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More than a decade of service to Queen’s

Donald M. Raymond is concluding his term as chair of the Board of Trustees and reflects on memorable moments.

Donald M. Raymond
Donald M. Raymond speaks during the November 2018 announcement of Patrick Deane being named as Queen's 21st Principal and Vice-Chancellor. (University Communications / Bernard Clark)

As his time as chair of Queen’s Board of Trustees comes to a close, Donald M. Raymond reflects on the university’s progress and feels confident in its ability to face new challenges. He has presided over the governance body since 2016, having first joined the board in 2008, and has made wide-ranging contributions to the institution’s financial stability, student experience, climate policy, and infrastructure development.

The Queen’s Gazette connected with Dr. Raymond recently to revisit some of his most memorable moments and achievements, and to learn what he sees as strengths Queen’s can continue to carry forward.

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How do you feel Queen’s has evolved since you joined the Board of Trustees in 2008?

There have been obvious physical signs of change. The student body has grown around 40 per cent, we’ve built new residences, the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Mitchell Hall, a new medical building, and revitalized Richardson Stadium, among many other projects.

Looking a little more inwardly, to who we are as a community, I have seen a major increase in the focus on student success and wellbeing in all its forms — mental health, diversity, inclusion, and indigeneity. Of course, there is still work to do and we must be ever vigilant in championing continued progress.

My first board meeting was in September 2008, a few weeks after the onset of the global financial crisis. The board had 44 trustees, Queen’s had a new principal, and the institution faced severe financial challenges, including an unsustainable pension plan. Since then, the board has been downsized to a still large, but much more efficient structure of 25 members, Queen’s again has a new principal, the pension plan is sustainable, we had a record-breaking capital campaign, our endowment surpassed $1 billion, and we are now on a firm financial footing.

You became chair in 2016. Do you recall your aspirations for the university at the time? In reflecting on the four years since, do you feel you have accomplished what you hoped you would?

Coming into the role as chair, I had a few goals, recognizing that four years is a very short period of time when measured in university years. One goal was to continue our work on ensuring the sustainability of the Queen’s Pension Plan, as it’s an important benefit for our employees. The creation of the University Pension Plan took many years of hard work by many people and is now a reality.

I also knew that important decisions regarding the principalship would occur during my tenure as board chair. While I played a role on the joint Board-Senate search committee chaired by the chancellor that ultimately recommended Patrick Deane, my job was to get board approval, land the candidate, and successfully onboard our 21st principal – in reality not that difficult given his prior experience at Queen’s and his role as McMaster’s president.

I also knew that there would be unforeseen challenges along the way and there certainly were, the COVID-19 crisis being the most obvious example. My goal was to work closely with the principal and other senior leaders, including members of his senior team, the chancellor, and my board colleagues, to help make the best decisions for Queen’s in what are often complex situations.

What are some of your most memorable milestones or accomplishments as board chair? What are you most proud of?

During my tenure as chair, we celebrated Queen’s 175th anniversary, we bade farewell to our 20th and welcomed our 21st principal, we opened wonderful, new facilities that have strengthened our campus experience. Those were all very fun events.

I am also proud of Queen’s decisions and actions to address climate change. In addition to reducing our campus carbon footprint, I would highlight the recently adopted recommendations of the Climate Change Action Taskforce. Unlike some other universities that have made largely symbolic decisions, I believe that Queen’s will contribute far more to meaningful change in the transition to a sustainable future. We will do this by collaborating with the newly established Institute for Sustainable Finance and engaging the multidisciplinary research enterprise to help solve this generation’s grand challenge. Ultimately, we will be judged by our actions and impact.

How about memorable challenges?

Revamping the Student Code of Conduct, which had been essentially unchanged in over 100 years, was a necessary but also a very difficult process. It is also a shining example of collaboration between Queen’s student leaders and the administration and board to achieve the best outcome for the university. There are many similar examples, but I wanted to highlight the special role students play in governance at Queen’s.

Of course, chairing my final board meeting via videoconference will not soon be forgotten.

As you complete your term as chair, what is your hope for the board, and for Queen’s generally, as it heads into the future? Any thoughts specific to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic?

As it relates to the pandemic, it was incredible how quickly the university adapted to the necessities of online learning. It was an enormous undertaking that using normal university processes would have required years of planning. It shows how galvanizing a crisis can be in accelerating change. It took the entire Queen’s community — faculty, staff, administrators, and students — in many cases working practically 24/7 to make it happen and it was impressive to see.

A key challenge in the coming months is to ensure that the day-to-day decisions that must be made through this very uncertain time are anchored in our long-term strategy. In any major disruption, some institutions emerge stronger and some weaker, though perhaps only in a relative sense. It is important that Queen’s takes the opportunity to reset and reinvent itself, while not losing sight of the things that make it special.

Looking a little further down the road, my hope is that the board and Queen’s unites around a common vision that flows from the Principal Deane’s Conversation and resulting strategic direction developed with the board.

Do you have any words of wisdom for incoming chairperson, Mary Wilson Trider, as she takes on the role?

Mary and I have spoken a lot in recent months, but if I could make one suggestion, it would be to become deeply familiar with Queen’s fascinating past, as looking back can help bring current and future challenges into perspective. Queen’s has been through some very difficult times in its long history and has always emerged stronger. Reading our history also makes one realize that we are stewards for a brief period of time and that our objective ought to be to leave Queen’s stronger than when we started.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the campus community?

It may sound trite, but it has been an incredible honour to serve on the Board of Trustees of my alma mater, let alone have the opportunity to play a leadership role. I feel that Queen’s will be guided well through the pandemic and beyond by the current board and administrative leadership.