Guarded reaction to Hitchcock’s departure

Karen Hitchcock was Queen’s first female principal.
Karen Hitchcock was Queen’s first female principal.
Photo: 

Queen’s administration and student government scrambled to respond to Principal Karen Hitchcock’s e-mailed resignation yesterday.

Shortly after Hitchcock’s announcement, AMS President Kingsley Chak sent an e-mail to some AMS staff telling them not to speak to the media.

“No off the record, no personal opinions. We don’t need any more press about this,” he wrote.

Chak told the Journal he considers the matter closed.

He agreed the result—that Hitchcock won’t return for another term as principal—is what the AMS motion in March was calling for, but said he didn’t want to comment.

Chak wouldn’t say whether Hitchcock’s resignation surprised him because, he said, it would contravene the confidentiality binding the reappointment committee he sat on.

Rector Johsa Manzanilla said she was taken aback by Hitchcock’s resignation.

“Obviously we’ve gone through many a meeting to come to this conclusion so I was kind of expecting for the process to follow through till the end,” she said. “By withdrawing [Hitchcock’s reappointment request] all the meetings that we’ve had … it doesn’t really matter at this point.”

Incoming AMS President Talia Radcliffe said she was shocked at first to hear Hitchock was leaving.

“It made sense to me after I thought about it,” she said. “In terms of the media that has surrounded this entire process I can understand why she would have wanted to.”

Radcliffe said she hopes the new principal appreciates the role students play at Queen’s.

“I think that students, ultimately, have a unique role at Queen’s and that should be seen as a benefit, not a hindrance or deterrent, and that … the principal candidate that sees this as a benefit is what we are looking for ultimately.”

Radcliffe wouldn’t comment on whether she wanted Hitchcock to stay another five years.

“To be honest I haven’t had much contact with her as a normal student and even since being elected I’ve had just a couple, maybe more than a couple, interactions with her,” she said. “It’s really hard to gauge my opinions on her in the past four years.”

Despite winning several teaching awards during his 18 years as a Queen’s professor, School of Business professor Ken Wong said he has never met or heard from Hitchcock.

“Does it upset me that there’s this principal I’ve never met? Yeah.”

Wong was surprised at Hitchcock’s decision to withdraw her request for reappointment.

“It’s never a good thing when a principal resigns in their first term.”

He said he found the AMS Assembly motion troubling.

“I find it a little disconcerting that we didn’t see a groundswell of support for her,” he said. “At Queen’s, we don’t have 20 to nothing votes against the principal. When things get to that stage and students feel that desperate, it means going through channels is no longer satisfying, their needs aren’t being heard.”

But Wong said he didn’t expect the principal to resign in light of the motion.

“My expectation was that she would think of this as constructive, in a more constructive manner, and continue to pursue her vision but perhaps attend a little bit more to the students,” he said.

“The Queen’s tradition is to respect and celebrate our students, and if she could not or would not, then it is the best thing [for the University].”

Geoff Smith, a retired history and physical education professor, said Hitchcock’s gender and allegations of ethical misconduct worked against her when she started in May 2004.

“Women have not been in abundance in upper-echelon decision-making. She had to be twice as good,” he said. “She never really established a constituency here at Queen’s.

“This is an old, hallowed university where white men have had rule for a long time and it’s a sad day to see Karen Hitchcock go.” Hitchcock, who designed a strategic plan for Queen’s in 2006, lacked a relevant vision for the University, Smith said.

“Her vision struck me as naïve … and somewhat ludicrous with the lack of resources now dogging this institution,” he said.

Smith wouldn’t wish the job of principal on anyone in light of the challenges facing Queen’s, he said.

“Now we’re chasing the almighty research dollar, emphasizing the global perspective,” he said. “[The new principal is] going to have to stand up and defend liberal arts at this University.”

Alumnus and donor Alfred Bader, ArtSci ’45, said he’s “terribly sad” Hitchcock’s leaving.

“I am just aghast. She is such a good person and she has been so ill-treated. You can blame the AMS for that,” he said, adding that the AMS shouldn’t have issued a motion calling on the Board not to renew Hitchcock’s term.

“She is a most caring, intelligent person. She should have had better advice at Queen’s to talk to students and academics personally, but it’s not easy for an American to come to Canada not knowing much about Queen’s,” he said.

Bader, who has previously given Queen’s an English castle, two Rembrandt paintings and $14 million for a performing arts centre, said this won’t affect his willingness to donate.

“Clearly we want to help Queen’s,” he said. “This isn’t going to help, but we’ll continue.”

Student trustees Michael Ceci and Lindsey Love-Forester, outgoing SGPS President Arash Farzam-Kia and Dean of Student Affairs Jason Laker declined to comment. Vice-Principal (Advancement) David Mitchell didn’t return the Journal’s phone calls.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane spoke to the Journal but wouldn’t comment on Hitchcock’s resignation or the appointment of new or interim principals.

By the dates

1996
Karen Hitchcock takes over as president of State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany after serving as interim president and previously as vice-president of academic affairs.

Oct. 28, 2003
Hitchcock announces her resignation from SUNY (Albany).

April 30, 2004
A letter from the New York State ethics commission informs Hitchcock a complaint was filed against her alleging she attempted to steer a campus construction project to a developer who would endow an academic position for her.

Feb. 25, 2005
The New York Times prints an article about the allegations of ethical misconduct against Hitchcock.

March 4, 2005
The Board of Trustees expresses unanimous confidence in Hitchcock in the face of allegations of ethical misconduct.

Sept. 29, 2005
Hitchcock releases “Engaging the World,” a discussion paper outlining a strategic plan for the University.

Oct. 3, 2005
Hitchcock meets with a group of about 50 Aberdeen Street student residents to share her concerns related to Homecoming 2005, during which upwards of 5,000 partiers crowded onto Abderdeen Street and a car was flipped and set on fire.

Nov. 3, 2005
Hitchcock unveils plans for a 24-hour hotline for Kingston residents to call with complaints about students or neighbourhood concerns.

Nov. 21, 2005
Hitchcock meets with student leaders to discuss the aftermath of Homecoming 2005.

December 16, 2005
Board of Trustees appoints lawyer Robert Fiske to try to clear Hitchcock’s name. The Board eventually approves payment of $20,000 US to Fiske.

March 28 and 30, 2006
Hitchcock hosts town hall forums to discuss potential tuition increases at Queen's. At the second meeting, the Coalition for Accessible Education-Kingston presents Hitchcock with a "Golden Waffle Award" for "her ability to waffle on any given issue."May 6, 2006
Board of Trustees Chair John Rae sends a letter to the Board announcing the principal had been cleared of the alleged misconduct.

June 27, 2007
The Athletics Review compiled by former dean of student affairs Bob Crawford and dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research Janice Deakin is submitted to Hitchcock’s office.

Feb. 7, 2008
Principal Hitchcock releases her response to the Athletics Review, accepting its recommendations with a few reservations while delaying the time frame for restructuring interuniversity sports.

March 5, 2008
AMS Assembly unanimously passes a motion stating its opposition to Hitchcock’s reappointment.

April 16, 2008
Hitchcock announces she’s withdrawing her reappointment request.

Lisa Jemison

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 journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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.