Top Ten

April 2, 2013

Information commissioner to investigate UVic law centre's claim that scientists are muzzled

Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault will investigate a complaint by the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre that federal scientists are being muzzled. The investigation request claims the Conservative government is preventing the media and public from obtaining information from scientists. It states policies designed to prevent scientists from speaking freely are undermining democracy. A letter to the centre's legal director from the assistant information commissioner says the complaint falls within the commissioner's scope under the Access to Information Act. The letter says a notice of the investigation has been sent to several federal departments. Victoria Times-Colonist

McGill union questions perks for university executives

An Access to Information request that has detailed the salary perks of executives at McGill University has some union officials wondering how the institution pays its senior staff and whether McGill is obeying a Quebec law that aims to cut public-sector spending at the senior management level. The breakdown of these salary perks, classified as "autres éléments" in McGill's financial statements, comes as the institution is implementing measures to cut $43 million from its operating budget and has asked unions to accept a salary freeze. In the past, McGill has said that the "autres éléments" it pays out are part of a compensation package, and that it is complying with the provincial law and has not given bonuses to its executives. But the president of the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association questions that after seeing some mysterious salary perks under the newly detailed "autres éléments" category. Among them is a "staff dependent bursary" to a deputy provost. A McGill spokesperson says the bursary is a taxable benefit, used toward tuition for children of McGill staff members. Montreal Gazette

GPRC planning Hinton expansion

Alberta-based Grande Prairie Regional College is planning to expand its campus in Hinton. The college currently leases classroom space in the town, but 3 locations in Hinton have been identified for a potential expansion as part of a 5-year plan. According to the plan, GPRC's total budget for the region is $1.7 million, assuming the funding will continue in the future. A GPRC official says it's too early to tell how the provincial budget -- which cuts PSE funding by nearly 7% -- will affect matters. A plan summary was submitted to Hinton council and staff for review last month. The new Hinton facility is projected for 2017. Hinton Parklander

NOSM directors vote to modify board composition

At a meeting last month, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine's board of directors voted to accept recommendations made to modify the size and composition of the board. Composed of 19 directors, the new structure will give priority to the recruitment of different skills, expertise, and experience of board members, while still reflecting the geographic and demographic diversity of northeastern and northwestern Ontario, including Aboriginal, francophone, and rural and remote communities. Guidelines recommend that directors should be drawn widely to achieve a balance of skills and expertise needed for the board to fulfil its governance role and responsibilities. It is also recommended that, except in exceptional circumstances, all directors should be residents of northern Ontario. The modified board size will take effect in September. NOSM News Release

Downtown new destination for uWindsor

With key support from the city, the University of Windsor starts construction this summer on a $70-million downtown campus. Once strangers, Canadian PSE institutions and local municipalities now consider themselves allies in realizing their respective goals. By September 2014, uWindsor expects to offer programs in 3 heritage buildings being renovated and expanded to accommodate 2,000 students and faculty. "We recognize the downtown is where we have the home of the symphony, the art gallery and the theatres and all the social agencies," says uWindsor president Alan Wildeman. "It lets us fulfill what is part of our strategic plan, which is to create one of the most exciting learning environments we can." While some wonder whether an influx of students will be enough to redefine Windsor, others see the downtown campus as a timely effort to repair a frayed urban fabric. Globe and Mail

CIDA-funded institute at StFX watching move cautiously

The federal government's decision to fold the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) into the Department of Foreign Affairs is being watched closely by St. Francis Xavier University, whose Coady International Institute gets a third of its funding from CIDA. The institute, which provides development training to hundreds of international students, had just submitted its most recent proposal for funding to CIDA -- nearly $1 million a year -- when the agency was absorbed by Foreign Affairs. "I don't think we should be alarmed yet," says the institute's director. "There’s some good news in this story, CIDA has assured us and others that existing projects will be continued. The overall CIDA budget has not been cut this year, which is good in times of austerity." The 5-year agreement between CIDA and the institute expires in December. CBC

Queen's task force releases draft report on online learning

Queen's University's Senate Academic Planning Task Force has released a draft report on virtualization and online learning. The report proposes 18 recommendations aimed at informing university policy and planning around virtualization and online learning in the broader context of the overall student experience. Recommendations include Queen's doing a better job of identifying and recognizing faculty and staff who are innovators in teaching and promote synergies between them, senate promoting efforts to use online technologies that promote active learning, and the university remaining involved in discussions exploring the creation of the Ontario Online Institute. The task force hosted a town hall yesterday to receive feedback on the draft report. Queen's News Centre | Draft Report

SIAST president on institute's role and challenges

In an interview with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology president Larry Rosia spoke about the role of the institution and the challenges it faces in the province's booming economy. "I think SIAST is one of the most important organizations in the province right now," Rosia said. "You look at any of the opportunities and the skills shortages that are in the papers daily and in the news. They're looking for graduates with the kinds of skills SIAST produces." Rosia spoke about the challenge brought on by high demand. Over the past 3 years enrolment has risen by 40%, and there has been an 83% increase in demand on the apprenticeship side. The high demand is putting pressure on SIAST's facilities. Rosia said the institution is working on a plan to expand its Kelsey campus in Saskatoon in order to supply industry with the graduates they need for economic growth and for Saskatchewan's growth. At this point, Rosia said, SIAST is expected that the plan will involve a partnership between the institution and government and industry. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

Most US colleges not hit hard by federal budget cuts, report says

Most US PSE institutions will face only minimal effects from the automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect at the beginning of March, according to a report from Moody's Investors Service. The report examined the projected financial effect of the 5% cuts to domestic discretionary spending, known as sequestration, and found that just 1% of colleges and non-profits stood to lose more than 3% of their annual revenue due to the cuts. Research universities were most likely to be hit hard by the cuts as federal funding for scientific research is one of the areas affected. While some financial aid programs will also be cut, the Pell Grant -- the bedrock of needs-based financial aid programs -- is safe for the 2013-14 academic year. Inside Higher Ed

Trend in US institutions making creativity mandatory in undergraduate curriculum

A growing appreciation of the practical, societal, and personal value of learning creative skills has prompted US PSE institutions both large and small to make creativity a mandatory part of their undergraduate education. This fall Stanford University will require incoming students to take a course in "creative expression" as part of its new general-education curriculum. Students at Carnegie Mellon University's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences must complete a "creating" requirement, in which they produce a painting, poem, musical performance, a piece of technology, or design an experiment or mathematical proof. At Bryant University, students are required to take a first-year seminar in design thinking. One of the earliest and most pervasive efforts is at the University of Kentucky, which in fall 2011 began requiring its undergraduate students to take a 3-credit course in creativity. These institutions say the goal in developing students' creative skills is to train them to look at familiar problems or sets of data and view them from a fresh perspective. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)