Department of Political Studies

Department of Political Studies
Department of Political Studies

Department Head, Eleanor MacDonaldDear Political Studies students,

Here we are, in this final week of classes, in this remarkable and uncertain time. I am writing to convey a few messages and share a few thoughts with you as we head into the remainder of this academic year. This message is primarily for you, our undergraduate students, but is also going out to our graduate students, staff and faculty.

Over a very short period of time, the department has rushed to revise how we go about our mission of education and research, of support to students and engagement with the larger community. As our students, you’ve all witnessed this in the form of changes to course delivery and assessment. I have no doubt that this has been challenging for you, and even stressful, as you adjust to these changes. All of my colleagues in the department are aware of the demands that these changes are placing upon you, and we share the aspiration that the academic year will conclude successfully for you. We hope that you are able to continue to learn and to convey what you have learned in the remaining assignments, classes and exams.

I also want to say that our staff and course instructors are grateful to you for the patience, flexibility and good humour you’ve shown as we’ve learned new technologies, adapted our communications, and responded to new directives from the administration. Undoubtedly, there have been some glitches, so thanks for hanging in while we sort things out.  I hope that we have been able to respond to your concerns when you’ve raised them, and I want to assure you that we will continue to be open to further questions and concerns throughout the remainder of this academic year and beyond. Please let your instructors know if the new formats of courses, assignments or examinations have posed any problems for you. Our Undergraduate Chair, Dr. Kyle Hanniman and I are also available if you need our assistance.

I would like to highlight here a few important things you should know:

  • The Faculty of Arts & Science has put three new provisions in place: 1) you may drop any course without penalty between now and May 11th (when marks are released); 2) between May 11th and May 20th, you may drop without penalty any course that has received a grade of “F”; and 3) you may replace any passing grade in any course with a “P” for “Pass”.
  • Here’s the Dean’s message if you missed it:
  • Please note that you should think carefully before pursuing these options. Letter grades will still be necessary for any “merit-based” decisions that the University makes; this includes decisions about scholarships and awards, admissions to graduate schools and professional programs, and  “entry to plan” for first-year students choosing a major or medial. Your best course of action would be to strive to get the best grade that you are able to, and only to choose to drop a course or replace the grade with a “P” if you are genuinely concerned that the grade you receive would be detrimental to you in future.
  • It may be useful to add that, for years to come, everyone will be aware that during this time of significant disruption, grades may not be an accurate reflection of your true ability. It is still valuable to try to continue to learn and to do the best you are able to do, under these circumstances, and to try to achieve what you are capable of achieving.
  • The Faculty of Arts and Science has a useful website in light of our new situation, which gives all kinds of information on new policies, getting support, grades, accommodation, academic exchanges, etc., as well as some daily online drop-in sessions:
  • For those of you who need them, academic consideration arrangements are still functioning. If there is a short-term extenuating circumstance that is affecting your work — like a sudden illness or injury, you can make a request for academic consideration through the Faculty of Arts and Science portal.
  • Some of you have academic accommodation arrangements that may need to be adjusted in light of changes to the assessment format or course delivery for your courses. If this is the case, please contact your instructor as well as your advisor at the Queen’s Student Accessibility Services to discuss how appropriate adaptations can be provided to you.  Get in touch with your instructors.

No doubt, you’ve received all the advice you can bear about social distancing and hand washing so I’d like to conclude with some other guidance . Over the last few weeks, I have been struck time and again by how vital the study of politics is. I have been hoping that, in the courses you’ve taken in our department,  you have gleaned insights and knowledge and skills that are useful in analyzing this new world. Whether you are interested in the study of the international order, or of how governments make policy, or whether you’ve been moved by normative discussions of how we should all live together or by empirical research on the behaviour of populations in times of crisis, whether you are fascinated by the study of political communication or you are deeply concerned about the differential impact of political decisions on marginalized people — your course of study and your intellectual passions all now seem extremely relevant. Right now, I am hoping that you feel like you have been given intellectual tools that are helping you to analyze and make sense of what is happening in the world. The reason we aim for academic excellence in the department and the university is not because we are trying to enhance the university’s reputation or adhere to some arbitrary measures or advance careers; it is because it actually matters to the broader society that there are people like you who are developing the analytical, critical, and communication skills to make sense of things for yourselves and for others.

To our first year students — what a strange beginning to your time at Queen’s. We hope you will consider applying to major or medial in Political Studies. To our second year students — you have now laid a foundation for understanding many aspects of politics. We hope you are looking forward to the 300 and 400 year courses ahead that will build on this foundation. To our third year students — you are closer to completing your degree than you probably realize. Your goal ahead will be to master as many skills and deepen your knowledge as much as possible in the year ahead. To our fourth (and up) year students — my goodness. I really hope you have found this degree worthwhile, compelling and valuable. Some of you may be coming back to finish off a course or two, but most of you are about to graduate. I know the University is working on plans to replace the convocation that has been cancelled with something special that will recognize your accomplishments and honour the work you’ve done here. All of us know that these are difficult times in which to be graduating. We wish you all the very best with what’s ahead for you, and we hope that you will keep in touch with our department and let us know where you are and how you are doing. The remarks in the paragraph above are — as you might have gathered — especially directed to you.

I’d like to conclude by simply wishing you all the best on any remaining work you have in the term, and in the summer months ahead. I hope you are set up safely somewhere and taking care of yourselves. I hope you are in frequent connection with others and that you have some community, on-line or off. I hope you enjoy the good weather when it comes.  If you need assistance, please let us know.

All my best regards,


Eleanor MacDonald,
Department Head,
March 30, 2020