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Robyn Laing 2011-2012

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Robyn Laing 2011-2012

Many students are unaware that the position of Rector exists – some may have heard the name but are unsure about its roles and responsibilities, while others see the Rector as a ceremonial position and nothing more. This is likely due to the fact that the Rector has no concrete job description and is not imbedded within any organization other than Queen’s itself. As a result, I will explain what I believe the position to be and what I feel a Rector’s responsibilities are. The Rector serves as the third officer of the university, representing all students (undergraduate, graduate and professional) to the administration. This position is truly unique within Canada and has enormous potential to ensure students’ voices are always being considered throughout administrative decision-making. In addition to ensuring students’ voices are being heard, the Rector is also responsible for relaying administrative information to students, providing guidance on the internal structures of Queen’s and explaining how the administration perceives certain issues. The position is truly a liaison, unattached to any one particular student organization but always acting as a “leader and a servant”, as the Rector motto states. The unattached nature of the position gives the Rector

an unparalleled opportunity for advising – helping groups and individuals navigate through the intricacies of the university as well as bringing groups together to amplify the student voice and effectively enact change.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

The Rector has many formal responsibilities such as sitting on the Board of Trustees, University Council, and as an observer on Senate as well as presiding over Convocation along with the Principal and Chancellor. This gives the Rector ample opportunity to speak on behalf of students in relation to important issues, remain up-to-date and involved in university decisions as well as sit on a number of valuable sub-committees and working groups that have direct impacts on students. The Rector should facilitate discussion when the university faces key challenges, enabling students to come together and achieve consensus on how to move forward.

Overall the position is truly defined by the individual who serves in it. The Rector should reflect the spirit and community of the students they represent, working towards a shared vision of and for Queen’s.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

My name is Robyn Laing and just last May I graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Environmental Biology

(ArtSci ’11) from Queen’s. Now I am starting my Masters, making this my fifth year overall. Throughout my four years here I was actively involved in the Queen’s community, fostering my love for this school and all its potential, eventually leading to my decision to pursue a Masters here and prolong my time as part of this exceptional community.

Last year I was the Vice-President of the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS), a position I decided to run for because of my desire to create a student lounge on campus and due to my belief that ASUS had untapped potential as a resource to students. One way I contributed to this end was through the creation of a student lounge – check it out (the Red Room) on the 2nd floor of Kingston Hall. You can also read more about my role as VP by clicking here. While in this position I also learned a tremendous amount about Queen’s and its internal

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

structures – I sat on both ASUS and AMS Assemblies, bodies that have a surprising amount of influence on issues that directly impact students, had monthly meetings with the Dean of Arts and Science and other important administrators, sat on Faculty Board and theBoard of Studies and overall gained a great deal of insight into how to enact change on this campus. I developed important relationships with admin, faculty and staff, learning about the various channels to go through to make change and ensure students and quality academia are always a top priority.

This experience also helped me learn that the reason Queen’s is truly unique is because of its students – we really do have an exceptional impact here, sitting on important administrative bodies that other university students could only dream to be a part of. When things seem beyond our control we have to remember that we have the power to grab the wheel and drive Queen’s to a better future. Yes, there will be some limitations, but there will also be enormous opportunities. I hope to be a strong student leader for the Queen’s community, uniting our shared potential to help ensure those opportunities are not lost. We are students for a short time, alumni for a life time and most importantly we are a community that, when working together, is truly remarkable.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

The position of Rector, as mentioned, is truly unique. This, in my opinion, means that the campaign for Rector should be unique. Unlike other positions that run on a platform pertaining to what they will accomplish in their specific organization, the Rector is unattached - they are not imbedded within any student group or organization and thus only attached to the students of Queen's university. To me this means that the Rector should not run solely on their own ideas for Queen's, but rather also on their commitment to representing the Queen's community and their ability to embody the spirit and desires of all Queen's students.

