Archive for Erin Millar
Students defy the laws of physics—just to prove their school is better than yours
The quintessential university prank comprises two elements: first, the feat should be technically ambitious. In the words of the legendary pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), exemplary stunts require “making possible the improbable.” Since MIT students coaxed a live cow onto the roof of a dorm in 1928, engineering students across the continent have made cars, telephone booths and even full-sized sailboats appear in the most unlikely places.
Second, a good dose of competitiveness—sometimes bordering on vindictiveness—is the hallmark of a quality hoax. A famous example: at the annual Yale-Harvard football game in 2004, Yale students, disguised as the fictional “Harvard pep squad,” distributed white-and-red placards to 1,800 unsuspecting Harvard fans. The fans were told that when they lifted the placards, they would read, “Go Harvard.” They actually spelled, “We suck.”
While the foundation of the pranking tradition can be fairly claimed by American students, Canadian students have begun to challenge their pre-eminence as tricksters.
When the morning light began to filter through thick fog in San Francisco on Feb. 5, 2001, viewers at Vista Point on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge spotted an unexpected sight: hanging from the bridge, some 10 stories above the water, was a Volkswagen Beetle. The stunt, attributed to anonymous engineering students from the University of British Columbia, caused traffic jams and stopped boats from passing beneath the bridge for hours.
The feat commemorated the 20th anniversary of the first VW Bug prank, when UBC engineers hung a car off Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge to celebrate the skills of engineers and tradespeople who build bridges. The tradition recently spread to UBC’s satellite campus in Kelowna, B.C. In February 2010, a giant red fibreglass “E” (for engineering) was hung from a bridge that spans Okanagan Lake.
The bridge escapades are, of course, a variation of the earliest type of prank pioneered at MIT—the elaborate installation. In 2009, a secretive club called the Brute Force Committee, made up of engineers at the University of Toronto, honoured their predecessors by rebuilding a monument—a huge sword in the stone some 12 feet tall—that once stood on campus as a symbol of the faculty of engineering. The nocturnal unveiling of the sword, led by a student wearing a black mask and cape embroidered with the committee’s crest, involved lighting the sword on fire.
For all their efforts devoted to making the improbable magically appear, university pranksters are also preoccupied with making objects mysteriously disappear. In 1978, after much planning, a trio of enterprising engineers from UBC broke into the British Columbia legislature in Victoria, entered the assembly chamber, and stole the Speaker’s chair.
Engineering tricksters have not only vented their larcenous urges on inanimate objects. UBC engineers were at various times rumoured to have kidnapped former prime minister Kim Campbell and former Maclean’s columnist Allan Fotheringham.
In 1967, a group of female dorm-mates at Dalhousie University actually nabbed folksinger Gordon Lightfoot, releasing him only after receiving a ransom of canned food for charity.
Hostilities between faculties and universities often enter the equation when pranking. One snowy night in March 2006, members of U of T’s Brute Force Committee stealthily constructed a five-metre-long Trojan Horse in the central square of the McMaster University campus. McMaster’s engineers re-gifted the horse to the University of Guelph, and Guelph returned the favour with a huge fabric griffin, their mascot. McMaster intended to return what they referred to as a “duck” after “toasting” it, but the structure proved flammable.
In recent years, some of the most creative practical jokes haven’t been performed by engineers, but consisted instead of a large group of seemingly unconnected people suddenly congregating to perform an unexpected act: the so-called “flash mob.”
That includes one of 2010’s biggest pranks, which was organized by University of Victoria psychology student Shawn Slavin. Nearly 1,000 people showed up on campus at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday in September to participate in a giant “lip dub” (a music video of people lip-synching) of Michael Bublé’s Haven’t Met You Yet. UVic gets points for competitiveness, too, as the video was essentially a response to another lip dub recorded by a Spanish university also called “UVic”. Rivalries and displays of engineering genius aside, Slavin’s motivation for coordinating the event speaks to what is perhaps the one commonality underlying all of these pranks: “We wanted to get a whole bunch of people to do something—just for the hell of it.”
UAlberta buys president’s house for $930,000
University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera has had a very good year. Not only did she bag a whopping $936,000 in compensation and benefits during the 2009-10 fiscal year, but she also made a lucrative real estate deal − by selling her house to the university.
Yes, that’s right. The University of Alberta purchased Samarasekera’s home on July 1, 2009 for $930,000, according to the Edmonton Journal. The house was bought to be the official residence of the president and Samarasekera continues to live in it, although she now pays rent to the university.
A handful of other universities including the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto also own houses in which the president lives. The residences double as venues for meetings and social activities related to university business. The added bonus of housing is a perk that also comes in handy when recruiting new presidents, Brian Heidecker, chairman of the board of governors, told the Journal. “The fact that you have a very good quality home available makes recruiting infinitely easier, and it makes the transition for the president much easier if they happen to be an outsider.”
What is odd about U of A’s decision to buy the home is not only that they purchased it from the current president, but that the home is off campus. Customarily, president residences are on-campus estates that are maintained by the university and conveniently located for university functions. U of A hasn’t provided housing for presidents for decades, and one of the last presidents to make use of an official residence (Walter Johns, who was president from 1959 to 1969) didn’t like being roused from his sleep by drunk students walking through campus in the middle of the night. Since then, presidents have lived off campus.
Before the sale, Samarasekera’s home was used for some university functions, and the university paid some operating costs to her. According to Heidecker, the house worked so well for these events that the board decided it should be owned by the university. “It was to our mutual benefit that we owned the house instead of Indira.” While I’m sure that the house serves its purpose as a venue to entertain just fine, it’s seems only prudent to look for other houses that would be more appropriate, and its unclear if the board shopped around before the purchase.
The Journal also makes the valid point that the timing of the deal could be seen as unfortunate by critics. When the sale was being arranged, U of A knew of looming funding cuts that would lead to layoffs, increased fees for students and unpaid furloughs for staff.
House sale news aside, the other interesting nugget of information in the Journal report is Samarasekera’s compensation. With a base salary of $479,000, her non-cash benefits pushed her total compensation to $936,000, making her one of the highest paid university officials in Canada by a wide margin. The top paid academic in Ontario in 2009, according to data released by the Ontario government, was Amit Chakma, vice-president academic and provost at the University of Waterloo, who bagged a whopping $737,640 in compensation plus $3,505 in benefits. The second highest paid university official was William Moriarty, president and CEO of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation, who was paid $605,728 in 2009.
Photo: University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera
Will David Johnston bring attention to post-secondary education from his new post at Rideau Hall?
David Johnston, president of the University of Waterloo and Governor General-designate, has education on his mind. In an interview with the Waterloo Record published this weekend, he declined to speak about his upcoming move to Ottawa and instead focused on the future of education in Canada.
The profile, written by Luisa D’Amato, describes Johnston as “a man transformed by education and its opportunities,” having eventually found his way to Queen’s University, Cambridge University and Harvard University after having grown up in a family of “modest means.” As a former principal of McGill University and after having served at Waterloo for 11 years, he’s got some ideas about how to improve education in Canada — the primary and secondary education system as well as higher education.
