Nothing, it seems, is safe anymore on university campuses. Many campuses have banned smoking in parts or all of campus. Some have banned bottled water.
But this week, things reached a new low.
Yes, students at St. FX are proposing a ban on energy drinks.
As part of a class project, a group of students at the Antigonish university want Red Bull and friends booted into the Strait of Canso because it is, they maintain, inconsistent with a healthy lifestyle.
Sadly, such a proposal is in keeping with the recent trend towards unbridled self-righteousness when it comes to health. We have long since moved past encouraging people to eat well and get plenty of exercise. Today, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is approached as though it were a moral issue. An unhealthy choice, it now seems, is not only potentially unwise — it must be stopped.
But energy drinks are not monsters. Not even the one actually called Monster. Sure, they contain caffeine, but a can of Rockstar — my personal favourite — contains around 80 mg of caffeine. According to this data provided by the Mayo Clinic, that’s considerably less than an ordinary cup of coffee, and just over half of what’s in a Starbucks Latte. And some may be loaded with sugar, but a lot of people like sugar. It’s really catching on. And, believe it or not, there are other goods in the world besides health. Pleasure is one. And so is freedom. And so is a boost of energy when your term paper is almost due.
Part of becoming an adult is learning that almost every activity requires a balancing of benefits against costs. The joys of a night with one’s drinking buddies must be weighed against the sickness and fatigue of the morning after. Even activities like running — often thought of as a quintessential part of a healthy lifestyle — have potential health risks in the form of joint injury and damage to the heart when done to excess. And avoiding excess, as in so many things, is the key to the healthy use of energy drinks, too.
In a free society, banning anything (even in a limited area like a university) should come as a last resort and be reserved for only the most serious of dangers. Deadly toxins. Guns. Powerful explosives. A can of Amp doesn’t qualify.
Entering an exam room can be intimidating. Where in this sea of chairs and desks would prove the best for productivity? Which seat will yield the best exam results? One of the most important factors in a seat’s potential is its neighbouring student. The people around you can have an enormous effect on your ability to focus, so it’s important to avoid what I call the five worst exam neighbours:
1. The Sniffler
Because students are stressed and abandon basic hygiene in December, colds and flus sweep through exam season. That means that you might sit next to a sniffler—someone who will spend the next three hours alternating between sniffling, coughing, blowing into a tissue, and—if you’re especially lucky—vomiting. You’ll want to put some extra space between you and this noisy peer. Early indicators: someone putting a tissue box on the corner of the desk.
2. The Sloth
You likely won’t recognize these students from class, mostly because they’ve rarely been to a lecture. The sloths will sit the exam but take the first 10 minutes to sharpen a pencil. After dedicating some time toward counting ceiling tiles, the sloths might take a well-deserved nap. An hour into the exam, you might see them write something—probably their names. Though not particularly loud, you will be distracted with disbelief, wondering how on earth these people made it this far. Early indicators: someone wearing sweatpants and asking, “which one is the professor?”
There is a space on the fourth floor of the library at Carleton University with no bookshelves. No, it’s not a washroom. It’s the Discovery Centre, an interactive learning space open for all students where they can bring work, sit in one of the wheeled chairs and move around or study while walking on one of two treadmills. There are also 60-inch 3D gaming displays, 3D printers (which will soon be up and running) and circular couches that face laptop-connected projectors.
The Discovery Centre is helping Carleton’s library adapt to new ways of learning. Alan Steele, the centre’s director, says the technology and configurations will encourage students to think in ways static classrooms won’t necessarily allow.
But what do students think of the new options for studying? In one of the lounges in a nearby computer science building, student Georges Anktnmamm was surprised to learn it existed while student Andrew Bjuaki had just recently seen it and thought, “Wow, we finally have this.”
The University of Ottawa’s English newspaper thinks French-speaking Ontarians deserve “a university to call their own,” because, they argue, “Franco-Ontarians are plenty in number but hugely underrepresented at universities.”
They quote Geneviève Latour, a student and co-president of the Regroupement étudiant franco-ontarien, an advocacy group. “It’s really a question of having the right to it,” she says.
Oh please. Francophone Ontarians are neither “large in numbers” nor “underrepresented.” In fact, they’re quite well-served already. Ontario does not need another francophone university.
The Fulcrum and Latour should check out the study on francophone post-secondary participation published this week by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. It says that students from French-language school boards are slightly more likely to attend university than average.
That’s not surprising considering the number of options available to study in English or French.
Every Monday I teach in a classroom that, I must admit, is not my favourite. It has a dusty old chalkboard (I know, chalk!), and several ceiling tiles are missing. A couple of the windows are caked with so much salty residue that one can barely see through them, and a fluorescent light is burnt out. There are two lecterns in the room and both are broken—though one has been hastily repaired with a piece of cardboard.
