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The challenge to be great and “good”

The challenge to be great and “good”

Principal Daniel Woolf explains why a university -- to be truly great -- must go above and beyond in all aspects of its pursuit of excellence.

The past few months have been extraordinarily busy on campus, beyond the usual buzz of a fall term and all the activity that it normally gives rise to.

For a start, we saw the successful launch of the Initiative Campaign in late September. Then, too, some high-profile visitors came to campus, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, who were among our fall honorary degree recipients; Alberta Premier Alison Redford, a former student at Queen’s in the mid-1980s, who spoke to students about civic engagement; and, Governor-General of Canada, David Johnston, Law’66.

The Principal and Chancellor with the CartersPrincipal Woolf (left) and Chancellor Dodge (right) with President Carterr and his wife Rosalynn on the occasion of their caampus visit to accept honorary degrees. (Bernard Clark photo)

We also had the welcome announcement of the return of Homecoming on two weekends starting in October. And we had, near the end of term, the submission of the final report of the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health, chaired by Dr. David Walker, Meds’71. I’d like to commend him and the members of the Commission – faculty members Jenny Medves and Lynann Clapham, PhD’87; Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney, Law’89, MPA’04, and student member Roy Jahchan, MPA’11, Law’13, ably supported by staff members Ellie Sadinsky and Christine McCallum – on their remarkable work.

The report and its recommendations received wide attention in the media, and it was heartening to see how well it was received across the country, and by other post-secondary institutions. At the same time, Queen’s also undertook a partnership with The Jack Project, a ­nation-wide program to raise awareness of, and combat stigma attached to, mental ­illness in all its manifestations as it affects the highly vulnerable 15-25 year old demographic – which of course includes most of our students.

The Queen’s community has embraced the cause of mental health, but it has always rallied around the notion of doing good in the world. A major theme of the Strategic Research Plan (SRP), which was approved by the Senate last year, is that of “Securing Safe and Successful Societies,” and another is “Exploring Human Dimensions” (bit.ly/UhxGcG). There’s linking thread throughout the SRP – present, too, in the previously approved Academic Plan – related to what might be called “vulnerable populations,” of which there remain, sadly, many in the world.

Queen’s has a long history of engagement – institutionally and among individual faculty, staff, and students – with social problems ranging from poverty to oppression to health. It has an equally strong reputation for caring and compassion.

In some remarks to The Kingston Whig-Standard, repeated in his October public lecture as the inaugural Principal’s Distinguished Visitor, the Governor-General commented that Queen’s was, in his view, one of the small number of universities that can be called both great and good. “Greatness” is easy to assert and hard to measure; many institutions lay claim to it. It takes a long time to build greatness, and it takes enormous support – the Initiative Campaign is devoted to raising the resources necessary to ensure that we remain in the forefront of teaching and research institutions in Canada and can acquire an enhanced international reputation. If you haven’t contributed yet, please consider how you can help.

“Good” is a concept that philosophers long have long struggled to define, but I think it likely we could all agree that it minimally requires compassion, respect for others, a devotion to living a useful and ethical life, and, for an institution, having a caring attitude toward those within and without, in particular those who are at risk.

It is as much about doing “the right thing” as about doing things right. While we may, individually or collectively, sometimes fall short, make mistakes, or occasionally deviate from this standard, there is no doubt that as a community Queen’s endeavours to do good and to be good. I see this quality of goodness every day – in our faculty and graduate students, striving to improve or better understand the human condition through their scholarship and research, in our staff who undertake numerous volunteer activities locally (for instance, Queen’s is the local United Way’s biggest workplace supporter), and, of course, in the myriad student clubs, societies, and organizations that engage our students in the local community, in Canada, and around the world.

We should all take pride in the notion of being associated with a great university; I think it is even better that we belong to a “good” one.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2013-1 cover]