Top Ten

April 1, 2015

WesternU president’s 2014 salary raising eyebrows

Western University is under fire after Ontario’s annual Sunshine List was released last week, revealing that President Amit Chakma was paid $967,000 in 2014—more than twice his normal salary of $479,600. Chakma received the extra payment for foregoing a paid sabbatical at the end of his first 5-year contract and working through what a WesternU news release called a “critical time” for the university. MPP Peggy Sattler, NDP critic for Training, Colleges and Universities, raised the issue in legislature on Monday, asking the governing Liberals to prohibit similar double pay-outs to university presidents. Alison Hearn, President of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association called the payment “a slap in the face.” Chirag Shah, Chair of WesternU’s board of governors, commented that “we are satisfied that the salaries of Western faculty and staff reflect fair compensation for each individual’s scope of responsibility, academic and professional credentials, and years of service.” An online petition of non-confidence in both Chakma and Shah has gathered almost 5,000 signatures. CBC | WesternU News Release | Ottawa Citizen | London Free Press | Peggy Sattler News

Postscript: April 2, 2015

Yesterday Western University’s board of governors responded to controversy over President Amit Chakma’s compensation by announcing the appointment of former Ontario Appeal court justice Stephen Goudge to conduct an “independent and impartial review of the university’s presidential compensation practices.” Board Chair Chirag Shah reinforced the board’s confidence in Chakma’s leadership and his many accomplishments during his first six years. In a separate statement, Chakma explained that in hindsight, he should have carried over the administrative leave until the end of his current term, and announced that he has voluntarily refunded the in lieu payment to the university, and will not exercise his right under the current contract to a similar payment at the end of his second term. Board statement | Chakma statement

Postscript: April 9, 2015

Western University President Amit Chakma has apologized for accepting a double payment of his 2014 salary in lieu of taking administrative leave. "It is difficult to express how truly sorry I am for the lack of judgment I showed," he said. On April 1, Chakma volunteered to return the extra money; however, critics said that his gesture did not address their underlying concerns regarding administrative decisions. Chakma responded, "those critics are right ... I became so focused on those external matters—fundraising, for example—that I was not staying on top of concerns being raised on our campus. I was disconnected." WesternU's senate has called a special meeting to discuss a non-confidence vote in Chakma, who will address the senate today. Western News (Apology) | Western News (Senate)

CAUT investigates alleged violations of academic freedom at Laurentian

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has launched an investigation into alleged violations of academic freedom at Laurentian University. Laurentian’s faculty association brought the issues to the attention of CAUT; the alleged violations occurred in the Faculty of Arts and include issues such as improper procedural practices and restrictions on academic freedom, disregard of collegial decision-making, and interference in teaching methods and styles. There are 10 allegations being investigated. Laurentian has said that not all of the alleged violations constitute breaches of academic freedom and that many issues have already been resolved. Laurentian President Dominic Giroux said he doesn’t recognize CAUT’s investigation, stating that there is "a clause in the collective agreement about academic freedom … and if the union feels that we're not in compliance with that clause, it can absolutely follow the grievance process, which has not been the case so far." CBC | CAUT

Audit shows YorkU CUPE local overspent during 2008–09 strike

A 2011 audit recently obtained by the Globe and Mail shows that York University’s CUPE chapter overspent during the 2008–09 strike, leading to the disbanding of the union executive and the placement of the local under national administration. A “complete breakdown of internal control led to a situation where dubious, spurious and possibly fraudulent claims were being submitted and paid,” the audit stated. The union spent almost $300,000 on food and beverages during the strike; expense claims often lacked necessary information, and “union officials did not put a lot of time into thinking about how to save money,” according to the audit. Key to the issue of overspending was a lack of central bookkeeping, including missing bank deposit slips, missing information on strike pay sheets, and questionable payments. “We acknowledge there were some issues 4 years ago in Local 3903. CUPE National worked with the local membership and these issues were resolved 3 years ago,” said CUPE President Paul Moist. Globe and Mail

Report recommends reducing university enrolments and increasing focus on colleges, polytechnics

In order to best serve students and the Canadian economy, university enrolment should be cut by 30% and more focus should be directed towards colleges and polytechnics, writes Ken Coates in a report commissioned by the Canadian Council for Chief Executives (CCCE). Career ready: Towards a national strategy for the mobilization of Canadian potential looks at the imbalances in Canada’s education system, determining that the status quo is not benefitting Canadians. Coates says short-term thinking by schools and policy-makers combined with a bias against “blue-collar” work is to blame for the current situation. Coates makes several recommendations to move Canada’s workforce forward, including improved career information and advice, re-prioritization of applied learning for many students, promoting enrolment in high-demand, career-ready programs, establishing competency frameworks for a range of sectors and occupations, and encouraging entrepreneurship. CBC | Full Report

