Top Ten

June 5, 2014

Arbitrator ruled against uSask's president's power to veto tenure

The StarPhoenix reports that an arbitrator had ruled in March that the University of Saskatchewan was wrong to give its president the power to veto tenure appointments. The ruling was part of a decision on a 2011 case in which then-President Peter MacKinnon had overruled the unanimous decision of a faculty tenure committee. Arbitrator Andrew Sims said that both MacKinnon and the board were incorrect in their decision that the president should have such an ability. Susan Milburn, Chair of the uSask Board of Governors, said that the university is considering appealing the arbitrator’s decision, and added that the veto power will remain in place until there is an opportunity “to hear from our stakeholders.” She noted, too, that recently fired President Ilene Busch-Vishniac had been reviewing the matter of the presidential veto but her work was incomplete at the time of her dismissal. Jim Turk, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, urged uSask to respect the arbitrator’s decision, saying that the veto power “is very harmful to academic freedom.” The issue of the President’s power to veto tenure decisions was raised during the controversy over the firing of Robert Buckingham, formerly Executive Director of uSask’s School of Public Health. StarPhoenix

Postscript: July 16, 2014

The StarPhoenix reports that the University of Saskatchewan will appeal an arbitrator’s decisions that its President should not have veto power over professors’ tenure appointments. A representative of the uSask Faculty Association (USFA) said that the union was “disappointed they’ve decided to appeal.” Susan Milburn, Chair of the uSask Board of Governors, declined to comment on the matter to the StarPhoenix, but did say that senior administrators had made the decision and that she was unsure who made the call or when. She added that the issue is also being reviewed internally and that interim President Gordon Barnhart, who is researching the matter, has solicited feedback from groups including USFA. The appeal will be heard July 23. StarPhoenix

Georgian plans “Marine Centre of Excellence” in Owen Sound

Georgian College has announced plans to transform its Owen Sound campus into central Canada’s only “Marine Centre of Excellence.” The college intends to expand its existing Great Lakes International Marine Centre by 6,500 square feet to create a new marine emergency duties training facility. Marine emergency duties training is compulsory for all current marine students, and proposed Transport Canada regulatory changes will require that all mariners take refresher courses every 5 years. Georgian’s plans will require $4.2 million from the provincial and federal governments; they have also solicited donations from the marine industry and asked for $2 million from Grey County. Georgian College President MaryLynn West-Moynes stressed the benefits of the program for the local economy: “It will mean up to 6,000 training days a year, bringing people into Grey-Bruce who will come for 3 to 5 days at a time to get re-certified and hopefully stay in hotels, eat in our restaurants and buy presents to take home for their family.” Owen Sound Times

Red River College offers pilot program for students with intellectual disabilities

Red River College will launch a pilot program this fall that will offer persons with intellectual disabilities new opportunities to develop their skills and join the workforce. Participants in the Transforming Futures program will be offered hands-on training in career exploration and essential employability skills. Students will also be given the opportunity to integrate into Red River College programming if they so choose. “Once students complete the program, they will be better positioned to take advantage of job opportunities and build a strong future here in Manitoba,” said Manitoba Finance Minister Jennifer Howard. 20 students will be accepted into the program in 2014. Manitoba contributed $266,000 in funding to the project. Alberta and New Brunswick also recently announced programs to aid students with disabilities. RRC News | Manitoba News Release | CTV | Winnipeg Free Press

uWaterloo undertakes projects to mitigate impact of climate change

The University of Waterloo is teaming with Intact Financial Corporation to implement climate change adaptation projects across Canada. 20 demonstration projects will be carried out in Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec in hopes that other communities across the country will follow their example. Among the projects are the restoration of urban wetlands and the installation of green infrastructure such as permeable surface parking lots and roadways. “Climate change is a reality, and the events of the last year [such as the flooding in Alberta and Toronto and the ice storms in Eastern Canada] demonstrate the need to weather-harden our communities, our infrastructure and our homes” said Blair Feltmate, Chair of the Climate Change Adaptation Project at uWaterloo. uWaterloo News

