And a Rector does what?

Placing Cam Yung in the historical context of a unique student position

The position of Rector has been alive since 1913
Credit: 
Vincent Lin

When Cam Yung talks about policy, he uses his hands.

“Policy, in my opinion, is meta,” the Rector said, excitedly pantomiming the scope of his topic.

“We may not see the [policy] makes a difference right away but in 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now, it may be one of the greatest changes.”

Yung, ArtSci ’16, is only 22 years old and unlike most students, he has the ear of Queen’s administration. On a first name basis with Principal Woolf and new Provost Benoit-Antoine Bacon — who he earnestly describes as a genuine leader — part of Yung’s job is to have personable relationships with administration members who only appear to other students in press releases. 

After winning a crowded election this January, the fifth year Biology major took the Rector’s office in May. He’s been in love with his position ever since, the excitable Yung said, beaming.

“I love leaving my door open because you just get random people, whether it’s my friends or someone who has seen me speak or seen me on campus coming in and saying that I seem familiar.”

“Having the opportunity to listen to stories, I can’t tell you how much I love listening to other experiences.”

Cam Yung speaking earlier this year at the Rector Debate. 

It seems as if Yung is everywhere, from serving on the Board of Trustees to serving coffee at Cogro.  He also sits on AMS Assembly and SGPS Council, weighs in on different Senate committees — the Senate Committee on Non-Academic Misconduct and Academic Procedures Committee for example — and provides a confidential ear for concerned students.

When given the chance, Yung raves about the student leadership that he’s following in the footsteps of. Counting with his hands, he quickly namedropped past Rectors, Mike Young and Nick Francis, and past AMS executives, Eril Berkok and TK Pritchard, as his student leader heroes.

“I think what Nick and Mike have done has been absolutely exceptional work”, Yung said enthusiastically. 

While Yung holds past student leaders above himself, as Rector he’s the highest ranking student leader in the entire school. In the grand scheme of things, it’s the third officer of the University, right after the titles of Chancellor and Principal.

The Rector tradition is Scottish, adopted from the University of Edinburgh — Queen’s sister school. What the term Rector entails varies with different universities around the world — including an unusual Rector, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who holds the position at the University of Glasgow.

Queen’s is the only Canadian university to have a student serving in the role.

It was 1969 when the last non-student Rector at Queen’s, Conservative Senator Grattan O’Leary, was forced out of the position under student pressure for being out of touch with student needs. Since there was no impeachment process, the student government pressed for O’Leary’s resignation.

The student tradition was introduced later that year as a response to previously out-of-touch cronyism. AlanBroadbent — a graduate student who was in his first year at Queen’s — was elected the first ever student Rector.

Prior to Broadbent, the Rector was typically a famous figure who was deemed a friend to the University. Former Prime Minister R. B. Bennett and the chair of CBC, Leonard Brockington had served terms as Rector for Queen’s. 

 

 

 

But from then on, the Rector changed from a public figure head and became a truly unique liaison between the University administration and the students they serve.

Because the Rector is supposed to be a student and not a salaried official, the Rector’s tuition is fully paid by Queen’s as a form of compensation. Yung plans to serve all three years of his term by hopefully enrolling and completing the Masters in Public Administration program here at Queen’s.

Serving as a student in a role of such influence places Yung in situations where he looks outside his office for help. 

“I’m only one individual, I don’t have all the ideas. I look towards people in the AMS, I look towards the SGPS, I look towards anyone who will come to me and say ‘I have an idea,’” he said. 

That the administration is welcoming of his input, despite his relative inexperience, affords Yung his influence in shaping the University.

“I obviously don’t have the skills and knowledge that someone who has been working in finance for 20 years might have. But at the same time, the administration and the Board of Trustees will understand that and they’ll always take the time to educate you,” he explained.

“That’s what makes Queen’s so amazing. It’s the fact that we have the best student engagement out of all Canadian universities but what helps to facilitate that is that the administration, staff and faculty are educating. This is an educational system.”

When asked if he’s taken seriously as a student by the administration, Yung nodded his head enthusiastically, responding “without a doubt” as if it didn’t occur to him that administration would be anything less than inviting.

“We don’t always have to agree on everything, then you wouldn’t be able to keep pushing forward.”

Turning to discuss his role in rubbing shoulders with Queen’s leaders, Yung reminded me that when he has a dialogue with the administration, he always conscious of it being in the interest of the students he represents.

“There’s a difference between student politicians and student leaders.”

Yung’s firmness on political neutrality stands in contrast to the actions and reputation of one of his more infamous predecessors, former Rector Nick Day.

During a Remembrance Day ceremony, at which he appeared as the Rector, Day used his speech as an opportunity to address Pinochet’s regime in Chile, Aboriginal rights in Canada and the Rwandan Genocide.

In response, the AMS at the time passed a motion to censure Day following his remarks, concerning “whether or not the Remembrance Day service was an appropriate place to express his own political opinion in association with his position as rector,” a Journal article reported at the time.

Day later made national headlines in 2011 when he leveraged his title of Rector to send then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff a politically-charged open letter, scolding him for allegedly supporting a “genocide” against Palestinians by supporting Israel.

Even in light of an AMS referendum that showed that 72 per cent of voters were in favour of Day’s impeachment, Day refused to step down until months later.

Not that Yung steers completely clear of politics. Though he has only been in office for five months, Yung kicked off his term by working with Claire Gummo — a student representative who serves on the Sexual Violence Preventionand Response Working Group — on how to address sexual assault and violence. 

In an overarching vision, Yung sees the position of Rector evolving to connect more students to services available on campus.

Yung talked about tapping into student talent in technology to help update the Rector’s webpage and to even creating a special Queen’s smartphone application.

As the conversation drew in to a close, so did Yung’s hands. Clasping them back together, Yung said that policy, at the end of the day, is a team effort.

“The only time you succeed is working as a team and having that clear communication and working together.”

“This is what policy does, it brings everyone together.” 

Corrections

A previous version of this article stated Yung's age as 23, not 22. 

The Journal regrets the error.

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