Top Ten

November 27, 2014

Nipissing forced to lay off 10 employees as restructuring process begins

10 employees at Nipissing University have been let go as the institution begins what it is describing as a restructuring process. A Nipissing spokesperson told Academica that “a restructuring process is underway at Nipissing University resulting in layoffs. These job losses are the result of the university working to reduce our deficit budget while ensuring our students, and the services we provide them, are not negatively impacted. The layoffs are not performance based; they are entirely the result of the deficit.” The North Bay Nugget reports that several of the layoffs involved individuals in senior administrative roles. Nippissing said that the restructuring process was ongoing and could not confirm how many persons would be affected. “This is not an easy process. These are our friends and colleagues. They are good employees and it’s sad to see that they’re not working here anymore,” said spokesperson Bob Pipe. In June, Nipissing had announced a projected $11.8 M budget deficit; the university was also among those that experienced a decline in enrolment this fall. North Bay Nugget |

BCIT, VCC open Motive Power Centre of Excellence

BCIT and Vancouver Community College celebrated the opening of a new Motive Power Centre of Excellence on Tuesday. The $16.5 M, 13,192 square-metre facility will replace outdated facilities at BCIT and VCC and will provide a site for training heavy-duty mechanics, transport trailer mechanics, diesel mechanics, commercial transport mechanics, railway conductors, and forklift operators. The new facility also features a 109-tonne MAN engine that will allow the institutions to provide students with hands-on training. “Prior to this move, our heavy mechanical programs were performing at 177% utilization. The new facility provides our students the opportunity to learn in a spacious state-of-the-art facility, while acquiring the hands-on, job-ready skills necessary for these in-demand careers,” said VCC President Peter Nunoda. The province provided $13.5 M in project costs as well as a one-time grant of $4.5 M to cover transition expenses. BC News Release

uWindsor approves plans for $12.8 M School of Creative Arts building

The board of governors at the University of Windsor has approved the construction of a $12.8 M School of Creative Arts building at a downtown site the institution purchased in May. The design for the building was revealed at a meeting of the board on Tuesday. The 22,335-square-foot single-storey facility will be home to learning studios, film and editing suites for media and film studies, workshops for metal and woodworking, digital fabrication labs, and a printmaking studio. The entrance to the building is designed to be highly visible to motorists exiting the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor. uWindsor President Alan Wildeman noted that the new site will afford uWindsor many opportunities to work with the local arts community, including the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and the Capitol Theatre. The new building will be a key piece in uWindsor’s $75 M city centre development plan. uWindsor News Release | Windsor Star | CTV News

Dal board votes against fossil fuel divestment

Dalhousie University’s board of governors voted 15-5 to accept the recommendation of its investment committee against divesting the university’s holdings in companies judged to hold substantial carbon assets. Approximately $20.3 M of Dalhousie’s $486 M endowment is invested in such companies. George McLellan, Chair of the investment committee, said that the impact of divestment would have been considerable, affecting Dal’s participation in programs and research related to ocean and earth science, energy and sustainability, and engineering and management. “If we turn our back on a number of companies, why would they put money in here?” McLellan asked. The investment committee also said that divesting could subject the institution to higher transaction fees by limiting the diversity of its financial portfolio. Moreover, it said that it did not believe that divestment would have any meaningful effect on the behaviour of the companies in question. Members of the student group Divest Dal, who attended the meeting, vocally expressed their disappointment in the decision but vowed to continue to fight. Faculty at UBC recently voted to move forward on a referendum on fossil fuel divestment. Dal News Release | CBC News | Chronicle-Herald 


Postscript: December 1, 2014

Last week we reported that the Dalhousie University board of governors rejected outright divestment in fossil fuels, because of the implications for research and program funding, and the costs of increased transaction fees. The Dal board also endorsed the Investment Committee’s recommendation that the university investigate ways to allow donors to direct their endowments to environmentally-sustainable investments, and it committed to greater openness and transparency (through annual reporting) with regard to Dal’s endowment investments. In addition, Dal will continue to press fund managers to respect environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment principles. The committee’s report and the complete list of recommendations (on page 15) appears here.