With this in mind my platform is not my particular stance on issues. Instead, it outlines how I will represent students, like you, and ensure the voice of all students is heard by the administration when facing issues and key challenges in the coming years. In the next few pages I outline these key challenges and the ways in which I believe we should move forward in addressing them. Following that I explain what I believe to be critical components in the formula for effectively representing students. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns or would like elaboration on any section.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

This part of my platform outlines key challenges, as I see them, and provides an overview of what I believe is important to consider when discussing ways to address these challenges. I have developed an understanding of these key challenges through my previous experience at Queen’s and my engagement with students, faculty, staff and university administration. However, I understand that there may be challenges I am unaware of at this point or that I have not included. I believe that part of my role as Rector is fostering dialogue on these issues and challenges, ensuring that all issues are discussed and receive their due attention. If you believe there is an issue I have failed to address please contact me at robyn4rector@gmail.com so I can inform myself and take appropriate measures to ensure full understanding and communication.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

The Board of Trustees has mandated that the university balance its budget by the end of this fiscal year. This decision can have important consequences for students as each Faculty must decide where the money to reduce the deficit will come from. Though each Faculty will be receiving the same amount of funding overall, a 3% increase in compensation must be considered. Some Faculties, like the Faculty of Arts and Science, have budgeted such that the deficit will stem from the Faculty Office itself and thus each department will receive the same amount of funding. However, other Faculties may seek to reduce the deficit in other ways, ways the Rector can have an important influence in determining. Students must be considered in the process and the Rector must play a critical role in this regard, uniting the concerns of each Faculty and School and communicating these to positions of influence. I believe the Rector must advocate for:  Teaching excellence  Continuation and improvement of vital support services  Small class sizes and strong community  Tutorials and TA positions  Accessible education – for domestic and International students  Diversity of course offerings  Quality research

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

The Principal released a document entitled “Where Next? Toward a University Academic Plan” in January 2010 that initiated a campus-wide Academic Planning exercise. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to incorporate their vision for Queen’s into a plan for the future. The document solicited responses from individual departments, faculty, staff and students to be summarized in Faculty-specific responses from the Dean’s of each Faculty. Following this an Academic Writing Team compiled the reports into “Imagining the Future: Toward an Academic Plan for Queen’s”, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Academic Development (SCAD). SCAD voted to establish the Senate Academic Planning Task Force who eventually produced the “Queen’s University Academic Plan 2011”. This document is where we now stand. It contains 89 recommendations that can be broken down to 4 overarching themes, which the Task Force refers to as pillars. I believe that now, with the discussions that will take place surrounding the implementation of these recommendations, is a critical time for student engagement. The Rector must ensure this engagement takes place by communicating the importance of this process to students and actively seeking their input. Some ideas for how to accomplish this:  Hold open forums, particularly in regard to specific recommendations  Utilize pre-existing bodies, like the AMS and SGPS, to solicit discipline and programspecific feedback to avoid degree or program bias in the recommendations  Compile results into a document to be presented to Senate

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

Last year was a particularly hard year for the Queen’s community, with a number of tragedies affecting the entire student body and giving birth to events like the “Queens Loves U” campaign. The administration has been very active in assessing and improving the mental health resources available on campus through the creation of the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health and the continuation of the Mental Health Working Group and Health, Counselling and Disability Services. Though these discussions and services are invaluable, what has frustrated me is the primary focus on the services available to students and their respective improvements. None of the discussions, that I am aware of, have focused on the systemic issues associated with mental health and the reasons why students may require help in the first place. While it is indeed critical to ensure students receive the help they need at the moment they need it, it is equally critical to consider those students that will never ask for help, those students that will never seek out these services regardless of how accessible they are. At a time where mental health is being discussed campus-wide, I believe the Rector can play a vital role as a representative of all students to ensure the diversity of student needs are considered. I believe the Rector should:  Actively seek out what barriers students face in accessing the help they need  Outline, through consultation with students, the underlying reasons for student pressure, stress, depression, anxiety and so on  Work to alleviate these stresses and remove these barriers

