It’s 8:35 a.m. on January 24th. I have 25 minutes before class starts, but I already know this day will be a struggle. My eyes are worn out and my hair is greasy and unkempt. I haven’t slept right in nearly three days and I’m stressed. The lingering question reappears in my head. Is Quest University’s block program right for me?
Quest is a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts and sciences university located in Squamish, British Columbia and it is the only university in Canada entirely on a block program. That means classes are capped at 20 students and only one subject is taught at a time, every weekday for three hours over a three-and-a-half week period. Students are expected to complete around five hours of homework or research every day outside of class for a total of eight hours of work daily. Although many students are able to excel under the block plan’s intensity, others—like me—are thrown into a mental war of attrition, struggling to survive. This made me wonder: Is the mental toll worse at Quest than at traditional universities without block plans?
I met Anna Drake, a University of Waterloo assistant professor, at recent event in Toronto and asked: what are professors talking about these days? She said they’re discussing how many students are presenting with notes from counsellors or doctors saying they’ve been mentally unwell or extremely stressed and are in need of extensions or exam deferrals.
Drake, a political scientist, doesn’t recall this being an issue when she was an undergraduate or when she started teaching as a master’s student in 2001. But a few years ago, a professor warned her and other teaching assistants at Queen’s University that, “it seemed to be fairly easy for students to get notes of this kind.” Too easy, perhaps.
Later, teaching her own course at the University of Victoria, she was surprised when four students out of roughly 40 presented with notes near the end of the term asking to defer their semesters.
When I got out of high school and enrolled at the University of Alberta, I was particularly excited for one thing: the end of the dreaded group project.
In high school a number of different things led me to hate working with others. We would prepare arbitrary presentations and our peers wouldn’t listen to them anyway. I thought that studying English and Comparative Literature in university would mean never having to collaborate for meaningless group assignments again.
Boy was I wrong. In fact, I seem to be doing more group projects than essays lately.
When I first saw all the group assignment descriptions on my syllabi at the beginning of the year, I decided to be as positive as possible. Perhaps the maturity level of my groups would be higher in university. Boy was I wrong again. Group work only seems to get worse in university, and I can safely say that the biggest source of my school stress has come from working with my peers.
But instead of letting it get me down any more, I’m going to relive the worst group project I have ever been a part of and hopefully my misfortune will at least brighten your day.
A hip-hop concert cancelled earlier this month in Ottawa is fueling debate about which performers student union money should fund and whether artists’ freedom of expression has been silenced.
Pandemonium, the annual year-end show subsidized by the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), was to be headlined by rapper Rick Ross on April 9. But numerous students from both universities urged their student unions to pull out because they said Ross’ recent lyrics glorify date rape. SFUO and CUSA eventually pulled the plug and the show was cancelled. Shortly afterward, athletics company Reebok announced it was dropping Ross.
It’s not just an issue in Ottawa. At Harvard University, a performance by the rapper Tyga went ahead Saturday despite an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures demanding a student board cancel it. Petitioners said his lyrics in the song “Bitch Betta Have My Money,” are “explicitly and violently misogynistic.” Tyga performed the song on the weekend, “despite all the haters.”
1. Canadian Business has published its annual 50 Best Jobs list, which is based on 2012 median pay, past growth and projected growth. The list includes some obvious titles—number one is ‘oil & gas drilling supervisor” and there are also three types of engineers in the top 10 alone. But there are also some less obvious jobs in the top 50, like dental hygienists, 18th on the list and with an average salary of $70,000 last year. In addition to the best jobs, CB also offers lists of worst jobs and the top 10 jobs by projected demand in 2020.
2. McGill University is considering shutting two libraries to deal with budget cuts. The Faculty of Education’s Library and the Life Sciences Library, used by medical students, could be merged with another library. “We have to consider everything,” Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook told CBC. A Facebook page titled Save the McGill Life Sciences Library from closure has 1,487 likes.
One day, when I was a PhD student there was a gossipy buzz that went around the halls about a fellow grad student who had arrived to teach a class, found that none of the students had done the assigned reading, and then immediately and angrily sent them all home. We all admired the audacity of the move, and I was a bit disappointed to learn that he had been called to the Chair’s office and told never to do it again.
