Top Ten

June 2, 2014

Manitoba universities say bill will give province excessive power

Manitoba’s universities and the Canadian Association of University Teachers say that a bill proposed by the province would give the government an unnecessary degree of power to direct postsecondary curricula. Bill 63 includes regulations that address universities’ ability to set course fees and to establish, modify, or eliminate programs. It further gives the provincial minister the power to set a mandate for each university in order to avoid “unnecessary duplication of effort and expense.” While Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum says that Bill 63 is intended simply to reduce red tape, CAUT Executive Director Jim Turk described it as something “you would expect to find in a totalitarian state.” University of Winnipeg President Lloyd Axworthy said that the bill gives the government “the power to effectively determine what courses and programs are taught at universities.” More moderately, University of Manitoba President David Barnard said that it “seemed to us it was going a little further than it should have.” Winnipeg Free Press

Postscript: June 3 2014

Manitoba will back down on a controversial bill that would have given the government significant control over postsecondary curricula. Bill 63 would have given the province the power of final approval over “all changes to programs of study, services or facilities proposed by a university or college” as well as allowing the minister to “develop a mandate for each university and college.” Critics of the bill said that the bill infringed on the autonomy of Manitoba’s PSE institutions. Manitoba’s Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum says that changes to the bill will address these concerns before the legislature’s summer break, currently scheduled to begin June 12. Globe and Mail | Global

McGill student appeals to Quebec Superior Court to validate election win

A McGill University student whose student union election victory was overturned is appealing to the Quebec Superior Court to validate his win. Tariq Khan is hoping to disprove a series of allegations that disqualified his candidacy, including a charge that he spent $4.36 on chalk that would have pushed his budget over the election’s $105 limit. Khan was also accused of having “explicitly asked a non-campaign committee member to send unsolicited text messages to members of the public,” another charge he denies. McGill’s Chief Electoral Officer, Benjamin Fung, declined “out of respect” for Khan to comment on the full list of election rules that were violated; however, the Montreal Gazette reports that they involved "unsolicited messages regarding campaigning, inconsistencies with campaign expenditures and impingement of the spirit of a fair campaign." “I felt like I was in North Korea,” Khan said. “I feel it is my duty to safeguard the interests and trust of the 1,785 people who cast ballots for me.” Montreal Gazette

Postscript: June 5, 2014

The Quebec Superior Court has thrown out McGill University student Tariq Khan’s appeal for an injunction that would have overturned his disqualification from a Students Society of McGill University election. Khan sought to disprove allegations that he had violated campaign regulations and wanted his victory validated by the court. However, Justice Mark Peacock said “there is no proof of any procedural irregularities sufficient to support the suspension of this first decision [to disqualify the election results].” Khan says that he will nevertheless proceed with a court challenge for a permanent injunction. Montreal Gazette

UBC’s GIRLsmarts program promotes IT to grade school girls

Student volunteers at the University of British Columbia are hoping to convince more female students to study computer science by engaging with them at an early age. UBC’s GIRLsmarts program volunteers work one-on-one and run workshops with girls in grades 6 and 7 to inspire them to explore computer science. Among their aims is to dispel stereotypes of computer science as being just for “geeks” or males; they also work to show program participants that there is more to computer science than coding. Lead GIRLsmart Coordinator Hasti Seifi says the girls-only workshops have a different dynamic than the co-ed programs they have run: “In the [co-ed] practice runs boys dominate a lot. Girls become really shy. But we see an increase in participation in the girls-only workshops.” It’s a dynamic that Seifi sees being replicated in university computer science classrooms. The program also helps underprivileged youth by offering them an early opportunity to register for spots in the program. UBC News

Halton Regional Council backs Sheridan’s university aspirations

The Halton Regional Council has voted to support Sheridan College’s plan to become a university. Halton Region follows the City of Brampton, the Region of Peel, and the Town of Oakville in supporting the move. “Sheridan’s university status will help ensure that Halton continues to have a strong and skilled labour force to meet the needs of local employers,” said Halton Regional Chair Gary Carr. Sheridan President Jeff Zabudsky added, “the support of our leaders in Halton Region, along with those in Brampton, the Region of Peel, and the Town of Oakville show that there is a need for growing postsecondary choices in our community, and that we are headed in the right direction." Sheridan will still need to earn membership in the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada before it can move forward with the plan. Sheridan News Release

uToronto President wants closer relationship with city

University of Toronto President Meric Gertler hopes to build a stronger partnership between his institution and the city of Toronto. Gertler points to Pittsburgh as a city that has thrived thanks in part to its close relationship with its PSE institutions. He adds that uToronto has helped Toronto weather the post-2008 recession by serving as an economic anchor for the city. “I’d love to see our researchers in different urban fields working closely with governments at the city level, including Mississauga and Toronto, to provide expertise on important questions and it’s a win-win because faculty get wonderful experiences that often lead to whole new research projects,” Gertler told the Toronto Board of Trade. “We need to find ways to be more innovative, more creative, more entrepreneurial, more productive,” he added. McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier has also recently stressed the value of a close relationship between universities and cities. Toronto Star

