Hitchcock hung out to dry

Alumni admonish AMS for poor judgment in recommending against reappointment

Karen Hitchcock, seen here at the Tett Centre last July, set out international objectives for the University in her strategic plan.
Karen Hitchcock, seen here at the Tett Centre last July, set out international objectives for the University in her strategic plan.
Photo: 
Isabel and Alfred Bader
Isabel and Alfred Bader

During the last 67 years we have known many of the Queen’s principals and we consider Robert C. Wallace, David Smith and now Karen Hitchcock to be among the greatest.

Our chancellor, A. Charles Baillie, put it very clearly: “During her term as principal, Karen Hitchcock brought significant changes to Queen’s in many areas, including new research initiatives, development of the campus infrastructure, the new Arts Campus project, faculty renewal, attention to diversity, definition of our strategic objectives and representation of our interests to governments and benefactors, to name but a few. Through her efforts, Queen’s is a better place.” In addition to all of these successes, Hitchcock oversaw the creation of Innovation Park, the first research and technology park ever established at Queen’s as well as a major thrust in the area of public health.

We wonder whether her detractors realize under what difficulties she labored. She was the first female Principal, the first American citizen appointee, she was falsely accused of wrongdoing in Albany, she dealt with serious injury to her husband at the beginning of her term and then was burdened by the increasing Aberdeen Street violence.

Although the people working closely with her think very highly of her, some of her opponents blame her for the University’s financial difficulties, for which she is certainly not responsible. Others feel she has been too aloof, not speaking to them personally. But this is not so, say hundreds and hundreds of students who met her at campus events, attended special student luncheons and receptions she held for them at Summerhill or took advantage of the open office hours she instituted to ensure that she could speak personally to her students.

We find it sad that the AMS voted unanimously to recommend to the review committee of the Board of Trustees not to reappoint her and then leaked that to the press. When I (Alfred) was a student at Queen’s in the 40s, I thought very highly of the AMS but, for a number of reasons, I no longer do.

Recently, the AMS has demonstrated poor judgment on a number of key issues for the University. In a 1998 article entitled “The Castle Queen’s Doesn’t Want,” Maynard Plant, then the president of the AMS, told The Ottawa Citizen: “The castle is a great burden on us. It’s a white elephant, and I personally believe we can’t afford to keep it.” Luckily, at that time, the Board of Trustees didn’t listen to the AMS and we hope that Mr. Plant knows what a success the International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle has become.

Another example of its poor judgment can be seen in the way the AMS handled the vandalism on Aberdeen Street. We find it sad that the AMS did not demonstrate responsibility in confronting this issue, thus making Dr. Hitchcock’s life much more difficult. Recommending that she not be reappointed was truly adding insult to injury.

The cabal working with the AMS must not have realized how they were hurting our University when they recommended against Hitchcock’s reappointment. It will now be very difficult to find a truly great outsider to take her position, and we are lucky to have Tom Williams, a man of great ability and experience, acting as interim principal.

We cannot improve on what Doug MacLean, a Queen’s alumnus living in Kingston, wrote to The Kingston Whig Standard on May 6: “…the boorish actions of a few put an unwarranted blotch on a very capable person’s record that cannot be addressed, and that reflects on us all. Shame!”

Alfred Bader has received three Queen’s degrees: BSc ‘45, BA ‘46 and MSc ‘47. Isabel Bader was granted an honourary Queen’s degree in 2007. The Baders have made numerous donations to Queen’s, including two paintings by Rembrant and Herstmonceux Castle in England.

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