Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor

[Principal and Vice Chancellor]
[Principal and Vice Chancellor]

The Principal's Major Priorities for 2017/2018

  • Catalyzing change – faculty renewal; research prominence;graduate student experience
  • Respecting our community – diversity and inclusion; encouraging safe and respectful behavior
  • Infrastructure strategy – managing deferred maintenance

In this Q&A Queen’s Gazette, Daniel Woolf previewed what’s to come this year.

How do your priorities advance the university’s mission and build the Queen's of the future that you have envisioned and spoken about?

We are collectively building the Queen’s of the future every day. It’s a place of great traditions, and many of those traditions still survive from my time as a student. Yet no institution survives by staying in the same place. We need to adapt and change. We have made huge progress in the last few years, and I think our trajectory is simply going to continue upward.

My first priority as Principal was to put our financial and governance house in order, develop a culture of planning, and introduce a new budget model – which has been done thanks to the hard work of the Deans and our former Provost. The last few years have been focused on putting in place the conditions for future success, including drafting documents such as the Strategic Framework and the Comprehensive International Plan, ensuring sustainable enrolment growth, improving town-gown relations, and working on our talent management.

My current goals are based on a three-year rolling plan, which includes short-term and long-term priorities. The 2017-18 underlying themes are primarily: catalyzing change, which relates to faculty renewal and research prominence; respecting our community, which includes diversity and inclusion as well as encouraging safe and respectful behavior; and an infrastructure strategy, which will look at the question of how we eliminate $300 million worth of deferred maintenance in the next ten to twelve years and, of course, how we will pay for it.

The faculty renewal effort underpins many of these priorities. It will support our commitment to equity and inclusion, enhance our teaching and learning by ensuring students receive mentorship from faculty with diverse backgrounds and experience, and will help us attract promising early- and mid-career faculty who demonstrate exceptional promise as researchers.

Achieving these goals will put us in a position to reach for much greater success in research and innovation. This should lead us, five to ten years down the road, to an enhanced reputation as one of the most distinctive universities in the country in terms of the quality of its teaching, the quality of its students and faculty, the quality of its research, and its ability to innovate.

Looking ahead to the fifth year of our planned faculty renewal efforts, what difference will we see in the Queen’s of 2021-2022?

You will see nearly a quarter of the entire faculty complement turn over between new hires, retirements, and other departures. We will have a number of younger faculty out of recent PhD programs with somewhat different approaches to pedagogy, community relations, and interdisciplinarity. You will also be seeing some mid-career and senior appointments in designated fields to firm up areas of established excellence and promising emerging subjects. Hiring these 200 new faculty is a strategic investment that will lead us into the future.

These new faculty will want to come here because we will be one of Canada’s leading research intensive and teaching universities. They will want to be here because we are a place that recognizes innovation. They will be drawn by the good quality of life, the vibrant culture, and the affordability of living in Kingston. And they will have the chance to teach outstanding students in an environment where there is a great care for health and wellbeing, and in a place where we have made some thoughtful and strategic choices in terms of our research excellence.

The two primary lenses we are using to guide our hiring decisions are research excellence – the few areas at Queen’s that have the capacity to be really world-leading – and diversity and equity, where we know that we have some work to do.

We cannot aspire to be a world leader in every single subject and every single discipline. We have the capacity to make some choices to pursue areas – particle physics is an obvious one, but not the only one – where we can rank in the top 100 or higher. Making such choices does not disadvantage or diminish other areas. A rising tide lifts all boats.

The Provost and I will be taking advice from the Deans and the incoming Vice-Principal (Research and Innovation) in terms of what are the most promising areas. I say ‘areas’ rather than necessarily ‘departments’ or ‘disciplines’ since some will be multidisciplinary. We will also be appealing to our alumni, who recognize the importance of hiring and retaining the best and brightest, for support for endowed chairs and professorships to support our hiring plans.

Why are our research reputation and graduate student experience so important?

For Queen’s to be where we need to be five to ten years from now, we need to raise our game on research and graduate education.

We have an outstanding reputation as an undergraduate institution. We are one of the lead providers of a baccalaureate education, inside and outside the classroom. But it is important, if we are to be a truly balanced academy, that we are equally recognized for our research. It is not just an add-on – it is as big a part as the teaching and support for our faculty members.

