Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

From the principal: on our progress and our challenges

From the principal: on our progress and our challenges

[Daniel Woolf]I don’t often use this column for retrospectives, preferring to keep my focus on the future ­(despite having a historian’s respect for the past, we can’t and shouldn’t live in it). However, I thought it might be time to reflect on the past few years and on how far the university has come through the hard work of its faculty and staff, energized by our amazing students and supported by our enthusiastic alumni and generous benefactors.

In the past five years we’ve opened a state-of-the-art medical school and an exquisite performing arts centre. Two new campus residences will be ready to welcome incoming students this ­September. We have added two new turf fields and an indoor athletic facility, and are poised to begin construction on a refurbished Richardson Stadium. We have added considerably to our stock of high-tech classrooms for modernized and flexible teaching. We have embarked, carefully and selectively, on blended and online programming as a supplement to in-class delivery. We have improved student support services, not least in the counselling area, and become a leader on the issue of campus mental health.

The grades of our incoming students are among the strongest in the country. We remain a “brand” name school with a very robust applicant pool; this past year we bucked the trend of enrolment decline across much of the province of Ontario in the face of a demographic downturn in the 18-25 age group. We remain in the top five or six universities in research intensity, not bad considering we are by far the smallest institution among the U15 group of Canadian research-intensive ­universities. We have significantly improved our performance in the attainment of major awards for our faculty, notably election to bodies such as the Royal Society of Canada.

Organizationally, we have migrated to an ­activity-based budget model, made significant moves toward the goal of financial sustainability, and have a strategic framework with clear drivers and metrics, itself built on several academic and other planning exercises. We retain a high, AA+ credit rating (a mark of our being regarded as ­financially sound). Our Initiative Campaign, now in its final 18 months, is on track toward its goal of $500 million. (And if you haven’t made a campaign gift yet, please think of doing so this year.)

That’s the good news. But with it comes a reminder of things left to achieve, and ways in which we can improve. We struggle with class sizes in some faculties. Hiring of faculty members on tenure-track appointments has been slow. This puts us at risk of missing out on the next generation of research and teaching leaders. We continue to face a significant challenge in our pension plan and in the failure of our regular sources of revenue (grant and tuition) to keep pace with inflation. Community relations have improved significantly, but we still get bad press locally on some matters: this past year noise complaints on our west campus were an issue, and one we are committed to working on collaboratively with our neighbours as planning for the new stadium continues. We lag our peers in international reputation, though there are signs, with increased student enrolment, that we have begun to turn that around. And, with increased enrolment, we need to ensure appropriate investment in student support services.

Moreover, late in 2014, we received a reminder that, like other universities, we must address the issue of sexual assault. My colleagues and I are committed to providing support for survivors of sexual assault and fostering a campus environment free from harassment, discrimination and ­violence. [Learn more on this issue.]

All in all, there are far more positives than ­negatives, but there is still much work ahead. I’m deeply grateful for the support provided by the extended Queen’s family as we steam towards our 175th anniversary in 2016-17 and remain profoundly confident in the ability of this university to meet the challenges that it faces. Thank you for your help in propelling us forward.

[cover of Queen's Review 2015-1]