tenure, he oversaw a significant campus expansion, including the construction of five residences.

13 [Corry photo]

James Alexander Corry (1961-68)*
During Principal Corry's tenure, enrollment increased by 80 per cent and more than 10 buildings were constructed or renovated. He oversaw the founding of the Faculty of Education at the new west campus.

14 [Deutsch photo]

John James Deutsch (1968-74)*
An alumnus, Principal Deutsch returned to Queen's after a career in the federal public service. In a bid to help Queen's retain its sense of community, he capped enrolment and focused on the student experience.

15 [Watts photo]

Ronald Lampman Watts (1974-84)*
Principal Watts first arrived at Queen's in 1955 as a lecturer in philosophy. Under his leadership, Queen's established the School of Policy Studies and laid the groundwork for the Queen's National Scholars program.

16 [Liddell photo]

David Chadwick Smith (1984-94)*
Principal Smith first came to Queen's in 1961 to teach economics. The Department of Women's Studies and the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle were founded during his tenure.

17 [Leggett photo]

William C. Leggett (1994-04)*
A biologist, Principal Leggett arrived at Queen's after a long career at McGill University. His tenure saw the largest capital renewal program in the university's history, and the doubling of research funding.

18 [Hitchcock photo]

Karen R. Hitchcock (2004-08)
During her tenure, Principal Hitchcock began a strategic initiative to help articulate goals for the university's next decade, including the acquisition of land near campus for the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.

19 [Williams photo]

Thomas R. Williams (2008-09)
Before becoming principal, Dr. Williams served the Queen's community for 30 years as a professor, dean and vice-principal. During his tenure, he secured funding for a new medical school building.

20 [Williams photo]

Daniel R Woolf (2009-19)
During his service as Principal, Dr. Woolf implemented a number of organizational, management and governance changes, including the appointment of the University's first Provost.

21 [Williams photo]

Patrick Deane (2019-present)

*Indicates a building on campus named in his/her honour.