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

Every year our government funding has decreased, with the proportion of government funding comprising our operating budget declining significantly over the past two decades. In the early 1990’s close to three-quarters of the university’s revenue consisted of government grants. Now this proportion is less than half. This decline is due to the fact that our rate of growth is not as substantial as that of other universities across Ontario. Queen’s made a conscious decision to preserve our exceptional reputation for quality by maintaining a small population relative to universities like Western and the University of Ottawa. The university faces constant pressure to increase enrolment to merit increased governmental funding aimed at substantially expanding student enrolment. This is problematic for a number of reasons; it puts strain on our infrastructure, causes residence shortages and decreasing quality of teaching material, overcrowded classrooms and a switch to online-based learning to name a few. I believe the Rector can play a role in ensuring the quality of our education does not suffer and must:
 Communicate the needs of students, outline aspects of a quality Queen’s education  Speak with administration in order to understand their perspective and the realities of

the financial situation
 Work with AMS and SGPS to target the bodies that can effectively prevent the loss of

the aspects that comprise quality education at Queen’s
 Actively lobby the government to change its funding model  Seek creative ways to increase enrolment without comprising quality (ex: Blyte initiative and satellite campus, blended-learning approaches, etc.)

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

The students are at the heart of Queen’s – we are what drive this place and make it the unique community that it is. We have a variety of different student organizations and groups in place, with a history routed in student leadership. We have and will continue to shape Queen’s. However, with such impressive opportunities for student impact, we somehow fail to unite these various opportunities to have the highest impact. I think we have both the ability and responsibility to utilize our pre-existing organizations to come together and achieve consensus on how to move forward. Part of this is strengthening the relationship between graduate, undergraduate and professional students. I believe the Rector can play a crucial role in this regard and I will strive to do so in the following ways:

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

One of the reasons why students fail to unite our shared potential is because we do not have a model in place for how to do so. Each student organization on campus works within its own framework. The Rector has the unique ability to work within all those frameworks and unify them through a shared system of consensus. I will therefore examine the systems each organization has in place with regards to lobbying on a variety of issues and gathering student input.

I will then use the results of this examination to develop a set of steps we should follow with regards to issues that pertain to all students. These steps will outline how we can work together and achieve consensus, allowing us to lobby the administration as a unified front as opposed to a series of disjoint groups.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

One of the steps in the process of achieving consensus will be setting up opportunities for collaboration and discussion. When I was Vice-President of ASUS I setup a number of disciplespecific Town Halls in relation to the Academic Plan. These worked as a surprisingly effective medium to discuss concerns and develop suggestions for opportunities and improvements. I believe the same style of discussions can take place with undergraduate, graduate and professional students in relation to issues that affect all students.

I believe a critical aspect of these discussions will be structuring them in an appropriate way. For the discussions I planned in the past I chose to give a brief overview of some of the concerns I had heard to-date, following this with a Town Hall-style forum and finally a roundtable discussion where everyone was able to contribute equally to structured discussion topics. I also invited Faculty and administration to the meeting in order to collaborate even further. I believe that these types of forum discussions would be an excellent way to gauge student opinion and allow students to bring forth concerns, collaborate, and learn about concerns and suggestions of other students from different programs and disciplines.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

As an undergraduate student at Queen’s I had absolutely no idea that graduate students and professional students existed here and I certainly had no idea what they did. Now, as a Masters student, I realize that I would have no idea what an undergraduate student did on a day-to-day basis if I had not also been an undergraduate student here. I think this kind of knowledge gap is one of the barriers to effective communication between these different groups on campus.