Johnston is in support of government goals to increase the percentage of people who pursue university and college education. But he sees weakness in master’s- and doctoral-level programs, which leads to talented students leaving the country for academic opportunity. He blames Canada’s post-graduate shortcomings for a shortage of skilled, highly-educated workers and poor research capacity.
When it comes to proposing solutions, however, Johnston is less detailed. He doesn’t believe a master strategy will do the trick, rather he points to small institutional changes, such as Waterloo’s recent invitation to a group of Indian post-graduate students to visit the university during the summer to participate in research.
So while his selection as GG suggests that Prime Minister Harper looked to academia for the right person to represent the monarchy, Johnston’s comments in the Record suggest that, as others have already noted, the man knows his place. While his insight into the education system may attract some attention to the file, Johnston likely won’t be the guy to lobby for needed changes. And rightly so. As this publication noted when Governor General Michaelle Jean pushed the government to open a university in the north: the GG should reign, not govern.
Pundit says Ignatieff may take up top post at Munk School of Global Affairs; Ignatieff denies report
Toronto Star columnist James Travers reported Thursday that Michael Ignatieff may be considering an exit plan from politics back to academia if the next election doesn’t go his way. His sources say that Ignatieff is “being touted as an eventual successor to Janice Gross Stein,” head of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
Later Thursday, on a summer tour stop in Peterborough, Ignatieff called the report “fiction.” He says that the only job he’s after is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s.
Although Ignatieff may not have had any formal discussions about landing at the University of Toronto post-politics, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to have had at least fleeting thoughts about life after the next election, considering the Liberals’ sagging popularity. When he returned to Canada in 2005 he was set to take a fellowship at the prestigious Munk School, but instead ran for office when an election was called. After his 2006 loss to Stephane Dion for party leadership, rumours that he’d return to academia again surfaced.
Meanwhile at the Munk School, the well-respected foreign affairs analyst Stein is set to step down, and a wide-reaching search for her successor will kick off in the fall. The Star’s sources says that the university would “welcome Ignatieff’s return if he chooses to fill the post offered in 2005” and that talks were informal through his connections to the school. The search for Stein’s replacement could take a year or more.
Ignatieff doesn’t deny having been in contact with Stein and the school’s benefactor Peter Munk, but he says their discussions had nothing to do with potential job prospects.
As Travers opines, Ignatieff is unlikely to elaborate on any post-politics plans. “Parties as well as voters expect total commitment from leaders,” he writes. “Wavering always erodes support and is particularly corrosive for Ignatieff, who Conservatives relentlessly position as a dilettante in politics for himself.”
Nevertheless, Ignatieff categorically dismissed Travers’ column, saying there’s no truth whatsoever to the speculation: “[Star columnist] Jim Travers is a good journalist, but he’s starting to write fiction here … I really don’t know where he got it from.”
For first-year students, the transition from high school to university can be difficult
If you’re a third-year student you probably won’t start thinking about the new academic year until mid-August − or maybe not even until the evening of September 6. Many first-year students, however, are getting nervous already, wondering what university is going to be like.
After having spoken to dozens of students and professors the verdict is in: it’s going to be really different than high school. But the news isn’t all bad. While there will be some difficult transitions, many parts of university life are much better than at high school. Students say there is less social pressure (it’s no longer cool to bully people), they like having freedom from parents and teachers who take attendance and university campuses offer limitless opportunities for having a great time. But the one thing that everyone agrees on: it is up to you to make your university experience a good one, and much more so than it was in high school.
This new-found responsibility to take care of oneself starts in the classroom. Rey Buenaventura, an academic advisor at Simon Fraser University, says, “No one is checking that they’ve done their homework. Nobody is checking on their attendance that closely. Sometimes students feel like there is no one who really cares about what they do, whether they even show up. That can be a problem.” By seeking out professors and TAs during office hours, setting up study groups with classmates and participating in seminars and class discussions, students can create a more meaningful connection with a class that may have 300 or 400 people in it − but it’s up to the student. “In a class of 500 students, the professor isn’t going to come to you; you have to go to the professor,” he says. “You can create your own experience.”
Some students, particularly those who went to a relatively small high school, feel like they get lost in the crowds of people. No longer do their professors know their name and they may spend the whole day on campus without running into anyone they know. But other students found this aspect of university life a relief. “It was easier to find people that shared similar goals, values and interests,” said Michael, a student at McMaster University. Kady, a McGill University student, says, “A big difference for me was the new establishment of myself. Coming into school without any connections to specific people, teams or clubs gave me the opportunity to reconstruct my McGill life exactly how I wanted it to be.”
For the experienced university students out there: what were the biggest differences you noticed between high school and university? How did you cope with the transition?
The University of Central Florida videotapes test-takers to combat cheating
Students of the University of Central Florida better be clever if they hope to fool the system and cheat on exams. The school — which the New York Times describes as “the frontier in the battle to defeat student cheating” — features a testing centre where students are videotaped while writing exams. If something suspicious is spotted, the camera zooms in on the student and a computer system records what part of the exam she is currently working on. (The exams are all taken on computers.)
If monitoring isn’t enough to creep out the civil libertarian in you, associate dean Taylor Ellis’ ominous pledge to track cheaters down may raise hairs on your arms: “I will never stop it completely, but I’ll find out about it,” he promises would-be fraudsters.
I believe him. Ellis has banned chewing gum during exams as it could cover up the sound of text messaging or other covert operations. All scrap paper is date-stamped and collected at the end of the exam. If you must wear a cap, it must be on backwards so you can’t hide notes under the brim. And the computers are recessed into desks to prevent students from secretly photographing the screens (although, admittedly, I have no idea how that would help).
In recent surveys, some 61 per cent of 14,000 American students asked admitted to cheating on tests or assignments, according to the New York Times. Yet Ellis claims there have only been 14 suspected cheaters of 64,000 exams taken at last semester at Central Florida, which says to me that he’s either incredibly successful or incredibly unsuccessful.
Like any particularly nasty virus, students adapt fast, and a plethora of websites to help students cheat and share homework are cropping up as fast as Turnitin.com can update its algorithms. On Course Hero, students can share notes, past exams and homework assignments. On Cramster science and engineering students can find solutions for homework assignments from 77 textbooks.
At a cost of $20-million, the UPass is no longer about post-secondary affordability
When British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell announced the creation of a universal $30/month transit pass for all post-secondary students in the province yesterday, the Canadian Federation of Students applauded the move.
“The U-Pass is an investment in the next generation, in the economy and the environment,” Nimmi Takkar, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–BC was quoted as saying in a press release. “This program is going to make a major difference in students’ lives and go a long way towards building a transit culture in British Columbia.”
Just as fast as the CFS media machine cranked out its press release, opponents to the move started decrying the U-Pass announcement as a draconian, paternalistic move typical of our “nanny state.” One reader who responded to On Campus’s news story argued that “students are forced to pay whether they ride the bus or not” despite Translink’s “crappy” service, and who the hell are you anyways to tell me I shouldn’t drive my car?!
