Top Ten

February 6, 2015

Queen's investigating allegations that professor teaches that vaccines are harmful

Queen's University is investigating student complaints that a professor of a first-year health studies course was teaching that vaccines are harmful. Students shared on social media slides from course lectures, one of which was entitled "Vaccines—Good or Bad?" and stated that "no scientific evidence exists showing vaccines are NOT contributing to increased incidence of chronic illness and disability in children." Another slide directed students to anti-vaccine videos that suggested that AIDS originated from the polio vaccine and warned students that this material was "going to be on the test." In a statement, Queen's Principal Daniel Woolf said that he has asked the Provost to work with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to look into the matter. Woolf said that "the university is committed to the academic freedom of our faculty members; at the same time, the university expects that faculty members will present intellectually rigorous research and course material and that they will present available scientific evidence objectively and declare their biases." Queen's Provost Alan Harrison said that he needed to confirm that the slides were shown in class and to learn whether the professor added any contextualizing commentary to the material being presented. National Post | Globe and Mail | Toronto Star | CBC | Queen's Statement

Postscript: February 10, 2015

Queen's University's School of Kinesiology and Health Studies has granted Melody Torcolacci, the professor who was criticized for teaching anti-vaccination views, leave from teaching the course at her request. Discussions about her other classes are ongoing. Following the scandal, Richard Reznick, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen's, published a statement to his department's website emphasizing the extent of vaccine education provided by the university. Reznick's statement notes that students are taught information that is based on scientific principles and are instructed on how to educate vaccine-hesitant families about the process of developing and testing vaccines. Globe and Mail | National Post | Sault Star | Reznick Letter

KPU releases reports on compensation practices

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has released 2 reports detailing executive and senior administrator compensation practices at the institution between April 1, 2010, and June 30, 2014. The reports come in the wake of an investigation into pre-employment payments made to one current and one former KPU administrator. KPU contracted a third-party firm to conduct an internal audit of human resources processes and control related to employment, compensation, and accountability reporting for KPU's executive management and will implement all 24 recommendations made in the review. KPU also retained another firm to advise the institution regarding its compliance with statutory, government, and internal requirements for employment and compensation. This review identified some instances of non-compliance due to "lack of awareness, inadequate policies and practices for ensuring compliance, and in some cases ambiguity in the requirements." This review resulted in 8 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the board. "KPU is fully committed to being compliant and is already making progress on a number of issues," said Kristan Ash, Chair of the board. "In addition, the university has already adopted the government's Taxpayer Accountability Principles and the province's new Public Sector Executive Compensation Reporting Guidelines." KPU News Release | Response to Internal Audit

Algonquin's Muslim Students' Association denounces extremism

The Algonquin College Muslim Students' Association (ACMSA) spoke up to denounce extremism after 25-year-old Awso Peshdary was charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act and ordered not to speak with 14 possible witnesses, some of whom are associated with the student group. Peshdary is accused of persuading Algonquin student Khadar Khalib to leave Canada and join ISIS. In a statement, Adam Tulul, VP of the ACMSA, said that "violent extremist ideology uses a cut-and-paste approach to our faith and distorts and perverts the teachings and example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)." The statement went on to advise "anyone with grievances about issues like Canadian foreign policy or the status of Muslims living in Canada .. to channel their energies proactively by becoming engaged citizens who express themselves through peaceful means, as well as who work to positively contribute to their communities." Doug Wotherspoon, Algonquin VP International and Strategic Priorities, said that the institution had not received any reports of persons expressing extremist views. Another former member of ACMSA, Abdullah Milton, is a Crown witness in the case; he is credited with helping police build the case that led to Peshdary's arrest. None of the charges against Peshdary have been proven in court. CBC

Parkinson's patients upset with changes at WLU research centre

A group of patients is upset with changes to equipment access and funding at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Centre, fearing their treatment plans will be disrupted. Many of the centre's patients suffer from Parkinson's disease or other related ailments; they claim that WLU has redistributed valuable resources, jeopardizing treatment and giving staff no time to adjust to interruptions to research. A petition protesting the change has gathered 500 signatures. WLU President Max Blouw stated that the changes are due to internal conflict among researchers, who will now have more equal access to space and resources. “The Parkinson’s sufferers are still under the impression that there is going to be some kind of dramatic demotion of the capacity of [staff] to work with them and quite frankly, I don’t see that,” said Blouw. “I’ve tried to reassure them of that, but they continue to be quite fearful of those kinds of consequences.” Toronto Star

