Top Ten

February 17, 2015

Details emerge on StFX meningitis case, while Acadia implements vaccination program

Nova Scotia public health officials have confirmed that 2 Acadia University students who contracted meningitis both had the B strain of the illness. This has prompted NS Public Health to offer offer vaccination clinics to all Acadia students. Chief Public Health Officer Robert Strang said that the risk of transmission remains low and that there is no need at this time to cancel classes or limit students' travel. Meanwhile, CBC reports that a St Francis Xavier student suffered from 2 bouts of meningitis in the last several months. The student, who lived on campus, came down with the B strain of the illness in November; he recovered and then contracted the Y strain in January. Strang said that it is "very unusual" for one person to contract meningitis twice and that the student is being examined to determine if there is an underlying condition that may help explain his case. Strang said that the risk to other StFX students is low. However, some members of the StFX community are wondering why they were not immediately informed about the illness. The public was not told about the case until 5 weeks after the student had been sent to hospital. Strang said that the low level of risk informed that decision. "We came to the conclusion that there would be more unnecessary panic and concern by broad communication," he said. StFX News Release | CBC (Vaccinations) | CBC (StFX)

Transgender students at SFU hold demonstration calling for gender-neutral washrooms

Transgender and gender-variant students at Simon Fraser University are planning a demonstration to draw attention to the need for gender-neutral washrooms on campus. Protesters plan to occupy a men’s washroom and post signs that say, “all genders welcome. This toilet has been liberated from the gender binary.” The demonstrators say that the need for gender-neutral bathrooms is a safety issue. “I don’t think [administrators] realize the actual risk of violence that people face,” said organizer Nathan Lyndsay. An SFU spokesperson said that some residences offer gender-neutral washrooms, but that the university had not yet received a formal, university-wide request for such facilities. She noted that SFU faces physical constraints, particularly in older buildings, that make it difficult to renew existing facilities as gender-neutral spaces. Lyndsay suggested that changing the signage on existing washrooms would be a cost-effective first step. Students at Ryerson University have also been campaigning for more gender-neutral washrooms. Georgia Straight


Postscript: February 17, 2015

Simon Fraser University has issued a statement in response to a planned demonstration calling for more gender-neutral washrooms on campus. In the statement, Tim Rahilly, AVP Student Services, emphasizes SFU's commitment to providing safe, supportive, and respectful spaces for all students, and identifies several steps the institution has taken to provide gender-neutral spaces on its 3 campuses. These include establishing gender-neutral, single-use washrooms that can be locked from the inside and conducting a feasibility study on retrofitting gender-specific group toilets. Rahilly also notes that SFU is moving toward allowing students to use preferred names on student IDs and class lists; he adds that SFU's Human Rights and Equity Office has not received any formal complaints regarding the issue of gender-neutral washrooms. Finally, Rahilly points out that the 3000-level of the Academic Quadrangle, where the protest is scheduled to take place, offers 5 gender-neutral washroom facilities. SFU Statement

uCalgary says it has no plans for divestment ahead of planned campaign

The University of Calgary says that it has no plans to change its investment policy in response to a growing movement urging PSE institutions to divest from fossil fuels. In a statement, President Elizabeth Cannon says that the institution "will continue to foster a free and open debate on this important issue." However, she added that "at this time we are not looking at making changes to our current investments in the energy industry. We have responsible fund managers who invest the university's $710 M endowment in a balanced portfolio, including approximately $40 M invested in the energy industry." Cannon's statement was issued on February 13, which had been designated by advocates as Global Divestment Day. The uCalgary statement notes that the institution is well positioned to address challenges associated with providing safe, clean, and secure energy, that many of the institution's graduates are employed in the energy sector, and that the institution benefits from philanthropic support from the energy industry. uCalgary News Release | Financial Post

Critics say NS slow in acting on Ivany Commission recommendations

Nova Scotia "blueberry baron" John Bragg, member of the Ivany Commission, says that the province has been "slow off the mark" in implementing recommendations made last year to improve the province's economy. Among the recommendations made in the report are that the province should reverse out-migration, grow the number of new businesses by 50%, reduce youth unemployment to the national average, double research partnerships between universities and businesses, and increase the percentage of Nova Scotians with postsecondary training to 65%. The oneNS Coalition, appointed by the province, has until the end of 2015 to come up with an implementation plan. Barry Zwicker, head of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, says that cultural issues may be impeding progress. "We're a long way from being the capital of startups, for sure. The primary reason is we are scared stiff of change. Generally speaking, change is perceived as bad," he said. CBC