Such critics are right about one thing: the policy is not so much allowing students to “access” affordable transportation as it is compelling them to buy in. Nevertheless, none of the schools will sign on until the U-Pass is approved through a student referendum. Although I’m sure it’s annoying for car-loving, suburb-dwelling students out there to be outnumbered by their more green-conscience colleagues, that’s how our democratic society works–so live with it.
The U-Pass isn’t a new idea, but this announcement marks an interesting deviation from the original intent of the program that is worth noting. Originally, the program was intended to be revenue-neutral; basically, Translink would add up its cost of providing transit to a campus then split that cost among the students of that school, regardless of whether they took the bus or not. Translink didn’t make any money off the deal, but they didn’t lose any either. In essence, non-transit-using students subsidized the cost of a transit pass for everyone else. This is why negotiations for U-Passes at other colleges and universities in the Lower Mainland broke down; while the economics of the program made sense at big schools like UBC and SFU, the cost per student was significantly higher elsewhere, and student unions there wouldn’t accept the higher cost.
And so yesterday’s announcement represents a major shift in the philosophy of the project. The $30/month U-Pass is set to cost the provincial government some $20 million. No longer is this a revenue-neutral feel-good program, but a significantly expensive one. And, if this is truly about lowering expenses for students, it’s worth considering whether that $20 million would be better spent on, say, provincial needs-based grants.
But that argument is moot. Because the reality is that the U-Pass program is no longer about affordability, if it ever was, but about promoting a shift towards the “transit culture” Takkar refers to in the CFS release. Using economic means to push people into making more environmentally-friendly choices is par for the course here in B.C., where the country’s first carbon tax was implemented and where car-drivers have long subsidized transit through Translink’s gas tax.
My point is that this program should be recognized for what it is, rather than congratulating ourselves for supporting broke students. And that’s where The Province newspaper hits the nail on the head: “But why should students be singled out? Why is a 19-year-old university student any more worthy of government support than another 19-year-old starting out in life in a job? If the aim is to promote post-secondary education, a more direct way is to further subsidize tuition.”
If we accept the notion that the U-Pass isn’t the best way to subsidize post-secondary education, then the question becomes: is it fair to force students to purchase transit passes that they may not use in the name of promoting transit? Is it appropriate for universities to administer a fee that is fundamentally driven by the desire to shift society?
I don’t have the answer to those questions. But, for the record, I rode my bike to the office today in the rain.
Although female students have outnumbered their male counterparts for decades, male professors still rule the roost in academia
When the University of Calgary announced last week that engineering dean Elizabeth Cannon would be its next president, the appointment was widely applauded. Cannon — who is by all accounts an excellent scholar and administrator — will be UCalgary’s very first female president in its 43-year history. Both major universities in Alberta are now headed by women.
“This sends the message that anything is possible,” Anne Katzenberg, an archeology professor and former women’s issues advisor, told the Calgary Herald.
Considering that the number of female university students overtook the number of male students way back in 1988, why is the appointment of a female president being praised as a milestone in 2010? Women accounted for nearly 60 per cent of post-secondary students in 2009 and the gender gap is continuing to grow. However, when it comes to who is standing in front of the classroom, men still overwhelmingly dominate.
In the past few decades, universities have taken considerable steps towards hiring and pay parity. Nevertheless, male professors with tenure still vastly outnumber female professors, they are paid more than their female counterparts and they are more likely to be promoted to senior positions. It seems that no matter how many more women than men graduate from our universities, men continue to reign in the upper echelons of the ivory tower.
Among the lower ranks of professors there are nearly as many female professors as male professors. For example, in 2006-07 there were slightly more female lecturers than male, according to Statistics Canada. But look at higher ranks—full, associate and assistant professor—and the gender gap widens. Only 20 per cent of full professors were women in 2006-07, and women made up only 33 per cent of all professors.
Last week’s release of Ontario’s Public Salary Disclosure—popularly known as the “Sunshine List”—further illustrated how the number of women declines in the upper ranks of universities. While salaries are nearing parity in the lower ranks, men vastly outnumber women in high paying upper administration jobs. For example, 413 men working for universities in Ontario make in excess of $200,000 (including benefits) while only 115 women are members of the $200,000-plus club.
High profile examples of top paid female university administrators exist; University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera was the highest paid university president in the country in 2008 with compensation over $620,000. Uof C’s Cannon will also take her place among the best paid university administrators in Canada; her contract includes a base salary of $430,000, an “annual incentive payment” valued up to 20 per cent of her base salary, a car allowance of $16,000 and other benefits.
Ontario’s top female earner in 2009 was Tina Dacin, director of corporate social responsibility at Queen’s School of Business, who was paid over $475,000 including benefits. Roseann Runte, Carleton’s president, was the highest female president with compensation over $400,000. She ranked fourth after Carole Stephenson, dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western, who earned $405,000. Interestingly, the fifth top paid woman doesn’t even work at an Ontario university any more; Lorna Marsden, former president of York University who stepped down in 2007, netted $396,567.00.
Despite these examples, women account for only about 30 per cent of administrative positions, according to a 2005 survey conducted by Karen Grant for the Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada. Also, on average women continue to make less than men at every level of employment at universities. In 2006-07, the median salary for female university professors was $113,450 while men earned an average of $119,725, according to Statistics Canada. Women with senior administrative duties earned an average of $123,400 while their male counterparts earned $128,300.
Ontario’s salary leaders aren’t current university presidents, but senior administrators who stepped down
Salary figures released Wednesday under Ontario’s “sunshine law” showed that the province’s most well compensated university officer was not a president, the traditional top university job. Surprisingly, vice presidents took the first and third prize for highest paid university employee in the province—or, rather, former vice presidents.
The highest paid academic in Ontario in 2009 was Amit Chakma, vice-president academic and provost at the University of Waterloo, who bagged a whopping $737,640 in compensation plus $3,505 in benefits. But his annual take didn’t end there. He left Waterloo mid-year to accept the position of president of the University of Western Ontario starting on July 1, 2009. Western added $220,000 in salary and $9,294 in benefits to his annual pay, for a total nearing the $1 million mark.
The second highest paid university official was William Moriarty, president and CEO of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation, who was paid $605,728 in 2009. In the past two years senior financial managers have topped the salary list.
Right on Moriarty’s tail is yet another vice president who stepped down. Feridun Hamdullahpur, former vice president research and international at Carleton University, earned $503,247 plus $12,000 in benefits before leaving in July to assume top earner Chakma’s former position at Waterloo.
2009’s top earners are the latest examples of a trend that has been receiving growing attention in recent years: senior administrators receiving ultra sweet severance packages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although details aren’t available on Chakma’s severance package, he made a more modest $408,456 plus $5,955 in benefits in 2008 compared to a total Waterloo compensation of over $740,000 in 2009. Hamdullahpur made $230,434 at Carleton in 2008.
McMaster University attracted criticism in 2008 when it released president Peter George’s contract to the Hamilton Spectator after nearly two years of fighting against public disclosure. The contract detailed the generous package George will receive starting when his contract ends in July of this year. In addition to his pension, he will be paid nearly $1.4 million after he retires.