Student engagement scores are solid on the undergraduate side. We have a little work to do on graduate engagement scores, and the Deans are looking closely at how we can improve those. It’s something we need to see some movement on in the next few years.

The graduate piece is really important because graduate students contribute enormously to the university. On the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) side of the house, they work on research projects that are very much connected with supervisor’s research programme. They are a big part of the engine that drives research. On the non-STEM side, where that model occurs sometimes but is less common, they contribute to the intellectual life of the humanities and social sciences departments. Even in my current job I still supervise one or two graduate students. They keep me on my toes intellectually. And graduate students also enhance our teaching as TAs and Teaching Fellows.

What do you hope to achieve by implementing the international strategy, and what impact will this have on Queen’s reputation?

Our international recognition has begun to improve through the great success our admissions and international teams have had in bringing people in. If you tell the world about us, they will actually come. Students who come here and return home build our reputation further.

Reputation is important. Apart from attracting fantastic students, it also has an impact on our ability to form international partnerships and secure international research funding. There is an awful lot of research money available in Europe and Asia, for example, which we could be accessing if we had more collaborative partnerships. We want to build on strategic partnerships with institutions we see as equal or better, opening up exchanges for students, creating opportunities for our faculty to have overseas sabbaticals and for faculty to come here on their sabbatical, and build more international research collaborations.

At the same time, there is also funding to be had in industry partnerships. That, in turn, helps the city and our country. All of this is part of a virtuous circle which will further enhance our reputation.

As I suggested above, interdisciplinarity is important. To solve the problems of the world, physicists have to work with chemists, biologists have to work with environmental engineers and, frankly, all of them need the advice of the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Looking ahead in the next few years, I would like to see us move in a bolder direction to organize interdisciplinary entities that bring together people from different departments and faculties.

What do employees need to know and be aware of as far as Queen’s financial competitiveness?

We have come a long way. We would not be hiring 200 faculty over the next five years if we had not got our financial house in order, and achieving this has very much been a collective effort.

On the staff side, Physical Plant Services has been managing our energy costs, saving us a good deal of money over the years. Advancement has been remarkably successful in getting donors to invest and I want to thank them for their hard work. Every dollar into the endowment produces 3.5 cents for particular things we need each year. When you have a large endowment, as we now do, that’s a significant chunk of money.

We have staff in research services and the faculties who work with faculty members and students generating scholarships and operating grants, and those who develop new programs which have brought in additional revenue to the university. Senate has been exceptionally busy in recent years overseeing the development of new programs and exercising its academic oversight of their quality.

And we have a very engaged board of trustees and committees with a lot of financial acuity and experience, and they have helped manage risk and given us a sound financial strategy.

There is still some work to do. We are getting close to resolving some of our long-standing pension issues, which remain a major financial threat. We have significant deferred maintenance challenges to address in the next few years, and it is not only our oldest buildings which need work. We are making progress, as you can see with the number of cranes, trucks, and workers around. Our Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) is developing a strategic asset management plan so we can identify which buildings are the most urgent for refresh or outright replacement. We have also benefitted from strong returns on our investments and a continued increase in student enrolment, though we must remain cautious and continue to address some of our financial risks.

What are the growth areas for Queen’s reputation, and how do we get there?

Interim Vice-Principal (Research) John Fisher is leading our strategic research plan renewal process, and Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion) Teri Shearer is leading the academic plan renewal. Both of these processes should be resolved later this year, pending approval by Senate, and those, in turn, will inform our next iteration of the strategic framework in 2019.

We need to develop a more pan-university approach to some of the things we do. As I suggested above, it’s essential that we bring social sciences, humanities, and arts into some of our more well-known areas of strength. Among other things, they are going to be enormously important in our future digital strategy.

There remain some health and wellness challenges, especially around alcohol consumption, where student leaders have been working with us, and with community members, to encourage safe drinking. University Council has a number of Special Purpose committees looking into matters of importance such as alcohol consumption on and off campus. And we need to remain vigilant on the issue of sexual violence, which is often related to abuse of alcohol.

Finally, we must consider what we can do to become a leader in policy innovation once again. I am expecting, in the next month or so, a report on the future of public policy at Queen’s. I think it will give us some very interesting guidance on directions we might take, and the larger issue of Queen’s in the Canadian and larger international public policy sphere. This obviously involves the School of Policy Studies but I think it can involve so many more of our faculty and students around the university.