Making new faculty feel at home

A look at the ‘soft side’ of faculty recruitment

Faculty Support and Recruitment Co-ordinator Monica Stewart helps profs adjust to Queen’s.
Faculty Support and Recruitment Co-ordinator Monica Stewart helps profs adjust to Queen’s.

Philosophy professor Udo Schuklenk worked at universities in Germany, Australia, South Africa and Scotland before he came to Queen’s in July 2007. Originally from Germany, Schuklenk said he hadn’t heard of Queen’s when he decided to take up an appointment at the University after seeing an online advertisement.

Like many professors who come from overseas, the U.S. or out of province to teach at Queen’s, Schuklenk needed help adjusting to his new life in Kingston.

He said it would have been difficult to relocate from Scotland to Canada without help from Monica Stewart. Stewart is the co-ordinator of the Faculty Recruitment and Support Program, run by the Office of the Vice-Principal (Academic). She’s in charge of helping professors and their families settle into life in Kingston—after she encourages them to make the move by highlighting the city’s cultural, historical, educational and environmental qualities.

Schuklenk said, adding that Stewart helped him get a Visa to work in Canada, as well as with more trivial issues such as finding a doctor and a dentist.

“I have to be honest, I mean, it is not the case that I had heard of Queen’s before,” he said, adding that one of the reasons he decided to come here was because there are faculty members focusing on bioethics, his research interest. But he said he’s also interested in experiencing life in different places.

“I thought, ‘Hey, I always wanted to live in North America but not in the U.S.,’ so Canada seemed fantastic.”

Schuklenk said he didn’t have any reservations about moving to a smaller city such as Kingston.

“I never make decisions about where I apply for jobs ever based on the city. I mean, I moved to Johannesburg of all places,” he said. “Once you’ve been to Johannesburg, Kingston is not a major challenge anymore.”

But it took the better part of a year to get used to living here, he said.

At first, Schuklenk planned to move to Montreal or Toronto and commute to Queen’s, but he said professors who commute tend to be less engaged with the University.

“At the end of the day for people to say they work here at Queen’s in Kingston and they hate it sufficiently that they decide to travel, really what it means is they’re not working here,” he said. “They attend the organization part time and there’s something problematic about that professionally.”

Although Schuklenk said it’s important to be able to engage with students, he admitted that sometimes it’d be nice get away from them.

He was warned when looking for a house that student housing can impact property prices and noise levels, so he tried to avoid living near the student Ghetto.

“I think that is not nice what’s happening in that part of the world,” he said of the Ghetto.

Another problem he had moving to Queen’s was that his partner of 10 years—who has since started a PhD at York University—refused to move to Kingston because he couldn’t find anything suitable to study here. Schuklenk said his partner is now living in Toronto, where he visits as often as possible.

“The assumption that you can keep these competitive scholars to stick around for a long time and their partners are stuck in Kingston with nothing to do … that probably is not going to fly,” he said, adding he’s not sure what will happen when his partner finishes at York.

Stewart, who has been recruitment and support co-ordinator since 2003, said although many universities in the U.S. have spousal agreements, Queen’s doesn’t have a vision for such an arrangement.

“We don’t have any policy that says, ‘If you come to Queen’s your spouse will also receive an appointment,’” she said.

Spousal agreements would make her job a lot easier, she said, but they’re known to create problems within departments.

“Sometimes these appointments are perceived as being less desirable because they kind of had to take the person, so it can make for difficulties,” she said.

Queen’s does offer a collective agreement for dual career couples, which provides guidance for spouses and partners seeking non-academic employment at the University or in Kingston.

Stewart said finding employment outside of the University can be difficult for professors’ partners.

“The smaller the community and the smaller the labour market, the more challenging it becomes to find that position,” she said.

But she said it’s also important to remember many people might be attracted by the slower pace in Kingston.

“You really have to explore it with the individual, get a sense of where they are sort of with where their life’s at,” she said, adding that she tries to put a personal touch into her support services.

Stewart said her job is separate from the academic process of hiring professors.

“Essentially I do the soft side of the recruitment,” she said, adding that she focuses on aspects such as the good education system in Kingston, the city’s many cultural events and the nature and history connected to the city.

Before she worked at Queen’s, Stewart worked for the Community Foundation of Greater Kingston and the Community Information Centre, now known as Volunteer and Information Kingston.

“I know a lot about Kingston,” she said, adding that she’s also a Queen’s graduate, with a BA in history and German literature and an MA in German literature.

Last year there were between 50 and 60 new faculty members at Queen’s, but Stewart said there were more than 100 a few years back. It’s difficult to predict how many new professors will be hired every year because different departments have different ways of going through the search process, she said.

“Even if a department is searching, they may not be able to fill a position in a certain year,” she said.

She said she usually gets a surge of requests from departments requiring materials to send to candidates in the late fall. Throughout the spring she meets with candidates in person and by March she usually begins to hear from professors who have accepted appointments.

At the end of August, she runs an orientation session for new professors.

Different people have different requirements, she said, but she often deals with incoming professors weekly for at least a couple of months. She said she also continues to provide resources and advice for professors once they have arrived in Kingston.

“I can help them very quickly and I’d rather they do that then stab around in the dark,” she said.

A number of universities still don’t run a general orientation for their faculty, although most Canadian schools do, Stewart said. She said more and more universities are setting up positions similar to hers. The Faculty and Recruitment and Support Program was an initiative established by William Leggett—the principal prior to Karen Hitchcock—and originally proposed by the previous principal, David Smith.

“Part of [Smith’s] recommendation was that there would be a position that would help Queen’s recruit more effectively and support the departments and support the candidates, and the people who were newly appointed throughout this process,” Stewart said.

Many candidates have questions they don’t want to ask the hiring committee relating to healthcare, spousal employment and education, she said.

“The service that I provide is completely confidential, so people can ask anything—it doesn’t get fed back to the interview committee.”

A number of the questions Stewart receives concern the cost of living in Kingston, which can be difficult to answer because Queen’s doesn’t have set salary scales. Professors coming from abroad usually also require “cultural interpretation” when it comes to factors such as housing, insurance and health services, she said.

Stewart said she doesn’t have exact data on where professors tend to be recruited from, but based on unofficial surveys at faculty orientations, she said about a third of the new faculty come from the U.S., while only about five per cent are from other countries.

Christopher Bowie, a professor in the psychology department, was living in New York City before he and his wife moved to Kingston in July.

Bowie was working at a medical school when he decided to take up an appointment at Queen’s. He said he was attracted by the university setting, the atmosphere in Kingston and the chance to initiate his own lab at Queen’s.

He and his wife asked Stewart for help finding moving companies and housing in Kingston and dealing with immigration and customs, as well as transferring his research project here. He said the advice he received was extremely helpful.

Although moving from a city of almost 10 million people to one with a population of 120,000 can present some challenges when it comes to research, Bowie said he’s more suited to a small town.

“I grew up in a small town and living in New York was quite a contrast from what I was used to,” he said.

He said Kingston’s tight-knit community can make research easier because there aren’t as many people trying to do the same thing. But there are also drawbacks to a city the size of Kingston for researchers.

“When you study conditions that have a low prevalence, like one per cent or less, a city of 120,000 versus 10 million obviously limits the size of the study that you can do,” he said. “But of course it’s very easy in this day and age to initiate a project then expand it through collaboration with colleagues at other universities.”

Bowie said his wife—a middle school teacher who plans to start looking for a position in six months—was also pleased to be moving to a smaller community.

“This is much more the style we’re both looking for.

“I have no complaints really about quality of life, really, in Kingston—everything has been very nice so far.”

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