Queen’s University’s new Provost Matthew Evans, who has been overseeing controversial budget cuts, negotiated a tenured professorship for his wife when he was hired last year as the Kingston, Ont., school’s top academic and budgetary authority.
The school made no announcement of it, but rumours have circulated on campus, as concern grew about Evans’s aggressive program of cost cutting, and the optics of an unadvertised hire ordered from on high by the administration.
A Queen’s University spokesperson confirmed Adeline Johns-Putra is joining the English department and the Queen’s faculty this summer as a tenured professor. She is a specialist in ecocriticism, specifically the intersection of climate change and literature, and the author of books including Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel.
“She comes as a spousal appointment that was negotiated at the time the job offer of our Provost was negotiated. This occurred in the early spring of last year, long before our current budget issues were fully understood and well before any hiring freeze was in place,” the spokesperson said.
Johns-Putra was previously a professor of literature at Monash University Malaysia, and before that at schools in England, including the University of Surrey and University of Exeter, where Evans also then worked. She is his second wife.
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Evans has been a prominent research scientist in ornithology and ecology, with an emphasis on climate change. But he has also worked for many years in top-level university administration, at Exeter, then Queen Mary University of London, then the University of Hong Kong, where Johns-Putra is also an honorary professor in the School of English. He was most recently Provost at United Arab Emirates University. At Queen’s he is also Vice-Principal (Academic).
Queen’s denied there was anything improper in hiring a spouse as a condition for hiring such a senior job as Provost, for which the search is global.
“The search and appointment of senior administrative positions in Canada is highly competitive. Spousal appointments are not unusual in the current market. Dr. Johns-Putra is a well-regarded academic with an exceptional record of research. When her appointment was initially discussed, the Dean and department were very supportive of her joining our faculty. That continues to be the case,” the spokesperson said.
The National Post has seen correspondence among English department members that suggest the department did not learn of the hire until last fall, after Evans had started as provost in August. The hiring of Johns-Putra is expected to be announced at an English department meeting next week.
The provost has had nothing to do with his wife’s appointment
The union representing Queen’s faculty, the Queen’s University Faculty Association, was not involved in the hiring, as it normally would be, and the position of a tenured professorship was not publicly advertised. Her salary was earmarked as part of the hiring of the Provost and is funded outside the faculty budget.
“The appointment of Dr. Johns-Putra is allowable under the terms of the faculty collective agreement,” the Queen’s University spokesperson said. “The provost has had nothing to do with his wife’s appointment nor will he once she joins the university this summer. There are spousal appointments at Queen’s and the university will follow procedures to avoid any conflict, real or perceived.
Hiring a tenured professor without advertising the position as usual “is entirely allowable under the collective agreement with the discretion of such waivers residing with the administration,” the spokesperson said.
News of the unusual hiring decision has landed loudly on a campus where widespread layoffs are anticipated among staff; entire academic programs are facing elimination; a hiring freeze is imposed across the entire school; adjunct professors and junior lecturers face drastically reduced employment opportunities; and students worry about the effect of all this on their education.
The university has reversed course on its controversial timeline to cut costs in the Faculty of Arts and Science by eliminating any course that attracts fewer than 10 students.
This plan was set to devastate various upper year programs in the Faculty of Arts and Science, particularly in languages and classics. Now, the timetable to achieve a balanced budget has been pushed forward a full year, to 2026-27.
The student paper The Queen’s Journal reported from the school’s Senate meeting that Evans said his previous plan to balance the budget in two years is not possible, and he has decided on a “longer runway” for eliminating the school’s operating deficit. He has repeatedly denied this was possible, including in an earlier presentation to the Queen’s Senate, and drew widespread media attention with his comment in a meeting with faculty and staff that Queen’s very “survival” was at stake, “because unless we sort this out, we will go under.”
Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane issued a statement to deny this, saying the school was not “under threat of financial ruin,” but rather has the same financial problems as all Ontario universities.
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