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Q&A with David Dodge

Q&A with David Dodge

After two terms as the university’s chancellor, David Dodge, Arts’65, LLD’02, hangs up his ceremonial garb. The Review caught up with him as he prepared to preside over his final convocation ceremonies.
Chancellor Dodge shares a moment with a new graduate at convocation in May.

Take me back to first taking on the role of Chancellor in 2008. What drew you to the position?

It all started because I had been talking with the then-board chair, John A. Rae, someone I had been an undergraduate ­student with, about wanting to make a contribution to Queen’s. John said “Charlie (Charles ­Baillie) is going to retire – why don’t you consider being chancellor?” At that time, the university was facing some challenges because Principal (Karen) ­Hitchcock had just resigned. So where the role of chancellor is normally ceremonial or ambassadorial, it ended up being a much bigger job than one might have imagined. As well as working to find a new principal, I was involved in the restructuring of the board and university council, too.

Your presence at convocation is legendary. What is your secret for captivating the audience the way you do?

That’s easy. Everyone is happy on convocation day. Students are happy, parents are happy. The faculty is happy because it’s the end of the year. It’s ­infectious. It can be a challenge ­because we do so many over the course of the convocation period. That said, each ceremony has a particular character, so in many ways they are all ­different.

You make a point of having conversations with graduates as they cross the stage. Why?

I like to hear what they are going next. Each graduate crossing the stage is an individual, and when I can, I like taking a little time to chat. It’s always really interesting. I can’t ask everyone about what their plans are, but in the smaller ceremonies, there is ­always a little bit of time.

What do you anticipate you will miss most as you leave this role?

Whenever you leave something it’s always the people you miss most. I will miss the people I have worked with, both those here on campus and those on the board of trustees and on ­university council. But most of all, I will miss the cheery faces of our students.

What sort of challenges do you see on the horizon for Queen’s?

I think, going forward, that it will be important to find ways to adapt our teaching and learning process for the 21st century, building on the strengths our students bring, but also accommodating the weaknesses they may have. We are going to have to find a way, particularly at the undergraduate level, to retain the essential humanity and sense of community that marks Queen’s, while also providing an intimate learning experience where students can interact with faculty and their peers in a way that will help them to ­develop their critical thinking skills. That may mean moving away from the standard ‘three lectures a week and a few exams’ approach, to a much more interactive approach. It will be important that students have the chance to get a real ­academic ­experience right from first year, rather than just floating in classes of several hundred ­students.

How do you anticipate maintaining your ties to Queen’s after you relinquish your title?

I maintain a professional connection to Queen’s through the ­Economics department, the School of Policy Studies and the School of Business, and that will continue. Hopefully I will wind down a little, but I expect that my connections will continue the same way they did when I left Queen’s as a teacher in 1972.

If you could pass on one piece of advice for the class of 2014, what would it be?

We’re looking for today’s graduates to be very innovative going forward. But the road to innovation will include many failures along the way. My message is that these graduates should not be afraid of failure. Failures are just stepping-stones! Indeed, take risks, fail, and then march on.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2014-3 cover]