It’s just not a great room in which to teach.
So I get the motivations of a new generation of staff and students seeking to shame their universities into improving facilities. One prof at Hunter College in New York started tweeting pictures of holes she saw on campus and now has a blog called Holes at Hunter. A similar blog, Classrooms of Shame, seeks to draw attention to such “deplorable conditions.” In Canada, too, blogs like I heart SFU show similar pictures and a prof at Memorial University recently went public with complaints about mould and asbestos on his campus.
An annual survey by the Council of Ontario Universities asks new graduates what they took in school, whether they were employed full-time two years after graduation and how much money they made. The numbers are useful for tracking the demand for degrees. The trend isn’t looking good.
Chart 1 shows the percentage of grads reporting full-time work two years after university for 10 of the most common degrees. For nine out of 10, fewer class of 2010 grads were employed than class of 2008 grads with the same degrees. (The exception, oddly enough, was journalism.) This suggests things actually got worse for grads since the economy recovered from the 2009 recession.
Chart 2 shows average salaries of graduates two years post-graduation. The overall average has remained around $49,000 since the recession but there were winners and losers. The computer science class of 2010 averaged $5,050 more than the class of 2007. The engineering class of 2010 made $2,032 more. Journalism, however, was down by $2,099 and humanities dropped by $1,509.
Richard Florizone, a nuclear physicist with an impressive CV that includes Cambridge University, Bombardier, the University of Saskatchewan and the World Bank, was installed last month as president of Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.
In his installation speech, he outlined a vision for the 21st century research university as a place where industry, government, non-profits, researchers, learners and community members collaborate. He gave this interview over the phone.
Tell me about your path to the president’s office.
I started out as an engineer and a physicist doing my Ph.D. in physics. Until I got to MIT, I assumed I’d become a professor but once I got [there] I saw that people did all kinds of things with their degrees, whether it was going on to be faculty, starting companies, working in government or in think tanks. The other thing I realized through my graduate work was that, as interested as I was in science and physics, in trying to understand the forces behind the universe, I found I was at least as interested in people and how they work together.
Is it just me or do a lot more university presidents these days have those industry skills?
I don’t have the numbers but, if it is a trend, I’d say the reason behind it is a couple things. One is a recognition these days that universities aren’t ivory towers alone anymore. We still have that function but there’s increasing recognition about the kinds of support and partnerships we require.
International students at the University of Alberta are facing a possible five per cent tuition increase next year, equating to $900 to $1,600 per year, depending on the program. They already pay several times as much tuition as domestic students to make up for lack of taxpayer funding. Domestic tuition, meanwhile, is set to rise only one per cent. While many international students have cried out in protest, some domestic students support higher increases for non-Albertans.
I, however, have to side with my international colleagues that this tuition increase is unfair. I can’t imagine the sudden stress they’re under. Why is it that Alberta universities can find millions of dollars for things like $8.1-million executive office upgrades and 3.65% pay raises but can’t keep tuition down for these vulnerable students?
My empathy comes from the experiences I’ve had as a student on a diverse campus. For the past year, I’ve been a writing tutor working exclusively with students who are relatively new to Canada. I meet with an entire class of English as a Second Language students every week and so I know them not only on an academic level, but a personal level. Some say I’m their first Canadian friend.
More than 50 people gathered in Gatineau, Que. at noon on Saturday to protest the Canadian Federation of Students, a group hundreds of thousands of university students automatically pay money to each year to lobby on their behalf. They’re most famous for opposing tuition fees.
The protesters sang, danced and chanted outside the hotel hosting CFS’s Annual General Meeting to draw attention to the fact that unsatisfied student unions find it difficult to exit the organization and stop sending money to Ottawa each year, a process known as “defederation.”
It’s a perennial issue. At this spring’s national meeting, Brad Evoy of the University of Toronto was defeated after he tried to reform the organization by bringing the number student signatures required on a petition to start defederation back down to 10 per cent of the student body. The threshold had been raised to 20 per cent in 2009.
Jane Collins is a very dedicated campus nurse. So dedicated, in fact, that she offers her cell phone number to students at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax so she can advise them after hours. She picked up on the first ring when Maclean’s On Campus called to find out whether she’d really stopped writing sick notes for those who show up to the campus health clinic, as reported by CBC.
She hasn’t entirely but says that, after 19 years on the job, she’s fed up that professors still ask students to get excuse notes for missed midterms, which is often a waste of time. The registrar has twice asked deans to pass that message along to professors but it’s not getting through.
