Top Ten

December 8, 2014

Institutions reflect on 25th anniversary of Montreal massacre

This past weekend members of the PSE community across Canada marked the 25th anniversary of the tragic deaths of 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in 1989. A number of institutions held memorial vigils and commemorative events. UBC unveiled a plaque in a courtyard adjacent to its Engineering Design Centre featuring the names of the women murdered that day as well as the words “we mourn. We remember. We question. Together, we work for change.” At Sheridan College, ceremony participants formed a human ribbon in remembrance. Others remembered with discussion and reflection on issues of gender in STEM fields and violence against women. École Polytechnique has created a scholarship in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the shooting. The Polytechnique Montréal Order of the White Rose, a $30,000 scholarship, will be awarded annually to a woman engineering student who wishes to enrol in a graduate engineering program in Canada or abroad. Academica Group joins all members of the PSE community in remembering these tragic events. École Polytechnique News Release | CBC News | UBC News | Sheridan News Release | Calgary Herald

Canada releases revised science, technology, and innovation strategy to mixed reactions

The federal government last week released the details of its updated science, technology, and innovation strategy, including details on the $1.5 B Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) announced in February. The strategy highlights as the government’s 5 priority areas environment and agriculture, health and life sciences, natural resources and energy, information and communications technology, and advanced manufacturing. Researchers working in these areas will be eligible for the funding made available in the CFREF. Any university or research institution can compete for the funding; they may also collaborate with one another to strengthen their proposals. Some members of the PSE sector applauded the announcement. Paul Davidson, President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, said, “this program demonstrates the government’s understanding that a vibrant, innovative, and competitive Canadian economy needs a world-class university research system.” Others were more skeptical. David Robinson, President of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, commented, “the Fund is too little and far off target. Canada has a tarnished reputation internationally and is falling behind other countries on research and development. There is little in today’s announcement that will fix that.” Other critics say that the program is too targeted and too restrictive in terms of the kinds of research it will support, a problem compounded by the fact that it may force researchers to depend heavily on industry partners. Canada News Release | Globe and Mail | AUCC News Release | CAUT News Release | Maclean's | Full Strategy

MUN completes Offshore R&D Centre

Memorial University has completed construction on its new Suncor Energy Offshore R&D Centre. The Centre will provide a place for private sector and university collaborators to work on solving technical challenges facing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. The new 1,320-square-metre facility is expected to grow MUN’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science R&D by $6–8 M per year, an effort that will involve 100 full-time equivalent researchers. “Public-private collaboration is critical for economic diversification in this province. Having dedicated R&D space such as this will allow Memorial University’s research teams to collaborate with local technology and offshore companies with greater ease,” said NL Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture, and Rural Development Darin King. The facility was funded by contributions of $4.8 M from NL’s Research & Development Centre and $2 M from Suncor Energy. MUN News Release

CRC institutes guidelines to prevent unconscious bias against women

The Canada Research Chair (CRC) program is introducing new guidelines that it hopes will help eliminate an unconscious bias against women in its nomination process. The guidelines state that “implicit biases operate at an unconscious level, are influenced by our cultural environment, and can impact our decision making,” and cite a study from Wayne State University that found that reference letters written for female candidates often exhibit qualities that can have unintended negative consequences, such as being shorter in length; including gendered terms such as “woman,” “lady,” “mother,” or “wife”; featuring fewer “standout” adjectives such as “excellent” or “outstanding”; using negative language, faint praise, unexplained comments, and hedges; and focusing on interpersonal attributes rather than research skills or achievements. The guidelines recommend that letters of recommendation focus on comparing the nominee with specific requirements of the position, avoid stereotypical adjectives, and use the candidate’s formal title and surname rather than their first name. The CRC has been working for the past several years to improve the diversity of its chairholders, and has introduced random monitoring of the nomination process as well as an annual recognition program to highlight best practices at individual institutions. University Affairs | CRC Guidelines

