Top Ten

March 12, 2012

Online complaints against Eminata Group institutions a "smear campaign"

There are over 200 online posts critical of 3 for-profit institutions under the Eminata Group name (University of Canada West, Vancouver Career College, CDI College), alleging business practices that are leaving students frustrated and searching for answers. Eminata has dismissed these posts as a smear campaign initiated by a few dissatisfied former students and staff, including a former director whom the company accuses of attempted extortion. A Vancouver police spokesperson says Eminata's complaint on the extortion matter was closed with no charges pressed. The Vancouver Province says its investigation suggests there might be more to the online posts than just disgruntled students. A current CDI College instructor, who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity, said she knew some of the allegations to be valid, including the use of unqualified teachers, misleading enrolment information, commissioned sales representatives, and inconsistent exam standards. The Province spoke to some former students who make such claims, and mentions there are a significant number of civil court documents bearing the names of the 3 institutions. The reviews aren't all negative, though. While some students interviewed by the Province said there was room for improvement, their basic response was that they got out what they put into it. Not named in the online allegations is Eminata founder Dr. Peter M. Chung, whose interview with the Province is featured in the second part of the paper's investigation. The paper reports that UCAN president Dr. Verna Magee-Shepherd resigned Friday. Eminata News Release | Vancouver Province (March 11) | Vancouver Province (March 12)

Universities' move toward significant corporate collaborations raises issues of autonomy, integrity

More desperate to secure larger sums of funding, Canadian universities are increasingly entering much more complicated donor relationships, resulting in the challenge of building proper governance structures that allow universities to accept funding from outside sources while also protecting their autonomy and integrity. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has spoken out against York University's new agreement with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) on an international law program, as well as the University of Toronto's partnership with gold-mining magnate Peter Munk on the Munk School of Global Affairs. "A third party, a donor, an interest group, has no business involved in discussions about academic affairs within the university," says CAUT executive director James Turk. "There is no place for that if a university is to have integrity." A CIGI VP says "academic freedom is as important a value to a think-tank as it is to a university. In order to ensure that everyone feels good about the collaboration, there have to be firewalls built in." Still, how each party qualifies these protections is at the centre of the growing debate. As universities become more responsive to market forces, "this has forced too many to accept donations without due diligence and, sometimes, even bend to donor directives," observes Ramesh Thakur, who says he lost his job as the inaugural director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs (whose partners are CIGI, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University) for that very reason. In an investigation into Thakur's firing, CAUT released a scathing report about the lack of governance structure at the Balsillie School. The 3 partners dismissed CAUT's findings. Still, they have since developed a "squeaky clean" governance structure that was unanimously approved by the board of governors of all the partners and the universities' senates. Financial Post

uCalgary brain institute receives $10-million gift for mental health initiatives

Matco Investments Ltd. president and CEO Ronald P. Mathison has made a $10-million donation to the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute to found a centre dedicated to discovering innovative treatments and providing early intervention for mental illness. Based at uCalgary's Foothills campus, The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education offers support and new hope to families in Calgary, throughout Alberta, and worldwide. uCalgary News

Ontario TCU minister calls on private sector to boost investment in PSE

In a speech Friday, Ontario Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Glen Murray called on the private sector to fund a larger share of higher-education costs. Other than a fleeting pledge to not fund the future "on the backs of students" (through tuition fee increases alone) and a quick call to use campuses more efficiently than "just 66 per cent of the year" (through a proposal to have courses run through the summer), Murray cast his eyes over the corporate world. Ontario taxpayers already pay "a lot of the freight" for PSE, said Murray, so new growth needs to come from the type of public-private partnerships common at US Ivy League institutions. Murray also noted that today's entrepreneurial students find corporate sponsors and investors prior to graduation, "so the wall is being erased between the classroom and the workplace. Some students are graduating with their diploma in one hand and their incorporation certificate in the other." The chair of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario says she finds such emphasis on private funding "concerning," and also warns that it is not easy to run classes all summer, as some students need that period to either make money or conduct research. Toronto Star

