Archive for Kate Lunau
Universities help first-year students with mentors and more
Shari-Ann Baker, who was born and raised in Jamaica, moved to Toronto in 2010 to attend York University. Her first assignment was an essay for a Canadian studies course. Baker got a B, a mark she was able to improve after learning about the school’s Writing Centre: Her next assignment, for a sociology course, received an A. York’s various facilities, programs and clubs, such as the Community of United Jamaicans, were invaluable in helping her get settled. “People say you’ll get worse grades than in high school,” says Baker, now 22, in her fourth year of a linguistics degree. “If you take advantage of resources on campus, I don’t think it’s a problem.”
First year is a precarious time, fraught with new challenges and responsibilities—both academic and personal. Suddenly, “the world sees you as an adult,” says Barry Townshend, manager of the Centre for New Students at the University of Guelph. “A lot of responsibility comes with that,” from getting to class on time to paying rent, not to mention choosing an academic direction that will help with a future career. It’s a lot of pressure, all at once. Universities are increasingly finding a way to support students through this transition with writing centres, advisers, academic coaches and mentors.
Research suggests vegetative patients are awake and aware
From the Maclean’s Rethink Issue
On Dec. 20, 1999, Scott Routley, 26, was leaving his grandfather’s house in Sarnia, Ont. His girlfriend was with him. Just a few blocks away, according to his mother, Anne, Routley’s car collided with a police cruiser. The police officer and Routley’s companion were taken to hospital with minor injuries. As for him, “he only had one injury,” she says. “The bump on his head.” That injury would prove devastating. Routley, who’d studied honours physics at the University of Waterloo and had a promising career in robotics, was diagnosed as being in what doctors term a persistent vegetative state: awake, but completely unaware of himself and his surroundings.
Anne Routley, who worked as a lab technologist, retired “the day of the accident,” she says. Her husband, Jim, a former banker and trucker, retired, too. They relocated to a one-storey bungalow outside London, Ont., where Scott could stay part-time. (He spent most days in a long-term care facility.) Despite his diagnosis, Jim and Anne believed that their son, who loved listening to music from The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, was responding to them. “His face is expressive,” said Anne in early September. “He blinks. He does thumbs-up for positives.”
Clean-tech sector grows
For Chris Rogers, owner of Corporate Chemicals and Equipment in St. Catharines, Ont., the wake-up call came when his father Cecil was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 2000. Cecil, who owned the business before Chris took over, had worked in the industry since he was 18. “He opened my eyes to what he thought was the cause,” Rogers says: the vats of chemicals that surrounded Cecil through his working life. “I started to rethink things.” The company, which makes and sells sanitation supplies, started going green—a philosophy that’s affected everything from products to marketing and, of course, its employees. “The green chemistry of today is the everyday chemistry of tomorrow,” he says. The same could be true of green jobs.
Canada’s green economy is growing fast. Our clean-technology sector, made up of more than 700 companies, saw an 11 per cent jump in employment between 2008 and 2010, according to a January report from the Pembina Institute, a non-profit environmental think tank. Once considered a niche, the green-jobs sector is now comparable to the booming oil and gas extraction sector, and has exceeded the aerospace industry, says a 2012 report from Analytica Advisors, an Ottawa-based consulting firm that specializes in clean energy.
Canada’s “green-collar jobs” aren’t just found at clean-technology firms. More than 12 per cent of the Canadian workforce “has some sort of environmental initiatives within its work,” says Grant Trump, CEO of the non-profit ECO Canada. Another four per cent of the workforce spends more than 50 per cent of its time on environmental activities, he says. And 17 per cent of Canadian companies—318,000 in total—employ one or more environmental professional.
College students who transfer to university do well
From the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings
Kristy Normore, 23, grew up in L’Anse-au-Loup, Nfld., and was one of 16 in her high school’s graduating class. (L’Anse-au-Loup has a population of 600.) She left to attend Memorial University in St. John’s, but found it wasn’t for her. “Some of my classes had over 300 people,” she says. “I absolutely hated it. No one knew your name.” Formerly a straight-A student, Normore found her marks began to drop. After her first year, she went back home and spent the year planning her next move.
Intent on a career in social work, Normore enrolled at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) in Sydney, “one of the best decisions I ever made.” Classes had 30 people—tops. Tuition was cheaper. She got As again. After two years, diploma in hand, Normore transferred to Cape Breton University (CBU), right next to NSCC, into the bachelor of arts community studies (BACS) program. She graduated in June. Starting university the second time, she felt better prepared. “I was used to helping myself. I found it much easier.”