MOOCs help business schools reach sought-after student demographics

A new report in the Harvard Business Review says that rather than "cannibalizing" business school enrolment, MOOCs offer an opportunity to attract new student demographics. The study of over 875,000 students in 9 MOOCs offered by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that MOOCs successfully reached three highly sought-after demographic groups: international students, foreign-born Americans, and underrepresented minorities. According to survey data, 78% of students who registered for an online business course came from outside the US, compared with 45% in full-time, 2-year MBA programs. 35% of students enrolled in the Wharton MOOCs identified themselves as foreign-born Americans, of whom 54% already had a graduate or professional degree. 19% of the students came from underrepresented minorities, compared to 11% in traditional MBA programs at 9 top US schools. However, the MOOCs fell short in attracting female students. Only 32% of MOOC attendees were female, compared with 40% of applicants to MBA programs. Harvard Business Review | Businessweek | Inside Higher Ed

YorkU libraries unveil new website

York University’s libraries have launched a new website that features a more user-friendly, intuitive interface. “Our primary focus was the student. The challenge we faced was how to convey to them that the library is more than just a place to look for information—it is also a place to ask questions and learn to conduct library research,” said YorkU University Librarian Cynthia Archer. To that end, the site features “doors” that provide students with access to the full variety of services provided by the library. It also has sections devoted to the needs of faculty and graduate students. The revamped website is based on a responsive template that adapts to any screen size, simplifying access for users of mobile devices and tablets. YorkU News

Scholars weigh in on how universities can best serve their communities

Academic Matters has published a series of articles that consider the relationship between universities and their surrounding communities. In “Reclaiming the civic university,” George Fallis says that “by many measures, universities have never been more central in public thinking or higher as a government priority." He says that universities in Canada today are in some senses "civic universities," but in others—such as in the notion that a university should provide education for citizenship and civic engagement, or that it should function as “an alternative centre of authority…to government and business”—the resemblance is superficial. In a second article, Kelley Castle considers the meaning of “porosity” for universities, suggesting that universities let the city in, and let the city experience the university. “The city, and everything it has to offer,” she writes, “can fill in some of the voids we cite when we speak of our university crises” and help bolster the values of PSE institutions. In a third piece, Kathleen Bloom uses the University of Waterloo as an example to discuss how universities can mobilize knowledge to serve their communities. Academic Matters (Fallis) | Academic Matters (Castle) | Academic Matters (Bloom)

Researcher advocates universal mental health screening for students

Universities hoping to help students with mental health issues are often stymied by their inability to easily identify students in need. Simon Williams, a researcher at Northwestern University, has proposed that PSE institutions implement universal mental-health checks for students to help identify potential issues before they develop into clinical problems. Williams says that routine screening is “really just a type of applied research,” and that regular checks will not only reduce mental health problems but will provide researchers with valuable data that can be used to combat mental illness on a larger scale. Williams also proposes that mental-health education be incorporated into the core curriculum, not as a graded course but as an initiative to “encourage students to reflect on their self-concept and emotional self-awareness.” Such a course could be complemented by further programs, including stress-management and meditation training. The Chronicle of Higher Education  

HEQCO evaluates impact of compulsory faculty training

A new report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario evaluates the effectiveness of a required faculty development program that was implemented at Durham College. The report evaluated the program’s impact on measures of teacher self-efficacy as well as its impact on the teaching philosophy of novice teachers. It found that while it is difficult to quantify specific effects, the program contributed to positive development in both categories. Teachers reported feeling more confident in their ability to teach as a result of their completion of the program, and also said that they were committed to a student-centred teaching philosophy. The report concedes that “it is…impossible to determine from this study whether these same statements would have been true without the experience of the faculty program,” but adds that the program accomplishes much beyond these goals. Report Summary | Full Report

Most US News ranking movement just noise, researchers claim

An article published in Research in Higher Education claims to unpack the logic behind the US News ranking of US PSE institutions. The research suggests that most movement in the rankings is indicative of statistical “noise” and does not represent meaningful change. Among those universities in the top 20, a movement of 2 spots or fewer should not be taken too seriously, the report says; for colleges beyond the top 20, movement of 4 places should similarly be considered insignificant. The authors say that “a university ranked at 30 could be 95% confident that its rank will fall between 28 and 32, and only when the rank moves beyond those levels can a statistically significant change be claimed.” Any greater movement is typically the result of “long-range and extraordinarily expensive changes” and is unlikely to be influenced by universities’ marketing of themselves in any given year. The authors say that their analysis could help universities formulate their strategic goals, but a representative of US News pointed out that their rankings are intended for consumers, not administrators. Inside Higher Ed | Education Dive | Article Abstract