Board of Trustees: Principal Deane warns against ‘hangover effects’ of COVID-19

Board reflects on one-year anniversary of University closure, looks to back-to-campus transition

The Board of Trustees met Friday over Zoom.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The Board of Trustees met for an open session on March 5 over Zoom. 

Principal’s Report

In his report, Principal Patrick Deane acknowledged the work of staff, alumni, and the broader Queen’s community under the restraints of pandemic life and looked ahead to what he deemed the “light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Deane asked the Board to think about what the ambitions for the University’s future can be in the context of a strategic framework and what constraints remain in place for the University post-pandemic. 

“If the enthusiasm that the community has shown throughout this process is anything to go by, I’m extremely encouraged about our future as a community,” he told the Board. 

He recognized the recent appointment of Dr. Mark Asberg, university librarian, as well as the ongoing search for a new Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning as reinforcements of progress that will equip the University “very well for the future.”

Deane said another influencing factor on the future of Queen’s is the provincial government shaping its control over Ontario universities.

“The situation at Laurentian University has raised important questions in the sector, as we are thinking about our aspirations for the future,” he said. 

Reflecting on the anniversary marking a year since the closure of physical campus spaces on March 13, 2020, Deane detailed the human cost the pandemic has taken for the Queen’s community. 

“I’m relieved to see the light at the end of the tunnel [...] the effects of living in that cognitive dissonance on students, the effects of living with a very unclear vision of their own future, personally and professionally, has been significant.” 

Deane celebrated the work of the Queen’s community under the constraints of COVID-19, but acknowledged the lasting impacts of the pandemic. 

“We have to commit to continue that work [after vaccination], the ‘hangover effects’ of COVID. [We] will continue to have to show the imagination, empathy and flexibility that has gotten us through this much of the crisis,” he said. 

“It’s going to be a very interesting transition, made complicated by the fact that we really don’t know what we’re transitioning back to. It certainly will not be business as it was on March 12.”

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigeneity (EDII)

Deane outlined the various steps taken to implement anti-racist initiatives on campus, most recently detailing a student survey released to determine the climate on campus, provide insight into the current state of affairs, and measure progress on the impact of EDII. 

Teri Shearer, deputy provost (academic operations and inclusion), said ongoing efforts marked an elevation in the University’s determination, following student calls to action, to address racism and discrimination, promote EDII, and decolonization and indigenization. 

Shearer has lead the University’s response to the findings in the 2017 PICRDI Report.

She outlined a plan to provide a comprehensive, open-access account of the response to the report, which includes annual progress reports to highlight EDII achievements. 

The early establishment of the University Council on Racism and Equity (UCRE) is set to provide guidance, according to Shearer, as well as a smaller sub-committee for implementation, and monitoring. 

The report includes 28 recommendations with sub-actions.

Addressing long-term structural changes, Shearer listed initiatives including two new leadership positions; training/hiring and education modules; senior leadership and staff training; student orientation leadership training; and faculty positions in EDII-focused fields of study, including seven new faculty positions to support the Black Studies Minor. 

Regarding student outreach, Shearer outlined an updated student code of conduct and harassment and discrimination training, GTA-based recruiters, promise and commitment scholars, enhanced EDII curricula and resources for instructors, and dedicated space for student groups working towards inclusivity. 

“It is very important to the Queen’s community that we fully address the recommendations in the Picardy report, [and] that we are transparent about our achievements and about our work in addressing the recommendations, which we have been doing through our annual reports,” Shearer said. 

“Importantly, however, we also recognize the need to provide a full accountability in a manner that allows the community to easily determine how the University has responded to each of the Report’s recommendations.”

To provide this accountability, Shearer explained the upcoming release of a progress audit for inventory and records collected from units across the University, which will be used to inform the final PICRDI report and will coincide with the five-year anniversary. 

Enrollment

Provost and Vice-Principal Mark Green reported the University exceeded 50,000 applications for the first time, crediting the work of the admissions and enrollment office amidst the pandemic. 

The University received an increase of 13 per cent overall applications in Ontario, according to Green.

Queen’s also saw an increase of 14 per cent for international candidates, a 12 per cent increase in Indigenous applicants, an 18 per cent increase for BIPOC applicants, and 14 per cent for first-generation applicants. 

Green said the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Budget will continue to align the budget with priorities including investments in counsellors; wellness support and accessibility funding; cybersecurity; hiring faculty and executive for Black Studies; targeted research support and continued pension expenses.

Student Leader Reports

Rector Sam Hiemstra prioritized mental health support for students and reported on QTBIPOC anti-oppression work completed through the rectory, funding for advocacy groups on campus through Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change and the AMS, and the fostering of Queer spaces on campus. 

Jared den Otter, AMS president, advocated for more financial support for international students and addressed the need to serve and represent the student group through the support of stakeholders in response to the Student Choice Initiative. 

Justine Aman, Society of Graduate and Professional Students president, called for the University to address tuition for graduate students, citing a lack of access to resource centres and archives, and the work of TAs to translate learning online without a funding package and financial support. 

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