It takes a lot of creativity to finance second degrees
Last fall, when Kristen Pennington started at the University of Toronto faculty of law, she was surprised to learn of “an assumption” that students wouldn’t work during the school year. “I’d never been in school and not worked,” the 22-year-old says. “It wasn’t a question.”
During her first year in law school, Pennington held down three part-time jobs: she worked as an after-hours receptionist at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, as an executive assistant for a lawyer, and as manager of the undergraduate residence at Glendon Campus, part of York University, where she also lived rent-free. “I worked for my room,” she says. “It was a great expense to cross off the list.” The commute from Glendon to U of T’s downtown campus, on public transit, was “45 minutes on a good day.”
Canadian students feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal
This week’s issue of Maclean’s took an in-depth look at the mental health crisis on university campuses. Read the story, check out our tips for dealing with stress and join the conversation on Twitter: #brokengeneration
In late August, as the first leaves changed from green to red and gold, university ghost towns were coming back to life. Residences were dusted out. Classrooms were readied. Textbooks were purchased—and new outfits, new computers, new posters to decorate dorm room walls. Amid this bustle, construction workers at Cornell University began installing steel mesh nets under seven bridges around campus. They overlook the scenic gorges for which Ithaca, N.Y., is known; in early 2010, they were the sites of three Cornell student suicides of a total of six that year. Students cross the bridges daily on their way to class.
Cornell’s bridge nets are the latest and most visible sign that the best and brightest are struggling. In an editorial in the Cornell Daily Sun following the 2010 suicides, president David J. Skorton acknowledged these deaths are just “the tip of the iceberg, indicative of a much larger spectrum of mental health challenges faced by many on our campus and on campuses everywhere.”
Many teens aren’t interested in driving
This summer, Sarah Mohammed is going on a road trip. She and three of her friends plan to drive from Montreal, where they live, to the Okanagan Valley. “We’re going to work on some orchards and vineyards in the Interior of B.C.,” says Mohammed, 23. The trip is to mark her recent graduation from the University of King’s College, in Halifax. “I just finished school and I want to do something different,” she says. But on the long drive west, Mohammed won’t be taking any shifts behind the wheel—she doesn’t have a driver’s licence. “Oh, I won’t actually be driving. I’m just being a leech,” she jokes.
The number of men in nursing schools is growing (slowly)
From the Maclean’s special holiday double issue—on newsstands now.
One recent November day, Tyler Hume, a 20-year-old nursing student, was at work in the maternity ward of Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre. Tending to a patient who’d just given birth, he listened to her heart and checked other vital signs, then moved on to her new baby. Being a male nurse in a maternity unit can be tricky, he says—but as one of just a handful of men in the University of Calgary’s entire faculty of nursing, Hume is used to feeling like the odd man out sometimes. “It’s unconscious things, like when [an instructor] is talking about a nursing action, and always refers to the nurse as ‘she,’ ” he says. To create a resource for men in the program, he co-founded the Nursing Guys’ Group, a club for male nursing students.
How your still-developing brain puts you at risk
From the 21st Maclean’s University Rankings—on sale now.
Heading off to university is a time-worn rite of passage, one that marks the transition from teen years to adulthood. Despite the new relationships, responsibilities and independence that come with leaving home, however, in our late teens and early twenties, we’re still not fully mature. Our brains keep developing well into these years.
When puberty hits, brain regions responsible for reward and pleasure kick into high gear, according to Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, author of You and Your Adolescent. But other regions, involved in decision-making and impulse control, are slower to develop—and don’t mature until our mid-twenties. “The accelerator is activated before there’s a good braking system in place,” he says. Teens in mid-to-late adolescence are prone to risky decisions, seeking rewards without weighing the consequences. Starting a new life on campus, these brain changes affect students’ lives in all sorts of ways—maybe pushing them to stay out drinking all night, sign up for a semester abroad in Europe, sleep right through class, or ask their crush out on a date.
From the 2011 Maclean’s Professional Schools Issue
When she was in law school, Amber Biemans always figured she’d practise in the city. After she and her husband had kids, though, she felt the pull of small-town life. At age 26, Biemans joined a firm in Humboldt, Sask. (population 5,900); two years later, she’d bought out a senior partner at the firm who was ready to retire. Making partner at age 28 was an “amazing opportunity,” says Biemans, now 32, but beyond that, “the benefits here are immense,” from the commute to work—which takes all of five minutes—to the close relationships she’s built with clients.