I think the Rector can play a fun role in bridging this gap by providing opportunities for engagement with one-another through events like trivia nights. These trivia nights would serve as a fun medium for learning about the variety of programs available at Queen’s. Contests like “Doctors vs. Lawyers” or “Teacher vs. Student” would be entertaining ways to bring the community together in a non-academic setting. Having events that educate students about the differences and similarities between and amongst graduate, undergraduate and professional students would serve to increase our understanding of one-another. This would allow for better collaboration when it came time to address issues that impact all students.

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

Part of representing students is having an understanding of what they believe to be important. Though my position as a recent undergraduate student and present graduate student at Queen’s gives me a distinct benefit in this regard, I cannot profess to know what every student is thinking. As a result it is critically important to gather student opinion, especially in relation to important issues that have direct impact on students. I have had experience engaging with students in this way as a result of my previous positions and have outlined some ways I plan to continue to do this as Rector in the following pages.

The reason Queen’s is such a unique community is because of the establishment of a variety of different student groups and organizations that work to shape the university every single day. I

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

think the Rector, as a representative of all students, would be foolish not to take advantage of these groups.

As a result I plan to attend assemblies and councils for the AMS, SGPS and the Faculty Societies in order to constantly have an understanding of the issues facing these student groups. I think this is also a great opportunity to engage is discussions with a variety of different students. The Rector can act as an important resource for these discussions, outlining the perspective of the administration and the limitations and opportunities surrounding certain challenges.

One of the ways I think the Rector can ensure they are representing the needs of all students is by recognizing that they are but one person. As a result they must work with the various organizations and groups that are already in place, something I plan to do on a regular basis, as

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

mentioned. Another way I hope to ensure I represent the diversity of student concerns is by striking committees that serve to gauge student opinion on a variety of issues.

When I was Vice-President of ASUS I found that students were committed to different issues, something I think these committees can capitalize on. These committees would be tasked with gathering student concerns in relation to specific issues and reporting their findings. In this way students could be actively involved in issues that are important to them and I could use the Rector position, its resources and my knowledge of internal decision-making channels to enact change and incorporate the findings of the committee to the benefit of all students. This would also help to publicize the Rector position by having more students directly involved with its office.

Though having discussions at pre-existing bodies like AMS Assembly and SGPS Council is beneficial, not all students are aware or feel comfortable voicing their concerns in this manner. As a result I think providing students with an alternative forum for discussion is an important way to ensure all varieties of student concerns are heard. To this end I will create an online

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

forum for discussion where students can submit their questions, comments or suggestions from the comfort of their own home. I plan to continually have topics up for discussion amongst students, utilizing a professional website (such as the one for my campaign) as the medium to display to forum.

This forum will allow students, if they wish, to contribute in order to reduce the number of barriers students may face when trying to voice their concerns. I also plan to invite faculty and administration to these discussions, compiling the results of the discussions into documents that I can share with them. Having something concrete materialize from these discussions will certainly be beneficial in consultations.

It is important for an effective Rector to understand that students are diverse. This means that not all students will respond to opportunities for engagement in the same way. As a result, I believe a critical component to gathering student opinion is doing so through a variety of

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

mediums. I have outlined some above, but I believe that using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter are also important.

These in combination with on-the-ground approaches like the open forums I discussed, open office hours, class talks, attendance at events, councils and assemblies, etc. should all be used as a blended approach to gathering student opinion. Essentially I will not simply hold an open forum regarding an issue and assume the results of such are an accurate representation of the student body. The key is targeting students through various mediums to really get a holistic view of student concerns in order to accurately communicate this to the administration.

Much of the information available to students is a form that is not conducive to engagement. Take the Academic Plan, for example. Many documents have been released that outline the administration’s priorities and challenges and the ways in which they hope to shape Queen’s in the future. However, not a single one of the documents is under 20 pages in length, making it difficult to incite student participation. The Rector can play a role in translating this information

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

to an accessible form. One way in which to do this is delivering the same points in a way that speaks to students – explaining what is relevant to their experience here.

