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Giving a voice to students

Sam Hiemstra is now representing the student body as the new Queen’s rector.

Photo of Sam Hiemstra, Queen's rector
Sam Hiemstra plans to use his time as rector to strengthen connections between students and the Kingston community. (Supplied photo)

At Queen’s, the student body has a voice in the highest reaches of the university leadership through the position of rector. Every two years, students elect a new rector, and this January Sam Hiemstra was elected to the position. He’s a fourth-year undergraduate student in the Faculty of Arts and Science and he officially began serving in the role on May 1. He takes over from Alex da Silva who had been in the role since 2018.

“The position of rector is a very important one for the Queen’s student population, and I’m hoping to make the office as visible as it can be for them so they know they can turn to it as a valuable resource. In my short time in the position so far, it’s been very exciting to be a part of conversations that have impacts on the Queen’s student experience. I look forward to working with students and university leaders to ensure that the interests of students are represented,” says Hiemstra.

A unique position among Canadian universities, Queen’s adopted the tradition of having a rector from the University of Edinburgh in 1913. Through a wide range of duties, the rector acts as a liaison between the student body and the administration. Most notably, the rector holds a seat on the Board of Trustees as well as a number of university committees. On top of representing the interests of the student body, the rector also helps individual students by offering confidential student support and helping to facilitate academic grievances.

Rectors also have substantial ceremonial duties. Most notably, they preside over convocation ceremonies alongside the chancellor and vice-chancellor, who is also the principal. For each of the more than 20 ceremonies that take place during a typical academic year, the rector leads the chancellor’s procession, sits on the stage of Grant Hall, and delivers remarks to the graduates.

With this year’s in-person spring convocation ceremonies postponed, Hiemstra joined Principal Patrick Deane and Chancellor Jim Leech in creating videos for the graduating class.

Road to rector

A student in political studies and sociology, Hiemstra has always been fascinated by how different groups have their voices heard by institutions and governments. His interest in politics was confirmed last year when he worked as a volunteer coordinator for Mark Gerretsen’s parliamentary election campaign.

Even though he ran for the position of rector unopposed, Hiemstra was still committed to engaging with as many students as he could before the election to learn about their views and concerns. Through this process, he identified some key concerns and developed some central goals. One of his priorities is to strengthen the connections between Queen’s students and the Kingston community.

Starting a new term in a changed world

As Hiemstra begins his term as rector, Queen’s – and the world – is in a different situation than it was in January when he was elected. Because of the pandemic, Hiemstra recognizes that he needs to be flexible and patient as he learns his role and pursues his agenda. And he is determined to remain optimistic in his approach.

“While this is a difficult situation for everyone, I believe there are also opportunities for us at this time to evaluate our student services and make sure they’re working as well as they can for everyone. As everyone works through this, there are a lot of exciting new ideas being developed every day across Queen’s. I think we can come out of this pandemic as an even stronger university than we were before,” says Hiemstra.

Much of Hiemstra’s time as rector so far has been taken up with participating in COVID-19 response efforts. But he is still finding opportunities to work on some of his long-term goals, like developing a conflict resolution framework for student clubs.

To learn more about Sam Hiemstra and his role, visit the website for the office of the university rector.