Queen’s President: quality has been "compromised"

"Unthinkable" to be compared to Waterloo, McMaster, Guelph

A leaked letter written by Queen’s University’s principal reveals a man who is worried about the school’s slipping reputation, its upcoming labour strife and ongoing financial struggles — which he beleives can only be overcome by more corporate partnerships. The letter was supposed by be a private list of his goals for the upcoming year, but it found its way onto Facebook and Twitter.

Daniel Woolf’s candour on the school’s changing reputation is most striking.

“At Queen’s, where the financial situation is particularly acute, the quality that once defined the institution is clearly being compromised,” he wrote to William Young, who chairs the Board of Trustees. “It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that the quality reputation of undergraduate education at Queen’s would be challenged by Waterloo and McMaster …to say nothing of Guelph – but it is clearly happening.”

He goes on to say, “it is time to leverage our assets to achieve international recognition… the distinctive small-town Ivy League experience of a Queen’s education with its excellence in both teaching and research, should be embraced – it is this cachet that attracts students from around the world to Cornell and Dartmouth in the U.S. In Canada Queen’s is arguably the only university with this pedigree.”

He also says that the school must “attract many more international students (which is the longer term key both to greater revenue and greater global reputation).”

Then he suggests that the long-term financial situation will only be improved through more partnerships with corporations, citing Stanford’s partnership with IBM and MIT’s partnership with Nokia as examples. More corporate cash is needed because: “the past two decades have seen a complete reversal of the funding model for Ontario universities: 20 years ago 74% of our operating budget was provided by the province; today, that figure has flipped to 47%.

He also suggests that his Principal’s Commission on Mental Health could be leveraged for funding. “It crosses directly into fund-raising, as there are corporations with a keen interest in this area (including Bell, which has already funded a Chair in the area (to be announced publicly in the fall).”

He does see some light on the horizon regarding government funding — but, in doing so, admits that quick growth has compromised the school’s quality.

“The good news is that Queen’s may not have to grow dramatically just to get what little provincial funding there is. In late May, at a speech I attended in Toronto, the Hon. John Milloy, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, announced plans of replacing some per-student funding with performance-based support… We may revise our growth projections to take advantage of such a change, should it occur.

Finally, he writes that his number one goal for the year is to “negotiate successful labour group agreements,” because he antcipates six months of labour unrest. He added that, “I appreciate the Board’s understanding that these disruptions, should they occur, will be unpleasant and potentially reputational-damaging in the short term, but they may be a necessary step in order to achieve success in salary restraint and pension reform.”

Near the end, he writes, “I would anticipate a summary of this document, duly adjusted for a public audience.”

The letter was posted by Ashley Ratcliffe to her Facebook in a “note” and then was circulated on Twitter.

Queen’s communications director Ellie Sadinsky told the Queen’s Journal that Principal Woolf learned that the letter had been leaked and circulated through his Twitter account. He defended the letter in a tweet to former Engineering Society President* Victoria Pleavin, saying “This is my annual ‘goals’ doc to the Board—a normal process; negotiated labour agreements are a priority, as stated.”

*This post originally named Victoria Pleavin as the president of the Engineering Society. In fact, the current president is Derrick Dodgson. We regret the error.