With the 2021 Rector Election coming up in September, students and the university must be aware of how integral the position is.
“Princeps Servusque Es: Be a leader and a servant” is the motto of the Office of the Rector. This aphorism combines historical traditions, as well as a path to the future ahead, capturing the sentiment of this position.
Talking about the Rector often elicits one of two responses from students. Either they don’t know about the position, or they believe it’s entirely ceremonial.
Let’s start with the basics. By the traditional order of ranking at Queen’s University, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Deane are at the head, followed by the Chancellor, and then, a student. This student sits on numerous committees and the Board of Trustees, and acts as the ultimate resource for undergraduate and graduate students.
Rather fittingly, this student is the binding glue between the three major governing bodies of Queen’s: the University Administration, the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS), and the Alma Mater Society (AMS).
This student is called the Rector, the 3rd highest-ranking official at Queen’s University, and the lead figurehead of graduate and undergraduate students at the institution.
This year, there are several unique opportunities for students to engage with this position—running for, voting for, or interacting with the office.
This is the third year I have worked on elections, and this time around I’m leading the Office of the Secretariat.
For the past two election cycles, including one Rector election, I have seen individuals and teams thrive and excel in their roles as new student leaders. One of my favorite memories at Queen’s was election night 2020—when I saw the tradition of the Rector robes being passed from one leader to another.
Seeing candidates post-election, with looks of relief after having been told that they’ve been successful, is a satisfying note to end on. Just know the work doesn’t stop there—and students will hold you to that.
The Rector acts as a wealth of knowledge when it comes to referring students to resources on campus. Whether walking into the Rector’s office hours during a normal year or emailing them about your situation, they can offer free and confidential support while referring you to the correct bodies on campus.
From academic grievances to legal issues, the Rector is a multi-faceted position that strives to support students. As a full-time compensated position, this individual is here to provide necessary supports to all the branches they lead.
Throughout my tenure at the university, interaction with the Rector’s office has been low. This is despite the fact that, for key issues that student groups are looking to advocate for, sometimes the easiest route to the administration is through the student elected to do so.
Empty office hours and email inboxes take the position through paths of bureaucratic mundaneness. It’s the element of passion, individuality, and resourcefulness to students that brings this position to life, and it all begins with the election.
An uncontested election for an honor as high as Rector would be embarrassing.
The Rector also has the privilege of being both the first and last student leader you see at Queen’s. They are there during Orientation Week and there when you leave at Convocation. This position is a longstanding tradition, mixing the historic roots of Queen’s with the bright notion of advocacy at the highest level for the future.
Before the position of Rector was passed to students, Queen’s Rectors included the likes of former Prime Minister R.B. Bennett and first chairperson of the CBC Leonard Brockington. Everyone from Deans to trustees to students need to understand the value of this position and how it affects them.
The three bodies that the Rector reports to are all evident changemakers in the Queen’s community. First, the Rector works directly with students on AMS Assembly, including the Society’s executive, and elected leaders of the ten different faculty societies.
Next, they sit on the SGPS council, with their commissioners and representatives of recognized groups.
Perhaps most importantly, they attend the Board of Trustees and Senate meetings, being one of the limited number of students to do so.
Assuming the position of the Rector means you work closely with Queen’s Principal Patrick Deane and Chancellor Murray Sinclair, having the chance to represent and advocate for students with them.
As 35th Rector Nick Francis put it, having the ear of the university administration “[is] about using influence to try and affect change”.
It’s also evident that the administration can use the position more—while they listen to what the Rector says, the lack of student input on procedures such as in naming policy shows there’s a lot of work to be done for representation.
Rectors can also take on and see through personal projects in the role. Last year, Rector Sam Hiemstra founded the Rector’s Equity Grant to provide funding to groups on campus.
The initiatives the Rector takes on are limitless: they chair the Agnes Bendickson Tricolour Award committee, host events drawing student input, provide strategic planning and guidance for the three bodies they are a part of, and assist in the selection and disbursement of many bursaries and grants to allow other students to excel in initiatives they are most passionate about. As well, the Rector helps with drafting numerous policies at the university level, including academic and alcohol policy.
A contested election is all it takes to endear 24,000 Queen’s students.
Last year, there was only one individual that ran to be the Queen’s Rector, and the position was voted in confidence. Yet, with a very subdued turnout of 28 per cent, the reception of the 2020 Winter Election wasn’t high.
Often slid in with the AMS Executive Election in the Winter, the Rector election doesn’t shine on its own, nor has it gotten the attention it deserves in the past two years.
Traditionally, the Rector position is very well contested, and the high stakes for those involved fuel a healthy sense of competition to win over the entire student population. And that’s what we’re looking to see this year.
Through August and September, there will be many chances for you to interact and learn more about the Rector and elections process.
On Aug. 25, the AMS and SGPS are hosting a panel with past Rectors to dive more into the history of the position and how it led them to where they are now—doctors, politicians, philanthropists, and advocates of the world. This will also be a great chance to ask more questions about how being Rector will be mutually beneficial for you and Queen’s.
If you’re thinking about if you should run, the answer is yes. The campaign period can be challenging, but it’s where I’ve seen students flourish.
From meticulously thought-out platforms, dynamic interviews with CFRC and The Journal, to lively debate—the election period makes for a month of fun for the community.
It also creates meaningful discourse. When we hear from new student leaders, experienced or not, it makes us stronger than the day before.
All years are eligible to be Queen’s 38th Rector—from first-years to post-grads. Nominations open in early September. Check myams.org/elections for more details.
Laura Devenny is a fourth-year Politics student.
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