Principal withdraws reappointment request; resignation takes effect April 30

Principal Karen Hitchcock, shown here in an April 2007 vigil for victims of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University shooting, announced she’s withdrawing her reappointment request in an e-mail yesterday morning.
Principal Karen Hitchcock, shown here in an April 2007 vigil for victims of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University shooting, announced she’s withdrawing her reappointment request in an e-mail yesterday morning.
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Principal Karen Hitchcock announced her resignation in a University-wide e-mail yesterday morning.

“I want to take this opportunity to express my deep thanks to those Trustees, faculty, administrators, staff, students, alumni and volunteers who played such a large part in the accomplishments of the last four years,” she wrote. “It has been an honour to serve Queen’s and I wish only the best for the University we all love.”

Hitchcock declined to speak with the Journal.

Her resignation takes effect April 30.

Hitchcock became Queen’s first female principal, as well as its first American principal, in May 2004.

Her five-year term was set to expire June 30, 2009. A Board of Trustees committee had been reviewing her reappointment and was supposed to make its recommendation, originally expected March 28, at a Board of Trustees meeting yesterday.

Instead, the Board held a 90-minute closed-door meeting with many trustees teleconferencing in to decide how to proceed.

Board of Trustees Chair Bill Young suggested the reappointment committee had finalized its recommendation before Hitchcock’s resignation, but wouldn’t elaborate.

“I would say that one could infer that, although I’m not going to confirm it,” he told the Journal. “The committee’s point of view is that it didn’t have a recommendation … because the principal resigned before the recommendation could be made so the process could not be completed.”

Young said he wasn’t very surprised by Hitchcock’s decision.

“I don’t know whether I had expectations or not. I understood her situation, given the nature of what’s been going on. It was her decision and her decision alone, but I understood it,” he said.

“Karen is a highly intelligent and very sophisticated individual and her ability to assess and analyze the situation is pretty advanced.”

Less than a year into Hitchcock’s term, the New York Times made public a New York State ethics commission inquiry into her alleged ethical misconduct as president of State University of New York (SUNY) Albany. The inquiry had been underway when she was appointed Queen’s 18th principal, and the Board was aware of it when they appointed her.

Queen’s paid high-profile New York City lawyer Robert Fiske $20,000 (US) to try to clear Hitchcock’s name.

Although Fiske didn’t succeed in convincing the New York governor to launch an inquiry into the allegations, the case was closed and allegations were dismissed in the spring of 2006.

Hitchcock has been criticized for not engaging enough with students or the University community.

On March 5 AMS Assembly passed a motion stating “its desire for new leadership at Queen’s University, and therein its opposition to the reappointment of Principal Hitchcock.”

The motion cited Hitchcock’s “unclear strategic plan,” “a lack of leadership on issues directly or indirectly affecting students,” “a failure to understand, take action on, and be engaged in the issues that are of most importance to students” and “the absence of a proactive stance regarding issues of inclusiveness on campus.”

Young said he couldn’t comment on the effect this motion or similar sentiments had on Hitchcock’s reappointment review because the committee can’t disclose how it’s affected by particular submissions.

Rector Johsa Manzanilla, who sat on the committee, said it last met Monday to finalize its recommendation. She said it’s possible Hitchcock was told of its decision between Monday and Wednesday morning.

“There was communication there,” she said. “It’s not the committee’s job, though, to tell her what to do.”

Where do we go from here?

The Board of Trustees has two weeks to find an interim principal to fill in until June 30, 2009, when Principal Karen Hitchcock’s term would have ended.

Board of Trustees Chair Bill Young said a committee including himself, Chancellor Charles Baillie, trustee Kim Black, graduate student representative Lindsey Love-Forester, trustee George Anderson and a yet-to-be-named “senior academic non-trustee” will prepare a nomination to present to the Board.

“What we’re going to be doing is looking for someone who’s well respected in the community, knowledgeable about the institution … and available—someone who can drop what they’re doing [to take the position],” Young said, adding that the interim principal won’t necessarily already be a member of the Queen’s administration.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re solely looking at that,” he said. “Odds are that the person is from the Queen’s community.”

The committee will try to bring a recommendation to Board in two to three weeks, so they may not have one by the time Hitchcock leaves, Young said.

“If there is a gap we will then appoint a member of the senior administration as acting principal, as a stopgap for a couple of weeks,” he said, adding that it’s not unusual for a senior member of the administration to step in as principal for a short period of time if the principal’s out of the country or on leave. An acting principal isn’t the same as an interim principal, Young said, although it’s possible they could be the same person.

“Could be. I wouldn’t say that would be the plan.”

At the same time, Queen’s has to start looking for a full-time principal—hopefully one that can start by July 1, 2009.

A committee chaired by Baillie and similar in makeup to the one that reviewed Hitchcock’s reappointment will start looking for a new principal in a few weeks, Young said.

It will draw up a job description of the kind of person the University’s looking for and choose an executive search firm to gather candidates.

Once several resumes are received, they will select a few candidates to interview.

When the committee has finalized its decision, it will make an offer to the chosen candidate who, if he or she accepts, will start about four months later.

“In an ideal world you can do this in a year—some would say 14 months.”

Anna Mehler Paperny

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