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In conversation with Patrick Deane

[Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]

It’s been just over 90 days since Patrick Deane took on the role of Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Queen’s. The Gazette recently took some time to chat with him about his experience at Queen’s in the role so far, his open letter, and plans for conducting a conversation with the Queen’s community about the issues we are facing and the university’s future.

You’ve been in the role now for just over three months, can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing and some of your thoughts about the role so far?

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane is hosting a series of conversations, with the first one scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15 starting at noon in Wallace Hall. Other conversation events are scheduled for Nov. 11, Jan. 14, and Feb. 27.
For more details visit the Principal and Vice-Chancellor's website.

What I’ve done most in that time has been to get to know people and to reacquaint myself with the institution. Although I know the place, I’ve been away a long time so there’s a lot to learn. I’ve really devoted myself to learning as much as I can about the state of the institution and meeting as many people as I could feasibly meet to get up to speed. Although it’s difficult to say what I’ve learned at this point, it would be true to say that it’s obvious to me that there is an appetite to have the conversation about some very fundamental questions for the university and its future and mission.

Why are you conducting the conversation?

Well, I think it’s very easy for institutions to get out of the habit of reflecting upon the values that they stand for and the enterprise they’re committed to, and by that I don’t mean the short-term goals of graduating ‘x’ number of students. That’s an important dimension of the work, but the overall mission is a very fundamental question. Institutions are very devoted to answering to the needs of government and immediate needs and challenges of students that they become caught up in the “day-to-day” and lose their attention to the bigger questions. I think it’s very difficult to make wise decisions on the day-to-day issues unless you are very, very clear on the long-term, value-related questions that I’m wishing to look at in the conversation.

Why are you calling this process a ‘conversation’?

Because it’s intended to be genuinely open. I have no pre-imagined endpoint and it needs to be a conversation because I don’t want the subjects of discussion and conclusions reached to be driven by questions of seniority, hierarchy, and so on. I also think that conversation is a fundamental aspect to the operation of universities. It may seem a slightly unusual thing to do but, if you think about it, conversation lies at the base of learning in all its manifestations. I’m entering into this in the same spirit one should enter into the whole process of learning: asking questions, exploring solutions and challenges, and learning from others what might be the best way forward.

What do you hope will come from the conversation?

A renewed sense of purpose within the university; a new and energetic reimagining of what our greater purpose is and then after we’ve achieved that insight, a reimagining of everything we do in light of that. So, what we do whether it’s in the classroom or in the research arena, or even in the way in which we conduct ourselves in our day-to-day work amongst staff of the university, that everyone will be able to reconceptualize what they do in the light of those fundamental questions that we’ve discussed.

Tell me about the process. How long will it take and will you report back on what’s happening?

Conversation itself is open-ended and must continue, but for this particular purpose I’m imagining that the first phase will take us to the end of the winter term, with some interim reporting back around the end of the year. Then, in the spring, I will share a more integrated and comprehensive assessment of where the conversation has led and what would seem to be the next appropriate steps.

How can people participate in the conversation?

In any number of ways. There are formal occasions that they can make use of to come and be part of the discussion in the forums or town-hall type meetings (Note: the first is happening October 15). I will be around campus in many departments and faculty meetings and will be extending the conversation in those settings. There is, of course, the online opportunity to write to me and make submissions through that means and people can simply contact me directly. This is an important conversation and I’m keen to maximize the opportunities for people to access it.

How do you enjoy living back in Kingston?

It’s a great pleasure being back. I very much enjoyed my five years here (2005-2010) and obviously formed a very close attachment to Queen’s so it is wonderful to be back and enjoying both the university and the city of Kingston and the broader region. The beauty of this return is that I feel that I’ve settled back very quickly to this world and to the concerns and issues that are important here so in some ways, this has been exactly what you wish for when you make a move of this sort. There are new challenges, I feel refreshed, but at the same time I feel that because I know people and the place I have certain tools that can help me get up to speed much more quickly and be effective.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m hugely optimistic about the university and where it could be going. What animates my excitement in the work I do is a very serious commitment to students and to the advancement of knowledge and discovery. So, this whole process, which is getting down to the fundamentals of what the university is here to do and reaffirming those big human imperatives that inform the university’s mission, is very exciting.