George’s contract was particularly controversial because he will be paid $99,999 per year for 14 years. Because Ontario universities did not fall under freedom of information legislation when the contract was signed in 2005, McMaster would have avoided having to disclose his compensation because it was one dollar short of $100,000. All public sector compensation in Ontario over $100,000 must be disclosed.
Paul Davenport, former president of Western who retired in 2009, is also set to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of a retirement package. Davenport—who became president of UWO in 1996—will collect a regular university pension, as well as what the contract describes as a “Supplemental Pension Arrangement” (worth 5 per cent of his salary since 1996) and a “Special Executive Pension” (worth $123,030 per year if he begins drawing from it after his 65th birthday).
Lorna Marsden, former president of York University, is also one of the top paid administrators in Ontario, even though she stepped down in 2007. Despite the fact that she retired in 2007, she is listed for the second year in a row as “president emerita” and earned $394,980 in 2009.
Top administrator salaries point to universities’ pursuit of global recognition, and it’s hurting education quality
Take a guess: who earned the largest paycheque last year at Carleton University? If you guessed President Roseann Runte, with her $358,000 annual salary and $43,000 in taxable benefits, you’re wrong. Some high level financial manager, you say? Nope; vice-president of finance and administration Duncan Watt made a measly $256,000 annually plus $4,000 in benefits.
The highest paid employee at Carleton in 2009 was Feridun Hamdullahpur, vice-president research and international, according to Ontario public sector salary disclosure figures released Wednesday. Having earned $503,000 plus $12,000 in benefits, Hamdullahpur ranked third highest paid university employee in Ontario.
But to say Hamdullahpur enjoyed the highest salary is somewhat misleading. He stepped down from his post at Carleton in July 2009 to become vice-president academic and provost of Waterloo University, meaning that much of his 2009 compensation was likely a severance package, possibly including pension and other supplemental benefits. (He earned $230,000 in 2008.) Nevertheless, his comfortable salary and generous severance package demonstrate just how much Carleton valued Hamdullahpur’s work.
Hamdullahpur’s compensation also illustrates a trend that is impacting universities from coast to coast. Universities, particularly large research-focused schools, are putting more and more resources into pursuing global status.
In Hamdullahpur’s case, his work overseeing international activities at Carleton was one of Waterloo’s reasons for hiring him. A Waterloo press release announcing his appointment states, “Hamdullahpur will play a key role in helping the university achieve the ambitious objectives outlined in its strategic plan, Pursuing Global Excellence,” and goes on to describe those objectives as including the expansion of Waterloo’s global reach. He will surely continue to be handsomely rewarded for his efforts at Waterloo; his predecessor ranked as Ontario’s number one earner having pocketed a whopping $737,000 in 2009 (which also likely included a severance package).
These staggering numbers are indicative of a slow shift of vision that has been occurring for years on Canadian campuses, according to Bill Smith, an independent researcher who was formerly the general manager at the University of Alberta Students’ Union for 17 years. “The focus has switched from [on] campus to off campus,” he says.
Smith’s research—a 20-year analysis of university spending based on numbers submitted by universities to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers—shows that the average university spent almost $9 million on external affairs in 2007-08. The Top 5 schools, which are most eager for global recognition, spent $15 million on average.
Smith wrote about his research in Maclean’s in January. Click here to read: “Where all that money is going.”
To Smith, the salaries of university top brass aren’t the most troubling aspect since they only account for a small portion of overall spending. What is of concern, he says, is ballooning central administration costs. “It’s all the infrastructure under these people,” he says. “These are bright people with big dreams and the only way they can make them happen is by building a big support infrastructure and then you start seeing things like international vice presidents, vice presidents of external affairs. Before too long, you’ve really jacked up central administration costs.”
Attracting high quality people to pursue goals like boosting a university’s global status is expensive, and has contributed to escalating central administration costs. In 1987-88, the top 25 universities in Canada spent 7.8 per cent of their general operating expenditures on administration costs, which rose to 11.7 per cent in 2007-08. At the top five schools, administration spending grew from 7 per cent of all expenditures to 12 per cent.
While “pursuing global excellence,” in Waterloo’s words, seems to be a noble objective, there is no indication that it benefits students. Take, for example, the University of Alberta. President Indira Samarasekera has pledged the university will be recognized as one of the top 20 universities in the world by 2020. “Was there ever any public discussion about whether that is a legitimate goal? Is that goal important to the public that is funding these universities?” Smith questions. “I don’t know if anybody had any clear idea of what the price tag was going to be.”
As an aside, Samarasekera is among the highest paid university presidents in the country. Administration costs at the University of Alberta have doubled since 2000-01 and have quadrupled since 1994-95.
With university budgets as stretched as they are, money spent on administration is money not spent in the classroom. In 1987-88 the top 25 universities spent 65 per cent of general operating funds on instruction and non-sponsored research; now only 58 per cent is spent on teaching, meaning some $30 million has been deflected from the classroom.
This is why Smith argues that some universities appear to have become preoccupied with status rather than excellence. The dangers of ballooning administrative costs go further than the erosion of education quality and threaten universities’ overall financial sustainability, he says. “When enrolment falls, and it will at some point, this massive residue of central fixed cost is going to act as a millstone and drag universities into a much deeper crisis than they’re in now.”
Two universities vote to leave CFS; Ontario Superior Court rules that Guelph students can vote on CFS membership
Students of Concordia University voted Friday to end their membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Canada’s largest student lobby group. However, disputes over referendum scheduling and unpaid membership dues may mean the CFS won’t accept the outcome of the referendum.
According to the McGill Daily, 2312 members of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) voted to cease membership in the CFS, while 855 students voted against defederation. The CFS stands to lose approximately $300,000 in annual membership fees if it recognizes the vote.
Whether the referendum is binding is not yet clear. Although the CSU filed a petition requesting a membership referendum in the fall, as per CFS bylaws, continued disputes over ratifying signatures and outstanding membership dues stalled referendum planning. After the CFS refused to approve the referendum dates, president Amine Dabchy pushed the vote forward despite the CFS’s position. “We’ll see what happens and we will make use of all of our legal options and rights,” he told Maclean’s at the beginning of March.
The CFS and CSU will likely face off in court over the referendum results.
For more see “The case of the missing million dollars“
Meanwhile, the Ontario Superior Court ruled last week that students at Guelph University may vote on continued membership in the CFS, putting an end—for now—to a legal conflict between the CFS and the Central Student Association at Guelph (CSA).
The legal dispute arose when both the national and provincial arms of the CFS refused to schedule a referendum. The CSA claims a referendum petition was delivered to the provincial chapter of the CFS on September 29. CFS-Ontario denied receiving the petition.
The national body of the CFS refused to schedule a referendum at Guelph because of a dispute over verifying signatures.
CFS treasurer Dave Molenhuis told Maclean’s earlier this month that the national executive faced a lack of support from Guelph’s student association in verifying student signatures on the submitted petitions. When the CFS contacted the Guelph student executive concerning the validation of the signatures, the CSA was unwilling to cooperate, Molenhuis said.
