Top Ten

April 19, 2012

Ontario court rules that students may sue universities in some instances

A recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal outlines the circumstance in which a student may sue a university for damages. The decision relates to lawsuits involving the University of Ottawa (over claims of inadequate thesis supervision) and York University (over allegations of failure to accommodate a student with a disability). At the root of both cases is implied contract, says an expert on university case law. Students may have a claim for damages if it can be shown that the institution did not deliver on its promises and if the claims refer to behaviour that exceeds universities' jurisdiction over their academic programs. The plaintiffs in both cases have been invited to amend their statement of claim to provide specific evidence of what the contracts and breaches were. As the courts shift toward a more commercial view of the university-student relationship, institutions should ensure they have clear documentation, says York U's general counsel. "We have always relied on the calendar and university policies as the closest thing to a contract that we have. It has not been seen as a business arrangement. But students, parents and courts are more consumer-oriented today," she says. "If people are struggling to get the money for tuition, they expect to get something for it -- their degrees." University Affairs

Tensions high on Quebec campuses as striking students reject orders to return to class

Tensions are high at many Quebec PSE institutions, with students resisting tactics to try to force them to return to school. The Université de Montréal had to retreat from providing classes Wednesday after students found increasingly violent and disruptive means to ensure university activities could not resume. Meanwhile, 161 protesters were arrested Wednesday for blocking the road near the Université du Québec en Outaouais' Gatineau campus. Adults were fined over $400 for violating the Highway Safety Code and have since been released, and one student was arrested for obstructing police. The demonstration came a day after UQO administrators announced that students and instructors must respect a court decision to allow classes to continue. Police in Montreal and Gatineau clashed with student protesters and arrested some demonstrators yesterday while the Quebec government hinted it could meet with some student representatives today. The student groups FEUQ and FECQ have said they will not sit down with the province if CLASSE is excluded. CLASSE says it will reconsider its position on acts of violence and vandalism by some protesters at a convention in Montreal this weekend. Montreal Gazette | Ottawa Citizen | Postmedia News | CBC | CTV

Threats force closure of TRU visual arts department

Claims of threats amongst students have prompted Thompson Rivers University to close its visual arts department and postpone a year-end exhibit until summer. That affords TRU time to conduct a threat assessment by interviewing faculty members and students, says a university spokesman. He did not speculate on what might be behind the alleged threats, but told the CBC that the decision to close the department was made with students' safety in mind. A third-year arts student says 2 others in the program have been harassing and intimidating others. He says he does not believe the incident is connected to a previous case involving a student's photography project, but the tension amongst some fourth-year students has been escalating over the past few weeks, artwork has been vandalized, and some students have had to seek counselling. Kamloops Daily News | CBC

Former uWinnipeg recruiter overcharges Chinese high school students for homestay

A former University of Winnipeg recruitment agent has been charging 4 Chinese students up to $3,000 a month for a small room and a meagre food allowance in his home, students claim. The students were recruited to attend the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, a high school that is part of uWinnipeg, beginning in 2008. The students lived in the home of Ronald Chong, who was a paid recruiter of international students at the time. uWinnipeg cancelled Chong's recruitment contract earlier this year after it became aware of the students' living conditions and accommodations cost, and moved the students to a university residence. Chong should not have been putting students in his home, uWinnipeg officials say. "In this instance, it seems that there may have been some misrepresentation there," says uWinnipeg's senior executive officer. Since one of the students was a minor when he arrived in Canada, his mother signed over guardianship to Chong. The others listed him as a relative, making the situation difficult to monitor. "Their parents entered into a relationship that was outside of the purview, and a contract outside of the institution's awareness and purview -- and in that sense, legal responsibility," says the senior executive office. CBC

Cambrian cuts 13 support staff positions

OPSEU officials are upset after Cambrian College announced Wednesday plans to eliminate 13 support staff jobs. The job losses are even harder to take given what the union calls big pay hikes to some college management, officials say. An OPSEU staff representative says that in some cases, senior administrators' salaries have increased up to 74% over 3 years. "How can you justify laying us off -- telling 13 people that they're getting their surplus notice -- when you have done this and given yourself these raises over three years?" he asks. The news follows last month's vote by Cambrian's board of governors to cut 9 programs, a decision that resulted in 15 academic positions being cut. Sudbury Star | Northern Life

Federal cutbacks lead to scarce job opportunities for students

Federal departments grappling with this year's austerity budget are reducing the number of students they hire, leaving some students scrambling to find summer work and co-op placements they need to graduate from university. The Federal Student Work Experience Program received 600 fewer requests from department managers last month than it did the year before, according to Public Service Commission data. "Student recruitment and hiring continue, but at a slower pace," says a PSC spokeswoman, noting that the recent budget "may mean conducting student recruitment in a way that is more focused." At the University of Ottawa, where 60% of placements are with the public sector, the co-op program's director says the situation is the worst he has seen in 12 years at the department. "(We) might have been too dependent on the federal government, they were a very good supplier of good experience for students," he says. "Now they’re pulling out and we’ll have to see how we can find other quality work experience for our students." Globe and Mail

Funding increased for higher education in NB

The budget for New Brunswick's Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour for 2012-13 totals more than $588.3 million, up nearly 2% from the previous fiscal year. New measures targeted to PSE include an extra $4 million to support public universities and the addition of 10 seats at the New Brunswick Dalhousie medical school. The department is adding $1 million to the low-income family bursary, as well as increasing to $100 per week the amount a student may earn at work without affecting their student loan. The department will invest $5 million over 5 years to create integrated, highly collaborative, student-centred learning environments at New Brunswick Community College's Miramichi campus. A $1-million investment will fund 231 additional seats at NBCC, the Collège communautaire du Noveau-Brunswick, and the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. NB News Release

uWaterloo establishes new public health school

Yesterday the University of Waterloo launched its new School of Public Health and Health Systems. In the school, faculty, students, and researchers from multiple disciplines will collaborate on exploring the interrelationships between the many factors that affect our health and our health systems. The school features a professional practice centre with capacity to provide cutting-edge research for public, private, and non-profit organizations on issues as they arise. This will allow the school to be responsive to current health concerns, while also providing students with a learning environment focused on societal needs. uWaterloo News Release

BC pledges $10 million to help students obtain skills for today's jobs

The BC government announced Wednesday one-time funding of $10 million that is being provided to 16 public PSE institutions in the province to prepare workers for jobs in their regions. Made available through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement, the funding will be allocated to short-term training determined on an institution-to-institution basis to ensure it meets local training needs. BC News Release

MUN to launch First-Year Success Program

Memorial University will introduce this fall a 2-year pilot program for first-year students who feel they would benefit from a little extra reassurance about the transition to PSE, without missing any academic credit hours. Targeted at students with entrance averages between 70% and 75%, the First-Year Success Program will be housed in the arts faculty and is intended for first-year students who fall within this average and who are not accepted into direct-entry programs. The pilot program emerges from a MUN study that found that students whose entrance averages fall between 70% and 75% are particularly vulnerable to academic distress that could impact their entire PSE experience. MUN News