What started as demonstration of where meat comes from ended with outraged parents and upset kids
In the town of Ratekau, what started as a fifth-grade demonstration of where meat comes from—and how it was prepared in the days before refrigeration—ended with outraged parents, upset kids, and a denouncement from state officials. As part of a curriculum unit on how people lived in the Stone Age, one parent (a farmer) volunteered to slaughter a rabbit for the class. Teachers voted in favour, but apparently didn’t inform parents or the principal. Some fifth-graders launched a petition to save the rabbit, but teachers seem to have ignored them. “One can’t collect signatures against a math test either,” one told the newspaper Lübecker Nachrichten.
In the end, 50 students voluntarily gathered in the school courtyard. They said goodbye to the rabbit; the farmer then hit it with a hammer, slit its throat, gutted and skinned it, and hung it to drain. It was later grilled and consumed. Parents complained, leading the state’s Education Ministry to denounce the slaughter as “educationally problematic.” “My point wasn’t to show children death,” the farmer told Der Spiegel. “We wanted to demonstrate that killing animals involves taking on responsibility.”
Photo: Getty Images
What’s difficult for parents to sort out is what is normal behaviour and what’s cause for real concern
Teenagers seem to be hard-wired to take risks. Scientists who study the adolescent brain are finding that experimentation is a natural part of these years, even though some risks can have serious consequences. Among those aged 10 to 24, three-quarters of all deaths are from preventable causes, like motor vehicle accidents and suicide, according to the most recent U.S. Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It can be hard for parents to recognize the difference between “normal adolescent behaviour,” like experimenting with drugs and sex, and what’s cause for real concern, says Dr. Blaise Aguirre, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Today’s teens are “stressed out,” Aguirre says, and it’s taking a toll. Over the last five years, there’s been a steady increase in the number of anti-depressants prescribed to Canadian teens, according to IMS Brogan, a health information and consulting company. “One in five teenagers, and one in four Ivy League students, are now self-injuring,” or cutting themselves, often in moments of emotional distress, Aguirre says. There’s evidence eating disorders are on the rise, too.
Aguirre is medical director of 3East at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, a specialized program for teens and young adults with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by black-and-white thinking, fears of abandonment, chaotic relationships and impulsivity. Two of his colleagues, Dr. Esther Dechant, medical director of McLean’s Klarman Eating Disorders Center, and Michael Hollander, director of 3East’s day hospital and an expert in self-injury, will be in Toronto on April 7 to speak about their work as part of the Scienta Health Series.
Teens are naturally risk-takers. Last year, Stephanie Burnett of University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience published a study in which 86 boys and men (ages 9 to 35) played computer games, and she measured their response. Teenagers “chose risky options more,” she says, and got the biggest emotional charge when a risky choice produced a surprising win. The most risk-taking, she found, was among 14-year-olds. In another recent study, Temple University psychologists Jason Chein and Laurence Steinberg measured the brain activity of teens as they played a simulated driving game. When teens were with friends, they took more risks—and they were more sensitive to potential rewards of risks than when they were alone.
Teens are more driven by thrill-seeking and reward, it seems, because of how our brain changes as we age. In childhood, what Chein calls the brain’s “reward processing system” (which is involved in emotion) and its “cognitive control system” (which holds impulses in check, and allows for reasoned decisions) are immature. In early adolescence, the reward processing system undergoes rapid change—but the cognitive control system isn’t fully mature until our mid-twenties.
Teens are also vulnerable to information overload. Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, has looked at the impact of this on adult brains, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. As her subjects received more and more information to process, she found, activity jumped in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making. This area “reaches a plateau,” she says, “and then temporarily stops functioning.” Teens are plugged into any number of devices, often even more so than adults, and they’re “taxing a system that isn’t fully developed,” Aguirre says. “No wonder some are unable to handle it,” and find themselves overwhelmed.
Information overload isn’t the only source of stress. “There’s been a shift in what we think of as a beautiful body,” says Dechant, from curvy Marilyn Monroe to today’s models, who are “size zero or double zero.” Rates of bulimia seem to be increasing, and anorexia is spreading from what was traditionally “the upper middle class, to all walks of society,” she says. Alarmingly, more teens seem to be cutting themselves. “It looks like it’s starting earlier and earlier,” Hollander says. Cutting is rarely a suicidal act, he notes, but those who commit suicide often have a history of self-injury. Parents need to talk about it with their teens in a “neutral way, which isn’t easy,” he says, “and access some help.”