“There’s some obstructionism going on there,” he said. “I requested assistance of the students’ union in validating the signatures and reviewing them and they . . . refused to engage in any dialogue.”
However, the CSA told Maclean’s that they produced a letter from the university registrar verifying signatures from 10 per cent of Guelph students.
Not only did the Ontario Superior Court grant the CSA the right to go ahead with the referendum, but also to set its own rules for the vote.
Last fall, referendum petitions circulated on 12 campuses across Canada. Disputes between the CFS and students’ unions over scheduling and organization of referenda have stalled the majority of the campaigns to cease membership in the national organization. Originally only two universities were approved by the CFS to hold votes. As many as nine student unions may go forward with their referenda in the next year with or without a blessing from the CFS, meaning many of the results will likely end up in court.
The first of the referenda occurred last week when graduate students at the University of Calgary voted overwhelmingly to end their membership in the CFS.
-with files from Jennifer Pagliaro
With no Canadian accreditation body, universities look south of the border for stamp of approval
Simon Fraser University has applied for accreditation from the U.S. quality assurance board Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Being the first large research university in Canada to look south of the border for accreditation, the university’s move highlights the fact that Canada lacks any national mechanism for assuring quality of post-secondary institutions.
Simon Fraser University (SFU) academic planning and budgeting director Glynn Nicholls, who is also accreditation project manager, explained that SFU’s need for accreditation is related to its joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The university became the first non-U.S. school to be a member of the 100-year-old sports organization when it was accepted as a member in July 2009. SFU’s varsity teams will compete in the Great Northern Athletic Conference, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho.
Yet, member schools of the NCAA must be accredited and Canada offers no national quality assurance process that is comparable to that of the States. Here colleges and universities are approved by provincial governments, which generally do not assess institutions as rigorously as quality assessment bodies like the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU). Since education falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction, there is no national mechanism to assess institutions, leaving room for much inconsistency across provincial borders. Canada is the only developed country in the world that lacks a national accreditation system for post-secondary schools.
In the absence of an official quality assurance mechanism in Canada, membership in the Association of Colleges and Universities of Canada (AUCC)—a national lobby group representing over 90 universities—has served as de facto accreditation. This had had negative ramifications for some students. In the past decade, provincial governments, particularly in B.C. and Alberta, have given some colleges the right to grant bachelor degrees. However, just because the government in one province approves the right of an institution to grant a degree doesn’t mean that degree will be recognized by universities outside of that province, which can be a problem for students pursuing graduate or professional degrees outside their home province.
Many registrars require that bachelor degrees come from institutions that have membership in the AUCC, but not all degree-granting institutions qualify for membership with its emphasis on peer-reviewed research. This puts these colleges in an odd position: their provincial governments say that they are qualified to grant a bachelor’s degree; the national lobbying group for universities says that they are not. There’s no referee to break the impasse.
While this isn’t an issue for SFU, which is a member of the AUCC, Nicholls says it is “unfortunate” that there isn’t any national accreditation in Canada. “If there was a similar process in place, we would be supportive.”
SFU’s academic departments are regularly assessed, according to Nicholls, and the university always performs well in academic assessments. “But there has been a gap when it comes to looking at us at an institutional level,” he says. The NCCU accreditation process will probe SFU’s academics but also its administrative procedures by examining five key standards: SFU’s vision, whether it has the resources and capacity to pursue that vision, its planning processes, how it assesses success, and how it adapts to change.
Canada’s only Aboriginal university may face insolvency by end of the month
Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl says that the federal government will not restore funding to First Nations University despite significant changes made to the institution. Supporters of the university met with Strahl in Ottawa on Thursday to plead their case.
“I did meet with the First Nations University delegation today,” Strahl told the House of Commons. “I repeated our position that the current funding formula for First Nations University ends as of March 31.” Teachers, students and Aboriginal leaders who met with Stahl said that he turned down their request for the federal government to reinstate $7.2 million in federal funding.
First Nations University (FNU) has been facing an uncertain future since January when the government of Saskachewan threatened to cut off funding because of financial irregularities and governance problems. In early February the provincial government announced it would no longer provide $5.2 million in annual funding starting this April. “For years, there has been uncertainty swirling around this institution. Instead of getting better, frankly most recently we’ve seen the intensification of that trouble,” Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris told reporters after the decision was made at a provincial cabinet meeting.
FNU has been under a cloud of controversy for five years. There have been ongoing issues with the way the school is managed and allegations of financial irregularities. A wrongful dismissal suit filed by Murray Westerlund, a former financial officer at the university who was fired in December 2009, alleges there were questionable travel expenses and paid vacation time. A financial audit has been ordered and is to be completed this month.
Since February, university administrators and Aboriginal leaders have been scrambling to propose a solution that would allow students to continue studying at FNU after the April cutoff. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations met Monday to discuss recommendations. On Tuesday they handed management of the school’s finances over to the University of Regina and a new management plan was adopted. But, judging by Stahl’s response, the changes came too little too late.
The Saskatchewan government’s position is less clear. Norris congratulated those involved in proposing the changes but made no promises about provincial funding.
FNU may face insolvency by the end of the month unless either government steps up to provide emergency funding. The federal Liberal and NDP opposition parties called for the Conservatives to reinstate funding. Stahl committed to helping Aboriginal students directly, but would not budge on the government’s decision to cut off funds to the institution.
FNU’s financial and governance problems have plagued the university for years. In September 2008 the school announced a deficit of $1.2 million, marking the second year in a row the school was more than $1 million in the red. The announcement came as a surprise as FNU had previously estimated a $100,000 deficit that year.
The year before FNU was put on probation by the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) after allegations that the school wasn’t operating independently of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. AUCC cited concerns about the university’s independence, institutional autonomy, and academic freedom.
The concerns were linked to a 2005 incident when the board of the university fired two administrators (and suspended a third) in connection to a forensic audit. In the months that followed, several high-ranking officials were fired or suspended and others resigned. Senior staff, including one of the fired administrators Wes Stevenson, alleged political interference in the operation of the university by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and its vice-chief, Morley Watson.
Stevenson was charged with fraud over $5,000 in June 2008 and his trial is pending. He maintains that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, and said that he is looking forward to his day in court so that he can clear his name.
Although FNUC has since been reinstated to full status with the AUCC, not everyone is convinced that the autonomy problems have been resolved. In 2008, the Canadian Association of University Teachers censured the institution, asking the academic community to boycott it because of alleged limits on academic freedom.
The drama that has been FNU’s finances continued this week when Norris asked Saskatchewan’s Justice Ministry to look into whether a scholarship fund was misused. Of $390,000 that was in the fund a year ago, only $15,000 remains.
A letter sent to Norris by the university’s acting chief operating officer says the money was used for general operating costs during times of low cash flow. The letter says the “inappropriate” use of the trust fund happened under the previous administration.
