Top Ten

March 31, 2015

UBC philosophy prof's $12 M grant from Sweden highlights different funding values

Paul Russell, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, has received a grant worth 80 M kronor—about $12 M—from the Swedish Research Council. Russell will build a team to examine human responsibility as it is exercised in relation to issues such as climate change, war crimes, gender equity, crime, surveillance and censorship, religion, and political correctness. He will spend about half of each year in Sweden to work with his team. Russell said that his being awarded the grant highlights some of the differences between research priorities in Sweden and in Canada; he noted that the Swedish government places a higher value on humanities research. He told the Vancouver Sun that he feels scholars should do more to tackle pressing issues facing society, and says that humanities scholars can play an important role in this. “What concerns me,” he said, “is remarks coming from the government in Victoria that it plans to exert financial pressure on the universities to move away from humanities research to fund areas that are of more obvious, immediate economic value for jobs and the market.” Vancouver Sun

Dal evicts students from residence for posting "inappropriate content" to Instagram

Dalhousie University has evicted a number of students from residence after investigating reports of "possible inappropriate content" being posted to an Instagram account called "The Dal Jungle." A student who had viewed the account told the Chronicle-Herald that it contained images of couples having sex and other inappropriate content. The student said that she later learned that some of the subjects of the photos were unaware that they had been posted online. She did not immediately inform authorities at the request of a friend who was depicted in one of the images, but ultimately confided in a residence assistant, who then notified Dal's residence life manager. At this point, campus security became involved. Citing privacy concerns, Dal would not comment on the specifics of the investigation. However, the university has issued a statement indicating that it became aware of the content on November 1, 2014; in response, it conducted a full investigation, referred the matter to Halifax Regional Police, reported the account to Instagram, and evicted the students believed to be responsible. Dal recently dealt with a scandal involving a misogynistic Facebook group created by some male dentistry students. Globe and Mail | Chronicle-Herald | Dal Statement

uMontréal student associations to disaffiliate from FEUQ

The Fédération des associations étudiantes du campus de l'Université de Montréal (FAÉCUM) voted unanimously this past weekend to disaffiliate from the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and will instead look to create a new student organization in the province. FAÉCUM Secretary-General Vincent Fournier Gosselin said that lately his organization has not found FEUQ to be effective enough as a lobbying group. 80,000 students still belong to FEUQ, but some wonder if FAÉCUM's departure could lead to other organizations following suit. Julien Ouellet, VP External for the Post-Graduate Students' Society at McGill University (PGSS), said, "the FEUQ has served us well in the past, but there is a lot of uncertainty now and there could be a new student federation that will be the biggest ever in Quebec." However, Ouellet said he was disappointed in FAÉCUM's handling of the situation. "Some of their criticism of the FEUQ is fair and some of it is utterly unfair," he said. FEUQ President Jonathan Bouchard said that he felt FAÉCUM should have held a referendum on the issue of disaffiliation before making its decision. FAÉCUM News Release (in French) | Montreal Gazette

NIC board approves budget with 2% tuition increase

The board of governors of British Columbia's North Island College have approved a balanced budget for 2015–16 that includes a 2% tuition fee increase. The increase will average out to approximately $5 per course and will generate roughly $73,000 in revenue for the college, according to President John Bowman. NIC was forced to overcome a reduction in its base funding that came about as a result of changes to provincial policies around adult upgrading programs. The college decided to charge $106.66 per course for fundamental adult upgrading programming and $160 per course for beginner ESL classes; all other upgrading courses will cost $106.66 per credit. "NIC's approach to tuition for adult upgrading strikes a balance between adhering to government policy, while remaining accessible and affordable for adult learners wishing to upgrade in anticipation of furthering their education or retraining for a new career," said NIC's AVP Access and Regions Tony Bellavia. NIC News Release

Campus Montréal campaign receives $3.5 M donation

The Molson family and the Molson Coors Brewing Company have donated a total of $3.5 M to Campus Montréal, a joint fundraising campaign for HEC Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal, and Université de Montréal. $2 M of the donation will provide academic, athletic, and medical support for students participating in the Université de Montréal Carabins sports program. This donation is reportedly the largest ever made to a francophone university sports program in North America. Université de Montréal will also receive $500,000 for its health and sports performance laboratory. In addition, the Institute québécois pour les families en affaires (IQFA), hosted at HEC Montréal, will receive $660,000. Guy Breton, Rector of uMontréal, said, “the Molson family demonstrates outstanding leadership. Geoff Molson’s support as Campus Montréal’s co-chair demonstrates his renowned family’s strong social commitment and their deep understanding of what it takes to build a healthy society.” Campus Montréal News Release | HEC Montréal News Release