In 1916, Bill Boeing went to MIT to hire his first chief engineer. He picked Wong Tsoo, a Chinese guy who had emigrated to England at the age of 16 for undergrad before crossing the Atlantic for graduate school. Wong quickly got to work on Boeing’s first commercially successful plane, the C-Model. Imagine how different the airline industry might have been had another country’s university—Canada’s perhaps—enticed Wong. Both Canada and the U.S. had racist anti-Chinese policies at the time, such as the Head Tax, but if Canada had been less racist than America, might the Wongs of the era have chosen McGill?
We’ve come a long way since then. From 2001 to 2008, the number of international students in Canada increased at a rate of 4.3% per year; between 2008 to 2012 the annual increase was, astonishingly, 12.3%. There were 265,377 in 2012 (74% of them in post-secondary schools). We now get five per cent of all international students worldwide, making Canada the seventh most popular destination after the US, UK, China, France, Germany and Australia, according to Project Atlas.
A video is making the rounds showing students at Harvard University struggling to answer a simple question of world geography: what is the capital of Canada? Canadians love this game. We congratulate ourselves for knowing plenty about the US while looking down our nose at Americans who know nothing about us. And the fact that even the best and brightest Americans—Harvard students no less—are so ignorant, well that’s just the whipped cream on the ice cream isn’t it?
But it’s a silly game and we should stop playing it.
For one thing, in videos like this there is no way of telling how many students came up with Ottawa but weren’t shown in the final edit. For another, we should acknowledge that at least most of the students seemed embarrassed by the fact that they didn’t know. And besides, Canada, unlike the UK or France or Japan, is one of those cases where the capital city is not the largest or most prominent city—so it’s a tricky question. I bet most Canadian students think the capital of Australia is Sydney.
But the main reason we should stop finding ways to feel superior to Americans when it comes to a world knowledge, is that, if we faced facts, we would have to admit that we are not much better. Sure we know a fair bit about the US because we are awash in American media, but what about the rest of the world?
Indeed, if you are a Canadian university student, why not take a little test right now? Consider, for example, the world’s ten most populous countries. Can you list all of them? And if you can, can you name the capital cities of each of them? I’m going to assume that you know the capital of China is Beijing, but what about India? Mumbai? Guess again.
Put your hand up if you know the capital of Brazil. Now put it down if you thought it was Rio de Janeiro—it’s actually Brasilia. Do you know the capital of Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous country? How about Nigeria, the seventh? Can you name any cities in Nigeria?
Don’t get me wrong: I think world knowledge is important. But there is a lot more to knowing about the world than knowing game-show style trivia. It’s more important to me that people know more about efforts to reduce poverty in Bangladesh than the fact that its capital is Dhaka.
Let’s hope they are studying that at Harvard. And everywhere else.
Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.
Many families with university or college students get a rare bit of good news around tax time. They find out students are eligible for tuition tax credits worth an average of $2,000 per year that can be transferred to parents in the likely event the student hasn’t made enough money to pay taxes. Students who don’t want to share or whose parents don’t earn much can save them up and get a break on income taxes when they start working full-time. It’s a big break. So big, in fact, that it can amount to between 31 percent and 43 percent off tuition, depending on the province. How many people know they exist before starting school? Surprisingly, no one knows how many.
It almost makes you wonder why the government doesn’t just give students the money before they pay tuition. The C.D. Howe Institute, a non-partisan think tank, wonders about the same thing. Christine Neill, a Wilfrid Laurier University economist, has written a commentary on the $1.6-billion of education tax credits the federal government hands out each year. Amazingly, she says it’s the first real analysis of them, despite various iterations of the credits being around for decades.
Students at the University of Prince Edward Island are pushing to ban smoking on campus. Cigarettes, they say, are not only deadly for the poor schmucks who choose to light up but also harmful to the non-smoking citizens forced to walk through their carcinogenic clouds. The student union, reasonably enough, wants a plebiscite.
I’m not a smoker. I think unwanted cigarette smoke is annoying and gross. Ontario’s government must have polling showing many people feel the same way or they wouldn’t have, just yesterday, banned smoking outside at restaurants and bars. I can think of more useful things for the province to do (for example, working on the deficit) but research has shown that smoke doesn’t easily dissipate outside on patios when people are sitting so at least there’s science behind the policy.
But that’s as far as it should go. Campus-wide bans are pointless, draconian and unnecessary.
I approached the shop on Yonge Street a little nervous, uncertain of what I’d find. Chain-smoking felons? Security dogs?
I found a clean store staffed by an intelligent, personable man named Mike. I told him I wanted a run-down. He said that master’s graduates write all the essays and they have a writer for each subject, from biology to philosophy. He showed me a database on his computer screen with at least 30 names. I asked how many customers he had and he showed me a weekly schedule that appeared to show more than 25 essays per week. The price was normally $30 per page but would only be $25 per page for me since there was a promotion that day and I was wiling to wait five days. Next-day service was still $35 per page.