- with files from CP
Kwantlen students remind BC Premier of U-Pass campaign promise—with chocolate
Students from Kwantlen University visited the B.C. Legislature last Thursday with a sweet gift for the premier. Derek Robertson, KSA External Affairs Director, presented a giant chocolate U-Pass to remind legislators of the Liberal government’s campaign promise to deliver a standard transportation program for all post-secondary students. That promise was not mentioned in last week’s budget.
“We wanted to do something creative to highlight this ‘outside-the-box’ option to affordably implement its 2009 campaign promise to deliver a U-Pass program for all B.C. students,” said Robertson. ”We are hoping this gift reminds the premier and his transportation leaders that we need them to sweeten the deal for students that are struggling to get around in this tough economy.”
While Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia students have long enjoyed the benefits of the U-Pass, a number of colleges and smaller universities in British Columbia have been lobbying Translink — the regional transportation authority in the Lower Mainland — and government for access to the program for years. However, the formula Translink uses to calculate the cost of the program to students (the U-Pass is intended to be revenue neutral) isn’t as economically efficient in some circumstances as it is at SFU and UBC, particularly for schools with multiple campuses spread out over long distances. This has led to a stalemate between Translink and students’ union, which believe students should be entitled to the most affordable U-Pass option.
The Kwantlen Students Association is pushing the BC government to subsidize local transit authorities with $10 for each student who is given a U-Pass.
Is CAUT’s crusade against religious universities really about its opposition to private universities?
As the Canadian Association of University Teacher (CAUT) casts its web wider in its investigation of hiring practices at religious universities, new issues are being raised about the role of these types of institutions in Canada’s post-secondary community. According to Nick Martin, education reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, the question now is: “Should a university that restricts the hiring of faculty according to religious beliefs be receiving the same level of scarce public operating money as public colleges and universities?”
Martin’s article published late last week discusses CAUT’s latest probe into hiring practices, which puts the focus on Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). In October 2009, CAUT released the results of its first investigation that looked at whether Trinity Western University (TWU) was acting appropriately by requiring its professors to sign a “statement of faith.” CAUT—a union of sorts, representing faculty associations across the county, that has fought sometimes controversial fights over academic freedom since 1951—placed TWU on its blacklist of universities that violate academic freedom, effectively calling into question the school’s dedication to the very heart of what it is to be a university.
While no evidence has yet been published suggesting that CMU has a similar “faith test,” CMU president Gerald Gerbrandt told the Free Press that the province of Manitoba gave the school a mandate “to be more restrictive” by only hiring “people who are clearly Christian, that is clearly the expectation,” he said.
This practice will surely attract the disapproval of CAUT, which considers universities to have violated academic freedom if they “seek to ensure an ideologically or religiously homogeneous academic staff,” which TWU and CMU are clearly doing. CAUT is currently investigating CMU.
This is where CAUT’s argument takes a confusing turn. Martin reports that CAUT is demanding that governments only fund public institutions. At the conclusion of its TWU investigation, CAUT censured the university by placing it on its blacklist of institutions that violate academic freedom—which amounts to a virtual slap on the hand, if you will—and said no further action was planned. So by calling into question whether these schools should be funded with public dollars, CAUT is upping the stakes in its battle against religious schools.
CMU enjoys existing in a gray area by claiming to be part private part public. Interestingly, when CMU became a member of the Association of University and Colleges of Canada—which acts as an unofficial accreditation body in Canada—it claimed to be both private (it is a federation of three private colleges) and public in that it sees itself “as serving the province of Manitoba.”
CAUT executive director James Turk told the Free Press that funding for private universities is funding denied to public schools. “Canada really has no need for private institutions. They should not be receiving public money,” Turk said.
What is confusing about Turk’s comments is that there is no logical connection between being a private institution and hiring professors according to their beliefs. By going after private religious universities (most of which are non-profit, by the way) in this way, CAUT appears to be waging a broader war against these schools specifically, rather than being solely concerned about the issue of how faculty hiring affects academic freedom.
Back in January when Maclean’s published an article about TWU, the university’s president Jonathan Raymond questioned why CAUT seemed to be specifically targeting Christian universities when there have been no specific complaints from from faculty of academic freedom violations. Raymond’s question implies what Turk’s above comments seem to confirm: that CAUT’s campaign against hiring practices at religious universities is secondary to the association’s opposition to this type of institution, that its “faith test” investigations are only one part of a broader battle. Whether CAUT’s battle is against the ideology of religious universities or against private universities remains to be seen.
Although Flaherty announces a scattering of new investments in research, his budget is underwhelming
After listening to governor general Michaëlle Jean deliver Wednesday’s Speech from the Throne, one would be forgiven for getting excited about a budget that promised to deliver new funds for research. “[The government] will expand the opportunities for our top graduates to pursue post-doctoral studies and to commercialize their ideas,” Jean said. “To fuel the ingenuity of Canada’s best and brightest and bring innovative products to market, our Government will build on the unprecedented investments in Canada’s Economic Action Plan by bolstering its Science and Technology Strategy.”
Sure, the government has aggressively directed funding at scientific, medical and technological research that have obvious economic or health benefits at the expense of basic and the “soft sciences,” but at least Prime Minister Stephen Harper and finance minister Jim Flaherty recognize that research is key in producing innovative ideas, bolstering the economy and creating jobs. Right?
But when Flaherty rose to speak in the House of Commons Thursday, his pledges in regard to research were, like the rest of the budget, underwhelming. The government announced a $32 million annual boost to the three research granting councils. However, considering that last year’s budget brought in a $43 million cut for 2010-11, they are still left $11 million short.
Similarly, Genome Canada—a non-profit set up by government to conduct leading research in genomics—received $75 million “to launch a new targeted research competition focused on forestry and the environment and sustain funding for the regional genomics innovation centres.” But lest we forget that this time last year Genome Canada was completely shut out of the 2009 budget, although it was expecting funding in the $120 million range. Three months after the funding announcement Genome Canada pulled out of a major Canadian-led program to map the genetic circuitry of stem cells.
The Throne Speech did accurately forecast the continued direction of the government’s approach to research; as has been typical in recent budgets, the so-called “hard sciences”—science, technology, engineering and medicine—are seen as the most important drivers of economic growth. The National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students strongly criticized this approach: “Despite a majority of graduate students being enrolled in the humanities and social sciences, this budget allocated a mere $3 million to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), compared to $16 million for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and $13-million to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council,” it stated in a release.
“Innovation is at the heart of Canada’s future economic success. To meet its own goals the government needs to invest in the basic and curiosity-driven research that fuels the innovation engine,” spokesperson Andrea Balon said.
Graduate students are not the only ones making this argument. A report authored by Impact Group suggested that industries that rely primarily on social science and humanities knowledge account for 75 per cent of jobs in Canada, and that this research influences $389 billion in economic activity, close to the $400 billion from hard science industries.
The Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC), the lobby group for universities, was more positive in its response. In a statement titled “Budget investments in university research a ‘strategic choice’,” the AUCC said it was “pleased” with the investments. “This budget sends an important signal,” said Paul Davidson, AUCC president and CEO. ”It shows that the government recognizes the vital role universities play in creating opportunities for Canadians in the new economy.”
