In conversation with Queen’s next principal

Patrick Deane talks vision for campus, plans for new role 

Patrick Deane speaks in Stauffer Library on Monday afternoon.
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After a nine-month search, the University announced its appointment of McMaster President Patrick Deane as Queen’s next principal and vice-chancellor on Monday morning. 

On Wednesday, The Journal spoke with Deane about his priorities for the role. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Why did you want to apply for the role of principal at Queen’s?

Queen’s is an important Canadian university and it has a very individual culture and profile in the university community, so of course it was very attractive in that respect. I was vice-principal (academic) nine years ago [at Queen’s] and thoroughly enjoyed my time there with the faculty and with the students. The idea of leading the university into its next stage was very attractive to me, as well as the importance of the institution, the quality of the institution, and my familiarity with it.

How do you feel about being appointed to your new role?

It’s actually hard to put my mind on anything else right now, because when you’re going through the process of being considered for these things, you have to imagine yourself in the role, but when it actually becomes real it’s extremely exciting. I’m eager to get thinking about how I can benefit the university. 

How will your years as McMaster’s president prepare you to be Queen’s next principal?

The good thing is I’m moving from one research-intensive Ontario university to another, so I’ve had extensive experience. Having done this job at McMaster now for nearly nine years, I’m intimately familiar with the government circumstances in Ontario and some of the challenges these institutions face. I’ll be able to bring all that experience with me to Queen’s and I’ll certainly be able to hit the ground running. 

What kind of challenges do universities like Queen’s face?

If you look at any of the research-intensive universities, [they’re] trying to do two things. On the one hand, they have a tradition of high-quality education for undergraduates and graduates. You might call it the most important aspect of their mission. But they also do see a critical part of their mission in terms of research. Doing those two things simultaneously in a university isn’t necessarily difficult—because obviously if undergrads are being taught by a professor who is at the cutting edge of her field—that brings benefit to you. But in terms of managing the funding of the university and the material resources necessary, it can be quite challenging to [build] strength in both respects. 

How will you ensure the work that’s been done for equity and inclusion at Queen’s will continue?

I think equity, diversity, and inclusion has to remain a priority for the university. It’s not something that needs to be done on the side while everyone’s going about their business. It’s essential to the business of the university. It would be a top priority for me. It has been in my time at McMaster and will be at Queen’s as well. The university is stronger the more diverse and inclusive it is. The recommendations of the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity and Inclusion report, the two new [vice-principal] appointments recently, I think those are two really important appointments the university has made of very strong people. I think the presence of those two traditions in the senior leadership will certainly help to move it forward in the areas of diversity and inclusion. 

What is your vision of Queen’s in five years?

Queen’s is a university that is famous for the quality of its student experience, and it also has a very strong research and intellectual tradition. It has a unique niche in the Canadian world of public affairs. We’ve had a long-standing history of being able to influence government in positive directions through the thoughtful research and the education of people who go work in government. My hope would be that in five years the university will be stronger in both of those respects. It will be once again a major force for change in Canadian society and, over all of those things, it will have achieved very significant progress towards diversity and inclusion. 

What do you think your biggest challenge will be in your new role as principal?

I know because I’ve moved universities several times, it always takes a little time to learn something of the local culture and pick up on the recent history. The issues that are live and important in the university at the moment. I know Queen’s very well and that will certainly give me an advantage as I start, but you know I need to be careful not to assume the university I knew nine years ago is unchanged. I think it’s an obvious thing that the initial challenge is to get up to speed, to learn what is really important about the state of Queen’s right now in order to work out how I can be most useful. 

What kind of issues do you think are important to students at Queen’s? 

I do know, for example, that the equity and diversity question has been very much a preoccupation with the students for a number of years. I know in my meetings with student leaders that it continues to be the case. I hear there are some other issues like the JDUC referendum. It’s early for me to say because Monday was my first time back on campus. I’ll look forward to learning more about that in great detail when I’m there. 

How will you navigate university-city relations, given they’re especially important in Kingston?

Well, I know this was an issue that I was very centrally involved in when I was vice-principal, and develop[ed] a very good relationship with the city and found ways to ensure that there was a productive dialogue going on between the university, the students, and Kingston. I asked about this specifically on Monday when I was there. I had some opportunities to talk about that and I believe that relationship has gotten better. There have been very good efforts made by the mayor to build a good relationship with the students and the university, and also the other way around. There’s no simple way to ensure that those relations are good and productive, but you do have to be very focused on them in a city the size of Kingston with a university in it. Obviously, there are going to be challenges and I think the important thing is to maintain a productive dialogue with the city and with the community about their concerns, and the university and the students’ concerns. 

What’s your favourite movie?

Oh, my favourite movie. Well, it’s a really weird one. Nobody knows it, but it’s called Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. It’s the French film that was the model for the Mr. Bean’s movie, Mr. Bean’s [Holiday]. You’d enjoy it. It’s a funny movie. It’s a lot like Mr. Bean in the sense that Monsieur Hulot is almost inaudible. There is dialogue, but you never quite hear it. It’s comedy. 

I’m guessing you’re a fan of Mr. Bean as well?

I am. I’m fond of Mr. Bean [laughs]. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’m really delighted about the appointment. It’s wonderful to come back to Queen’s. I had just very, very warm relationships with the students at Queen’s when I was there and I’m only too delighted to be coming back and reconnecting. 

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