Federal government to build new facility for National Research Council

Ottawa has announced that it will build a new facility in Winnipeg and expand facilities in Montreal and London for the National Research Council (NRC). The announcement comes as part of an announced $5.8 B investment in infrastructure across the country. No further details as to the size or cost of the facility have yet been released, though the funding will come from $380 M that has been earmarked for repairs and upgrades to federal labs and research facilities. “To maintain our global position, Canadian manufacturers are under pressure to innovate. As they do so, they look to our government, and organizations like the NRC, to support them. I am therefore very pleased to announce that we shall build a new NRC facility in Winnipeg and expand facilities in Montreal and right here in London,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Winnipeg Free Press

OUSA publishes statement on mobility and credit transfer

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) has published an update to its policy on mobility and credit transfer in the province, the latest in a series of policy statements it has been releasing this week. OUSA argues that poor student mobility leads to extra costs to students and taxpayers, while improved mobility can improve quality of education. In its policy paper, OUSA calls for a more robust system of appeals for students when they are denied credit transfers; they further ask for clarification and transparency around relevant language and policies. OUSA also argues that credit transfer and prior learning recognition fees should be considered as part of the ancillary fee protocol and thus provided at no cost to students. This emphasis on transparency, clarity, consistency, and support will greatly improve Ontario’s mobility infrastructure and processes, OUSA contends. OUSA Blog

U15 signs international commitment to support social sciences and humanities

Representatives of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities were on hand in Leiden, the Netherlands this week to discuss the importance of social sciences and humanities research. The U15 delegation was led by Queen’s University Principal Daniel Woolf. “Promoting research in the social sciences and humanities is a crucial step in developing solutions to problems facing not only Canada, but the world at large,” he said. The U15 joined several international organizations in committing themselves to the principles of the Leiden Statement, which calls for an expanded role for the social sciences and humanities in tackling critical social issues. The signatories agreed to 5 key principles: to ensure that social sciences and humanities disciplines continue to receive effective institutional support; to highlight the contributions of these disciplines to national and global wellbeing; to ensure that research in these disciplines is able to reach a broad community; to promote strong funding and support for these disciplines; and to advance global research collaborations, including interdisciplinary approaches. U15 News Release

Article points to shortcomings in coverage of campus mental health issues

A column in University Affairs points to some of the many problems affecting news coverage of mental health issues in academe. Melonie Fullick says that coverage of mental health issues often suffers from serious shortcomings, conflating short-term stress with mental health issues, offering students advice or directing them to services that may not be applicable or accessible to them, focusing on personality traits and attitudes rather than mental health issues, and neglecting ongoing dialogue around mental health matters. Fullick says that coverage is often driven by a desire for clicks, an approach that “is more likely to dramatize, and simultaneously trivialize, the problems under discussion, and to amplify themes that already dominate rather than challenging or bringing nuance to them.” Fullick goes on to argue that coverage too often focuses on individual factors and responsibility while ignoring institutional and societal issues. She says that coverage should emphasize less what sufferers of mental illness should do, balancing that narrative with critiques and activism around institutional factors. University Affairs

AAAS publishes report on time-to-completion for humanities PhD students

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has published a new report on time-to-completion for PhD students. According to the report, humanities PhD students take longer than their counterparts in any other field to complete their PhD education, with a median time-to-completion of 6.9 years—a full year longer than the average for all PhDs. The report also shows that students in the humanities spend more time in the coursework phase of their degree than their peers in other disciplines, prior to writing their dissertation. This finding calls into question a number of assumptions that have informed many approaches to reforming PhD education in the humanities. According to the data, humanities PhDs actually spend less time on their dissertations than on their course work; at 3 years, the time spent on the dissertation is roughly the same as the average for all fields. However, some critics of the data say that the report does not adequately address some fundamental differences in the coursework portion of the PhD between the humanities and other fields; others have emphasized that regardless of the report’s findings, the time taken to complete a dissertation remains an issue. Inside Higher Ed | Full Report

Digital badges still have a long way to go with employers

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the implications of digital badges and nanodegrees for hiring practices. Some have argued that badges or nanodegrees tied to specific skills can help applicants make it through the first round of the hiring process, during which a résumé may receive just a quick glance, and that badges offer verifiable proof that a job candidate has a skill required for a job. However, as a growing number of larger companies use software that digitally sorts applicants, institutions that confer badges or nanodegrees need to ensure that the software accepts the alternative credentials. So far, this kind of integration remains elusive. One manager told a prospective applicant that his view of badges depends on the guidelines put in place by the credentialing company. The issue varies by field, as well. “Out of IT, there is a lot of resistance to badges,” said a professor at Arizona State University who has been researching the subject. “I know that for my students, based on folks we have talked to so far, I would never recommend that they use badges within a traditional hiring process—e.g., on a résumé.” The Chronicle of Higher Education