Top Ten

January 4, 2016

2015 Canadian Higher Education Year in Review

Happy New Year, and welcome to Academica’s Canadian Higher Education Year in Review! Your Top Ten editorial team has combed through the 2,500-plus stories we covered this past year, striving to find the ten that best defined the year in Canadian higher ed. Whether it’s political correctness, executive salaries, employment prospects for today’s graduates, or Canada’s renewed commitment to Aboriginal education, our list reflects some of higher ed’s greatest challenges and successes in 2015.
Methodology—In selecting our 2015 list, we focused on which stories were most-read throughout 2015, which were significant to different types of institutions, which received the widest media coverage, and which did the best job of representing the country’s many regions. We have reproduced these stories in their original form to provide a snapshot of how they appeared when they first broke. In many cases, we have also added helpful postscripts to provide context for the ongoing debates and decisions that followed these stories through the rest of the year.
Without further adieu, here are the top stories of Academica’s 2015 Canadian Higher Education Year in Review.

Dal suspends 13 dentistry students involved in misogynistic Facebook group

January 6, 2015—Dalhousie University has partially suspended the 13 fourth-year dentistry students involved in the Facebook scandal that came to light last month, prohibiting them from participating in clinical activities. A statement released yesterday by Dal President Richard Florizone and Dean of Dentistry Thomas Boran said that the decision to suspend the students was made on December 22, but was not announced over the holidays “to ensure the appropriate supports were available for students.” The Faculty of Dentistry Academic Standards Class Committee will conduct a review of the situation and the individuals involved from a professional standards perspective; the committee has the authority to create remediation plans or to recommend academic dismissal. Dal also said that decisions will be made this week about rescheduling the postponed fourth-year exams and fourth-year classes. The restorative justice process that was triggered by informal student complaints will continue as planned. In addition, 4 Dal faculty members have filed a complaint, and several Dal alumni have said they would not be donating to the school this year as a result of how administration handled the scandal.

Postscript: Following these suspensions, Dal initiated a restorative justice process designed to comprehensively address the multiple harms inflicted by the Facebook group and its members. In early March 2015, the school lifted its suspension on all members of the dentistry group except one. In late June, Dal released a report based on an institutional investigation into the Facebook group. The report found that the incidents surrounding the group were enabled by a broader culture of misogyny at the dentistry school. Dal President Richard Florizone said that he accepted the findings of the report, and that he hoped to implement the majority of its recommendations within 24 months. Dal Statement | Toronto Star | CBC (suspensions) | Global News | Globe and Mail | CBC (alumni)

WesternU senate votes against non-confidence motion for president

April 20, 2015—A motion of non-confidence for Western University President Amit Chakma was defeated by the institution's senate on Friday. During the meeting, senators who opposed the motion emphasized the need for the university to move past the issue, citing Chakma's apology and planned "listening tour" as evidence that he was prepared to earn back the university's support and that he deserved a second chance. They further argued that a successful non-confidence motion could prolong the damage done to the university's reputation. Supporters of the motion, however, argued that the controversy had undermined Chakma's credibility as the leader of the institution, and questioned his priorities as President. In a subsequent vote, the senate also voted against a motion of non-confidence in board of governors Chair Chirag Shah. 

Postscript: In the wake of this vote, WesternU released the results of a review of its practices regarding presidents' compensation. The school's board of governors responded to these results by announcing that it would change its contract negotiation practices. The report found that the university's board had acted in good faith when it originally awarded Chakma double pay for working during a paid administrative leave, while adding that the move was an exception to common practice in Canada. The chair of WesternU's board of governors later announced that he would step down at the end of 2015. London Free Press

Continuing education can play major role in closing Canada's skills gap, says Ryerson dean

July 14, 2015—Marie Bountrogianni, Dean of Ryerson University’s G Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, writes in the Huffington Post that continuing studies must play a vital role in closing Canada’s skills gap. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Canada loses $24.3 B annually in economic activity because employers cannot find employees with the right skills. However, a recent survey by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling found that only 29% of Canadian employers offer career management programs, although 71% said they believed employers should provide such programs. Building on these statistics, Bountrogianni lays out six ways in which continuing studies can play a vital role in addressing Canada’s skills gap. Huffington Post

UBC president abruptly resigns, leaving many unanswered questions

August 11, 2015—UBC President Arvind Gupta abruptly resigned on Friday, with the university announcing that Martha Piper would serve as Interim President until a new leader is identified. Gupta was slightly more than one year into a five-year term. A statement to the board authored by Faculty Association President Mark MacLean said that a resignation this soon marked “a failure point in the governance of the university.” Kris Olds, writing for Inside Higher Ed, said that “this type of unexpected leadership transition is hugely significant,” adding that “UBC's communication about this issue, to-date, is inadequate.” Piper said that she is confident the institution can weather any uncertainty arising from the transition.