It was his responsibility, he was supposedly told, to conduct the class whether the students had done the reading or not.
Those events have always stuck with me, and I’ve thought of them often when I find myself in front of a room full of students who clearly have no idea what happens in the play I’m trying to help them analyze. And I thought about it again recently when my attention was drawn to yet another computer-based teaching innovation: e-textbooks that tell your prof whether you’ve read them or not.
According to this New York Times report, new technology from a company called CourseSmart allows instructors to keep track of a wide range of student reading habits. Has a student opened the book? Has she highlighted key passages? If not, according to at least one instructor in a pilot project, the professor can “reach out” to the student and discuss his study habits.
1. It’s almost April 20th, the annual day when marijuana smokers gather, often on campuses, to smoke pot, throw Frisbees and in some cases protest cannabis laws. One such protest, Fill the Hill, happens on Parliament Hill in Ottawa each year. Kyle Walton, a second-year student from Carleton University, told The Fulcrum student newspaper that marijuana is particularly important this year following the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill, which toughened penalties for marijuana possession. Pot could become an election issue ahead of 2015. Justin Trudeau, who was elected leader of the Liberal Party on Sunday, favours decriminalization. The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair once said he believes legalization would be a mistake, “because the information that we have right now is that the marijuana that’s on the market is extremely potent and can actually cause mental illness.” He later clarified that he does not believe anyone should go to jail for possessing small amounts.
2. Speaking of marijuana, a student at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary told CBC News she plans to continue using marijuana during class despite the administration’s view that she’s committing academic misconduct. Lisa Kirkman has a medical marijuana license and uses a vapourizer once per hour, including during classes. She says she wants the school to provide a ventilated room.
The Canadian Federation of Students is a national network of student unions known best for its lobbying to make post-secondary education more affordable. The group is funded mostly through mandatory fees tacked on to students’ tuition bills whether they like it or not. The CFS is sometimes accused of not being transparent or worth the cost. Although it’s possible to leave the group through a petition and referendum, the CFS won’t let members go without a fight. In a 2010 referendum at the University of Guelph, 73 per cent of students voted to leave but the CFS never recognized the vote, resulting in at least $407,000 in legal bills for Guelph students. This month when it became clear the local student union was planning to give up and settle, the university stepped in and surveyed students, who once again indicated—70 per cent to 29 per cent—that they want to stop paying the fees. Carleton University Students’ Association may be the next student union to attempt to leave. Adam Awad, whose term as CFS National Chairperson ends in June, sat down for a chat during a recent trip to Toronto.
1. The city council of Kingston, Ont. has been accused of disregarding university students as it redraws electoral boundaries. Council voted that three of the 13 municipal electoral districts near Queen’s University will be merged into two, which means students will be represented by fewer councilors. This is despite a staff report that recommended taking into account the student population, which the city knows exists, even though they’re unlikely to be counted in official tallies that require voters to register themselves. Queen’s Alma Mater Society has expressed disappointment. “The AMS is dismayed by the attitudes that many of the Councillors expressed at the meeting, which reflected an aggressively anti-student attitude that is all too familiar—one which the AMS has been working for a decade to eradicate.”
2. A McGill University professor allegedly harassed a Muslim student from Cairo, an accusation that spread on social media and resulted in protesters chanting, “Hey, hey. Ho, Ho. Racist professors have to go,” outside of his lecture, reports the Gazette. The protest followed a Global News report that included an audio recording student Amr El-Orabi secretly made during a conversation with professor Gary Dunphy before El-Orabi quit school and returned to Egypt. In the recording, Dunphy accuses El-Orabi of cyber-stalking, refers to both the student’s God and his own God in unkind terms, and says, “don’t think for a minute that your culture is the be all and end all.” When El-Orabi asks,”is there anything else that you want from me now?,” Dunphy responds, “your death.”
More than 70 per cent of University of Guelph undergraduates who responded to an unusual survey last week from their administration said they were opposed to paying student fees to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). That’s not surprising considering 73 per cent of voters were opposed when asked in a 2010 referendum.
Still, don’t expect the CFS, a student lobbying organization, to accept either poll anytime soon. Despite what appeared to be a strong mandate to stop funding the CFS in the 2010 referendum, the group has never accepted the result, arguing that there was something fishy about the vote.