Mohawk College set to break ground for new recreation centre

Mohawk College and its students' association will break ground in April on a much-needed recreation centre. The $35-million, 65,000-square-foot Mohawk Recreation Centre (MRC) will include a triple gymnasium, an indoor running track, and a fitness, health, and wellness centre. The MRC will replace fitness and recreation facilities at the Fennell campus, which is undergoing renewal. Mohawk College News

CIS universities need to do more to retain top female hockey players in Canada

At the women's hockey summit over the weekend, some 50 coaches and sport administrators addressed why the majority of Canada's best players still attend US institutions. Although the CIS women's hockey system has made huge strides since 1997, much more is needed if Canadian universities want to retain the best homegrown talent here, says former national women's team head coach Melody Davidson. Not every CIS school has a full-time head coach, which, along with the lack of paid assistant coaches, is a concern. Visibility is key, stresses Davidson, whether that means logo identification, information about a university hockey program, or, crucially, facts about funding options of which many athletes and parents remain unaware. A University of Alberta coach says limited resources at Canadian institutions mean coaches have to be creative with strategies with respect to academic schedules and course loads. One mechanism is already in place, notes Davidson; the 5-year eligibility rule at CIS institutions enables athletes to manage their course load differently from their US counterparts, for whom the eligibility limit is 4 years. Edmonton Journal

SMU prof uses app to teach Shakespeare

Saint Mary's University professor David Wilson has introduced a mobile application to his online English class in hopes of giving his students a better understanding of the Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night. Wilson wrote the content for Twelfth Night Tester, an Apple device app that features a timed quiz with 20 questions about the play, followed by a page of profiles of the major characters. A colleague of Wilson's at SMU designed and developed software for the app, which was tested in one of the professor's summer courses and launched this term in his English class. The app is available only to students in that course as free supplementary study material. Students are required to ready Twelfth Night first and then use the app to test their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. This is the first time this form of technology has been used for academic purposes at SMU. SMU News Release | CBC

Facebook contest seeks suggestions on new green initiative for UNBC

The University of Northern British Columbia is running a Facebook contest in which participants can suggest a new green initiative for the institution as part of its fifth annual Green Day celebration on March 20. "Empowering the UNBC population is appropriate as Canada's Green University," says president George Iwama. "(The contest) provides the opportunity to get involved in purposeful environmental change, and links our current and former student community with UNBC's mandate to 'walk the walk.'" Suggestions so far range from making all washing machines in residence cold-water only to incorporating tiles that convert kinetic energy from individuals' footsteps. After 2 weeks of online voting, the top 5 candidates will be announced on Green Day. Prizes include $1,000 from Integris Credit Union and green gift bundles from the UNBC Bookstore. The winners' suggestions have potential to be the university's next green project, as selected by the Green Day Committee. UNBC News Release | Facebook Contest

British parents surveyed say university is about job prospects

In a poll of 1,000 British parents with children aged 11 to 17, 60% of respondents felt children should attend university because it improved their job prospects, while a quarter of respondents felt PSE was primarily valuable for its own sake. Nearly one-third of those polled believed PSE would result in their children getting a better job, while 28% said it would lead them to having a successful career. Two-thirds of parents believed that universities prepared students for the workplace, with 31% feeling they do this well and 35% saying it was satisfactory. Nearly a quarter of respondents said universities do not prepare students well. Just over half of parents believed having a degree remained a good investment for their children, while 21% said it was not. The poll was commissioned by the New College of the Humanities, a private institution due to open in September. Times Higher Education

Students vent on blog listing reasons not to attend graduate school

Anonymously produced for 2 years, "100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School" has become a popular blog with graduate students looking to vent. With a focus on the humanities and the social sciences, the blog features many posts that speak to the social and psychological difficulties of graduate school. A recent entry on "the culture of fear" -- which asked: "Why are academics -- of all people -- afraid of writing (and speaking) honestly about their profession? Why do so many of those who do express themselves feel compelled to do so anonymously?" -- garnered many responses (many of them anonymous) about the power gaps in academia. There are widespread complaints about graduate school and the academic job market. While some critics of the blog find many of the reasons to be "negatively slanted and biased," the blog is getting praised in comments on many discussions regarding the academic job market. If one decides to enrol in graduate school anyway, the blog includes 3 pieces of advice: "stay out of debt," "go to a prestigious school," and "finish as quickly as possible." Inside Higher Ed | 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School