Postscript: In the wake of Gupta's resignation, UBC investigated allegations that the chair of its board of governors had attempted to intimidate a UBC professor who criticized his alleged role in Gupta's resignation. In October, UBC released the results of its investigation, which found that the university had not sufficiently protected the professor's academic freedom. In the wake of these findings, the Chair of UBC's Board of Governors resigned from his position. Globe and Mail (Questions) | Inside Higher Ed | Vancouver Sun | Globe and Mail (Resignation) | UBC

STU pulls welcome logo after discovering it is identical to Lion King logo

August 12, 2015—St Thomas University is in need of a new logo for its Welcome Week festivities after discovering that the one it had developed was identical to the logo used by Disney’s The Lion King for 15 years. Jeffrey Carlton, a spokesperson for the university, said that the likeness escaped everyone’s notice. Coastal Graphics, the design firm responsible for the logo, said that it was an “oversight” on their part. The logo has only been used digitally; no merchandise has been ordered. STU Students’ Union President Megan Thomson said a new logo is in the works, noting that “it will be another lion, but definitely different.” CBC

University is not the only ticket to high earnings, writes Polytechnics Canada CEO

September 30, 2015—It is time for news outlets to give more honest information about how PSE choices will affect a person’s future, writes Polytechnics Canada CEO Nobina Robinson. Among the greatest fallacies, she adds, is the argument that going to university will always offer a higher earning potential than any other educational pathway. Robinson points out that this argument is usually based on numbers from the baby boomer generation that do not give realistic projections for students graduating from university today. Robinson concludes that the pathway to strong earning potential increasingly runs through colleges, as she points out that in the past five years alone, the number of Canadians who attend college after obtaining an undergraduate degree has nearly doubled from 7% to 13%. Globe and Mail

SK PSE institutions commit to closing Aboriginal education gap

November 20, 2015—The leaders of all 24 postsecondary institutions in Saskatchewan have announced their commitment to work together to close the education gap for Aboriginal people. The province-wide commitment is reportedly the first of its kind in Canada and will see universities, colleges, and polytechnics working together and consulting with Aboriginal communities on how the province can best bring Aboriginal educational attainment up to the same level as non-Aboriginal. The agreement acknowledges the role that Canada’s history of residential schools has played in the current education gap and has pledged to undertake its work in consideration of the findings of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Postscript: Less than a month after this story, Manitoba introduced the First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework, a initiative designed to ensure that all students and teachers in the province learn about Indigenous history and culture and the legacy of residential schools. In mid-December, every PSE institution in the province signed the Indigenous Education Blueprint to ensure the implementation of recommendations from the TRC. uSask | CBC | Turtle Island News | Times Colonist

uOttawa yoga class cancelled over “cultural appropriation” concerns

November 24, 2015—A free yoga class offered at the Centre for Students with Disabilities, which is run by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, has been cancelled due to concerns that the class represents the cultural appropriation of traditional Indian practices by Western culture. In an interview with Radio-Canada, Student Federation President Roméo Ahimakin said that while there were no direct complaints about the class, it was suspended “as part of a review of all their programs to make them more interesting, accessible, inclusive and responsive to the needs of students.” He added that the class could possibly return in the future in a “more accessible” version. The class's instructor challenged the cancellation, saying, "we're not going through the finer points of scripture. We're talking about basic physical awareness and how to stretch so that you feel good."

Postscript: This story would go on to garner extensive media coverage and editorial commentary both in Canada and around the globe, with many commentators arguing that the banning of this yoga class was indicative of the "hypersensitivity" of today's PSE students. The story would become one of many stories in 2015 highlighting a growing debate between student activists who agitated for more equitable campus cultures and critics who claimed that political correctness was stifling freedom of speech in PSE. CBC | National Post | Washington Post

Most PhDs employed outside academia, yet barriers remain, says Conference Board

November 25, 2015—Observing that fewer than one in five Canadian PhDs are employed as full-time faculty, a new report from the Conference Board of Canada explores the variety of positions held by these graduates while summarizing the challenges they face in transitioning to a non-academic career. The transition can be difficult, said study author Jessica Edge, because “a lot of employers now don’t know what the skills of a PhD graduate are, and so they don’t know what to do with them.” According to the study, just 2% of positions advertised over a three-month period in the fall of 2014 required a PhD. Furthermore, while there is an earnings premium of roughly $13 K for a doctorate over a master’s, the additional time spent in school means that it can take years for them to catch up financially.

Postscript: In a response to this story, Richard Wiggers of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario challenged the quality of the data used to support the Conference Board study's conclusions. He argued that better data might reveal that the employment prospects facing today's PhD graduates are much better than the previous study suggests. Globe and Mail | CBC | Full Report

“Average” college student is no longer what many Canadians imagine

December 7, 2015—Canadian college students no longer look like what many Canadians think they do, writes Maclean’s. While many may believe that the average college student passes into college directly out of high school, these students no longer form a plurality at these institutions. The article cites a 2015 study by Colleges Ontario showing that while 33% of college students came directly from high school in 2014-15, 44% of incoming students already possessed previous PSE experience. This increasing trend has made many colleges into what some call “finishing schools,” where students with prior PSE will enrol to develop more job-specific skills than previous programming might have given them. “They come in not just with one degree, they come in with two or three, just looking for that extra piece that will make them employable,” said Nancy Johansen, Program Coordinator of the Marketing Research and Business Intelligence Program at Algonquin College. Maclean’s