And the CFS has support. Guelph’s Central Student Association (CSA)—the very student union that ran the referendum and vigorously defended it to the tune of $407,000 in legal bills as of August 2012—has switched sides and says it would rather stick with the CFS than fight on. That could mean paying roughly $250,000 per year retroactively plus $250,000 annually going forward.
1. Legally Blonde, the film starring Reese Withersoon as a California girl who conquers Harvard Law School, is now officially a classic. Most of today’s undergraduates would have been too young to watch it back in 2001, but they’ve apparently downloaded it somewhere. This spring there have been successful stage productions on campuses from Trent University to Western University. The Neptune Theatre in Halifax is staging it from now until May 26th. Saint Mary’s University’s Journal gives it a good review.
2. This week may be the last chance students get to gather and protest recent provincial budget cuts to universities before they disperse for the summer. Approximately 300 people marched on the Alberta legislature on Wednesday to protest a 7.3 per cent cut there, reports The Edmonton Journal. Students also protested on the other side of the country in St. John’s, Newfoundland, reports The Telegram.
3. Dr. Donna Cave, Director of Wellness Services at the University of Alberta, has a weekly advice column for readers of The Gateway student newspaper. I suggest checking it out this week’s submission. She offers scientifically sound (and hilarious) advice for acing your exams. In case you don’t have time to read it, here’s a summary. As little as 20 minutes of exercise daily reduces anxiety and depression, so hit the gym. Sleep deprivation can cause as much impairment as being drunk, so avoid the all-nighters. Oh, and eat properly or your brain won’t work so good.
4. A new Mexican Barbie has offended some Latin American professors in the U.S. She’s “dressed for a fabulous fiesta in her vibrant pink dress with ruffles, lace and brightly coloured ribbon accent,” according to toymaker Mattel. The pet Chihuhua—and passport—are also raising eyebrows. Jason Ruiz, an American studies professor at Notre Dame University, told ABC that passports are a point of “great sensitivity for people of Mexican origin, especially Mexican immigrants.”
5. Medical students at the University of Alberta have released a Disney-themed musical video—not a Lip Dub but something original that they actually wrote and performed. With their notorious workload, it’s amazing they found the time. Then again, there’s a reason they got in. Check it out:
1. Alex Harris, a student at the University of Waterloo, and his dog Molson are calling themselves the “Geese Police.” The pair are patrolling the southern Ontario campus twice daily. Molson, a border collie-golden retriever cross, disperses the nuisance birds while Harris takes notes for his undergraduate thesis project. Canada Geese dominate the university’s campus, making a big a mess and scaring humans while trying to defend their territory. During mating season they get especially aggressive. It’s such a commonly discussed problem that the university’s bookstore now sell t-shirts that read, “I survived nesting season.” See CBC News for more.
2. Today is International Day of Pink, which means students everywhere are showing their opposition to bullying, homophobia and other discrimination by wearing, you guessed it, pink. It was started after high school students in Nova Scotia to support a pink-loving gay student who was bullied. It has high profile support from the likes of Rick Mercer and the Day of Pink Gala in Ottawa will be attended by former governor general Michaëlle Jean and radio host Jian Ghomeshi.
1. It’s panic time for new university graduates, at least according to newspapers across the country, which are printing reports about students who apply to hundreds of jobs and get few interviews. Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente decided to add to the angst by pointing out how the unemployment quickly turns into underemployment. She spoke to a 29-year-old English and Women’s Studies graduate who hands out towels in a gym for a living because she can’t find a white-collar job. But, hey, there’s a bright side fellow BA-holders. “People who can’t find the jobs they want are settling for something less, pushing the less qualified down the ladder,” writes Wente. “The biggest losers are the people at the bottom, who get pushed out.” So at least you’re not among the biggest losers. And if you’re really desperate for work, you could always try a Computer Science degree. The University of Windsor Comp Sci program told CBC it has low enrollment despite a perfect placement rate for graduates.
News broke last week of new software for grading essays that will, one supposes, revolutionize the way students are evaluated.
Let’s hope not.
