Top Ten

November 5, 2014

SFU launches new interdisciplinary Bachelor of Environment program

SFU has launched a new Bachelor of Environment degree program that it says is the first of its kind in Canada. The interdisciplinary program will combine humanistic, socioeconomic, and scientific approaches to the environment in order to help students become better decision-makers and consultants on issues of environmental stewardship. Students will be able to major in Global Environment Systems, Environmental Resource Management, and Sustainable Business, with the latter to be offered through a collaboration between the Faculty of Environment and SFU’s Beedie School of Business. Ingrid Stefanovic, Dean of SFU’s Faculty of Environment, emphasized that the program fills a need for “a strong, comprehensive, interdisciplinary conversation between the humanities, social sciences, the sciences and the professions.” Vancouver Sun

New performing arts centre opens at uAlberta's Augustana campus

The University of Alberta celebrated the official opening of a new performing arts centre on its Augustana campus in Camrose. The facility, named for Jeanne and Peter Lougheed, features state-of-the-art energy efficiency technology. It is believed to be the first such centre in North America to feature all-LED house and stage lighting. The building also integrates what is reportedly the largest in-built photovoltaic array in Canada, which will be used to draw solar power when the centre is being used for performances. The centre will be used for educational purposes but will also be available to groups in the community. “We look forward to welcoming the community to university events, and we’re excited that community arts groups—especially the many dancers in Camrose—will finally have a state-of-the-art facility that meets and perhaps even exceeds all their needs,” said Allen Berger, Dean of Augustana. The centre is the product of a partnership between uAlberta, the City of Camrose, Camrose County, and the provincial government. uAlberta News

Academica survey finds that students want better communication around transferring

Students say they could use more information on the processes involved in transferring, reports Academica Group. A survey of approximately 1,250 members of Academica’s StudentVu panel found that about two-thirds of students said that they believed transferring would cost more in the long run than staying at their original institution, and about half said that they thought it would be difficult to transfer between schools. Of students who transferred to other schools, two-thirds applied to transfer their credits to the new institution. Most students said that they looked to counselors, faculty members, or other students for information about the credit transfer process. More than 10% said that they didn’t know they could transfer credits. Among students who had gone through the credit transfer process, many reported a lack of clarity around how the transfer process works, with others suggesting that there were insufficient resources to help them complete complicated forms. Those who didn’t report difficulties often cited their institution’s quick communications and clear information as being particularly helpful. Academica Blog | Survey Summary

McGill grad students to hold referendum over CFS membership following court decision

The Montreal Gazette reports that a recent court decision means that members of McGill University’s Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) will vote on whether or not they will leave the Canadian Federation of Students. According to the Gazette, the court case was launched after PGSS member Ge Sa collected 2,000 signatures on a petition in order to force a referendum. In September, Justice Gérard Dugré ruled that “any delay in holding this referendum clearly causes an irreparable prejudice to the right of the plaintiff to not be affiliated with the CFS.” This latest ruling upholds Justice Dugré’s decision. CFS spokesperson Brent Farrington said that the court’s decision “reinforced what we’ve been saying for years,” and validates the CFS' position that the PGSS did not succeed in disaffiliating in 2010. He also denied that disaffiliating is as difficult as some have suggested. “I wish student unions would stop using the courts and just adhere to the bylaws they agreed to when they joined,” Farrington told the Gazette. Montreal Gazette

SMU lacrosse coach resigns after tweets violate code of conduct

A volunteer lacrosse coach at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax has resigned after officials began to look into his Twitter account, which included retweets of an advertisement for a tobacco product with an image of a woman’s buttocks. The university was also reportedly concerned that some of the coach’s tweets seemed to condone heavy drinking, and about some other content that has since been deleted. Margaret Murphy, AVP External Affairs at SMU, said, “we know that we need to take these matters very seriously. We always tell all of our athletes, whether they’re on a club team or a varsity team, they’re held to a very high code of conduct, because they’re representing the university.” Murphy said that the university will not investigate the matter any further, and noted that the coach voluntarily stepped down after agreeing that the tweets did not meet the standards of the code of conduct signed by all coaches at the beginning of the school year. Murphy added that no one else from the team is under investigation. SMU had previously suspended members of its football team after they allegedly tweeted offensive messages. CBC | Chronicle-Herald

