Queen's University

Ahead of their time?

Retired Education prof Peter Hennessy, Arts'48, recalls early efforts to reform the university's admissions policies.

Re: "In the shadow of his smile," Issue #2, 2012

It was a particular pleasure, though no great surprise, to read that Bruce Alexander, Com’60, LLD’11, is now applying his many talents to mentoring a small group of socially conscious young persons in the art and science of changing the world for the better. I presume they in turn will mentor another set ad infinitum.

Bruce AlexanderBruce Alexander

I had the pleasure of working with Bruce 40 years ago when he chaired an ad hoc committee of the University Council that was charged with studying Queen’s admission policy and making recommendations to the Senate. In addition to myself, the committee members were Bruce Alexander, Com’60, LLD’11; Donald Keenleyside, Arts’54, Meds’56; Eric Jorgensen, BSc’49; George Carson, Meds’68; Stuart Robb, BSc’36; George Leech (University Registrar) and Ida Smith (Secretary).

We did our work in the context of the youth revolution and a flowering of liberal thinking. It seemed obvious to us that a more socially sensitive admissions policy was required than the one by which Ontario students [for example] were admitted based solely on satisfactory completion of a set of grade 13 subjects. As applications increased in number, the admission cut-off mark was jacked up and up with no end in sight. Thus, increasing numbers of deserving prospects were turned away. We agreed that other criteria should be given due consideration, along with marks.

Out of our travails came a set of recommendations the key one of which was “a scale of weights” whereby the minimum academic requirement (marks) would be supplemented by special talents and abilities displayed by the applicant; extracurricular achievements or community activities; and academic competence, including capacity for independent thought. Additionally, we recommended consideration should be given to financial stress, the quality of a personal statement by the applicant, and special consideration for applicants of aboriginal background.
I do not know about the fine-tuning of admissions since 1972. What I do know is that our suggested “scale of weights” received scant attention from the academic leadership at Queen’s. In fact, the status quo remained in place for some time. It was not well known that Principal John Deutsch told me that he would not have been admitted to Queen’s under the admission policy of 1973.


Peter Hennessy is a retired Education ­professor who served as longtime Registrar of the Faculty of Education. One of the changes to admissions policy in this period was the practice of giving preference to ­children of alumni when two students were of equal merit. The question about a student’s alumni ties was dropped from application forms, along with questions about religion. – Ed.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2012 Issue #3Queen's Alumni Review
2012 Issue #3
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