The details so far are scant, but the idea is not new and typically machine grading involves algorithms that guess at the quality of the essay based on whether the essay looks like a good essay, not whether it really is or not. This is an enormous problem, of course, because it is quite common to see essays that are superficially strong — good grammar, rich vocabulary — but lack any real insight (this is common among first year students who, presumably, sailed through high school by bamboozling their teachers). Similarly some very strong essays—with striking originality and deep insight—have a surprising number of technical errors that would likely lead a computer algorithm to conclude it was bad.
A machine cannot recognize the more subtle aspects of writing well. Can the software recognize wit or daring? Can it tell when phrasing is especially apt or clever?
1. For the second time this semester, the uneasy relationship between a student newspaper and its student union overlords is front-page news. The Windsor Star, the local daily newspaper in Windsor, Ont., reports that The Lance student paper at the University of Windsor has been ordered to shut down their presses immediately. The outgoing board of directors of the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance voted last week—with no warning—to force The Lance to go “only online” because the paper was $24,000 in the red in February. The last printed issue had a cover story called “Electile dysfunction: Multiple allegations of corruption plague UWSA election,” which asked questions about possible corruption and incompetence in a recent UWSA election. Shutting down the print edition prompts questions about freedom of the press and whether the board has been vindictive. Kim Orr, the outgoing UWSA president, points out that the critical coverage was directed mostly at executive members and the chief returning officer, not the board of directors. Still, the timing is suspect. The Lance will be expected to operate on a third of its current $180,000 budget, which would leave it a shadow of its former itself. (Trust me, just because your publication is online doesn’t make it free.) The story is reminiscent of when Western’s student government decided to take away The Gazette‘s offices in January. A backlash caused them to retreat. Let’s hope this follows the same path.
2. American colleges are talking about a crisis in law schools. In 2011, nearly half of U.S. law graduates failed to find work in law, applications to law schools fell 38 percent since 2010 and, despite the poor prospects, graduates now finish with an average debt load of $98,500. Well, it looks like market economics are starting to have an impact in the other direction. The University of Arizona’s law school is cutting tuition up to 11 per cent. In Canada, most new lawyers can still find work, though articling positions are becoming harder to come by and tuition has risen a fair bit.
1. Pick the program that scares you most.
When deciding where to complete my master’s degree, I had to choose between two very different programs. One was a single year and seemed cutting edge and fun, with classes on quality television and popular fiction. The other, a traditional two-year master’s, was more rigorous, with course work of a highly theoretical nature. The primary factor in my decision was my relative level of fear. I chose the university with the more fun program and came to regret that decision. The experience was a good one in many ways—my supervisory team was wonderful, and I was able to continue working part time—but by making the safe choice, I didn’t set the bar high enough. Instead of leaping into new and challenging work, I ended up rehashing much of the same material I had been exposed to in my undergraduate degree. If I had it to do over, I’d take the bigger risk.
2. Write every day.
This will keep you in the right headspace, so that when it comes time to get that twenty-page term paper done, it’s not so agonizing. Whether it’s making précis of readings for class or blogging about pop culture, the habit of writing will serve you well. When drafting my thesis, I made a promise to sit down with the work every day, no matter what. If I couldn’t eke out more than a paragraph, that was okay; the point was just to commit to showing up ready to work. I devoted four or five hours daily, five days a week, to my thesis throughout the summer, and had my first draft finished before Labour Day. Writing daily didn’t make the process painless, but it did make it much less overwhelming.
1. A new database from the Vancouver Sun shows the salaries of all public sector employees in British Columbia who earned more than $75,000 in 2011-12. The University of British Columbia dominates the first few pages of the post-secondary salaries section. Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, was the highest paid at $531,088. The University of Victoria’s David Turpin was the second-highest-paid president on the list (and fifth overall) at $430,760. Simon Fraser University’s Andrew Petter took home $396,837. The University of Northern British Columbia’s George Iwama made $273,488. Ontario’s public salary disclosure recently revealed that the highest paid president in that province is Amit Chakma of Western University, who earned $479,600 plus benefits in 2012.
2. Montreal police are defending the decision to charge a 20-year-old student protester with criminal harassment after she posted an image of graffiti on Instagram. The image Jennifer Pawluck shared showed police spokesperson Ian Lafreniere with bullet hole in his head. The arrest drew outrage along the lines of, “arrested for taking a photo!?” Police say there’s more to the story.