The budget also puts money aside for $135 million to the National Research Council to support 11 regional technology clusters. Another $397 million over five years went to the Canadian Space Agency. $126 million was earmarked for the TRIUMF facility where nuclear and particle physics research occurs.
Perhaps the most heralded research announcement of the day was $45 million over five years for new post-doctoral fellowships that will attract talented researchers to Canada. The program will establish 140 fellowships annually, valued at $70,000 per year for two years each. This is all fine and good, but let’s put it into context. As Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells notes in his analysis, “It’s also about one-third (in any given average year) of the $87.5 million over three years the 2009 budget allocated to Canada Graduate Scholarships. They’re different programs, but you see the difference in scale.”
These are all worthwhile investments; but the piecemeal approach to funding research (a little space technology here, a scattering of physics research there) suggests that Flaherty is not acting out a larger vision of how research and innovation will help us out of the recession. At least as it relates to research funding, the Conservative government is not “leading the way on jobs and growth”—as the title of Budget 2010 proclaims—but treading water.
The CFS says Concordia can’t hold membership referendum until it pays $1-mil the union says it doesn’t owe
When Concordia Students’ Union president Amine Dabchy received the letter, he burst out laughing. “How did they pick such a specific number?” he recalls thinking. The letter informed the students’ union that it owned over $1 million to the Canadian Federation of Students—a huge sum Dabchy does not believe his organization owes.
The disagreement over $1,033,278.76 in unpaid fees is the latest episode in a months-long conflict between the Concordia Students’ Union (CSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the largest student lobby group in Canada. Since the fall, the CSU has been attempting to put in motion a student referendum that would allow the union to cease its membership in the CFS. According to Dabchy, the CFS has been doing everything in its power to prevent a referendum, including demanding payment of this sum. “We believe this is a political tactic to prevent us from having a referendum,” he says.
When asked whether the debt is a political tactic Dave Molenhuis, treasurer and chairperson elect for the CFS, replies, “Definitely not.” He goes on to explain that the CSU was made aware of the debt years ago and that clearing outstanding fees has long been standard procedure before a referendum. “The rules around outstanding membership dues are very clear. It’s nothing new.”
The CSU—which pays over $200,000 annually to the CFS—is one of 13 students’ unions at 12 universities attempting to end its membership in the CFS. As the battle for student votes heats up, it seems inevitable that the CFS and multiple students’ unions will find themselves in court over the results.
The trouble at Concordia started when the newly elected executive of the CSU started the process to leave the CFS. After over 16 per cent of the Concordia student body signed a petition asking for a vote on their continued membership in the group in October 2009, the CSU attempted to schedule a referendum. CFS bylaws at that time required that at least 10 per cent of the student body sign such a petition and that the petition be delivered six months in advance.
However, the CFS has repeatedly rebuffed the CSU’s efforts to get the ball rolling. In January, more than two months after receiving Concordia’s petition, the CFS requested that the university registrar verify that the nearly 5,500 signatures were signed by full-time students with valid student numbers. The registrar disqualified only 269 ineligible signatures, leaving enough eligible signatures to trigger a referendum.
The CFS then requested a copy of the petition that the registrar used when verifying signatures. The CSU responded and asked the CFS to confirm its proposed referendum dates by January 28. That deadline came and went without a response.
That’s why Dabachy couldn’t believe his eyes when he received the CFS’s letter detailing the staggering debt owed by the CSU. “We are denying that this is true,” he says. Dabachy wasn’t able to find any record of the debt in CSU books or meeting minutes. In the letter, the CFS states no referendum can be held until the CSU has paid the amount in full.
The disagreement comes down to a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by former CSU president Keyana Kashfi in April 2009, less than two months before Dabachy took office. The MOU—a copy of which accompanied the CFS’ letter to the CSU—stated that the CSU owed the money for unpaid membership fees and laid out a payment schedule to start in September 2010.
With the exception of Kashfi, no director of the CSU was aware of the document, according to Dabachy. “When we look through our records, we have paid our membership fees since we first became members,” he says. Kashfi appears to have signed the MOU without consulting the CSU council.
Molenhuis says that it is impossible that the union was unaware of the outstanding fees. “It’s common knowledge amongst previous executive members of Concordia,” he says.
Dabachy believes that Kashfi’s actions are a clear violation of CSU bylaws and Quebec laws. CSU lawyers sent a letter to Kashfi last week informing her the CSU would be holding her liable for over $1 million for entering the agreement on her own.
In an interview with the student newspaper The Concordian, Kashfi explained that the debt was incurred in part because the CSU hadn’t adjusted its membership fees for inflation. The CSU also allegedly didn’t pay fees for business and engineering students.
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s what’s owed,” Kashfi told the Concordian. “If anything I did a service to the CSU by stopping the CFS from collecting the debt all at once.” She also said she was not in violation of CSU bylaws because she wasn’t making a purchase, rather paying what was owed for services rendered.
In a statement emailed to Maclean’s OnCampus, the CFS states: “In fairness to all other dues paying members of the Canadian Federation of Students and in accordance with the Federation’s Bylaws, any outstanding dues must be remitted prior to holding a vote on the question of continued membership.”
So what’s next for the CSU? Dabachy says that he plans to go ahead with the referendum regardless of whether the CFS agrees. “We’ll see what happens and we will make use of all of our legal options and rights.”
UWindsor rejects deal with for-profit company to teach international students; UManitoba criticized for similar program.
Thousands of students from all over the world come to Canada every year to pursue a coveted western credential and the accompanying promise of economic success. Yet, for every student who makes it to a Canadian university, there are many who don’t qualify because their grades aren’t up to snuff or their English skills are lacking. Some of these students instead enroll in the countless ESL schools that cater to international students, some of which offer high quality English training and others, well, not so much.
Recently, however, some Canadian universities have begun offering a new option for these students: the private prep college that offers a year of intensive studies with the chance to get into the real university in second year. The catch is that the colleges are run by for-profit companies, and that is attracting the ire of university professors who see the move as privatizing the public system.
Fraser International College, which is affiliated with Simon Fraser University, was the first college of its kind. Run by the Australian company Navitas, it offers first year courses in business, computing science, arts and social sciences that are designed for international students who need extra support; the program boasts class sizes under 40 students, additional learning and language support and longer classes. Students who earn the requisite GPA in these courses progress to second year as a regular international student at SFU.
While programs like FIC may sound like a dream come true for bright students with borderline English abilities and marks, faculty associations at universities across the country are raising concerns. They say that the practice of bringing in a for-profit company to teach international students equates to “outsourcing” and they have questions about the quality of education these students are receiving.
“It’s a form of contracting out jobs,” explained Brad McKenzie, president of the faculty association at the University of Manitoba, where Navitas opened its second Canadian location in 2008. He worries that Navitas instructors, who are hired by the company and are not employees of the university, aren’t given the same academic freedom, fair pay or benefits to which UManitoba faculty are entitled.
