Top Ten

January 19, 2016

UBC receives nearly $20 M to upgrade life sciences buildings

UBC has announced that it will receive nearly $20 M from British Columbia to upgrade the teaching and lab space currently being used by students of its life sciences program. The funding will help UBC complete an $80 M renovation of its Biological Sciences Complex, a facility that provides 2,000 students and professors with classroom and laboratory space. “Whatever their focus, from micro-organisms to human beings, the life sciences are an area of research producing life-changing discoveries and new technologies that make our lives better,” said UBC Interim President Martha Piper. “The renewed teaching laboratories at the Biological Sciences Complex will ensure that UBC can continue to provide the best facilities for our students and maintain its reputation as a leader in the life sciences.” UBC

UVic announces “world first” chair in transgender studies

The University of Victoria has announced the establishment of a Chair in Transgender Studies, reportedly the first of its kind in the world. The chair will be established with a $1 M (USD) donation from the Tawani Foundation, an American philanthropic organization founded and led by former Army Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer N Pritzker. “The Chair in Transgender Studies sets UVic apart as a place that offers the highest quality research and is also home to exceptional students, faculty, and staff who inspire bold action for positive impact on the lives of others,” said UVic President Jamie Cassels. The position will be held by Aaron Devor, who is currently a professor in UVic’s sociology department. Times Colonist | CBC | Globe and Mail (CP) |UVic

Mental health support creates growing list of options for Canadian PSE students

A unprecedented demand for mental health support in PSE has inspired many Canadian schools to find new ways to help students, writes the Toronto Star. In recent years, it has become commonplace for institutions to embrace campus-wide mental health strategies, which aim to address everything from the risks of suicide to the anxiety that students feel at exam time. Just as the spectrum of mental health challenges is diverse, so are the methods that schools have used to address them. These methods vary from embedded counsellors to sessions where students can pet a live python for comfort. As the article notes, “the Ivory Tower is becoming a kinder, gentler, more emotionally nurturing institution because colleges and universities now see student mental health as part of their job. These long-standing citadels of the cerebral say they now recognize the mind can’t learn if the heart is troubled—and they have picked up the challenge.” Toronto Star

Female economics professors get less credit than male co-authors, study says

A new paper by Harvard Kennedy School PhD candidate Heather Sarsons found that women who had co-authored were less likely to receive tenure than men, especially when they co-authored with men. Sarsons used data from economists’ CVs, controlling for factors such as experience and productivity, to examine how men and women’s careers were affected by coauthoring. Sarsons found that mens’ tenure rates were not affected by whether they authored or coauthored, while women “suffer a significant penalty when they coauthor,” a result that is more pronounced when they coauthor with only other men. Economics Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University Tammy Schirle explains that it is a matter of a subtle bias rather than a blatant discrimination. “We’re sort of unconsciously not giving credit where credit is due,” she said. UBC | Toronto Star | Report

uAlberta doctoral student ranks governance at prairie universities

“Universities are the guardians of intellectual freedom and creators of knowledge,” writes University of Alberta PhD student Brayden Whitlock for the Winnipeg Free Press. Therefore, it is important to supervise their control and governance. Whitlock looked at universities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, examining their governing legislation to assign them grades. In his view, the University of Saskatchewan came out on top, receiving an A grade, for its separation of powers between a board, senate, and council. The University of Winnipeg, by contrast, came under criticism from Whitlock for the strong role played by members of the United Church of Canada on its governing body. Winnipeg Free Press

Universities must take an active role in sexual assault policy, writes UBC prof

Campus sexual assault cannot just be left to the police, writes Jonathan Ichikawa, a UBC philosophy professor and one of the signatories on last week’s open letter apologizing for the school’s response to sexual assault. The belief that the school should leave sexual assault to the RCMP is “rooted in misconceptions about the responsibilities of universities,” he argues. While the police have an important role to play, universities can do a great deal to help survivors of assault, regardless of whether they choose to approach police. He concludes that “universities have an obligation to take steps to protect their community members, based on what they know, even if it hasn’t been proven in court." Vancouver Sun

YorkU mental health ruling a “step back,” writes Star columnist

“Enlightened treatment of the mentally ill can only come through candour and plain speaking,” writes Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick. In her view, this means that the recent ruling requiring York University to provide disability accommodation without knowing the diagnosis is a “slide backwards into silence and shame.” Mallick argues that openness is a prerequisite to lessen the stigmas around mental illness, and that the university should know the diagnosis so that it can “match the help with the reason it is needed.” Toronto Star

ON ministries create growing “chasm” between high school, PSE

High schools and postsecondary schools are moving in opposite directions when it comes to curriculum and academic expectations, writes a contributor to the Hamilton Spectator, and this trend is creating a growing “chasm” that is swallowing up many of Ontario’s students. While the Ministry of Education is developing new accommodations and “safety nets” to minimize the impact of handing in late work or plagiarism, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities seems to be promoting zero-tolerance policies toward these types of behaviour. As the two ministries move in opposite directions, the author concludes, students are being left without proper preparation for the rigours of PSE and the job market that awaits beyond it. Hamilton Spectator

PSE institutions need to better measure value of internationalization

While many PSE institutions consider internationalization inherently good, few do an adequate job of measuring just how much value they provide to their international students, writes a contributor for Times Higher Education. Rather than asking only about inputs (e.g. the number of exchange agreements) or outputs (e.g. the number of outgoing students), institutions need to ask questions like “what was achieved by, say, increased student mobility? How was teaching, research or social engagement improved because of our internationalisation strategy?” Until schools are prepared to answer these questions in meaningful ways, the author concludes, internationalization efforts will remain shallow and ineffective. Times Higher Education

The case for PSE benchmarking over ranking

International PSE rankings have achieved a level of authority and currency that isn’t going away anytime soon, writes Francisco Marmolejo. But it is important to consider the ways in which rankings fail to properly measure the value of certain types of institutions. Marmolejo argues that rankings tend to “impose a one-sided vision of an institution—mostly a traditional research-oriented and highly selective university—which is not necessarily the most responsive to the varied needs of the communities where these institutions are located.” The process of benchmarking, on the other hand, can allow institutions with a focus on teaching and public service to compare their performance to other similar-sized institutions with similar priorities. Marmolejo concludes that the benchmarking approach “makes it possible for institutions to define their own niche, and reduces the pressure on them to blindly follow a unilateral definition of a 'good institution.’” University World News