Top Ten

March 4, 2015

Strike action launched at YorkU

Contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and research assistants are on strike at York University after union members voted against sending the university's final offer to a ratification vote. Union leadership had recommended rejecting the offer, stating that it did not provide adequate wage increases or job security. "We have directed our bargaining team to go back to the table ... I am confident that this is going to be wrapped up ... The university knows we're not that far apart," said CUPE 3903 Chair Faiz Ahmed. York has suspended all classes, exams, and academic activities, with limited exceptions; libraries, residences, computer labs, cafeterias, and athletic facilities will remain open. In a statement, YorkU President Mamdouh Shoukri said, "the compensation and other collective agreement improvements we are offering are highly competitive with, if not better than, recent settlements elsewhere." He added that "we value our relationship with CUPE 3903. I am confident that, when we return to the bargaining table, we will reach a fair and competitive settlement." Teaching assistants at the University of Toronto are also on strike. CUPE 3903 News | YorkU News | Toronto Star | CBC

Postscript: March 10, 2015

The bargaining unit representing contract faculty at York University have ratified a settlement offer from the institution; however, the units representing teaching assistants and graduate assistants will remain on the picket line. 65% of contract faculty voted in favour of the administration's latest offer on Monday night. However, 59% of striking teaching assistants and 77% of graduate assistants voted against the proposal. CUPE Local 3903 Chair Faiz Ahmed said that the union hopes to resume bargaining as soon as possible. Classes remained suspended on Tuesday, but YorkU administrators were reviewing plans that would allow as many students as possible to return to class. YorkU News Release | CUPE 3903 Blog | Globe and Mail

uToronto instructor criticized for promoting alternative vaccinations

Some Canadian public health experts are criticizing the University of Toronto for allegedly providing a platform for unproven medical advice. The Globe and Mailreports that Beth Landau-Halpern, who teaches a course in alternative medicine at uToronto Scarborough, has been promoting ineffective "alternative vaccinations" and has advised patients that immunization is dangerous. Landau-Halpern last year published a blog post on her clinic's website stating that she teaches her students to have "a healthy degree of skepticism about the limits of science in understanding health and disease"; she has also written on her blog that "normal childhood illnesses like measles and chicken pox are almost always followed by massive developmental spurts" and that individuals should "avoid vaccinations" because they are "of questionable efficacy, full of ingredients that definitely should not be in the blood stream, and may compromise your general immunity irreparably." Landau-Halpern denied that she is anti-vaccination, stating that she recommends "a nuanced and individualized approach to vaccination." A uToronto spokesperson told the Globe that the institution is "committed to the principles and policies of academic freedom and free speech" and that faculty and students are encouraged to engage with "controversial topics." Globe and Mail

Most Albertans want more investment in PSE despite economic conditions

A new poll from Public Interest Alberta has found that a majority of Albertans, including a majority of Conservative voters, are opposed to cuts to the province's PSE sector. 67% of the more than 1,000 Albertans polled said that they agree that "the government should invest in postsecondary education regardless of the current budget challenges." The results were released to help kick off a new campaign calling for more investment in PSE in spite of fiscal challenges caused by a drop in oil prices. Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest AB, said that further investment is needed to increase the number of AB high school students who transfer to PSE. "If we want to be just at the national average, we have to increase our enrolment by 25%. Yet the government is talking about another round of cuts," he said. Edmonton Journal Public Interest AB News Release

CFS-ON makes recommendations for provincial Sexual Assault Action Plan

The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario has issued a series of recommendations in anticipation of the province's launch of a new multi-sector Sexual Assault Action Plan. Among the recommendations are that the plan should include funding guarantees that will ensure strong support systems and education programs on campus, policies designed by students and stakeholders to help ensure that students who are victims of sexual assault know their options, and mechanisms that will hold PSE institutions accountable to the policies. "Students have been combating sexual violence on campus for over 30 years," said CFS-ON spokesperson Anna Goldfinch. "We know what steps need to be taken to combat sexual violence on our campuses. We are looking forward to our recommendations being part of the Premier's announcement on Friday, but also to continue this discussion with our institutions and government once the plan is in place." ON's college presidents recently endorsed a policy framework on sexual assault, while the province's universities have agreed to pursue initiatives to curb sexual violence. Researcher Meranda McLaughlin recently argued on Rethinking Higher Ed for better data and research around sexual assault. CFS-ON News Release

uSask helps faculty, staff aid students in distress

The University of Saskatchewan has created a new information package that is designed to help staff and faculty identify and assist students in emotional distress. Terrie Fitzpatrick, Manager of Student Counselling Services at uSask, said that the package was designed to foster a uniform approach to helping students across campus. She noted that many staff and faculty members have spoken to her about knowing a student in need but said that they are unsure of how to help. Members of the university community can use the informational material to learn how to assess the needs of students in distress and get in touch with on-campus professionals who are trained to help. "Universities are big institutions and I think that we sometimes have trouble connecting ... We need a way to communicate across campus how to get the faculty help to deal with the student, and how to give tools to the staff so they can help the student," said Fitzpatrick. StarPhoenix