CFS report says student debt loads are slowing economic recovery

A new study from the Canadian Federation of Students argues that a high level of student debt is hindering economic recovery. According to the CFS, student debt prevents young Canadians from buying homes, making investments, and participating in the economy. The report, entitled The Impact of Student Debt, emphasizes that young Canadians accounted for 50% of net job losses in Canada during the Great Recession, and that un- and underemployment among Canadian youth in 2014 was at 27.7%. Underemployment or working outside one's own field, the report states, contributes to skill degradation, as well as leaving young people behind in terms of experience and networking opportunities. The authors say that those with student debt have a lower net worth, fewer assets, and are less likely than their debt-free peers to have savings or investments. Debt also makes saving for a down payment for a house more difficult, and many of those burdened by student debt lack the income and job security needed to purchase a home. The report contends that easing the debt loads of students would allow them to more immediately contribute to the economy, yielding social and economic benefits for all Canadians. CFS News Release | Full Report

U-Multirank releases annual rankings

The EU-funded U-Multirank released its second set of annual rankings yesterday. Rather than providing a single list of rankings, U-Multirank offers a web-based tool that can be used to compare institutions based on criteria selected by the user. This year's version includes 1,210 institutions from 83 countries, scoring each based on 31 indicators across 5 dimensions: teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation, and regional engagement. 683 institutions actively participated in the rankings. 527 did not participate but were included based on publicly available data. Just 4 Canadian institutions were active participants, according to Inside Higher Ed. Some have questioned the merits of the U-Multirank system. Ellen Hazelkorn, author of Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education: The Battle for World-Class Excellence, commended the system for including a broad range of indicators, but suggested that the rankings may be limited based on which institutions participate. Others have questioned the comparability of of the data used. U-Multirank | University World News  | Inside Higher Ed

Lingering issues may affect relations between uToronto, teaching assistants

Teaching and graduate assistants at the University of Toronto are going back to workafter accepting an offer of binding arbitration; however, many are concerned that the issues raised by the strike could have a lasting impact on labour relations at the institution. "Right now, there is little desire to work together with the administration. They've poisoned the relationship with us through this round of bargaining," said Ryan Culpepper, Vice-Chair of the union locals that had been on strike. Simona Chiose reports that the strike was only the latest stage in an ongoing dispute over issues that stem back to the previous round of bargaining 4 years ago, when the union and university administration agreed to discuss graduate student funding. But the 2 sides remained at odds over what constituted a reasonable funding package. During the strike, administrators argued that $15,000 in funding was appropriate for part-time workers, while grad students said that such a characterization of their employment status was misleading. uToronto President Meric Gertler said that in the wake of the strike "there is renewed motivation in my office ... to make real progress on [graduate funding]," but he also emphasized that the university faces financial restrictions. At York University over the weekend, striking teaching assistants and contract staff reached a tentative agreement with administration.  Globe and Mail (Chiose) | Globe and Mail (York)

Separate controversies over peer-review processes lead to retractions, resignation

The UK-based BioMed Central, a publisher of 277 peer-reviewed journals, has retracted 43 scholarly articles after learning that they were involved in a fake peer-review scheme that has also affected a number of other publications. In a recent statement, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) said that it "has become aware of systematic, inappropriate attempts to manipulate the peer review process of several journals across different publishers." These efforts, COPE said, seem to originate with third-party agencies that offer services to authors. While some of these agencies are legitimate, others have sold services including authorship of manuscripts and the provision of false reviews. COPE says it is not always clear how aware academic authors are of the fraud being perpetrated. Meanwhile, Mark Maslin, an editor of the Nature Publishing Group's (NPG's) open-access journal Scientific Reports, has resigned in protest of NPG's move to allow authors to pay to expedite the peer-review process. "My objections are that it sets up a 2-tiered system and instead of the best science being published in a timely fashion it will further shift the balance to well-funded labs and groups," said Maslin. Maslin's resignation comes amid the emergence of a number of companies seeking to profit by privatizing peer review. Washington Post | COPE Statement | Science

Workplace biases may push women away from STEM fields

A US-based study argues that workplace biases, rather than personal choices or "pipeline" issues, are pushing women away from the sciences. The research, based on interviews with more than 60 female scientists and a survey of 557 more, examines how a variety of biases affect women at work, also taking into account race and ethnicity. Two-thirds of women reported having their expertise questioned and being expected to prove themselves repeatedly; two-thirds reported having their commitment and competence questioned after having children; more than one-third reported feeling pressured to play a "traditionally female" role, such as "office mother" or "dutiful daughter"; and one-fifth reported feeling that they were "competing with [their] female colleagues for the 'woman's spot.'" A fifth bias was found to primarily affect black women: the perception that "socially engaging with ... colleagues may negatively affect perceptions of ... competence." Close to half of black women and Latina women said that they had been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff, compared with one-third of white women and slightly less than a quarter of Asian-American women. Harvard Business Review | Full Report