Dean Harris a ‘remarkable role model’

Departing Applied Science dean ‘fought hard for students’

Ahmed Kayssi
Ahmed Kayssi

a r g u e n d o

People’s true characters are only revealed under duress.

Take, for example, Sodexho’s decision not to grant a liquor license to Science Formal in 2003 because they deemed the raucous event too risky. They would only acquiesce if the organizers took personal responsibility for whatever happened that evening.

When no one on the organizing committee had the courage to take that kind of risk, it seemed that
the formal, an annual engineering tradition since 1903, was in serious jeopardy and students began
to panic.

So what did Tom Harris, dean of Applied Science do? He signed off on the liquor license, putting his
reputation on the line. Harris attended that year’s formal with his wife, just as they did in the 1970s when they were both Queen’s undergraduates and he was in his final year of chemical engineering.

They danced the night away as if nothing could possibly go wrong. And sure enough, nothing did.
The evening went ahead without a glitch. John Mould, EngSoc president at the time, remembers this
incident well. “Dean Harris saved Science Formal. Without his unshakable faith in students, that event would have been lost forever,” he said. It’s precisely this sort of conviction in his students and their
abilities that has made Tom Harris a Queen’s legend long before he steps down this June, after 11
years at the helm of our most colourful faculty.

Many of the traditions that Queen’s students take for granted rely heavily on administrative support. That is especially true in engineering, where potentially disastrous events such as the Grease Pole are often criticized by administrators unnerved by the threat of litigation.

But Harris would have none of that. Current EngSoc president Connor Langford recalls his first-year Grease Pole experience when Harris went around the pit encouraging students to work harder to climb the pole. “He told us we’d do it soon and that his year took the longest to get the tam out of any other. He even told us that his year had to come back with a ladder,” Langford said. Harris’ success as a leader and an administrator stems from such humility and dedication to his students and colleagues.
He fought hard on behalf of students, especially when the establishment of the EngSoc-run Tearoom, now a popular spot on campus, was resisted by some administrators who did not want students running another service. He also made sure that engineering students knew exactly how much they would be expected to pay during their time at Queen’s so they could plan accordingly. Furthermore, Harris consistently presented his tuition plans to engineering students for discussion every year before he made any tuition recommendations to the University’s senior administrators.

Former EngSoc president Grant Bishop admired in Harris his ability to “trust and inspire trust in those
around him, empowering them to define and implement their vision, and treating them with honesty, candour and humility.

“The incredible scale of evolution, innovation and development of Applied Science through his tenure is a tribute to his ability to incite initiatives in others,” Bishop said.

That is not to imply that his tenure was without difficulty or tension. He often butted heads with other administrators over faculty funding and student access to scholarships and bursaries. He also overruled students, although rarely, when he was concerned about the safety of some of the bizarre traditions that engineering students have tried to start over the years.

But to Harris, university politics were always more about constructive outcomes than personal advancement. “If you were logical in your reasoning, there would be mutual respect even in a disagreement.

His reasoning is always thorough and impeccable, and, in engineer style, he often resolves complex issues into diagrams to present and discuss the relationship between his ideas,” Bishop said.
In an age where Queen’s faculties are becoming increasingly independent, Harris made sure
that the award-winning facilities of the new Integrated Learning Centre were readily available for all
Queen’s students to experience. He viewed Applied Science as an integral part of the Queen’s
community and actively encouraged engineering students to broaden their horizons by pursuing dual
degrees in other disciplines, and to take on leadership roles within the University.

He could not be happier one year when the AMS and Society of Graduate and Professional Students presidents and the rector, a position I held at the time, all happened to be engineering students. He sent us congratulatory notes reminding us of our responsibility to safeguard our faculty’s reputation.
Tom Harris will be greatly missed after he steps down as dean, especially when people begin to realize just how much the positive learning environment for which Applied Science is known was driven by his passion and enthusiasm. My sincere hope is that other administrators learn from his example and emulate the many qualities that have made him such a remarkable role model to countless Queen’s students and alumni.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.