Brock student union vows to take action after blackface costumes win contest

The Brock University Students Union (BUSU) says it will take action after 4 students in blackface won an on-campus costume contest. A group of BrockU faculty members said in a Facebook post that the costumes had caused “concern and anxiety on campus.” The message, signed by Director of the Centre for Labour Studies Larry Savage and 3 other professors, said, “students, staff and faculty at Brock University need to understand that such costumes are not ‘just a joke.’ Regardless of the intent or motivation of the students in question, donning blackface for Halloween is never okay; it is racist, full stop.” The letter also pointed out that racist blackface minstrel shows had a history in the Niagara region and were performed into the 1950s. BUSU said that it had also received complaints from students over the incident. In response, it will expand its workplace safety and harassment training and ensure that all future costume contest entries are vetted. “We can’t go back and change that competition, but we can try to put building blocks in place to ensure greater oversight,” said a BUSU representative. CBC

Postscript: November 5, 2014

Brock University says that it will not discipline students who wore blackface in an on-campus Halloween costume contest. In a statement published on the Brock website, university President Jack N Lightstone endorsed the response of the Brock University Students Union, and noted that “historical consciousness” suggests that the costumes were offensive. However, he said, the students lacked an awareness of the history of blackface and minstrelsy in North America. “I surmise that none of this was on the minds of those at the Halloween party who donned blackface and portrayed themselves as the Jamaican bobsled team. But it should have been, and would have been, had they had adequate historical consciousness,” Lightstone wrote. Brock spokesperson Kevin Cavanagh said that since the costumes were the result of “a lack of awareness, not a lack of sensitivity,” the university is satisfied that no discipline is required. Cavanagh said that the contest was a student-run event, and that BUSU is taking responsibility for the incident. Toronto Star | The Record | Brock News Release

Mitacs expands Globalink program with new MoU with France

Mitacs has signed an agreement with Campus France that will expand its Globalink program and offer more research opportunities for students in both countries. Campus France is a public institution committed to promoting higher education and research as well as international mobility in France. Beginning in 2015, undergraduate and graduate students will be able to work on research projects in each other’s countries. The initiative is part of the Canada-France Action Plan and will be co-funded by the governments of each country. “The agreement with France will provide new opportunities for Canadian faculty and universities to benefit from students’ international perspectives, while demonstrating the breadth of Canadian research opportunities,” said Rob Annan, Interim CEO of Mitacs. Mitacs News Release

Conference Board calls for sharper focus on quality of education

A new report from the Conference Board of Canada warns that skill attainment in areas including critical thinking, numeracy, innovation, and employability skills is “underwhelming” in spite of Canada’s position as a world leader in PSE attainment. The Conference Board says that the number of Canadians with degrees in key STEM fields has also stagnated relative to other fields, a factor that could inhibit economic growth and social well-being. 70% of employers said that they perceived gaps in the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of job candidates and recent hires, and between one-third and one-half said that they noticed deficits in literacy, communication, and teamwork skills. The report also says that Canada is falling behind its international peers in employer-sponsored and workplace training, and calls for more attention to be paid to the quality of PSE and skills development. Conference Board News Release

Teens interested in science, but not in careers in science

A new report from Let’s Talk Science has found that while interest in science is growing among Canadian teens, interest in taking science courses is not. The percentage of Canadian youth who said that science is fun has increased from 34% to 72% over the last 3 years. 72% of youth said that they believed science offers a wide variety of career options, and 74% agreed it was important to adult life. However, just 56% indicated an interest in studying science at a postsecondary level, and fewer than half of Canadian youth actually complete a grade 12 science course. Only 12% expressed an interest in working in science-based jobs. The report also found that students’ career decisions are often motivated by their desire to make a contribution to society, to make decisions, and to solve problems; with that in mind, it recommends that students be better informed about how science jobs fit those values and that misconceptions around STEM careers—such as the belief that they all require a university degree—be corrected. The report further calls for better awareness of the career opportunities afforded by STEM training and of what actually goes on in STEM jobs. Let’s Talk Science News Release | Full Report

Survey finds low faculty awareness of open educational resources, in spite of high quality

New US data on attitudes toward open educational resources (OER) suggest that while some faculty members are confident in the quality of the materials, few are aware of their existence. The new report says that faculty members are more likely to turn to a trusted name and track record than rely on open educational resources, regardless of the price. But part of the issue may simply be awareness: close to two-thirds of faculty members surveyed said that they had never heard of OER or didn’t know much about them. Just 5.1% said that they were very aware of OER. Another issue was discoverability; many said that the lack of search tools or a comprehensive catalogue of OER was a deterrent to adoption. Data also show that faculty members felt that OER were typically easier to use, more likely to be up-to-date, less expensive, and more effective than traditional content. 57.2% of respondents said that traditional resources and OER offered the same level of quality, while just 26.6% said OER was inferior. Inside Higher Ed