At-risk students have trouble catching up with peers

New research from American College Testing (ACT) has found that underachieving students in “at-risk groups” struggle to keep up with college-readiness standards compared to other underachieving students. To determine how many "off track" students later caught up with their peers, the researchers tracked the performance of students 4 years after they completed ACT’s grade 4 and grade 8 college readiness exams. It was found that those students who qualified for free and reduced-price lunches were less likely to meet readiness standards than those who did not qualify for the lunch programs. The researchers found that the performance gap was especially acute in high school, particularly in math. Just 5% of students caught up with their peers 4 years after completing the grade 4 assessment in that subject, and only 1% of students caught up after the grade 8 exam. The report reveals the alarming extent to which students who fall behind on college readiness indicators are unable to catch up. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Report Summary

Ideas on improving international student retention

Educators at the annual meeting of NAFSA: Association of International Educators are sharing ideas on how to improve international student retention rates. Lawrence H Bell, Executive Director of International Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, advised his audience to “find your allies” and take advantage of the expertise of other university offices. He also described the international-student support network at his university, which includes an email list that allows members from various administrative departments to share ideas. "You need to work from a broader base," Bell said. Harry A Domicone, a professor at California Lutheran University, says that faculty members at his university “go at [international students] like a SWAT team,” identifying students at academic risk in order to intervene quickly. The Chronicle of Higher Education

Faculty debate trigger warnings

A group of 7 humanities professors have explained their opposition to including “trigger warnings” on course syllabuses. They note that predicting what might trigger post-traumatic stress is inherently difficult, and complain of a failure to distinguish between critical representations of trauma and those which are sensationalistic. The article adds that universities may face legal implications should trigger warnings fail to effectively help students avoid post-traumatic stress. The authors also voice their concern about the impact of trigger warnings on professors' abilities to freely choose course materials. The authors do propose alternatives: they suggest that faculty should offer lists of resources for students who have suffered traumatic incidents, and call for increased institutional attention to matters such as sexual assault, violence, and harassment. Meanwhile, another professor has written in favour of trigger warnings, recalling an incident in which a student was hospitalized after an incident in an assigned novel triggered a post-traumatic episode. He says there is a distinction between difficult materials and traumatic experience, and that survivors of traumatic episodes have legitimate reasons to avoid some material. Inside Higher Ed | The Chronicle of Higher Education

Polish ed-tech company offers "crowd-sourced homework" platform

Brainly, a Polish website, offers middle and high school students the opportunity to engage in “crowdlearning.” The platform allows users to submit academic questions, which are then answered or commented on by other users. Participants exchange knowledge in a form of what Forbes describes as “crowd-sourced homework.” The site now boasts over 20 million users, including 58,000 in the US. Brainly’s founder Michal Borkowski says that the platform was modeled after the kind of study groups he participated in during his own university education. “I wanted to capture the best qualities of that university learning experience and bring it to middle and high school all over the world,” he said. With a strong footing in Poland and Russia, Brainly is now beginning to secure the investors it will need to expand globally. Borkowski hopes that the platform will reach 100 million unique visitors by the end of 2015. Forbes | Brainly

Teaching and learning centres remain relevant in face of change

The economic recession has taken its toll on teaching and learning centres in the US. Several universities have closed or reorganized their centres. Some, like the centre at the University of Texas at Austin, have been restructured to focus on technology; others, such as the Center for Teaching Excellence at Endicott College, have seen their programs taken over by faculty or other university departments. The effects could be far-reaching: some researchers have noted a correlation between the presence of a centre and an institution’s enrolment numbers, though the precise nature of that relationship is unclear. Others point out that closing teaching and learning centres will likely have a detrimental effect on professors' pedagogical development. In spite of the closures, some analysts note that administrators are growing more, not less, interested in faculty development, as universities look for effective ways to integrate technology into students’ learning experiences. Inside Higher Ed