Top Ten

January 3, 2013

uLaval rector proposes Quebec keep promised university investments while cancelling cuts

In a statement Université Laval issued December 14, rector Denis Brière proposed that Quebec Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne keep the $696 million in new funds for PSE promised between now and 2018 while cancelling the $124 million in retroactive cuts to universities announced for 2012-13 as well as those planned for 2013-14. uLaval says the proposal "is based on the fact that the university cannot accept a plan that jeopardizes the education of currently enrolled students in exchange for an investment that will not come to term until 2018. This way forward is based on responsible management principles. Our proposal represents a viable approach and demonstrates our will to help the government solve the financial problems facing our society." uLaval Statement

Job cuts at UVic

Cutbacks at the University of Victoria have resulted in the layoff of at least 24 staff members, as departments look to cut 4% from their budgets this year. The lost jobs will come from a variety of areas, says an official with the Professional Employees Association, adding that many of the staff work in technical support, scientific support, and research support. Some of those laid off have already left UVic, while others will continue to work until this spring. A 2012-13 budget framework document posted on UVic's website cites inflation pressure and decreased or flat PSE funding from government as reasons for consecutive 4% budget reductions over the next 2 academic years. UVic's VP finance and operations has confirmed the institution is planning for budget reductions of 4%, effective April 1. "Given that salaries and benefits comprise almost 80% of our total operating budget, there will unfortunately be some job losses," the VP says. "Where there are job losses, we have provided compensation consistent with the terms of the agreements with our employees." Saanich News

Audit at U of King's College finds questionable spending, record-keeping

An audit of staff expenses at Halifax-based University of King's College has shown a pattern of questionable spending and record-keeping practices, reports the Chronicle Herald. The VP at King's requested the audit after noticing a lack of supporting documentation for expenses. Covering the period from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, the audit found that more than $47,000, or 10%, of the total charged to staff credit cards was "unusual" and another $1,500 was "not reasonable." While the draft report, obtained by the newspaper through a freedom-of-information request, does not name the staff members or list their positions at the university, many of the questionable expenses and practices involve one employee. The report recommends that King's establish clear policies governing gifts to staff members, expensing goods or services and other purchases by staff. It also recommends that the institution conduct a comprehensive review of its payroll and benefits. A King's official says the university is taking all of the recommendations seriously and is acting on them. Chronicle Herald

uToronto distances itself from Catholic group encouraging youth to resist homosexuality

The University of Toronto has distanced itself from a controversial program described as an anonymous support group to help youth struggling to resist homosexual urges that was recently launched at the Catholic parish based on uToronto's main campus. The Courage group began in October at the Newman Centre, an independent parish and meeting place that has integrated itself with uToronto students, faculty, and staff. The group launched at the request of someone in the uToronto community, says an Archdiocese of Toronto spokesman. While the program has the church's explicit support, it has created a rift at the Newman Centre. Despite the centre's arm's-length status, 4 parishioners launched a formal complaint with uToronto -- one of several the institution received and solicited in recent months, says a spokesman. uToronto said in a statement that its VP of human resources and equity labelled the Courage program "inconsistent with the university's values" and has urged the Newman Centre to stop offering or promoting it, and to make clear in all its publications that uToronto does not endorse it. The centre's website now states that the Courage program "is not offered by or connected to the University of Toronto." Globe and Mail

Details of uCalgary West Campus development emerging

Development of the University of Calgary's West Campus has been described as a "game-changer" for the institution and a detailed master concept will soon be ready for the project. "The majority of this development will be residential. We are looking to do some office. Probably a third of this development will be office and then local retail. Not destination retail. Local retail to serve the population that will live here," says the president of the West Campus Development Trust, an independent organization run by a board of trustees to manage the land's development. The trust is currently developing a detailed concept plan, which the group intends to have completed by mid-January. Noting that uCalgary is mostly a commuter campus, the university's interim business dean and a trust member says "what we want to do is capture a much richer experience, having students spend more time around campus. And also the faculty." Calgary Herald

WLU strikes task force on first-year student experience

Wilfrid Laurier University announced last month that it has struck a new Task Force on the 1st Year Experience to review, discuss, and recommend a more comprehensive institutional approach to the first-year student experience at the university. Consisting of appointed members from a broad representation of all areas of WLU's campuses, the task force will consider the goals of the first-year student experience, guiding principles, and desired first-year competencies, skills, and outcomes. The task force will consult at various stages with the WLU community, including the senate and board of governors, as it goes through its process and produces preliminary reports. The recommendations in the final report will go to the senate and board. WLU News

Petition asks Maclean's to include ethical investment in university rankings

A group of recent university graduates is petitioning Maclean's to include an "ethical investment ranking" category in its annual university rankings in an effort to push universities to reconsider how they invest their endowment funds. "We think Maclean's has a lot of clout and universities are worried about how they're viewed," said one of organizers of the petition, which has garnered more than 9,300 signatures. "This could force universities to divest from investments in fossil fuels and tobacco." The group is aiming for 10,000 or more signatures before it approaches Maclean's, but the magazine has already caught wind of the petition. In a statement to the CBC, the publication said "we believe this is an issue best explored in an article, and so at this point we are not considering introducing a ranking indicator on ethical investment of university endowment funds." Though she could not be reached for comment following the magazine's response, the organizer said the awareness from the campaign is even more important than getting the magazine's attention. "We set our goal and were just hoping we could really get a lot of momentum," she said. "The universities have a choice and they can change their behaviour." Montreal Gazette | CBC | Petition

UBC officials on the future of learning options

When asked in a UBC Reports interview to describe the options that a 2023 UBC applicant will face, some university executives mentioned online learning. The VP Finance says blended learning will help UBC improve access, which is vital in BC where the 57% PSE graduation rate is below the national average. An associate provost suggests "the moment students worldwide decide that an online degree from a top university like UBC has more prestige than a degree at their local university, we are in a different world, and weaker universities will disappear." He adds that "the biggest shift by 2023 is that universities will be tailoring their programs to fit as closely as possible what individual students want and need." The provost for the Okanagan campus says "there will always be a demand from learners to connect face to face with their peers and with faculty. That in person experience is impossible to replicate online -- now and for the foreseeable future." UBC Reports

McMaster digital scholarship centre uses open access to make research more useful

McMaster University's new Lewis & Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship, and others like it being established around North America, aims to make new research faster, more thorough, more insightful, and more useful -- by promoting collaboration and open access. Made possible by a $2.5-million gift from the Lewis & Ruth Sherman Foundation, the centre helps graduate students and faculty process huge amounts of data to reveal new information that a few years ago would not have been possible to find. The centre's administrative director says digital scholarship promotes a collaborative approach to research and allows researchers to think big. "People entering academics now have grown up with this technology," says the centre's academic director. "It will be inconceivable that future academics won't expect and demand this." National Post | McMaster Daily News

UNBC seeks campus correspondent with Northern Exposure Award

The University of Northern British Columbia has created a Northern Exposure Award, which will give one student the chance to learn and report about the institution as UNBC's first Campus Correspondent. Open to current UNBC students or those considering the institution, the award requires applicants to produce a 2-minute video explaining why they would be the ideal choice for the Campus Correspondent, and why they want 8 months of top-level education and adventure in northern BC. The award recipient will receive tuition for the 2013-14 academic year, accommodation in the student residence, and $2,000 in credit with the campus bookstore and food services. The recipient's experiences will be the subject of monthly videos and other reports shared on UNBC's YouTube channel, websites, and other online venues. The deadline for applications is March 1. UNBC News Release | Northern Exposure Award