Wielding hundreds of red, green and blue lightsabres, students at the University of Ottawa ran into battle Thursday night. The first official lightsabre battle brought out about 200 participants to just outside the university library. The event mimicked an annual battle in New York.
Jozef Spiteri, a vice-president at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), said he met the organizers of the NYC event at the North by Northeast festival in Toronto and decided to bring the idea to Ottawa.
Spiteri’s term ends this month. He always wanted a Star Wars-themed party, so it was now or never. “I thought it was a cool closing statement,” he said.
1. Queen’s University instructed security officers to rip down a free speech wall in a student centre because it “allegedly included language that constituted hate speech,” according to an official press release. A video of a blonde-haired officer removing the banner has been widely-viewed on YouTube. The wall, little more than paper with words scribbled on it, was encouraged by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and erected by the local group Queen’s Students for Liberty. What exactly was so offensive is unclear, but it was bad enough that the administration chose to act. “Queen’s recognizes the right of free speech, but appreciates too the limits on free speech. Hate speech and racial slurs have no place on our campus,” wrote Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) in the statement. The Alma Mater Society, which owns the space, put out a statement too. “Queen’s Students for Liberty was given an opportunity to remove these two denigrating comments, and return the space to one of inclusive, free dialogue for all,” wrote president Doug Johnson. “When the club failed to act, the offensive material was removed.” A free speech wall erected at Carleton University in January was torn down by a student who claimed it was anti-gay.
2. Speaking of free speech and hate speech, students at Towson University in Maryland are fighting back against a white supremacist group’s declaration that it will start “night patrols” on campus. At a student-organized rally, the university’s president praised efforts to peacefully oppose the White Student Union. Matt Heimbach, spokesman of white group, told ABC News he believes multiculturalism is being forced on America. Yes, this is really happening in 2013.
3. Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, annouced Wednesday that he will step down in 2014 and then he gave an interview to The Ubyssey student newspaper. Heather Munroe-Blum, principal of the equally well-respected McGill University, who is also stepping down, did an exit interview of sorts with campus media too. The differences between the questions student reporters asked are a reminder of the contrast between generally sunny UBC students and the almost endlessly antagonistic McGill crowd. McGill student reporters asked questions like, “How can McGill say that it’s part of Quebec, and, at the same time, call tuition fees sacred?” and “Do you think [the police] could have had different tactics?” Meanwhile, at UBC, The Ubyssey reporter asked Toope questions like, “Do you think raising UBC to a global level is one of your core achievements?” For the record, I think it’s obvious that both Toope and Munroe-Blum have been strong leaders.
4. Bill Clinton told reporters ahead of a meeting with student leaders that he sees the cost of college as a major problem. “We can’t continue to see the cost of education go up every decade when wages are flat,” he told Inside Higher Education. “I think the only sustainable answer is to find a less expensive delivery system,” he added, saying the next step is, “for someone to certify what you need to know and then figure out some way of validating the merits of these online courses.”
5. The University of Calgary Dinos sports teams have unveiled a new logo, which is, obviously, a dinosaur. More interesting is that Calgary also announced a five-year partnership that will put Nike swooshes on uniforms. Speaking of corporate sponsorship deals, the Petro Canada Hall at Memorial University in Newfoundland has been renamed for Suncor Energy, which donated $50,000, reports The Muse student newspaper. There once was a time when there would be major outcries against corporate sponsorship deals on campus. Apparently that’s no longer the case.
I got a call from Montreal the other day. On the other line was a man who represented a teaching agency in London, England. He had seen my email and resumé and said that I could come over to teach after completing the required paperwork.
When I decided three years ago to follow my calling, moving across continents for a job was unfathomable. I predicted I would send out resumés after graduation, then a school board within a reasonable distance from my home would ask me to work for them full-time as a teacher, everything would be hunky dory and I would decorate my classroom with dry-erase markers of every colour (you can never have too many).
The above scenario was obviously a delusional fantasy.
I recently learned in an email from one of my instructors here at York University’s teacher’s college that, in keeping with regulations agreed to with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, school boards will essentially no longer be allowed to do external hiring until all current occasional teachers have had the opportunity to apply for available jobs. In other words, until the huge backlog of certified teachers—many of whom are fighting tooth and nail just to land a supply teaching gig—have had their shot at a full-time job, fresh teacher college younglings need not apply.