Another way is by summarizing it into manageable sections, structured by theme such that students can quickly access information that is important to them. One way I have done this in the past in my capacity as Vice-President was with the Academic Plan. I contextualized the process by outlining the timeline and the ways we arrived to the present stage. I included links to the various documents produced and forums for student engagement. I plan to use a similar technique as Rector regarding the issues and challenges I outlined in the beginning of my platform.

One of the most important roles of the Rector should be transforming the concerns they hear from students into change that directly impacts them. The Rector has an unparalleled opportunity to do so due to the very nature of their position as the third highest officer of the university. The Rector really does have the ear of the administration and it is important to

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

ensure it is not simply their ears that they address, but also their mind and their power for change. Talking to the administration is important; working with them to create change is another thing entirely. I plan to be that strong voice that not only speaks to the administration, but works with them to make a difference.

The Rector has a seat on the Board of Trustees, a body that is responsible for the overall operations of the university including financial matters. This is fantastic. However, the Board also has a number of standing committees when it comes to certain issues, such as the Finance Committee or the Campus Planning and Development Committee, which the Rector does not automatically sit on.

These committees deliberate on a number of issues then bring their reports to the Board of Trustees, which occurs 4 times a year, for discussion. I believe that one of the most effective ways of ensuring student concerns are considered is by being a member of these standing committees. In this way I can ensure that I am part of the decision-making process as opposed to solely being a member at the table at these quarterly Board meetings when the decision has

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

essentially already been made; I can be proactive and ensure students are considered right from the start.

Navigating the internal structure of Queen’s is particularly difficult because there is not a single place where it is mapped out for you. I found my involvement within student societies like the AMS and ASUS was more rewarding when I understood where my position lay in the overall structure of the Society – how I was contributing, where my position could lead to and who I could go to for help and support. I believe the structure of the university can be mapped out in a similar fashion, explaining bodies like the Board of Trustees or positions like the University Registrar in terms of student needs.

For example, as opposed to explaining the Board of Trustees as a body that oversees the operational side of the university, this flow chart could include issues, like internation tuition

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

increases, that fall within the Board’s jurisdiction. This chart would serve as an important resource for students looking to enact change, allowing them to target to appropriate people, bodies and channels to move forward with their goals.

It is important to realize that though the Rector represents all students, they also work closely with the administration and serve to represent the school as the third highest officer. Especially in light of recent events, the administration may be feeling slightly disenchanted with the position. The Rector must be mindful of this, but not so mindful that they do not speak up for students. I think my previous role as Vice-President of the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) lends well to this as I have already developed relationships with a number of important members of administration. They understand that I am respectful, but that I am also persistent and will not step down in the face of adversity or difficulty.

It took me an entire year to work through the red tape surrounding the installation of the ASUS Red Room (a study lounge on the second floor of Kingston Hall), but in the end I completed the project to the benefit of all students. Part of my success was the fact that I fostered relationships with different members of Queen’s administration, Faculty and staff such that I had the resources to tap into when I needed to move forward with something. I will continue to do this as Rector by having frequent meetings, demonstrating my understanding of not only the

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

student perspective but that of the administration, and being respectful of the limitations of the position as well as its opportunities.

I believe one of the most important qualities of a Rector is approachability. No student should ever be afraid or intimidated to seek the resources they require to succeed at Queen’s, whether that be academically, socially or financially. While Vice-President of ASUS I worked tirelessly to increase the ease with which students could access resources and developed an understanding of the barriers many students face while seeking resources and support. This experience coupled with my desire to ensure every student at Queen’s is reaching their full potential is truly a beneficial towards this end. I believe there are a number of different ways I can continue to be approachable as Rector, while understanding that a large component of this is my personality itself.

A large part to students feeling comfortable in approaching someone is having pre-existing interactions with them or recognizing them. It is much more intimidating for a student to

Robyn Laing 2011-2012

approach an individual they have never met or seen before – I know this from first-hand experience as an undergraduate student here!

Robyn Laing 2011-2012