The Students’ Society of McGill University has opted not to ban the song Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, known for its refrain, “I know you want it.” The song has long been criticized for lyrics that some say encourage and trivialize sexual assault.
There were seven votes in favour of the ban, eight opposed and 11 abstentions, according to the McGill Tribune. The motion was put forward by student Sarah Southey, who said the lyrics could trigger bad memories for assault victims when played at the campus bar. Brian Farnan, a SSMU vice-president, was opposed to the proposed censorship. “This will set a frightening precedent, when we start to ban artistic content in a student building in a university,” he said.
Several student unions in the United Kingdom, including those at the universities of London, Kingston, Edinburgh, Leeds, Derby, West Scotland and Bolton, have banned the song. Durham University’s students voted against a ban after some argued it would trivialize feminism.
Campus architecture can be brutal and grey but with autumn leaves blooming in red, orange and gold, the walk to classes in Canada these days is nothing but uplifting. This being 2013, students from Acadia U. to U. Victoria are snapping photos of fall’s glory and sharing them on Instagram with captions like, “Autumn seems to make walking to classes a little easier.” Here are a few of the best.
At a recent lecture on democracy at St. Thomas University in Fredericton N.B., Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson asked a room full of journalism and political science students why young people don’t vote. A journalism student raised her hand and said it’s because the political system is complicated and many don’t understand it. Shaun Narine, an associate professor and international relations researcher, blurted out that she should, “Read a book for God’s sake!” Some clapped. Some were angry. Jane Lytvynekno spoke to Narine over the phone from Ottawa.
You told [that student] to “read a book.” Why?
I was as surprised by my outburst as anybody else. I was listening to the student speak and I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that she seemed to be saying that she did not know anything about politics. It wasn’t the arcane facts [she didn't know]. It seemed to be the most basic things like what does it mean to vote? What is Parliament? All those sorts of things. My frustration was very great. I guess I felt that this was the sort of stuff that every responsible citizen should know. … Out of that frustration I ended up doing something which I sincerely regret doing. I apologized to the student. … I sincerely believe academia is a place where we should have rational and reasonable discussion. I don’t believe in heckling people and I don’t believe in embarrassing students and I don’t believe in screaming at people in frustration and in all of those respects I certainly did not live up to my own standards or expectations.
Every Halloween, student activists remind their peers that race-based costumes can offend. You may have seen the posters on campus. They say things like: “My culture is not a costume.”
The message appears to be getting through. At McMaster University, “Sexy Indian Princess” and “Eskimo Cutie” costumes were on sale at the campus bookstore last week but an editorial in The Silhouette student newspaper quickly condemned them. (For those who don’t see why dressing up this way offends, consider the amount of sexual violence Indigenous women endure.)
Another Halloween tradition students are told to stay away from is painting one’s face black. That offends folks who know the history of white racists caricaturing black Americans with black face paint at minstrel shows. After the traditional Halloween party weekend, no reports of racist costumes emerged from Canadian campuses. There was, however, a report of a Florida man dressed as Trayvon Martin. The real test is Thursday.
Some think the annual outcry goes too far. Klara Woldenga, writing in the University of Victoria’s Martlet, satirized the outrage with a group ghosts, warewolves and vampires called the Altered Living Alliance protesting stereotypes. Comments so far suggest some readers aren’t laughing.
Once, when I was just a young professor, I dashed off an angry email to a colleague regarding a certain administrator who, in my judgement, had not lived up to his promises when it came to funding a project I was working on. But after I sent the email, a troubling thought struck me. What if the person I sent it to forwarded the message to someone else, who ended up copying the administrator in question, and so on. And if he were to scroll down…
Fortunately, nothing came of it, but I made a rule for myself that I try to follow to this day in my professional life: never email something that you wouldn’t be willing to have everyone read. Because you never know—everyone might.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Rachel Slocum devises a similar rule for herself in the future. Slocum is the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor whose email blaming right wing Republicans for the fact that her students couldn’t access course material—all owing to the partial government shut down caused by Washington gridlock over the budget—caused outrage after it was widely circulated on the internet.
The Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union has denied official recognition to the Greek Lettered Council, a group run by and for fraternities and sororities on campus. The recognition would have given them access to campus space and funding. When the council voted 10 to four against recognition in October, they cited an academic study that found sexual assault is higher in fraternities.
In other words, they are convicting our local Greek brothers and sisters of crime they haven’t committed. They made their decision based on a stereotype and despite the GLC’s promises not to be discriminatory. I am not a member of a fraternity or sorority but as a fee-paying Memorial student, I think this group should be recognized.
Every once in a while, a student newspaper contributor will float the idea that in a time when universities are short on resources (seats in the library, face-time with profs, one-ply toilet paper) we ought to consider cutting or capping international student enrollment. A student at UBC Okanagan recently waded into this argument.