Aguirre uses mindfulness, derived from Buddhist meditation practice, as part of his treatment for patients. Studies have shown that mindfulness-based meditation can reduce anxiety, improve attention and reduce the emotional impact of pain. “It’s about slowing down the brain, and focusing on the here and now,” Aguirre says. A few slower moments each day sounds like something most teenagers, whose brains are programmed to take risks, could benefit from.
The Harvard team will speak in Toronto on April 7, as part of the Scienta Health lecture series:
A new campaign cracks down on lawyers who are rude and aggressive — with clients or even in their private lives
Young, ambitious and intelligent, Ryan Manilla was, by almost all accounts, on the road to becoming a ﬁrst-rate lawyer. He excelled at Osgoode Hall Law School, graduating in the top 10 per cent of his class. He won a summer job in the New York City offices of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, one of Canada’s leading firms. In 2009, he completed his articles with Pinkofskys in Toronto, where he intended to practise criminal law.
But in September, Manilla’s career came to a crashing halt. The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), which regulates Ontario’s lawyers and paralegals, denied his application to join the profession, based on its ages-old “good character” requirement. (Manilla’s appeal was heard last week, and a decision is pending.) It wasn’t a strictly professional issue that convinced the law society panel to bar Manilla—it was the young man’s dealings with his condominium board.
Canadian law societies have required lawyers to be “of good character” virtually as long as the profession has been regulated, but it’s rare for someone to be barred because his character was found lacking. Even the meaning of “good character” can be a little bit hazy: it isn’t defined in the Law Society Act, but it’s been described as having a strong moral fibre, a belief the law must be upheld, and an appreciation of the difference between right and wrong. The law society can wield that requirement to decide who gets to be a lawyer—and sometimes, who doesn’t, as the Manilla case shows.
In 2008, as board president, Manilla became embroiled in a dispute over an increase in condo fees, which he opposed. After sending unsavoury emails to his fellow condo board members suggesting they ran “the risk of being shot by residents,” he was replaced as president, but stayed on the board and continued to fight the proposed fee hike, boasting that he got a thrill out of making other members “squirm.” That December, Manilla forged a letter from a woman claiming to be a private investigator, making up allegations of kickbacks and other wrongdoing among board members—something the law society panel deemed “character assassination.”
In March 2009, Manilla, then 27, was charged with four counts of criminal harassment; further charges followed of intimidating a witness, threatening death, and failing to comply with an undertaking given to a police officer. In June, all charges were dropped after Manilla met certain conditions. He sold his condo, apologized to targeted board members, and made a donation of $250 to the SickKids Foundation in their names. But not enough time had passed, the law society panel ruled, to ensure Manilla was of “good character” and deserved to join the profession. In fact, he’d confessed to falsifying the letter just five days before his hearing.
Manilla certainly offended the members of his condo board and behaved in unscrupulous ways, but whether this should bar him from the legal profession is harder to say. “Can we have a good lawyer, and a bad person?” says Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. “Is the law society required to govern virtue in its members? It’s a tough question.”
Cheap loans and tight job prospects create a new crop of entrepreneurs
After graduating from the University of Western Ontario in 2004, long-time friends Joe Facciolo and Skai Dalziel, both from Barrie, Ont., set off to travel the world. By the time they came home, in 2008, the job market had toughened considerably. “I was looking for work in alternative energy, but nothing really materialized,” says Dalziel, 30. Chatting about their travels, and how hard it was to find a good restaurant in a new city, the two friends were seized by a business idea. “We said, we’re young and we don’t have a lot of responsibility,” Dalziel says. “We figured it was a good time to give it a go.”
That fall, they moved to Whistler, B.C., where they knew the tourism market was strong. By November, Whistler Tasting Tours—which provides guided tours that visit some of Whistler’s best restaurants, providing a multi-course dinner in one evening—was born. “One of the biggest challenges was securing financing,” Dalziel says. “Banks weren’t interested in getting involved.” The Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), a charitable organization that works with entrepreneurs aged 18 to 34, gave them a $15,000 loan, and Whistler Tasting Tours was profitable within its first year; now they’re talking about branching out to other locations. Running a business, “you’re letting go of your social life,” he says. “But it’s really rewarding.”