BrockU library drops 1,373 Wiley-Blackwell journals due to increasing costs

Brock University’s library has been forced to cancel its electronic subscriptions to 1,363 journals due to increasing costs. The library will no longer provide electronic access to journals distributed by Wiley-Blackwell, one of a small number of companies that control most of the academic publishing industry. Students and faculty will now be required to access those journals through interlibrary loans. BrockU is not the only university to take such a step; Université de Montréal canceled its subscription to Wiley-Blackwell journals earlier this year, and Harvard University has also said that it cannot afford the company’s rising prices. Interim University Librarian Barbara McDonald said that the falling Canadian dollar played a role in the decision, but emphasized that libraries around the world are being forced to make similar choices. “The system of scholarly publishing is broken, and we as a community need to work together to find solutions … Faculty, librarians, students, research funders and publishers are all in this ecosystem together,” she said. BrockU News Release

Centennial opens offices in Mexico City and Cancun

Centennial College has opened 2 international education offices, in Mexico City and Cancun. The offices, working alongside the Canadian Embassy, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, municipal government, and other partners will assist in the recruitment of new students, as well as providing corporate training and creating new partnerships. Centennial has been marketing in Mexico since 2008, and currently collaborates with more than 24 institutions there on matters including teacher training, PSE leadership training, language training, and faculty and student exchanges. Moreover, Centennial has created pathways that enable Canadians to earn international experience in Mexico. Centennial News Release

Business students increasingly emphasize social responsibility

Students at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management have instituted a pledge in their convocation ceremony that lists a set of principles that will guide their decisions, including supporting human rights, promoting sustainability, and rejecting corruption and “business practices harmful to society.” The new pledge is representative of the increased emphasis that business students are placing on corporate social responsibility. “Business students these days don’t want to enter the business world and work for a company that doesn’t align with their values,” said Ryerson professor Kernaghan Webb. Students instead see business as a way to create positive change in the world. Business schools are responding to the demand: Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, for example, last year launched the Radius Social Innovation Lab to foster purpose-driven businesses. “It’s becoming more common to say, ‘I’m starting this business because I want to do some good in the world,’” said entrepreneur Doug Richard, who founded the School for Startups in Britain. Globe and Mail

University Affairs unveils redesigned website

University Affairs magazine has launched a new, redesigned website. The website more closely resembles the print edition of the magazine, and features a responsive design that displays well on all devices. The site prominently features University Affairs’ regular columns, as well as offering a new multimedia section with access to a library of podcasts and videos. Users will also be able to quickly find the table of contents for the magazine’s current print edition and links to back issues going back as far as February, 2010. The website also allows users to easily switch back and forth between English and French-language versions of each story. University Affairs

US Council of Graduate Schools discusses need to get beyond the echo chamber

US PSE leaders were in Washington this week for the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools. Among the topics of discussion was how to communicate the value of graduate education. Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California system, urged attendees to do more to “make the case” for grad school, and to target their pitches to a wider audience than the “echo chamber” of their colleagues. She called on her audience to forego jargon and to speak plainly about the economic value of the research being done on campus, as well as how it contributes to a better informed society. Napolitano used examples such as Silicon Valley to demonstrate how universities can foster “hubs of innovation” around them. Other attendees discussed student concerns about their career prospects after graduate school. Mark A Sheridan, a Dean at Texas Tech University, pointed to the need for better placement data and suggested that better information could help students make more informed choices about attending graduate school as well as help institutions make a better case for graduate education as a public good. Inside Higher Ed | The Chronicle of Higher Education

E-textbook of the future won't look like a textbook

An article in Campus Technology looks at the future of e-textbooks, suggesting that the digital textbook of the future will likely bear little resemblance to their printed counterparts. Today, the article says, most e-textbooks offer little beyond what a traditional textbook does, save for the ability to highlight text or insert sticky notes—features that do not add much value over the printed page. As publishers move away from the e-textbook model toward providing “learning platforms,” they are beginning to add features such as adaptive learning materials and games for students and valuable data for professors. The article looks at how a number of industry players, including Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Cengage Learning, Flat World Knowledge, and Knewton are striving to differentiate themselves. Pearson’s REVEL product, for instance, offers text, video, social features, and interactive exercises, and provides faculty with data on students’ performance and how much time they spend on their assignments. McGraw-Hill, now branding itself as a “learning technology company,” is focused on adaptivity, providing content that adjusts itself to a student’s level of confidence. Cengage, meanwhile, focuses on the “student workflow,” while Knewton takes a big data approach to creating personalized textbooks. Campus Technology