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To paraphrase that Beatles song, to get by Queen’s needs ... A little help from our friends

To paraphrase that Beatles song, to get by Queen’s needs ... A little help from our friends

[Daniel Woolf]Photo by Greg Black, University Photographer

In his final months as Principal, George Monro Grant took a bold step that jeopardized – on a matter of principle – funding for the new Frontenac Hall that was being planned on University Avenue.

When Grant spoke out against a strong temperance movement, in which he did not believe, county funding for the building disappeared overnight. Unbowed, the Principal declared that he could count on alumni to come to the school’s rescue. They did, insisting that the building instead be named for their “Geordie.” Grant died before it was finished, but knowing the Board had named it Grant Hall in his honour.

A little more than a century later, I am optimistic our alumni will come through again for Queen’s. Simply put, we need your help over the next several years and beyond.

In the last issue of the Review, I expressed my great pleasure and pride in becoming the 20th Principal of Queen’s. I also expressed the expectation that, together, we will chart some new and exciting directions for our alma mater.

Like other universities, Queen’s is feeling the impact of the recession. The University has suffered a net 13 per cent loss in the value of its endowment; provincial funding continues to drop as a proportion of operating revenue (from 74 per cent in 1992-93 down to a discouraging 48 per cent today); and we are running a deficit for the first time in living memory.

The days when we could count on government and tuition to fund the lion’s share of our operations clearly are over. We are doing our best to contain rising costs and have recently reached a salary-and-benefits agreement with the Queen’s University Staff Association that recognizes the current fiscal situation. I want to acknowledge QUSA’s leadership in this area.

Our path forward will hinge upon the decisions we make over the next several months, guided by the upcoming academic planning process. We face difficult choices if we are to maintain the high standards and unique qualities for which Queen’s is renowned.

As the above anecdote about Principal Grant suggests, we have powerful historical precedents for overcoming tough financial times. In each instance, it has been the generosity of alumni, other supporters (notably faculty and Trustees) and friends that has saved the college, enabling it to survive to become a university in 1912.

When the bank that held two-thirds of the College’s endowment collapsed in 1867 and the newly-created Dominion of Canada withdrew Queen’s annual Upper Canada grant, Principal William Snodgrass launched an ambitious fundraising campaign. Alumni and loyal supporters responded, narrowly averting bankruptcy, but not resolving lingering financial uncertainties.

Acknowledging the University’s on-going money problems in his 1877 installation address, Snodgrass’s immediate successor, George M. Grant, stressed the importance of personal giving:

Single individuals give, unasked, their tens, hundreds and thousands of dollars to colleges, because it pays,” he said.

The following year, alumnus Robert Sutherland – in whose memory the newly dedicated Robert Sutherland Hall is named – left his entire estate to Queen’s. Sutherland’s bequest finally put the College on a firm financial footing.

Although we are again experiencing financial woes, some alumni have the mistaken impression that Queen’s does not need their financial support. The fact that we have a number of building projects underway may reinforce this misperception.

The truth is that we must invest in facility renewal if we are to continue attracting and retaining the best students and faculty. Furthermore, we are obligated to spend government capital-funding allocations on capital projects. Let me stress this: We cannot apply such funds to operating expenses. They are, however, a draw on operating budgets both for debt financing and for their operating or “lights on” costs.

How can you and other alumni help?

You can make a big impact through an annual donation. These regular gifts help the University meet its day-to-day obligations by providing ongoing support for student aid, faculty needs, library acquisitions, student life (teams, clubs and other initiatives outside the classroom), and technology upgrades.

Annual giving also makes possible the innovations and discoveries in Queen’s labs and classrooms – from improved health care to environmental breakthroughs and new public policy initiatives. The Eureka! column in any issue of the Review certainly proves my point. Investment in higher education is an investment in society’s well-being.

Although 90 per cent of us are self-identified givers to charities, fewer than 10 per cent of alumni donate to Queen’s on an annual basis. This is at odds with both the excellence of our institution and our unique spirit of alumni engagement. It is also at odds with the participation rate at many other Canadian universities and most American ones. I am asking you to help reverse these figures by choosing to keep Queen’s among your philanthropic priorities.

When I arrived on campus as a frosh 33 years ago this year, I had no idea that my relationship with Queen’s would last a lifetime. The friendships forged, the lessons learned – both inside and outside the classroom – and the opportunities afforded by my Queen’s degree have all proved invaluable to me.

I ask you to close your eyes, pause for a minute and think about the key events in your life since you crossed that stage to receive your Queen’s degree, and how much your personal or career path has been shaped by your Queen’s experience. I’m sure you will feel the same as I do.

That is why I contribute financially to Queen’s each year. As in the days of George Grant and Robert Sutherland, alumni support is critical to ensuring that Queen’s tradition continues – that tradition of attracting the best and the brightest students and of delivering to them an excellent education.

If you are a past donor, I thank you, but am not ashamed to ask you to increase the amount you have given previously. If you have not yet donated, now is the time to do so. If you are a loyal donor to the Queen’s Annual Appeal and in a position to do so, I ask you to consider a major gift to our upcoming comprehensive campaign.

And there’s one more thing you can do: if you can persuade a classmate to join you in giving, it will go a long way toward ensuring that our students’ experiences on campus remain as rich and life-changing as yours were.

Queen’s isn’t just a place where students spend four years. It’s a place that fosters social and intellectual relationships that last a lifetime. And part and parcel of those relationships are commitments – from the University to you as an alumnus, and hopefully by you and your classmates to your alma mater.

Take that minute’s pause to think about what I’m asking of you, and then please help to ensure that our collective future is as bright as our past.


[Queen's Alumni Review 2009-4 cover]