Facciolo and Dalziel are two of countless twentysomethings who’ve avoided a more traditional career path, launching their own business instead of working for somebody else. Driven by a tight job market, the number of tools available online, and a growing sense of do-it-yourselfism, entrepreneurship is booming among students and recent grads. And with role models like Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old billionaire founder of Facebook, they’re in good company.
Should schools be in the business of turning out employable grads?
Carlie Deneiko is from the tiny town of Watrous, Sask. (population 1,800), more than an hour’s drive southeast of Saskatoon. As a teen, she dreamed of travelling the world, but her priorities are shifting. “I’ve got a boyfriend, and I’m really settled,” says Deneiko, 20, a student in the faculty of education at the University of Regina. “It’s becoming more important to me to get a job.”
Deneiko’s not too worried: her education comes with a job guarantee. She’s one of 355 students enrolled in a new program at the University of Regina that promises students they’ll land a job—in their chosen field—within six months of graduation. If they don’t, the university gives them another year of tuition for free. The UR Guarantee has other bells and whistles (like internships and work programs), but for Deneiko, it’s that extra year of free tuition that pulled her in. “If I don’t get a job, I’m coming back to get my special education certificate,” she says.
Since it launched in September, the UR Guarantee has been incredibly popular. Enrolment in the program, which is open to all first-year students, has already jumped by 24 per cent, says president Vianne Timmons. “We looked at students’ motivation for attending university,” she says, “and realized they’re looking at a degree primarily as a launching pad for a career.”
Universities have long been seen as ivory towers, leaving job training to colleges and vocational programs, but that’s changing fast. “It’s not the old, green college on the hill anymore,” says Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg. “The marketplace has changed,” adds Ronald Bordessa, president of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). “Some universities have moved quickly. Others haven’t, and are having greater difficulty attracting students.”
Regina isn’t the only university in the job guarantee business—tiny Sainte-Anne in Church Point, N.S., offers its education and business graduates free tuition if they haven’t found work after four months. It’s a radical approach—but some schools don’t even track how many graduates go on to get jobs in their field. Monitoring this is “absolutely critical,” says University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera. “If your students are not finding employment, it means that employers are not finding them competitive.” Even so, it’s hard to know which schools are turning out the most employable grads, which leaves some industry leaders shaking their heads. “Amazingly enough, [employability] is not the metric for success that universities follow,” says businessman Reza Satchu, who teaches the highly successful economics of entrepreneurship course at the University of Toronto.
Two decades after his controversial university study, not much has changed in how students are educated
Canadian universities look strikingly different than they did just 20 years ago. For one thing, there are more students populating the hallways and dorm rooms of virtually every institution: since 1995, full-time enrolment has grown by 57 per cent, according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). More than half of today’s faculty members were hired within the last 15 years. Technology has enabled new teaching methods and models. And provincial funding for operating budgets has more than doubled since 1995, the AUCC says, while government research funding has increased almost fourfold. With all this fresh blood, new tools and money, you’d think higher education would have changed a lot. But in some ways, argues Dr. Stuart Smith, a long-time observer of the system who was featured in the first-ever Maclean’s ranking issue almost 20 years ago, things look remarkably the same as they did back then.
A medical doctor and psychiatrist by training, Smith has been a politician, a student, a professor and administrator (he now serves on the board of governors at Humber College). In 1991, he penned a controversial report for the AUCC on the state of Canadian universities—and didn’t spare them from criticism. Here, Smith revisits some of his points, and takes a look at how they stack up today.
TEACHING VS. RESEARCH
“One of the crucial questions is whether universities give their students enough practical education to match all the theories they learn,” Smith told Maclean’s 20 years ago. Today, “I think that remains a question,” says Smith, now 72. One of his most talked-about points in 1991 was that universities weren’t doing a good enough job of actually teaching their students, focusing on more prestigious research instead. “Teaching is seriously undervalued at Canadian universities and nothing less than a total recommitment to it is required,” he wrote then. Today, “it hasn’t changed very much,” he says. To get ahead, academics still prioritize research; “those interested in teaching do so at the peril of their career.”
Concordia University finance professor Arshad Ahmad, president of the Society for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, agrees. Research remains closely tied to “rewards, promotions, and how you get tenure,” he says. And in a Ph.D. program, “you’re taking one course on teaching.”