Mike wouldn’t answer me about whether I would be cheating if I handed in the essay as my own.
“We don’t really have that conversation here,” he said. “It’s all original work; it’s not plagiarized.”
Canada has fallen behind or is at risk of falling behind other countries in education and training if we don’t get our act together. That was a common theme at two conferences last week in Toronto, one hosted by The Conference Board of Canada, which is developing a Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education, and the other by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, a provincial agency that does research and offers policy advice to government. Speakers from several countries offered innovative ideas worth considering. Here are four of the most intriguing.
Switzerland streams into vocations
The Swiss government encourages apprenticeships and, unlike in Canada, 40 per cent of companies take them on. Many high school students are streamed into vocations starting at age 11 or 12 and are in factories or offices getting job experience by 15 or 16. “In Canada, if you have a university degree you’re somebody [but] vocational not so much,” said Urs Obrist, an Embassy of Switzerland expert who spoke at the CBOC conference. In Switzerland, he said, people accept that, “some horses are work horses, some are show jumpers and some are race horses.” However, the system is flexible enough that “late bloomers” can change streams. He pointed out that Switzerland has a very low youth unemployment rate. In 2012, 8.4 per cent of Swiss aged 15 to 24 were unemployed, the second lowest among 33 rich countries. Canada was 12th at 14.3 per cent.
One of the tensest moments of my first year at McMaster University didn’t happen when I was writing exams or fighting with my roommate or handing in a late assignment. It happened on Nov. 11, 2009 when I was sitting in the musty basement lecture hall of an old arts building on campus.
The English professor started lecturing at 10:30 a.m. When 11 a.m. rolled around, the time traditionally reserved as a minute of silence in respect for those affected by war—through combat or collateral—a student raised her hand.
“Shouldn’t we stop lecture for a minute right now?” she said, and outlined her case: that would be the most respectful thing to do.
A long, awkward silence fell over the large hall. Then, the professor said no. I don’t remember her reason, exactly. It was a convoluted argument about respecting her lecture in the academic space and not interrupting it by glorifying war. She was very against recognizing the moment.
The average grade of high school students entering universities in their home provinces hit 85% in 2012, according to data from 48 universities published in the 2014 Maclean’s University Rankings. The 2008 Maclean’s University Rankings, which used grade data mostly from 2007, showed an entering average of 83% across 42 universities. That’s an increase of two per cent in five years.
There are surprising regional differences too. Only four of the 42 schools considered in the 2008 rankings had lower entering grades in 2012 but three of them were in Quebec: Montréal, Sherbrooke and Bishop’s. The fourth was Saint Mary’s in Halifax, N.S. And only four schools improved their average grades by more than three per cent. Again, a regional pattern emerges: three out of four are in British Columbia: UBC, UNBC and SFU. The fourth is Waterloo. Particularly eye-catching is the number of students at these schools with averages of more than 90%. At UBC the proportion with 90% or higher went from 30.8% in 2007 to 54.1% in 2012; at UNBC from 19.3% to 34.1%; at SFU it from 15.7% to 39.5% and at Waterloo from 26.5% to 44.8%
Students at the University of Ottawa came under fire this week for supporting the white poppy campaign, a drive to get people to wear a white poppy rather than the traditional red one, on the grounds that the red poppy can be seen as a tacit support of war itself. Since white is traditionally associated with peace, the white poppy is meant to meant to support remembrance but with an emphasis on peace rather than war itself.
This piece in The Toronto Sun sneers at students for “hopping aboard” a “left wing” bandwagon. The Minister of Veterans Affairs jumped in too, calling the campaign “totally disrespectful.” Meanwhile, over at the National Post, Matt Gurney claims that the “very existence” of the campaign “is insulting by its implication that the red poppy glorifies war.”
Too bad. The red poppy does glorify war. And it has been so successful in doing so that it seems as though its supporters don’t even realize they are doing it. Celyn Dufay, the Ottawa student at the centre of this imbroglio is quite right in explaining, simply enough, “we want to work for peace.”
I have never really been a guy. I’ve always been male but I’ve never been “one of the guys.”
I can’t help but yawn during prolonged football and soccer games. My eyes glaze over midway through feverish discussions about the newest Dodge Ram. When asked by a server what kind of beer I’d like, I usually wait for a friend to make his request before I add, “make that two.”
Though I find myself outside the realms of frat houses and basement lairs, there is one time of year when these distinctions seem to fade into the background. It doesn’t matter that I can’t manage a video game combo or bench press my weight. One month of the year, all that is secondary.
That month is Movember.