Unengaging resignation

Amid campus controversy and national media coverage, Principal Karen Hitchcock announced she’s withdrawing her reappointment request yesterday in a University-wide e-mail.

Her term ends June 30, 2009, but her resignation’s effective April 30, 2008.

Hitchcock’s request for reappointment was being reviewed by a Board of Trustees reappointment committee, which was set to deliver its recommendation at a Board meeting yesterday.

Hitchcock’s resignation was the best thing for the University at this point, and her early departure alleviates fears of an awkward year to come working with members of the AMS, faculty, administration and trustees who have made their dissatisfaction clear.

Although in Hitchcock’s case a resignation’s preferable to a refused reappointment, resigning the day the committee was to deliver its recommendation effectively renders its extensive work useless and has an air of one-upmanship.

Walking away from Queen’s before her term is up doesn’t make Hitchcock look much better in the face of a community ambivalent towards her.

Yesterday, Hitchcock declined interviews and referred reporters to Vice-Principal (Advancement) David Mitchell, who was unavailable for comment. As a last courtesy, it would have been heartening to see her talk openly and candidly about the past four years and the reasoning behind her decision. As the University’s public face she owes that much to her constituents and her lack of communication subsequent to her brief e-mail indicated only indifference.

Hitchcock isn’t the only one at fault here. Prominent members of the Queen’s community refused to comment on her resignation or the committee’s undisclosed recommendation.

Students deserve to know what the committee’s recommendation would have been, and after making such a vocal statement AMS Assembly shouldn’t have clammed up and avoided media coverage.

Hitchcock’s status as Queen’s first female principal at a school accustomed to white, male leadership makes her sudden departure more disappointing. Breaking the old boys’ club barrier is a difficult task, especially when the University perpetuates that atmosphere. In seeking both an interim principal and a full-time successor, the University should focus on fostering a more inclusive and accessible environment to ensure this situation isn’t repeated and allow the next principal a better chance at success.

Queen’s faces numerous infrastructural, academic, cultural and financial challenges in the coming years. We need a principal who’s both capable and open to candid discussion about the University’s position and future.

Many students have indicated it doesn’t make much difference to them whether Hitchcock stays or goes, and that’s indicative of her detachment as principal.

It’s commendable Hitchcock stepped back to listen to what students had to say—it’s too bad it was only when they were asking her to leave.

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