MRU faculty host events to raise awareness of funding needs

Faculty at Mount Royal University will host 5 days of events to spread the message about the importance of PSE funding in Alberta. Events will include classroom and panel discussions, as well as letter-writing parties. The advocacy week is being organized in response to expected cuts to the provincial education budget. "Mount Royal has lived through a double whammy of funding cuts and broken promises over the last 5 or 6 years and we're running very lean. There's widespread belief among faculty members that there's really nowhere left where we can cut," said Marc Schroeder, President of the MRU Faculty Association. On Wednesday, MRU administrators indicated that the institution is considering scenarios that account for anywhere between a 0 to 5% cut in the spring budget. Roberta Lexier, Chair of the Faculty Association's advocacy committee, said that she believes PSE is given short shrift when the province is forced to make cuts. "There's a sense that the government can cut postsecondary because people aren't putting pressure on them to ensure they don't," she said. Metro News

OCUFA issues principles for ON's university funding formula

In anticipation of the Ontario government's review of the university funding formula, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) has issued a list of principles that it feels should guide the review process and any future funding formulas. OCUFA believes university funding must be adequate, committed to core activities, student-centred, supportive of good jobs, stable and predictable, equitable, transparent, and respectful of university autonomy and academic freedom. "The formula that establishes the basis for allocating operating funding for Ontario universities is foundational and should be designed to foster excellence in research and teaching while ensuring that postsecondary education remains affordable and accessible," said OCUFA. The organization further stated that an updated funding formula must not be guided by the "desire to constrain government funding, but rather must aim to improve the quality of postsecondary education." OCUFA Blog

Immigrants with PhDs do not fare as well in labour market as non-immigrants

A new report from the Conference Board of Canada says that immigrants with PhDs are worse off in the labour market than Canadians who lack postsecondary credentials. The data show that the proportion of immigrants and non-immigrants with PhDs is roughly equal; however, immigrants who earned their PhDs in Canada had an unemployment rate of 4.3%, compared to 2.9% for non-immigrants. For immigrants who earned their PhDs abroad, the unemployment rate is even higher, at 6.2%. Immigrants who earned their PhDs abroad were also found to have lower labour force participation rates than non-immigrants and immigrants who earned their degrees in Canada. Nevertheless, immigrants with PhDs do realize better labour market outcomes than immigrants who do not hold PhDs. The report suggests that the differences in outcomes may be due to immigrants' credentials not being as easily recognized or trusted by Canadian employers; moreover, immigrants—whether they hold a PhD or not—face challenges including language barriers, less-developed employment networks, and racism. Conference Board Report

Canada should take an ethical approach to internationalization

In an op-ed for University Affairs, Carleton University Provost Peter Ricketts and Canadian Bureau for International Education VP Membership, Public Policy, and Communications Jennifer Humphries call for an ethical approach to internationalization. Their piece argues that a lack of a coherent federal strategy for internationalization left Canada lagging behind other developed nations. Ricketts and Humphries cite the report of an Internationalization Leaders Network advisory panel that emphasizes internationalization cannot be pursued at the cost of quality or participants' well-being. The ILN also advocated a set of 7 core ethical principles that should guide internationalization. These include that internationalization should be integrated into the core mission of an institution; that it be student-centred, equitable, and inclusive; that its agenda should not be dictated by fiscal imperatives; that there be mutual benefit to all parties involved; and that it be used as a means to achieve global-level civic engagement, social justice, and social responsibility. University Affairs

Chinese education expert tells BC to do away with standardized testing

An international education expert asked by the BC government to provide feedback on the provincial school system says that standardized testing "destroys schools." "We should do away with all standardized testing ... It's a waste of money, very little value, destroys parents, destroys schools, too, and puts students and teachers in a bind for high-stakes testing," Yong Zhao told an audience of 150 educators and business and community leaders. Zhao's perspective is informed by his time as a teacher in China. He suggested instead that the education system should pursue personalized learning to allow each child to pursue his or her passions. "To be creative, to be entrepreneurial, you cannot skip the basics. But the basics should come after we have a passion. Sometimes we do the basics and we have killed people's interests," he said. BC Education Minister Peter Fassbender said that the province is currently piloting programs at several schools that focus on individualized learning. CBC

Survey finds US freshman have poor emotional health, study more, and socialize less

The results of the annual American Freshman Survey, an annual report that this year surveyed more than 150,000 full-time, first-year students at 227 US institutions, has found that incoming students' emotional health is at its lowest level since the survey began asking students about their mental well-being. Little more than 50% of respondents said that their emotional health was "in the highest 10 percent" of people or "above average." Close to 10% of respondents said that they "frequently felt depressed," the highest percentage since 1988. Feelings of depression were more common than the average among students with disabilities. However, the survey also showed a decline in the number of students who are turning to alcohol. 38.7% of students admitted to drinking hard alcohol or wine during their senior year of high school, an all-time low for the survey. Respondents also indicated that they were spending less time with their friends, possibly because they are spending more time studying: 70% of students said that they studied for more than 3 hours each week, and 21.7% said they studied for more than 11 hours per week. Inside Higher Ed | Full Report