Farm chores, finance & faculty relations

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane takes the Journal behind the scenes of ‘a big operation’

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane in his office last February.
Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane in his office last February.
Photo by Robin Kisbee

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane loves his job and, after spending the day in his office, I do too.

Last Friday at 8:30 a.m., I trekked across Queen’s snowy campus to Richardson Hall where I would learn what it means to be responsible for the academic affairs of more than 17,000 undergraduate students and 3,500 graduate students.

Richardson Hall has been restyled in modern décor, so upon entering the building the difference between the building’s interior and exterior is stark. Clean lines and minimalist furniture seem to be the themes of the main foyer.

The Office of the Vice-Principal (Academic) moved to the newly-renovated Richardson before the winter break. Staff assured me the renovation was desperately needed due to peeling paint and the building’s tendency to overheat in the summer.

Deane’s schedule for the day included six hours of meetings between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“This is sort of a representative day,” he told me. “Most of my days are filled with meetings. Some days are literally back-to-back meetings from eight until six.”

Due to the confidential nature of Deane’s meetings, we mainly spoke in between the visitors to his office. I was kindly and appropriately introduced to each visitor as the vice-principal’s “shadow” for the day.

But Deane’s morning began long before his meetings, at 5:30 a.m. on his farm 30 minutes from campus.

“We have a small farm so, my day often begins with horse chores,” he said. “We’ve had horses for a long time. We’ve had them since the early 90s. The mare had a foal this spring so we have a foal on the property.”

Deane’s wife spins wool, so the family keeps a few sheep for that purpose.

“The horses outnumber the sheep,” he said, smiling.

Deane said having a farm helps him balance his life, but he doesn’t see it as an escape from a stressful job.

“It’s so stimulating, it would be wrong to say it’s a high-stress job,” he said of his role at Queen’s.

Deane, who’s been at Queen’s since 2005, said he had his first farm in Manitoba, where he worked at the University of Winnipeg.

“I began my career in administration as a department head at Western and I went to the University of Winnipeg as the VP (academic),” he said. There, he was acting president for nearly two years.

Deane moved to Canada in 1978 from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he grew up and received a double major in English and law from the University of the Witwatersrand.

“I did quite a bit of work on a law degree … I just got distracted by English literature,” he said.

First on his agenda was a meeting with Donna Janiec, director of risk management and audit services and interim director of budget. They discussed Queen’s Theological College and its affiliation agreement with the University.

At 9:30 a.m. Deane met with Kathy O’Brien, his assistant director.

“Kathy is a key person in this office in a number of issues,” Deane said. “She works on internal academic review, senate committees and academic development.” Friday’s discussion was about a proposal regarding the graduate school from the Senate Committee on Academic Development to Senate.

Deane then had a 10 a.m. meeting with Bill Bryck, acting vice-principal (operations and finance) and Ken Snowdon, a consultant from an outside firm, to discuss “financial issues in the university.”

With each new visitor to enter his office, Deane’s enthusiasm seemed to grow. As an observer, his constant eagerness was surprising.

After Bryck, Deane met with Queen’s University Administrative Systems Replacement (QUSAR) Executive Steering Committee from 11 a.m. to noon.

“Our central computer system is called a legacy system,” Deane said, adding that this means the system is outdated.

“At the last Board [of Trustees] meeting in December, the Board approved the replacement of the university’s administration system. We were getting reports on progress towards that implementation.”

Next in line was a catered lunch to discuss student-run non-academic discipline with AMS Internal Affairs Commissioner Alexa Gendron-O’Donnell and Director of Judicial Affairs Ramya Ravishankar, who were there to update the vice-principal on the activities of the Judicial Committee.

“[Deane] is one of our very close ties within the administration. He’s a good support,” Ravishankar said of the committee’s relationship with Deane.

At Deane’s office, coffee is never in short supply and I found myself gravitating towards the coffee machine a bit too often. He also offered me vegetarian sandwiches from Windmill’s catering; delicious and greatly appreciated. With renewed energy, I was prepared for another few hours of observation.

Perhaps Deane’s most high-profile meeting of the day was with School of Business Dean David Saunders—another chance to talk finance.

A mid-meeting fire alarm in Richardson Hall meant an impromptu evacuation, but that didn’t stop Deane and Saunders from getting down to business. The two discussed finances in the cold outside in a demonstration of sheer scheduling commitment.

After being allowed back inside, Deane met with AMS President Talia Radcliffe at 2:30 p.m. for his final appointment of the day. Deane said he meets with Radcliffe every couple of months. When Radcliffe left, Deane said he would catch up on work before returning home.

“Every day involves some unplanned things that have happened,” he said. “I try to have some time—I almost never get enough—each day for desk time and e-mail time. I usually get over a hundred e-mails a day, so I’m making sure I can keep a bit ahead of those. Parts of my job involve trying to develop policies or revise policies as well.”

Deane said his job doesn’t require as much travel as people think.

“I go the U.K. at least once a year, to the castle, because one of my responsibilities is that I chair the Board of Trustees of the International Study Centre,” he said. “I have to be there once a year to chair the annual general meeting. We meet at other times by teleconference.” He said he also travels quite a bit throughout Ontario.

“I am quite active with other VPs academic,” he said, adding that he will be the chair of the Council of Academic VPs, which falls under the umbrella of the Council of Ontario Universities.

“The overarching council is the Council of Ontario Universities. The COU itself is the lobby group for the universities. We meet to talk about matters of shared interests—issues raised by government policies we have to deal with. It’s a very productive group. We meet on different Ontario campuses four times a year. I wouldn’t say traveling is a major part of my portfolio.”

Deane said he has regular meetings scheduled with his associate vice-principals, faculty deans and student leaders to discuss progress updates.

“I meet with all the deans for about an hour usually once a month,” he said. “I meet with the Rector, too, and the president of the SGPS frequently.

“I meet with the principal and vice-principals most Mondays and I meet with just vice-principals on Tuesday. Because of the way this building is set up we tend to meet with each other informally all the time,” he said.

Deane’s office has three associate vice-principals, as well as a director of faculty relations—a position that is currently vacant. The office deals with faculty salaries as well as the Senate Committee of Academic Development.

Deane’s office is responsible for a variety of programs, he said.

“In some ways the big issues we deal with are the budgets from all the faculties come through this office,” he said. “It’s a big operation. The affairs of all those things come up here but in this office it’s sort of about basic central academic programs.”

Deane said he feels lucky to be the vice-principal (academic) at Queen’s.

“For someone with my interest in education and educational institutions, VP (academic) is a superb job,” he said. “It’s a wonderful job for a couple of reasons. I’m involved with academic programming right across the university, and I find that very exciting. It’s very educational as well as interesting on a day-to-day basis.

“The opportunity to deal with students across the university is fantastic. Overall my job is to ensure the quality of all our academic programs and plan the future of academic programs. As someone who is excited about higher education, it’s a great pleasure to do it.” Deane said he finds his job rewarding because he takes great pride in the accomplishments of Queen’s students and faculty.

“The other thing that’s great is I’m in a position when I have a vested interested in every student or faculty member so when a student wins a Rhodes scholarship … I find that extremely exhilarating.

“The work is all for the best cause. You see it in the students—that’s what keeps you going. If you’re capable of taking pride in other people, this is a great job.”

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

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.