Top Ten

February 1, 2013

2 former uToronto students who failed to sue institution for $80 million can try again, judge says

An Ontario Court of Appeal judge ruled last Wednesday that a pair of former University of Toronto students who unsuccessfully tried to sue the institution for $80 million for issuing them failing grades can try again. According to court documents, the students, a married couple, enrolled in PhD programs in 2007 but soon deferred their studies to care for an ill family member in Iran. They re-enrolled in fall 2008 but returned to Iran after the relative's illness "progressed." In the ensuing "confusion" over the couple's sudden absence in class, uToronto issued them 3 failing grades for the fall term. After the couple returned to Iran in the winter term to make funeral arrangements for the relative, uToronto issued 2 more failing grades and began taking steps to have the couple expelled. The couple filed for 3 internal appeals but all were rejected, and in May 2012 they tried to take their case to court. In their statement of claim, the couple sought "approximately 80-million dollars" and fingered both uToronto and 18 university employees for a litany of allegations, including "conspiracy to injure," "misfeasance in public office," and several human rights violations. Court documents show the couple, who are representing themselves, were "asking for damages arising from the university's alleged failure to comply with its contractual obligations." 3 months after the couple first filed their statement of claim, a judge tossed it out, citing the legal procedure that covers "frivolous or vexatious" lawsuits. The appeal court judge ruled that as long as everything the pair was saying is true, there is a chance that some of their claims are not "bound to fail." The judge gave the pair a 30-day deadline to "perfect their appeal." National Post

US, Canadian institutions' endowment returns fall flat

The 2012 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments, which examines data from more than 800 PSE institutions in North America (including 19 Canadian universities), observes that endowments for the 2012 fiscal year were essentially flat, returning an average of -0.3% -- a steep decline from the 2011 fiscal year average return of 19.2%. Over the longer term, 10-year returns for fiscal 2012 were 6.2% compared to 5.6% in fiscal 2011, suggesting that long-term performance for many institutions continues to ameliorate. Each of the 19 Canadian universities in the study saw declines in endowment market value between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012. The one-year change reflects the net impact of withdrawals to fund institutional operations and capital expenses, the payment of endowment management and investment fees, additions from donor gifts and other contributions, and investment gains or losses. NACUBO News Release | The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access) | Endowment Market Value Table

uSask med school to require all applicants to have 4-year degrees

The faculty council at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine voted last week in favour of making a 4-year degree mandatory for all applicants. The current requirement is only 2 years of undergraduate study, but students must have outstanding GPAs. According to uSask, students took advantage of the current system and took an overload of introductory level courses to improve their grades. By requiring applicants to have a 4-year degree, the college says it's leveling the playing field as well as ensuring it receives quality applicants. The college's admissions director says the change will take effect for students applying in fall 2014. The change still needs to go through University Council and the senate for final approval. CBC | CTV

Selkirk College unveils new 5-year strategic plan

Selkirk College has released a new 5-year strategic plan that outlines its aspirations for development and renewal in a rapidly changing and complex PSE sector in BC and worldwide. The plan outlines 5 strategic directions that will guide Selkirk into 2018: increase student enrolments; build on strengths and success to develop innovative programs and services; modernize infrastructure to support 21st century learning environments; be the employer of choice in the region; and expand impact on community development and innovation. With respect to enrolment, Selkirk intends to build and implement strategic enrolment plans that will enhance its ability to identify, communicate with, and attract prospective students to the college within the region, across Canada, and internationally. It also aims to improve recruitment and enrolment in key areas: Aboriginal learners; learners from across Canada; strategic international markets; and learners encountering barriers to access and success. Selkirk News Release | Strategic Plan

uCalgary president responds to criticism by former ISEEE director

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon is defending the research done by the university's Institute of Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE). Last week, David Keith, the former director of a group within ISEEE, called it a failure, arguing that ISEEE is poorly managed and is not operating as independently from the private sector as it should. Keith claimed an academic was removed from his position at uCalgary at the request of an energy firm. When asked specifically about that allegation, Cannon said the university makes the hiring decisions and is accountable to them. Cannon says the institution has numerous partnerships with private industry, but operates independently of those companies. She says those partnerships make uCalgary better by providing scholarships and funding research. CBC

UBC's first MOOC draws more than 130,000 registrants

A free online science course offered by UBC and Stanford University researchers has attracted more than 130,000 registrants, including learners from every Canadian province (400 from BC), every US state, and 183 countries. The massive open online course (MOOC) on game theory is the largest MOOC involving a Canadian university delivered through the US-based Coursera platform. In May, UBC will pilot 3 additional MOOCs, whose topics include genetics, computer science problem design, and climate literacy. UBC Science News

McMaster's Reach Ahead program a success with high school students

Grade 12 students from both the Catholic and public school boards in Hamilton spent a semester experiencing campus life through McMaster University’s Reach Ahead program. The pilot project, which launched last fall, selected high school students who were academically successful but who might not otherwise have considered attending university after graduation because of financial or other barriers. The hope is that this early exposure to PSE will motivate them to apply to university. The group took a university course every morning and continued their high school studies in the afternoon. Though the future of the program is yet to be determined, feedback from participants has been positive and many have already submitted their applications for next fall. CBC

New Canadore video showcases college's approach to preparing students for tomorrow's jobs

"The way we teach our youth has to change for the new global reality," states a new video produced by Canadore College, which begins with a note about skilled worker shortages being expected to skyrocket. Describing itself as "not your traditional college," Canadore highlights in the video how it is part of the solution. "We are challenging the way things used to be done. We aren't just training graduates, we are training the workforce of tomorrow, so their skills need to match the jobs available," says Canadore president George Burton. "This video showcases some of the expertise we have within our walls. It is a testament to the high calibre of talent we have under our own roof." Created by Canadore's marketing department in conjunction with a Television Video Production professor and his students, the video will be featured to a global audience. Canadore News Release

MUN Grenfell campus challenges students to learn about new brand in contest

Memorial University's Grenfell campus is running a contest that challenges current and prospective students to learn more about the campus's new brand. It's a chance to win prizes by watching a video that features Grenfell students and staff shown with the foundation of the new brand -- hundreds of -er words like "expresser," "healer," "optimizer," and "questioner." By visiting the "Better to be a Winner" contest website, participants are asked to watch the video and answer questions about it. For their efforts, participants' names will be entered to win a $1,000 Grenfell tuition voucher and a MacBook Air. Grenfell News | Better to be a Winner

US institutions working to shed "suitcase school" label

Nearly half of Central Connecticut State University's 7,700 full-time undergraduate students live in residences or near campus. But most disappear each Friday, joining the army of undergraduates at "suitcase schools" across the US who desert their campuses on weekends for family, friends, or jobs. The suitcase culture has educators concerned, and many campuses are working to reverse it. For example, Central's VP for student affairs and student leaders began a campaign last year to revitalize weekends. The university has created a $20,000 pool from which to distribute mini-grants to help students subsidize events. Each residence adviser must plan a weekend activity once a month. In a recent success, a Saturday flag football game attracted more than 200 to the usually empty campus centre. New York Times