Letter to the editor: November 13

Re: Student self-government at risk

One of the things I’ve always respected and enjoyed most about Queen’s is its tradition of student leadership, in everything from faculty societies and university governance to extracurricular activities and community events. Because of that, it was not surprising to read that some of our former student leaders have concerns about the current review of the university’s non-academic misconduct system.

I would begin by correcting one wrong impression: the review concerns the overall arrangements for administering and adjudicating cases of non-academic misconduct. It is not specifically about the AMS’ non-academic discipline system (NAD), except insofar as that system is part of a wider set of systems including those administered by the SGPS, Residences, and Athletics and Recreation.

The university is committed to student safety, and both independent experts and the Board of Trustees have identified our current system as a risk. That simply cannot be ignored — change of some kind is required. We have waived confidentiality regarding the legal opinion on the board’s role in this matter, which can now be found on the review website.

I was an undergraduate student at Queen’s, and I recognize there are strongly held feelings on all sides of this topic. The review committee’s goal is to consider all of those perspectives in a process that ultimately results in a better non-academic misconduct system.

It’s important to correct a few of the assertions made in the Journal piece. Firstly, the Board does indeed have both the authority and responsibility when it comes to the administration of these matters. That responsibility has been delegated to Senate, but it remains the Board’s to delegate. Secondly, contrary to popular impression, the oft-repeated notion that the Senate delegated this responsibility to the AMS  in the late nineteenth century is a belief based on no foundational document. Thirdly, even if that were not the case, circumstances and social expectations change, and it is not reasonable to assume that a system put into place for a university of fewer than 3000 students should pass unexamined and unmodified into use by a 21st century university with a student population of over 21,000.

As I have stated from the outset, the purpose of the review is not to eliminate any of the current systems – including NAD – but to maintain the Queen’s tradition of student involvement in non-academic discipline while at the same time recalibrating the system to meet contemporary realities.  The university plans to work with students, including the AMS and SGPS, and other stakeholders to build a new structure that maintains the positive aspects of the peer-to-peer system while ensuring the health and safety of all students and others at Queen’s.

Our timelines for the review will allow us to receive input from a wide range of Queen’s community members. The process was first announced in September, and consultations will continue into the spring. I invite all students and alumni who have thoughts on this matter to submit them to the committee at acnam@queensu.ca.

Finally, I must confess to being completely puzzled by the signatories’ suggestion that Queen’s is in a state of “ongoing decline.” In actuality, this is a remarkable time for our university. One of our faculty members was recently awarded a Nobel Prize, we are headed towards the end of a hugely successful, $500 million fundraising campaign, Macleans has ranked us first in student satisfaction in our category, and we received one of the largest donations ever made to the university in the form of a $50 million gift to our School of Business. And, our students remain some of the best and brightest in the country, contributing to the university in infinite ways. That doesn’t sound like a decline to me, and this review will not change this upward trajectory.

Daniel Woolf,
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

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