A phone call with Francis
Rector Francis describes the Coroner’s Report and the NAD system as one of the biggest issues he dealt with for the entirety of his three-year term.
When he was freshly elected in October of 2011, five months after the Coroner’s Report was released, Francis described the AMS offices as “absolutely chaos”, with people running around, papers flying out of folders and regular closed door meetings. Francis was thirsty for a project and wanted to help out with something worthwhile.
“I started with meeting the AMS executive on a regular basis, trying to get a sense of what was going on and they started to tell me that there was this Coroner’s Report that had come out a couple months before.”
From the student government’s perspective, the Coroner’s Report’s recommendation directly linking these two student deaths — both of which alcohol-related — to the NAD system didn’t make sense as the two student deaths had no perceivable links to any AMS club, organization or event.
Many students are probably unaware of how NAD ties into their experiences in Orientation Week, their experiences in residence and their experience in opportunities for leadership, Francis said.
As well, Francis stressed how hard 2011-12 AMS President, Morgan Campbell, and the rest of her executive team worked with the issue of NAD.
“All of those [Queen’s traditions] are intimately tied in the non-academic discipline system and that AMS year understood that so well and did such a marvelous job of defending it. I was so fortunate and grateful to have been a part of that.”
The Coroner’s Report recommendations spurred a reaction from the administration in the fall of 2011. The Non-Academic Student Discipline Review Committee was formed in Senate — responsible for investigating possible changes to the NAD system.
In all of those conversations he had with the administration concerning NAD, Francis said, there was a constant push to act quickly and to make the changes that had been written by Skinner.
“The rhetoric that we were hearing from the administration at the time concerning the Coroner’s Report was that it was critical that we move quickly and do the things that he says or otherwise, if we don’t follow through with his recommendations, then we will suffer an inquest from the Coroner which will be very, very bad.”
When student leaders asked why an inquest would be bad, the typical answer Francis said they’d receive was that it would be damaging for the University’s reputation.
Amidst the tension, Francis and AMS Vice President (University Affairs) Kieran Slobodin, crafted a set of compromises in an attempt to reach a consensus with the issue of NAD, but according to the former rector, it was becoming difficult to compromise with administration.
“The communication was breaking down between the two parties,” he said.
As the 2012 winter term was nearing completion, the 2011-12 AMS executive team had finished their tenure and a new executive was being ushered into office.
At this point, Francis had already been working on the issue of NAD for a year and described how hard it was to see the new executive discover how difficult it was to defend NAD.
“I remember sitting in my office and I’ll never forget them looking at me and just seeing in their faces just how tired they were and I don’t blame them at all because they were so excited to dig their teeth into their roles and working on this amazing system.”
“And they’ve been robbed of this experience because they’re finding out the [NAD] cases that should have been going to the AMS were somehow being circumvented and taken by the Student Affairs Office in the Provost’s Office.”
According to what The Journal reported in 2012, cases that should’ve been going through the AMS NAD system, specifically those involving blue light misuse, were being redirected to the Student Affairs Office.
It was the summer of 2012 when the new executive asked Francis if anyone had actually spoken to Skinner.
“I remember saying, ‘You know what? We should just call the Coroner,’” Francis said.
Francis said the AMS executive had initially laughed at him, but he’d already opened up Google and started to search for the number.
"At the time, we were really unsure of what would happen and they built it up in such a big way that I found myself feeling this hesitation and these nerves.”
Francis called the Coroner’s Office and was given Skinner’s personal cell phone number with minimal questioning. He introduced himself as a representative from Queen’s and said he had some questions about the incident with the two students and what came after with Skinner’s investigation.
“And he asked me if I was a part of the student media, I said ‘no’. He asked if I was a part of the student government, I said ‘no’. He asked if I represented the board, I said ‘no’. He asked if I was a part of the administration, I said ‘no’. He then asked, ‘Who the heck are you?’”
Francis said by the time he’d gotten halfway through explaining what a rector was, Skinner asked him what he wanted to know.
The first thing Francis asked was what an inquest entailed, only to learn that was the name of a Coroner’s investigation.
“The tone of conversations, me asking these questions that were questions we had grabbled with for a year because the administration had given us uncertain answers or sometimes no answers at all, his tone was ‘Are you an idiot?’ They seemed so obvious.”
Francis said he asked how Skinner had worked out his recommendations, only to hear that Skinner had worked with the administration through his investigation.
Francis said that when he told the coroner what he’d heard for the past year — namely that the recommendations to re-evaluate NAD had come directly from the Coroner — Skinner seemed baffled.
“So [Skinner] had done the inquest, the recommendations were jointly produced with the administration taking the wheel on it and him just sort of approving it,” Francis said.
“The third question was if these recommendations were binding, because the administration is telling us if we don’t follow through on these recommendations, we’re going to be in deep trouble with the coroner.”
Francis said he got a reaction he wasn’t expecting. “Nick, do you know what a recommendation is?”
After hanging up the phone, Francis said he was shocked.
“I was absolutely floored that I just had this conversation. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
When The Journal contacted Skinner for this story, he explained in an emailed statement that the recommendations were the result of Coroner and police investigations and a Regional Coroner Review — a review conducted by Skinner with the assistance of a Kingston Police detective.
“The review included input from the families and the university, review of university records/policies and a review of policies and procedures from other institutions. The actual Regional Coroner Review meeting, held in April, 2011 was an opportunity for me and my investigator to gather additional information, for the university staff to answer our outstanding questions and for me to receive suggestions for preventative recommendations,” Skinner wrote.
“The recommendations I made in May, 2011, were written by me and were the result of my investigation. That investigation included input from the university as noted.”
Francis immediately told Principal Woolf and the AMS executive about his conversation with the Coroner. According to Francis, both parties were genuinely shocked about the nature of the Coroner’s recommendations.
After revealing his phone call — which had become almost like an open secret among student leaders and those involved in student politics — Francis withdrew his presence from the issue of NAD.
On Sept. 11, 2012, a matter of months after Francis’ phone call, a joint agreement — called a memorandum of understanding (MOU) — between AMS President Doug Johnson and Principal Woolf was signed. The consensus of the agreement was that the NAD system was worth protecting.
Addressed to the University Secretary, Lon Knox, the MOU reads, “The University recognizes the inherent value and efficacy of the AMS non-academic discipline system and unequivocally supports the underlying philosophy of peer-administered discipline.”
However, Francis said, even after the MOU, the relationship between the AMS executive and the administration wasn’t entirely back to normal.
When asked to provide comment, or to allow for The Journal to interview someone from the administration about how the Coroner’s recommendations were created, Queen’s Communications provided an emailed statement pointing to information available on their website.
They provided links to student non-academic misconduct statistics, the Student Code of Conduct, the Advisory Committee on Non-Academic Misconduct, the NAM sub-committee of the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board of Trustees and the MOU.
The emailed statement also read, “Queen’s University is committed to the well-being and safety of our students. The university undertook a review of its non-academic misconduct policies and procedures with the aim of improving the system to better support student safety, health and wellness.”