“The pendulum went too far in the direction of research, at the expense of teaching,” adds Alastair Summerlee, president of the University of Guelph. “We’re in the process of rebalancing that.”
Summerlee and Ahmad agree that universities have three critical roles: teaching, research, and community service. At Guelph, professors don’t just get ahead based on their list of publications. For the past 15 years or so, they can be promoted based on teaching, research, service (anything from working in the community to serving on a government committee), or a combination. (Professors report on their activities in a dossier.) At McGill University, all tenure-track faculty are required to teach, meaning they can’t hide from students in their labs. Guelph and other universities now have teaching support units or centres for learning and teaching services, which provide teachers with new ideas, workshops and demonstrations.
And teaching itself is increasingly looked at as part of traditional scholarship, Ahmad says. There are now literally hundreds of journals devoted to the topic, and an increasing number of awards for good teachers. The 3M National Teaching Fellowships have been around for 25 years now, and have grown immensely in prestige over that time. “I got [the 3M award] in 1992, and almost nobody had heard of it,” Ahmad says. “Today, it’s a different beast. We have lots of applications, and the teachers are celebrated.” (Summerlee is also a 3M recipient.)
Beyond a publish-or-perish mentality, professors are struggling with a “huge increase in students,” Ahmad says. Smith has noticed it, too: classes are increasingly taught by graduate students or teaching assistants, he says. “They’re putting a TA in front of larger and larger classes.”
At the University of Toronto, “growth has been extraordinary,” says president David Naylor. “We had about 42,000 full-time equivalent students in 1991. Now, we have over 75,000” across three campuses, and class size can reach over 1,000. Still, there are ways to cope. Professors have to increasingly rely on new technologies—a good sound system, big screens—to reach their students. Naylor says that, done correctly, it can work. “We see that some of the big classes here get very strong evaluations when they have the right teacher, the right technology and the right teaching assistants,” he says.
If U of T students will take some huge classes, they should take some smaller ones too, the thinking goes. At the downtown campus, roughly 40 per cent of students starting in the arts and sciences faculty will take a seminar with 28 students or less. Smaller, primarily undergraduate schools continue to tout the small classes they can offer: at Cape Breton University, says president John Harker, “we might have a class of 12 to 20 students. We think that’s valuable.”
Fuelled by late-blooming entrepreneurs, business schools see doctoral enrolment double
Valerie Sheppard’s been self-employed, she’s worked in government (in the tourism sector), and now she’s headed back to school. Sheppard, 50, who says she has an entrepreneurial streak, is one of four candidates in the University of Victoria’s new business Ph.D. program (UVic welcomed its first cohort this month). “I don’t see myself retiring,” says Sheppard. “Getting a Ph.D. will give me the flexibility to keep working.” After spending years out in the workforce, going back to school is a bit “scary,” she admits, but she’ll have someone close for support: daughter Leah, 26, is doing a Ph.D. in business, too, at the University of British Columbia.
A mother and daughter both doing business Ph.D.s might sound unique, but it speaks to the booming popularity of the degree. The number of doctoral candidates enrolled in business programs nearly doubled in a decade, from 696 in 1998 to 1,227 in 2008, Statistics Canada figures show. (That year, about 31 per cent of students were aged 30 to 34, and 24 per cent were 40-plus, the two biggest age groups.) UVic decided to offer the Ph.D. because “there’s a shortage of business school professors out there, and we knew there’d be a demand for graduates,” says academic director Charlene Zietsma.
Indeed, as countries like Brazil, China and India became financial hubs, the number of business schools worldwide tripled from the 1980s to the mid-2000s, drawing North American-trained academics, says John Fernandes, president and chief executive officer of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, a leading accreditation agency. (Most of the grads leaving for developing regions were international students, he says, heading back home.) At the same time, North American business schools cut back on Ph.D. programs, investing in the more lucrative, and high-profile, M.B.A. instead.
Job prospects have suffered in this gloomy economy, but they’re expected to improve. “The market for academics with a business Ph.D. has been good, and will be again,” predicts Debbie Compeau, who directs the Ph.D. program at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.
But academia isn’t the only option. Many of those who pursue a doctorate in business have past work experience, and about 20 per cent of all students will take their degrees into the workforce, Fernandes says. Among these people, a new type of degree is gaining traction: the doctorate of business administration. Unlike a Ph.D., which is scholarly and research based, the D.B.A. encourages “applied research that’s relevant to the real world,” says John Ingham, who directs the three-year D.B.A. program at the Université de Sherbrooke, one of two in Canada to offer the degree. (The other is Athabasca University.)
