Top Ten

August 19, 2015

International students launch $50 M lawsuit against Niagara College

Two former international students at Niagara College have launched a class-action lawsuit and are seeking more than $50 M in damages after they were unsuccessful in their attempts to obtain postgraduate work permits from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). The students allege that Niagara should have known that online courses in its general arts and science diploma transfer program would not meet CIC’s requirements for work permits. As many as 500 of the program’s graduates could be denied permits after CIC last month deemed the program's online courses to be a form of “distance learning.” At the time, Niagara Vice-President Academic Steven Hudson said he was surprised by CIC's decision to deny the permits on such a basis, suggesting that it did not reflect current standard practices in Canadian higher education. Toronto Star

UBC to investigate alleged intimidation of professor by board of governors chair

The University of British Columbia has said that it will investigate allegations that the chair of its board of governors criticized and attempted to intimidate a faculty member for blog posts she wrote about the sudden resignation of former president Arvind Gupta. Jennifer Berdahl, a professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, said she was first contacted via email by Board Chair John Montalbano after she tweeted that UBC “failed either in selecting or in supporting [the president].” She added that Montalbano contacted her again several days later after she had written a blog post titled “Did President Arvind Gupta lose the masculinity contest?” According to Berdahl, Montalbano told her that he was embarrassed by her comments and that he would speak to her faculty dean about “the trouble [she] was causing.” Interim UBC Provost Angela Redish and Interim University President Martha Piper have issued a statement affirming that the university does not tolerate any suppression of academic freedom and describing the allegations as “unproven and untested at this time.” Globe and Mail | Inside Higher Ed | Times Colonist

Postscript: August 27, 2015

UBC Board Chair John Montalbano has announced that he will temporarily step down, handing the reins to Vice-Chair Alice Laberge. Montalbano will leave his position for the duration of the fact finding process being conducted by the university and the faculty association in response to the allegation that he intimidated professor Jennifer Berdahl after a controversial blog post. UBC | CBC | Globe & Mail | National Post | CTV News (CP)

More layoffs expected at VCC following sharp drop in enrolment

More layoffs are likely in the works at Vancouver Community College due to low enrolment in high school upgrading and college prep courses, reports The Tyee. Enrolment for fall courses is down approximately 30%, which could result in layoffs for 40–50 faculty members, said faculty association President Karen Shortt, who added that the provincial government’s decision to cut funding for adult ESL and upgrading courses was largely to blame for the low enrolment. VCC's interim Director of Marketing and Communications Karen Wilson said that although there is still funding for low-income students, many of these students are not aware of this and are not applying as a result. Shortt added that many students do not register until the last two weeks of August, so some courses may still be continued. The Tyee

Researchers working to develop cultural digital library for Canada’s North

Researchers from the University of Alberta’s School of Library and Information Studies are working to develop a cultural digital library for the people of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in Canada’s North. The SSHRC-funded project, titled Digital Library North, aims to establish the digital infrastructure for a wide variety of items that are currently difficult to access. The digital library will hold items such as oral history collections, images and photos of various people and cultural activities, maps, digitized versions of cultural objects, and language-related resources. The uAlberta researchers will work with local communities and organizations to learn what their digital needs are and to ensure community input and collaboration. uAlberta Illuminate | Digital Library North

uWaterloo students run first autonomous vehicle on Canadian road

A technology startup founded by two University of Waterloo students ran a self-driving vehicle yesterday on Ring Road at the uWaterloo main campus. The occasion reportedly marked the first time an autonomous vehicle had run on a Canadian road. The company that designed the project, Varden Labs, was co-founded by Alex Rodrigues and Michael Skupien, both of whom are students of uWaterloo’s Mechatronics Engineering program. In late July, the pair won $25 K in funding at the Velocity Fund Finals after delivering a presentation on how autonomous shuttles will change the way people live and work in campus environments. uWaterloo

uCalgary president touts benefits of undergraduate research

Supporting hands-on research at the undergraduate level is crucial for the development of experience, skills, and creative thinking that students will need to be successful after graduation, writes University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon. Noting the emphasis employers now place on skills such as problem-solving, communication, and leadership, Cannon points to the benefits of teaching students research skills early. “We want students to go beyond being consumers of knowledge, and instead develop the skills that allow them to create new knowledge,” she writes. Programs like the federal Canada First Research Excellence Fund and uCalgary’s Program for Undergraduate Research Experience can help students gain valuable knowledge and research skills. Universities Canada

US Labor Relations Board blocks unionization of college athletes

The National Labor Relations Board on Monday blocked a bid by Northwestern University football players to form the nation's first college athletes' union. In a unanimous decision, the board argued that the prospect of having union and nonunion teams in college sports could create discrepancies in standards and create competitive imbalances on the field. The ruling annuls a 2014 decision by a regional NLRB director in Chicago who said that scholarship football players are employees under US law and thus entitled to organize. However, Monday's decision did not directly address the question of whether the players are university employees. Hamilton Spectator | CBC | Guardian

Ashland University lays off tenured faculty in bid for “bright” financial future

Last Friday, Ohio-based Ashland University laid off 23 instructors—many of whom were tenured—and eliminated another nine teaching positions in an effort to save costs, reports Inside Higher Ed. Guidelines from the American Association of University Professors implore universities not to lay off tenure-track faculty except in cases where the university declares that a monetary crisis is threatening the survival of the institution. Ashland has not made this declaration to date, and although the university has experienced financial difficulty in recent years, Inside Higher Ed reports that enrolment at the school is steady and that the institution recorded nearly a $3 M surplus in 2014. President Carlos Campo said of the layoffs, “it was a long, involved process, a difficult one for everyone involved, and now what we're trying to do as an institution is really focus on that bright future.” Inside Higher Ed

Gender gap might work against women in universities

England’s decision to triple tuition fees will affect women more than men as the population of university students continues to shift, writes The Guardian. Some commentators have celebrated the empowerment that comes with an increasing cohort of young female students, yet it is important to remember that the increase in financial and intellectual pressures placed upon students will disproportionately affect young women for this same reason. The editorial goes on to add that despite the increasing proportion of female university students, “we by no means live in a female-dominated society, regardless of recent university trends. Finance, government and the judiciary, where decisions that adversely affect multiple lives are made, are all still heavily white and male.” The Guardian

ASU grad school dean questions long-term value of university assessment

While the culture of assessment and compliance has grown steadily in the US, there is not enough evidence to suggest that it results in any clear long-term improvement for universities, writes Erik Gilbert, Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Arkansas State University. Gilbert compares some forms of academic assessment to unnecessary medical testing and asks whether addressing the “microcarcinomas” identified by such assessment leads to any true positive effects on the quality of graduates and institutions. He concludes that “we should no longer accept on faith or intuition that learning-outcomes assessment has positive and consequential effects on our institutions—or students.” Chronicle of Higher Education