Acadia votes to join Nova Scotia government pension plan

Acadia University has voted in favour of joining the Nova Scotia public service superannuation plan, a move that could save the institution approximately $3 M annually. 88% of voters cast ballots in favour of the move last week. Acadia's current stand-alone pension plan holds assets worth more than $140 M but is only 75% funded, raising concerns about its sustainability. In contrast, the provincial public service pension holds $5 B in assets. Acadia VP Finance and Administration Darrell Youden said that joining the provincial plan will lead to lower administration costs and benefit changes that will help eliminate the deficit. Ontario universities are considering adopting a jointly sponsored pension plan. CBC

uWaterloo frat encourages men to break the silence on sexual assault

Members of the Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Waterloo have released a video called "Break the Silence" that encourages men to speak out against sexual assault and rape culture on campus. Sigma Chi member Dominic Aquilina said that fraternity members wanted to create a public service announcement that would appeal to their own demographic. "We wanted to take more of a stance to show that we do support the issue, and we created this video as an attempt to put that message out there and try to start a conversation within our community," he said. In developing the video, fraternity members consulted with women taking sexuality studies at uWaterloo. Aquilina said that the main theme of the video is that men do not have a right to sexual access to women, and that they should take action when others say or do something inappropriate. "For some reason, a lot of people feel entitled to sexual contact. It's like if they're hitting on a girl, they expect them to be receptive automatically and there's no reason for that," he said. CBC | Full Video

Initiatives aim to inspire girls to pursue careers in sciences

An article published by the Canadian Press highlights efforts being made by Canadian universities to attract girls to the sciences and engineering. uToronto and UBC have recently reported increases in the number of women entering their engineering programs, but there is still a significant gender gap in many STEM-related professions. According to Engineers Canada, just 18.3% of undergraduate engineering degrees awarded in 2013 went to women. PSE institutions are working with other organizations to fix that by engaging girls before they reach high school. Research has shown that many girls lose their interest in the sciences by  the time they enter ninth grade, meaning that many don't take the advanced courses they need to enter STEM programs at university. Ottawa-based charity Actua works with 33 Canadian institutions to offer girls-only science classes in the hopes of encouraging interest and inspiring confidence in participants, as well as getting parents to encourage young girls' aspirations for STEM-related careers. Winnipeg Free Press

Instructors with Asian names receive lower RateMyProfessors scores

A new study has found that faculty members in the US with Asian-sounding last names receive significantly lower scores on the popular website PhD student Nicholas Close Subtirelu examined the ratings given to over 1,000 mathematics professors with Chinese- or Korean-sounding names, comparing their scores with a larger sample of instructors whose names did not suggest an Asian background. The professors in the latter sample received scores for clarity that were 0.6 to 0.8 points higher on a 5-point scale than those with Asian names; they also received higher scores on the site's helpfulness rating. Subtirelu also studied the comments posted on faculty members' profiles, and found that students often focused on Asian professors' language skills and accents, even when their comments were positive. He said that he is concerned that having an accent is being viewed by many students as a negative trait, leading to avoidance of courses or tutorials taught by Asian faculty members and teaching assistants. Another recent study looked at the use of gendered language on RateMyProfessors. Inside Higher Ed

US employers and educators meet to discuss national model for skills badges

Representatives of a number of US universities are meeting with employers this week to begin work on what they hope will become a national model for skills badges. They plan to spend the next 9 months developing a system that assesses students' proficiency in areas such as leadership, storytelling, and entrepreneurship, as well as critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration. Proponents of the initiative say that a badge system could help graduates from smaller, non-elite PSE institutions get more attention from recruiters. They also say that badges would complement, rather than replace, existing degrees, diplomas, and transcripts. However, a great deal of work remains to be done. Some employer groups participating in this week's gathering note that a move toward badges will mean that universities and colleges will need to reconsider what they teach and how they teach it. The Chronicle of Higher Education