Being Karen Hitchcock

In the third and final part of our series, the Journal learns how to schmooze with the best and finds out how the most powerful person on campus spends her time

Hitchcock pre-records her radio show, “The Best of our Knowledge,” at CFRC every Wednesday. It’s broadcasted to over 125 countries from Albany, N.Y.
Hitchcock pre-records her radio show, “The Best of our Knowledge,” at CFRC every Wednesday. It’s broadcasted to over 125 countries from Albany, N.Y.


Jan. 26: Caf manager • Jan. 30: Campus security • Today: Karen Hitchcock

You’ve seen her walking around campus in a suit, a coat and, if it’s convocation season, sometimes even a gown. They say you don’t know a person until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes.

I wore my own shoes, but on Jan. 10, I spent the day learning what it takes to be Queen’s Principal
with Karen Hitchcock. My day began at 9:30 a.m. at CFRC 101.9FM, where Hitchcock tapes her radio show, “The Best of our Knowledge,” every Wednesday. The show is pre-recorded at CFRC and broadcast out of Albany, N.Y., where she held her last position as president at the State University of
New York at Albany.

She records the show with her co-host Glenn Busby, who tapeshis part in Albany, and it’s made to sound like the two hosts are in the same studio when broadcasting. The principal arrives at 9:35, wearing a conservative suit and looking collected. She doesn’t waste any time getting started.

I get set up with a pair of headphones outside the recording studio, and Hitchcock begins her taping with the help of Sayyida Jaffer, Comm ’05 and CFRC operations officer, who provides Hitchcock’s technical support for the show. Jaffer said she has an interesting working relationship with the principal.

“When we’re in the box, we joke around and stuff,” she says, laughing. “But when we’re outside, I’m not really sure how to act. Things change a little.”

Today’s story is about children and their interest in math and science. As Hitchcock and Busby go through their recordings, Hitchcock’s New York roots come through when it takes her three tries to say “reporter” without a New York twang.

“Why am I doing this?” she asks, about her pervading accent. “Here we go with another cold read again.”

Her co-host teases her, saying she has had the script prepared far in advance. “You’ve had this script for how long?” Busby asks. “No, no, a principal is a very busy person.”

Hitchcock says part of what she enjoys about her job is its irregular schedule.

“I do a lot of advocating for the institution,” she says.

“For example, yesterday we spent the day in Toronto talking with government officials.
“It’s really letting people who are friends of the institution know what’s going on, keeping them up to speed.” She says she tries to combine locales of meetings when travelling.

“I’ll attend a council meeting and schedule a donor meeting in the same city on the same day,” she says. “Sometimes the focus is all Queen’s, and sometimes it’s Queen’s and postsecondary education.”

After the radio taping is done, I’m told to come back in an hour because the principal has a confidential meeting to attend. At 11:15, I return to the principal’s office in Dunning 140 and there’s already a group of students waiting to see her.

The students are the founding members of Students Against Indifference (SAI), a group that formed after hearing Elie Wiesel speak at Queen’s on Nov. 22.

The group’s project for this year is to increase awareness about the conflict in Darfur. They’ve come to the principal’s open office hours to ask for advice.

Megan Krause, ArtSci ’08, says they will be campaigning on campus for their cause, and hope to hold a rally.

“We would like to focus more on the Queen’s community specifically,” she told the principal. “We want to give people agency, give them a voice. We feel many of the students at Queen’s are apathetic.”

Josh Barr, Comm ’10, says the club wants to put its plan into action sooner rather than later, so waiting for AMS ratification doesn’t align with the group’s plans.

“They won’t see [our proposal] until late February,” he says.

“We’re still going to go through the process of becoming an AMS club.
“We want to get started before the end of the year.”

Hitchcock responds to the group’s request for affiliation from the administration with the suggestion of involving others.

“Let me involve Jason Laker. I don’t know what the special permissions are for having a rally, but I’m sure there are some,” she says. “It’s good to have a focus. There are so many issues that need to be addressed.”

“We have contacts if there are provincial or federal ideas in the works.”

Hitchcock says her open office hours for students have been consistently busy and a positive initiative.

“In the open office hours, most students come in for initiatives like [SAI]. Some come with personal problems, but that’s the minority. One young man came in with biscotti and we had tea,” she says.

After the group leaves with Hitchcock’s promise to get back to them about Laker’s response, her executive assistant, Patrick McNeill, enters the room at 11:45.

“I need to speak with Karen alone for a few minutes, if you don’t mind,” he says. “She has to review some tenure files.”

With that, I am sent to our next destination—lunch at the University Club at 168 Stuart St.—with the principal soon to follow. I arrive at noon and secretly delight in the fact that I have a name placard at the table along with the other guests. The lunch is being held for the St. Andrew’s Exchange Scholarship Program, in honour of the founding chairman, Roger Thompson.

During the meal, conversation ranges from future plans to student exchange experiences to golf to the importance of languages.

“I wonder how important knowing another language is,” Hitchcock says. “It’s interesting coming to a country where I thought absolutely everyone would be bilingual.”

Hitchcock says her job involves a lot of interaction with donors and alumni.

“That’s virtually what the job is, interaction,” she says. “It’s about keeping people’s bonds to Queen’s strong.” When asked how much she makes, Hitchcock laughs and says she doesn’t know offhand.

“I could give you a number but it would be wrong,” she says.

According to the provincial government’s website, she makes $306,425.04 per year, making her the second-highest paid employee at Queen’s.

She said her work schedule isn’t fixed, and that she simply puts in the hours it takes to complete what needs to be done.

“Today for example, I started at 9 a.m. and I won’t get home until 10 p.m.,” she says. “But like today at lunch, is that work?”

“Patrick [McNeill] is going to pick up my husband for the hockey game tonight. I don’t even have time to do that.”

After the luncheon ends, theprincipal and I part ways. She’s on her way to more meetings until the Golden Gaels hockey game starts later that night, where she will watch them play for the Carr Harris Cup against RMC.

I’m on my way back to being a student, with my name placard only a hazy memory. She leaves me with what she considers to be the most challenging part of her job.

“I think realizing on a daily basis that there are so many new ideas and initiatives out there and finding the time and resources to make them a reality,” she says.

“Making choices between them is the hardest part.”

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