Innovation at Queen's: 3 Qs with Benoit-Antoine Bacon

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In September, the 10K crew went on location to the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair, to interview a dozen higher ed leaders about trends in innovation.

Benoit-Antoine Bacon holds a PhD in neuropsychology, and has 14 years of experience in university administration at Bishop’s University (2004-2013), Concordia University Montreal (2013-16), and Queen’s University (2016-18). After this interview, he was appointed President and Vice-Chancellor of Carleton University, effective July 1 2018.

Ken had a wide-ranging, hour-long discussion with Benoit, which has been edited down to just 11 minutes in this special bonus episode, to focus on 3 key questions about higher ed innovation.

Innovations at Queen’s?

Benoit starts with Queen’s new $100-million Innovation & Wellness Centre, which will combine centralized student health and wellness supports, and custom-designed entrepreneurship and innovation space. He also points to a brand new mental health initiative to “embed” counselors in faculty and residence offices. Queen’s has also been investing $1 million+ every year in new active learning classrooms, like those in Ellis Hall, and is finding them in great demand and having significant impact on student learning. There is also international attention on Queen’s “Major Maps,” which outline extracurricular and experiential opportunities to enhance every undergraduate degree, and potential career outcomes.

The Decade Ahead?

Benoit emphasizes that the convergence of geopolitical, technological and societal pressures will make the next ten years absolutely critical, and identifies 4 things that will be key. In an increasingly global and diverse world, universities have a central role in fostering inclusion and helping people live together. Curricula, hiring, and even university symbols need to be reconsidered in a diverse and inclusive environment – not just to be nice, but because institutional success depends on attracting and retaining the world’s best talent. Universities also have to decide whether they will be local or global in their focus. The NYU “transnational” model is impressive but likely unique. Universities also need to take a fully-integrated, strategic approach to digital technologies, often appointing an academic CIO or a Vice-Provost Digital Planning. Research will continue to become more and more interdisciplinary in order to address the world’s big challenges and issues. But Benoit believes the biggest disruption over the next 10 years will be a shift toward measuring student learning outcomes and skills instead of traditional inputs.

Culture of Innovation?

Benoit believes senior leaders need to avoid blocking innovation, instead creating a culture of “saying yes.” In fact, risk-aversion might be the greatest risk that universities run today, so leaders need to shift to a culture of intelligent, measured risk-taking. Benoit says that “everything starts with hiring” for innovation instead of the status quo, from the top on down. Benoit concludes that there are many things you can do to shift institutional culture quicker than people might think.

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