VIU board approves balanced budget with 2% tuition increase

The board of governors at Vancouver Island University has approved a balanced consolidated budget for 2015–16 of $136.7 M. Domestic tuition will increase by 2% for the majority of students, in accordance with provincial guidelines, to help offset a $1.9 M reduction in the provincial operating grant. The Budget Plan outlines several areas that will receive increased focus such as enrolment management for domestic and international students, new off-grant and cost-recovery programs, and a new Student Health and Wellness Centre, among others. “Vancouver Island University is a values-based institution and this is reflected in the investment priorities that have been identified in this year’s budget,” said President Ralph Nilson. VIU Budget Plan

Study examines differences in academic success between private and public school students

Statistics Canada has released new data comparing the performance of students attending private and public schools. The study followed 7,142 students from ages 15–23, focusing on standardized test scores and academic achievement by age 23. On average, students who attended private school scored 8–9% higher on standardized tests than students attending public school; 35% of private school students had graduated from a university program by age 23, compared to 21% of public school students. The study found that students attending private school had more socioeconomic characteristics that are connected to academic success, such as higher household incomes and university-educated parents. The data show that “no differences in outcomes were attributable to school resources and practices,” although the province of school attendance accounted for a substantial portion of differences in academic test scores and high school graduation rates. StatsCan Daily

Study suggests Ontario's skilled trades system needs modernizing

A new report commissioned by a number of Ontario’s construction associations suggests that the skilled trades and apprenticeship system in the province is not “allowing Ontario to maximize outcomes and provide apprenticeship opportunities.” The report examined the performance of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), finding that the regulatory body can improve in several areas including minimizing barriers to training and employment for young workers, providing better transparency and accountability to stakeholders, and addressing systemic flaws in the classification review process. The report suggests that a lack of empirical data is evident in OCOT’s processes, and that the system needs to be modernized to better support apprenticeships. “We need forward-thinking solutions to transform Ontario into the leading jurisdiction in North America supporting training and apprenticeship outcomes. Addressing our challenges today will allow tomorrow's skilled trades to have the tools to build the next generation of energy efficient homes and quality public infrastructure,” reads the report news release. News Release | Full Report

Students from 5 Canadian universities take part in “class of the future”

Former politician and hockey player Ken Dryden is teaching a class called “Making the Future” to students at McGill University, Ryerson University, University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan, and Memorial University—all at the same time. This “class of the future” uses technology to connect Dryden at McGill with the dozen students in each university taking the class. Video monitors and audio devices connect the students in real-time, allowing students to explore regional differences and varying perspectives on a range of topics such as fossil fuels. “The idea was for students to not only think about their own futures, but how they would live in Canada and how they would live in the world around them,” Dryden said. Students from different universities work together on assignments, accounting for time differences and schedule conflicts. Dryden hopes to have one university from each province taking part by 2017. Globe and Mail

Indiana’s new law leads to boycotts, condemnation

Reaction to Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been swift, with several university presidents from a number of states issuing statements condemning the law, which critics say will enable discrimination against the LGBT community. Calls to boycott Indiana are growing stronger; Leslie E Wong, President of San Francisco State University, has said that no university funds can be used for travel to the state by students or employees, although travel already authorized can still proceed. Connecticut Governor Dannel P Malloy has issued an executive order banning all state employees from using state funds to travel to states with laws like Indiana’s statute, including those in higher ed. Presidents within Indiana have issued statements that stress the non-discrimination policies in place at the institutions and condemning the new legislation. Chair of the American Association of University Professors' Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure Hank Reichman cautioned boycott supporters that placing limits on academic travel can infringe on the academic freedoms of professors. "This affects professors doing scholarly work, and so that's a problem," he said. Inside Higher Ed | The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Corinthian 100” launch student loan strike

A group of current and former students attending schools run by US-based Corinthian Colleges—including Everest College, Heald College, and WyoTech—have joined together in a “debt strike.” The “Corinthian 100” are refusing to pay back their federal and private loans for programs that they were unable to complete or which are now considered “worthless.” The group alleges that the US Department of Education should have done a better job of monitoring and regulating the private colleges and should have informed students when the schools were under federal investigation. "I would like to see them have to answer for why they allowed these schools to continue to take federal loans out when they were under investigation for the fraudulent activity they were doing," said one student involved in the debt strike. Government agencies in both Canada and the US have taken steps to alleviate some of the debt burden of Corinthian students. CBC | Debt Collective

Postscript: June 9, 2015

The US federal government has announced a debt-relief plan for students affected by the closure of Corinthian Colleges. The plan will extend to all federal borrowers who are able to prove that they were defrauded by Corinthian; however, official also indicated that they expect similar claims from borrowers who attended other for-profit colleges that were found to have engaged in predatory practices. Officials said that it has not yet been determined what a borrower will have to do to prove that they were a victim of fraud. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the department is working on developing a “durable” process for loan forgiveness that will apply beyond Corinthian. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed

Postscript: July 14, 2015

The US Department of Education has announced that it won’t pursue legal action against the roughly 40,000 former Corinthian students who are in default. A group of former students has asked the department to suspend debt payments for up to 350,000 former students of the now-bankrupt chain. Reuters | Inside Higher Ed | Chronicle of Higher Education