Number of Indigenous learners in AB up 70% in 10 years

New figures show that more than 10,000 Indigenous people are enrolled at Alberta's colleges and universities, up from 6,236 in 2005. The figure includes students who self-identify as Aboriginal, and may not count those who choose not to identify themselves with a particular ethnic group, said Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education spokesperson Kevin Donnan. Derek Thunder, Aboriginal Liaison Coordinator at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, says that Indigenous students are also enrolling in a wider variety of programs than in the past. "A long time ago it was a lot of people going into social work and teaching and there are so many more possibilities of different kinds of careers out there that everybody is starting to hear about," he said. While the numbers represent a positive trend, most agree that there is still more to be done to support Aboriginal learners in PSE. Student Dawn Lameman says that the success of current Aboriginal students will inspire more to pursue an education. "Seeing what can be achieved once you go to postsecondary, there's more you can achieve when you go home," she said. CBC

BCcampus to launch accessibility toolkit for open textbooks

BCcampus has announced that it is working with the Centre for Accessible Post-secondary Education Resources British Columbia (CAPER-BC) to create an accessibility toolkit for developers of open education resources. “The goal of this project was to see if the open textbooks are open and accessible for all students. The intention of open textbooks is to provide access to education at low or no cost, but if those materials aren’t fully accessible for every student, we aren’t truly fulfilling that mandate,” said Amanda Coolidge, BCcampus' Manager of Open Education. BCcampus and CAPER-BC worked with students at several partner institutions to get feedback on preferred layouts and formats for materials. Based on this feedback, the toolkit will outline best practices for structuring content with accessibility in mind, with guidelines on incorporating images and charts, weblinks, tables, video, formulas, and colour contrast, among other things. The toolkit will be made available as an open resource on the BCcampus website. BCcampus Blog

Outgoing uAlberta President calls for philanthropy, a sales tax, and a go big or go home attitude

The Globe and Mail has published an interview with outgoing University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera in which she looks back at her 10 years as the head of the institution and considers what the future may hold for her successor. Samarasekera says that uAlberta is not yet "in the pantheon of the greatest universities in the world," partially because of inconsistent government investment in basic university operations. She says that AB "needs to set a grand goal, a big vision, and go for it ... We don't have a reputation for going big." Samarasekera adds that Canadians need to stop expecting the government to pay for everything and must instead build a culture of philanthropy. She also endorses a sales tax in AB and calls for better investment of oil and gas revenues. "Underinvestment, year after year, in education and research is costing us," she says. Globe and Mail

Sustainability becoming a central part of business education

Sustainability has moved to the mainstream of MBA education, reports the Globe and Mail. Students now enrol in sustainability-focused programs to pursue a variety of goals, ranging from developing green technology firms to working for non-profits or the government. Even students who do not pursue sustainability as a focus of their studies frequently opt to take the courses as electives. UBC's Sauder School of Business found that few MBA students pursued the sustainability stream they began offering in 2007, but has restructured its curriculum to weave sustainability issues throughout the program. York University's Schulich School of Business has offered a sustainability specialization since 1992. While enrolment in the specialization has plateaued at about 10–20 students, Program Director Andrew Crane has seen the program become more mainstream. Students in the program are "more like the regular MBA students than they are different," he said. Globe and Mail

Study finds wide variation in performance-based funding programs in 35 US states

A new report funded by the Gates Foundation looks at performance-based fundingfor public colleges and universities in 35 US states. The report says that there is significant variation between states; however, discussions of performance-based funding often treat it as a homogenous category. To move beyond this under-nuanced understanding, the report identifies 4 categories of performance-based funding, organized around their levels of "sophistication and adherence to promising practices." Only 2 states, Tennessee and Ohio, have models that are considered by the authors to be "advanced." The report found a number of benefits associated with performance-based funding, including increased use of data to make decisions; increased funding dedicated to instruction; and improved student services, policies, and practices. However, researchers also identified a number of "unintended consequences," including high compliance costs for data collection, reduced academic standards, a reduced emphasis on an institutional missions, increased admission standards, and an inhibited faculty voice. Inside Higher Ed | The Chronicle of Higher Education | Full Report

Liberal arts defenders should focus on outputs to communicate value

Brian Mitchell, Director of the Edvance Foundation, a US-based education non-profit, says that advocates for the liberal arts must focus on measurable outputs rather than "high-minded and cerebral" arguments. He says that the skills often associated with the liberal arts–writing, communication, using and integrating technology, applying quantitative methods–are measurable outcomes that are in high demand by employers. Shifting to the language of output, he says, will convey the value of the liberal arts in terms that align with the needs of the workforce and the mindset of the American consumer. He cites the example of a Pennsylvania-based "baccalaureate outcomes" alumni study as providing a possible model to measure these outcomes, and says that liberal arts colleges should collaborate with one another to provide a way to measure the success of their graduates. Huffington Post