These concerns were echoed by Brian E. Brown, president of the faculty association at the University of Windsor, where a similar company is facing opposition. “Our main concern is the quality of education,” he said. “What are faculty to do with these students if they get into second year and aren’t prepared?”
Last week, the UWindsor senate voted against contracting a company called Study Group International (SGI) to set up a program to prepare international students for its business programs. The decision represents a major blow to SGI’s Canadian expansion plans; SGI claims to be “the largest single provider of international students into the U.K” and has similar programs in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.A.—UWindsor would have been its first Canadian foothold.
Latest move to silence abortion debate at UVic will likely lead to legal showdown
The University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) cranked up their fight against the pro-life student club Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) last week by revoking the club’s status. Previous efforts to silence the club’s controversial message only went so far as to deny the club funding. This latest move denies the very existence of the group, upping the stakes significantly in a conflict that is sure to end up in court.
The spat began in October 2008 when the university’s students’ society refused to give YPY the same meagre funding all UVic student clubs receive. Clubs approved by a committee are entitled to $232 each year in addition to such perks as banner supplies and free room bookings. Upon review in 2009, the committee approved funding for YPY. But the students’ society board stepped in and once again revoked the funding, yet still permitted it to operate on campus.
In an October 2009 meeting, the society’s directors accused YPY of “harassing” female students with anti-abortion posters. Those opposed to YPY have also complained about a YPY sponsored event that featured the controversial pro-life activist Stephanie Gray debate distinguished medical ethicist Eike-Henner Kluge. Director Tracey Ho summed up the society’s position by saying, “No one should debate my rights over my own body.”
YPY fought back by contacting the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), in hopes the organization would defend its right to freedom of speech. BCCLA agreed and in late 2009 threatened to launch a lawsuit on behalf of YPY if the UVSS didn’t reinstate the club’s funding. The UVSS brushed the BCCLA off. (Read our previous coverage here.)
In a UVSS meeting that stretched past 11pm last Monday night, the student society decided to revoke the club’s status for one year, meaning that in addition to losing funding, YPY can no longer rent rooms or access other perks available to clubs. YPY may be able to regain status if it complies to certain restrictions. The catch is that the UVSS hasn’t yet determined what those restriction are, so YPY’s status won’t change until the restrictions are written at some unspecified time in the future.
The decision was in part a response to a complaint filed by the UVSS Women’s Centre. “Reproductive rights are elemental in women’s collective and individual potential for equity in all realms of social life,” the complaint letter states. “Access to abortion free from harassment is one of these reproductive rights that YPY continually undermine through the proliferation of inaccurate information and the creation of hostile environments.”
“YPY’s identity and actions as a pro-life organization inherently discriminates against women. Through intimidation tactics and moralist evangelizing, YPY limits the ability of women on campus to access accurate information about abortion free from harassment.”
John Dixon, president of BCCLA, finds this argument illogical. “It is worthwhile to consider, for a moment, what this really means,” he wrote in an email. “It means that the very civil, moderate pro-life YPY club at UVic doesn’t even have to get out of bed in the morning to discriminate against women; it means that no matter how mild, moderate, and circumscribed its advocacy, it discriminates against women. There is no appeal to reason here, but a weird evocation of a kind of secular flavour of sacrilege.”
In a Thursday email to UVSS chairperson Veronica Harrison, YPY president Anastasia Pearse asked the UVSS to call a special general meeting to reconsider their status. “We are unaware of any policy or bylaw that gives the Board discretion to withhold club status indefinitely based upon a yet-to-be-developed policy,” Pearse wrote. “We refuse to participate.”
Harrison has maintained that the UVSS has every right to deny funding to YPY. “Freedom of speech of course can happen, but not when it’s harassing or oppressing other people,” she said in December.
UVSS Director Nathan Warner was one of the minority who voted against revoking YPY’s status. “I’m pro-choice but I’m also pro-debate,” he told Maclean’s. “Abortion is not an easy topic for anyone and I believe that no matter what you ask it will likely offend someone. I don’t think that is reason enough to merit banning a club from campus.”
Warner concedes that YPY is asking tough questions in its anti-abortion campaign. But, as he points out, YPY’s posters don’t include graphic images that have been associated with other pro-life campus activism. “This attack on freedom of expression is unfounded and needs to be stopped,” he said.
It seems unlikely that the BCCLA will back off either. According to Dixon: “At the University of Victoria, the values of freedom of conscience, opinion, religion, and expression are decried as quaint residues of an irrelevant past. The Board of the Student Society has drunk deeply at the well of post-modernist ideology, and they are determined to drive the very moderate and civil student pro-life club from the campus. What certainly seems separate from this university is the faintest memory of the very idea of a ‘university’ as a place dedicated to the preference of dialogue over force.”
Related: Closed for debate. Also see, Uvic’s pro-choicers up the ante against pro-life club
- With files from David Foster
Latest petition goes so far as to question existence of pro-life club Youth Protecting Youth
David J. A. Foster, a student blogger at the University of Victoria, reports that he has come across a petition calling for the indefinite suspension of the pro-life club Youth Protecting Youth. The petition, which was found in UVic’s students union building, goes farther than previous efforts by the University of Victoria Students’ Society to limit the club’s activities.
For nearly a year and a half, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) and the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) have locked horns. Since October 2008, the UVSS has denied $232 in annual funding to which all clubs are entitled to. In October 2009 the UVSS board again voted to deny funding. Recently, the BC Civil Liberties Association asked the UVSS board to reconsider their position, arguing that denying funding is an unreasonable limit to freedom of speech on a university campus that should be a bastion of open debate. The board refused and BCCLA is threatening legal action. The Canadian Federation of Students has reportedly stepped up to offer the UVSS legal funding if the BCCLA makes good on its threat.
However, while UVSS has repeatedly refused to fund the anti-abortion club, it has not outright denied its status as a club. This gives the group the right to book space and other perks. This latest petition brings the controversy a step further by asking that the club be denied status full stop.
The petition asks the UVSS clubs council to consider a motion calling for the suspension of the group for “their repeated offensive actions.” These offensive actions, as described in a letter preceding the petition, include: use of GAP (Genocide Awareness Project) materials on campus and hosting the controversial anti-abortion activist Stephanie Gray on campus, who participated in a debate with a philosophy professor. “This is hate speech that caused harm to many people on campus, including but not limited to many women on campus who have had abortions,” the letter reads. “The images and the captions on the posters harassed women and tried to make us feel guilty about a choice that we have a right to make.”
First thing first, according to everyone I’ve spoken to about the topic, GAP materials–which typically feature graphic images of abortions next to those of horrific events like the Rwandan Genocide–have never been used on UVic campus. Ever. Not by Stephanie Gray or anyone. So what this boils down to is a group of students feeling offended by the posters and Stephanie Gray.
I wrote an article on the BCCLA’s legal action against the UVSS in December, which included a description of the event at which Gray spoke. You can read it here.
And as far as I can tell, this dispute is going to go as far as the courts allow. John Dixon of the BCCLA is candid about his organization’s determination to fight for YPY’s freedom of speech and I can’t think of a more aggressive sparring partner than a stubborn students’ association funded by the CFS.