History of University Council

How did Council start?

(This may seem unrelated, but I promise we’ll get to University Council if you stick with it!)

In the late 1860s, a number of Presbyterian and Free churches in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes chose to unite.  Queen’s Principal at the time, Rev. William Snodgrass, played an important role in advising the Ontario body given that Scottish churches were significant benefactors of the university as it educated young men in divinity.  

Some stakeholders felt that there was no role for the church to play in secular education and that Queen’s should amalgamate with the University of Toronto and shutter the Kingston campus.  Some proposed that Queen’s, which was providing an education in the arts and sciences as well as divinity, be restricted to only offering religious instruction.

After four years of work, it was agreed that the united Presbyterian Church in Canada would provide a grant to assist in funding theological education at Queen’s, but that its involvement in secular education be limited.

(If you’ve stuck with it, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for…)

University Council was created near the end of this work, in 1874, likely in reaction to the lessened influence of the Church and the growing influence of Queen’s graduates, given that the university had now existed for over 30 years and a good number of alumni had Queen’s interests at heart.  There was a desire to bring together a group of people with strong connections to Queen’s who could encourage donations and help the university find its way in this new chapter of its existence.

What did Council first look like?

From the beginning, it was recognized that Council would have little direct power but would provide alumni with a way to express their recommendations to university leaders on matters of policy, and who could promote the interests of the university, in the absence of an alumni association, a form of which wasn’t created until 1927.

Indeed, the first power included in Council’s first terms of reference gave it the ability to register all alumni in a central location for the purposes of enabling voting to appoint a Chancellor.

Council’s remaining powers included:
•    Discuss matters related to Queen’s and declaring Council’s opinions;
•    Make representations to the Board of Trustees or Senate;
•    Decide the terms of affiliation of any college or school with Queen’s, as proposed by the Board; and
•    Meet in convocation for the public conferring of degrees and other honours awarded by the Senate, and the installation of the Chancellor and Principal.

Council originally included all Board of Trustees members, all Senators, and a number of alumni in an amount equal to the number of Trustees and Senators added together.

In 1912, the power to elect a rector was added to Council’s by-laws.

Council continued to meet throughout the 20th century to discuss matters related to Queen’s.  An annual meeting agenda from 1946 details discussion topics focused on the advisability of a degree course in physical education, the place of the humanities in universities that have professional schools, and the extension of clinical teaching in the Faculty of Medicine.

What is Council’s role today?

Council’s role in the 21st century continues to be largely ambassadorial and advisory. Its composition was changed in 2011 and now includes:
•    Chancellor, Principal, and Board Chair
•    Alumni x 40
•    Senator x 1
•    Queen’s Alumni Association President

Council meets once a year at an Annual General Meeting. Its formal business includes the appointment of Queen’s Chancellor, the electing of six Councillors to the Board of Trustees, and the awarding of the university’s annual Distinguished Service Awards.

Council has oversight of the election of a Rector but has delegated this role to the Alma Mater Society and Society of Professional and Graduate Students. Council also has oversight of the place and time of Convocation but has delegated this role to the Senate.

What do Councillors do?

Today, University Councillors are ambassadors who engage in the promotion of the interests of Queen’s and represent alumni as advisors to the university by bringing alumni perspectives to Council’s AGM.

Learn more by checking out the Councillor Role Description.

Any questions about Council can be shared with the University Secretariat via ucouncil@queensu.ca.