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A meeting of rectors

This is the third and final article written by Queen's Rector Mike Young on his experiences as he presided over Spring Convocation.

  • [Honorary Degree Alan Broadbent]
    Alan Broadbent, the first student rector at Queen's University, speaks during spring convocation after receiving an honorary degree on June 8.
  • [Honorary Degree Alan Broadbent]
    Alan Broadbent, second from right, receives an honorary degree as Principal Daniel Woolf, left, Chancellor Jim Leech, second from left, and Rector Mike Young, look on.
  • [Honorary Degree Alan Broadbent]
    Alan Broadbent, the first student rector at Queen's University, stands with Chancellor Jim Leech as he waits to receive his honorary dergee

Serving as the first-ever student rector in 1969, Alan Broadbent’s name will forever be embedded within the rich history of student leadership at Queen’s University.

Having the honour of serving as the 23rd student rector, it was a special moment to have the chance to sit down with the original student rector, who took up the position 46 years ago. Queen’s has featured a rector since 1913, but up until Mr. Broadbent, the position had never been filled by a student.

“There was a rector who didn’t really have a lot of contact with students and it was part of a movement at the time across university campuses for the student voice to become more prominent, and for students demanding to have a voice at universities,” he says. “The student government at the time decided that, seeing as it was a representative of students on the board of trustees, that it should be filled by a student.”

Though the role has evolved and become defined over time, Mr. Broadbent had the unique task and opportunity to shape this iconic position.

“When I took office, there really was no definition of what the job was aside from the official Queen’s documents, so I really had a blank slate to work,” he says.

He cited Principal Emeritus, John Deutsch, as being paramount to the position’s development and his own personal success when trying to integrate himself within the university’s structure. It seems only fitting, then, that the Office of the Rector is located in the John Deutsch University Centre several decades later.

Serving students and the school community in many ways during his time at Queen’s, Mr. Broadbent was coming to campus on this occasion to be recognized for his life accomplishments with an honorary degree. I was curious to find out what our first student rector felt about returning to where he helped create the landscape and environment in which I currently work on a daily basis.

What followed was not surprising.

Taking a moment to reflect, Mr. Broadbent spoke about his deep connection to Queen’s as a community and to its physical campus space. Following this moment of reflection, he humbly and humorously spoke about being nominated for his honorary degree:

“I know that some of the people behind the nomination are people I know and have a high regard for – John Meisel, Brian Osborne, Peter Milliken – and I guess once they make a nomination like that, it’s kind of hard to turn them down.”

“I’m very happy,” he added.

Mr. Broadbent has carried his spirit of service from the Rector’s Office out into the world since leaving this campus in the 1970s. In addition to serving as chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corporation, Mr. Broadbent is the chairman and founder of Maytree, a private Canadian charitable foundation that focuses on alleviating poverty and enhancing the public good.

The relationships he cultivated while at Queen’s and the leadership skills he acquired during his time as rector are what Mr. Broadbent says were the two biggest tools he took away from the university and into his work.

“I met a lot of people in student leadership positions here who’ve really been life-long friends and some of them were life-long colleagues”, he says.

In fact, it was with one of his most cherished Queen’s friends,  Ken Battle, that Mr. Broadbent would go on to create the Caledon Institute of Social Policy in 1992.

For old time’s sake, I concluded by asking Mr. Broadbent to address a message to the Queen’s student body:

“There’s a full ability and an obligation to participate in life outside of their chosen work or outside of their family. We’re all involved in building our communities and building the country, and they should feel that they not only have a role to play in that, but there’s an obligation for all that they’ve learned and acquired at this place to participate as citizens.”

“And the second thing is just the lessons of dedication and endurance. Important things take a while to get done and if you don’t have the taste to be there for the long term and for fighting for things worth fighting for over the long term, then you should develop it.”