Richard Vaillancourt, 54, is completing a D.B.A. online through Athabasca while serving as CEO of OMISTA Credit Union in Moncton, N.B. “I thought a D.B.A. would be more relevant and practitioner-oriented, whereas a Ph.D. is more research,” says Vaillancourt, who’s considering a career in credit-union consulting or teaching, post-retirement.
In January, Valerie Sheppard left her government job to take on an associate faculty position at Royal Roads University; getting a Ph.D. will “solidify my ability to teach in a university setting,” she says, and keep working for many years to come. And, she argues, the so-called Ivory Tower and the real world aren’t so far apart. As a professor, “you’ve got your own courses, and students; there’s some flexibility,” she says. “In a sense, it’s entrepreneurial. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Photo by Darren Stone
Canadian universities are “closed and fearful institutions”
Most people think of lawyers as silver-tongued, but Robert Martin, a retired law professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., admits that subtlety is not his strong suit. His paper, “University Legal Education in Canada is Corrupt Beyond Repair,” is as subtle as a sledgehammer: in it, he compares law faculties to “psychotic kindergartens” populated by “a horde of illiterate, ignorant cretins.” The paper, published last fall in the academic journal Interchange, made the rounds of law blogs and news sites in Canada and abroad last week, turning Martin into a minor Internet phenom.
It’s no wonder the legal community picked up on the article. Canadian universities are “closed and fearful institutions,” writes Martin, 70, from which students graduate “armed with bits of paper, which most of them are probably not able to read, called degrees.” Schools have adopted a “corporate model,” he continues, singling out the University of Toronto’s law faculty, which, in deregulating its tuition fees, “pattern[ed] itself after a Wal-Mart outlet.” Other faculties, “equally lacking in integrity,” followed suit. Martin’s solution is to close every law faculty, offer the buildings to the homeless, and use law textbooks as kindling—“a much more socially useful function,” he writes, than “being gawped at by illiterate students.”
Academics refused to comment, suggesting that to do so would give the article—published in a journal even Martin calls “obscure”—a veneer of credibility. Still, Martin is unapologetic: “I believe in being direct and to the point,” he told Maclean’s in an email. “If one is to spend one’s time paralyzed by the fear that one’s writing might offend someone, then one should not be writing.”
Elsewhere, legal watchers reacted with a mixture of horror and glee. The State Bar of Michigan blog, for one, said Martin “defies both the stereotype of the super-polite Canadian and of the phlegmatic academic,” while Simon Chester, who blogs on the well-read Slaw.ca, dismissed Martin’s words as a “hyperbolic rant,” a point that most seem to agree on. “Talk about your cranky old man,” wrote one commenter on the site.
Nova Scotia’s Karen Casey just fired a whole school board — again
Most schools have unruly students to deal with; in Nova Scotia, it’s school board officials who are expelled for bad behaviour. On Monday, the province’s education minister, Karen Casey, fired all 12 elected members of the Strait Regional School Board, which oversees 25 schools in rural northeastern Nova Scotia. “This is a decision that I hoped I would not have to make,” Casey said, “but this board continues to struggle to maintain decorum.”
A difficult decision, but one she’s made before: there are eight elected school boards in Nova Scotia, and this is the second one that Casey has dismissed in two years. (In 2006, members of the Halifax Regional School Board met a similar fate.)
Why all the bickering? Former Strait school board chair Henry Van Berkel says it boils down to “personality clashes” among members, some of whom have known each other for years. Before dismissing the board, Casey had warned members several times to behave — even removing some of the board’s powers in February. Yet their antics continued.
At a recent meeting, vice-chair Mike Brown stormed out after repeatedly interrupting other members, uttering “this is bulls–t” on his way out the door. His explanation for the constant conflict? “A lot of people like to dish it out, but they don’t like to take it.” Soon after the board failed to discipline Brown, Van Berkel recommended that Casey get rid of the whole board.
Until October, when school board elections are held, both the Halifax and Strait boards will be overseen by government appointees. Casey, meanwhile, is considering a new law that would give her more power to deal directly with individual members. She’s hoping that the next time a school board goes wild, she won’t have to fire the whole lot.