“With the constant increase of international students in order to cover shortfalls, are we displacing seats of domestic students? Any administrator you talk to will argue that this measure does not displace seats, but what about the infrastructure of UBC? Won’t we eventually run out of space in the library?”
History students might recognize the dangers of this discussion. When resources get tight, a minority group is an easy scapegoat. Until now, we didn’t know how domestic students view their international peers, an increasingly important question as international enrollment doubled from six per cent of the total in 1992 to 12 per cent of the total in 2010. A new study by Higher Education Strategy Associates, who surveyed 1,398 domestic students, shows positive and negative feelings.
When you see a sexual health study sponsored by a condom company you may be skeptical, especially when the headline is that 51 per cent of students who had sex last year didn’t use a condom. Half? Really? It sounds like a ploy by Trojan—which commissioned the survey of 1,500 undergraduates in partnership with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada—to sell more rubbers. After all, this generation grew up with non-stop public health education on the risks of a sexually transmitted infections like HIV. Students couldn’t possibly be so careless, right?
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this number before. Canadian results from the National College Health Assessment, a survey filled out by 34,039 students at 32 Canadian schools earlier this year, also found that only half of students use condoms most or all of the times they have vaginal sex.
On Thursday night, I waited at the corner of Main Mall and Agricultural Road at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. It was dark and foggy. Any other night, I might have just braved the six minute walk to the Student Union Building, but after two assaults involving young women on campus earlier this month—a 19-year-old was groped under her skirt at 2:45 a.m. on Sept. 28 and a 20-year-old was attacked on Oct. 13— I wanted to test out Safewalk, the student-run program providing chaperones to those who feel unsafe walking alone at night.
Although I spent four years at UBC and knew about the service from day one, I’d never bothered to call. I’m not the only one.
Safewalk is a student service available across Canada, usually manned by volunteers, although the Alma Mater Society student group that runs it at UBC pays its walkers. After a string of assaults—there was at least one more reported over the weekend when a 17-year-old girl was dragged into the bushes late at night and left with a black eye—I knew there would be renewed discussion about the service, which is used to reassure students that measures are in place to protect them. Indeed, the RCMP recommended on Monday that women not walk alone at night and instead use Safewalk. Last week, I wanted to see: how useful is it?
I called at 8:03 p.m., a few minutes after Safewalk started taking requests for the night. They answered my call right away and said someone would be there in under 30 minutes. Perhaps due to the recent spike in assaults, the service was busier than usual. Regardless, it felt too long to wait.
In Canada, international students put up with higher tuition, face language and cultural barriers, and often suffer from homesickness.
In the U.K., they now have it even harder. At least two English universities are fingerprinting international students to make sure they attend lectures, reports Times Higher Education.
“The universities of Sunderland and Ulster have installed biometric monitoring systems on satellite campuses not used by British students, a move condemned by the National Union of Students … Ruth Davison, student relations and compliance manager at Sunderland, said the system had been installed because the site was “entirely international” and the Home Office required that all attendance be monitored. … The fingerprint data would be destroyed after students left the university, Ms Davison added. She also said that the students were “really comfortable” about fingerprinting and the London campus’ student council was happy with the system.”
The universities are fingerprinting because the government now requires them to make sure those enrolled are actually studying and not using students visas to work illegally in Britain.
But biometrics is only the beginning. A proposed immigration bill would require landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants. It’s reasonable to assume that many won’t want to be bothered with the added bureaucracy making it even harder for newcomers to find shelter.
The University of British Columbia announced this week that they will be creating a giant focus group to help guide university decisions. “The results of the surveys,” we are told, ”will help UBC design new programs, make changes in courses, update communications and improve service to students and alumni.”
Clearly, the Canadian academy has crossed a line. It wasn’t very long ago that any university would blush at such shameless consumerism. Today, it seems, we are proud of it.
But wait, I hear you saying, what’s wrong with universities finding out what their students and alumni think? Why not take their views into account? To a certain extent such an objection is reasonable, but UBC is not just getting input on superficial matters like what flowers to plant or what their web site should look like; they are seeking input on courses and programs too.
Students may think nothing they do on campus has meaning outside the university bubble but their actions, especially online, are visible to a sometimes unforgiving world. In a few decades, when their generation is making hiring and firing decisions, profane Tweets and Instagram photos may be taken for what they are: mostly meaningless. Until then, they ought to be careful.
Maria Rizzetto, a student at St. Francis Xavier University and columnist for the Xaverian Weekly, learned this lesson. A longtime bar and restaurant worker, she wrote what she considered a funny, lighthearted look at what bartenders think of their customers’ sometimes inappropriate behaviour.
How to survive Piper’s Pub: 10 rules from a bartender was clearly tongue-in-cheek. Rizzetto had been working at the same bar for two years and seems universally known and loved at her Nova Scotia school. The rules she offered were tips on proper bar etiquette with a heavy dose of snark.
For the first time this fall, a majority of Ontario universities have scheduled a break from classes in either October or November. Students have been pushing for this over the past few years as a way to improve mental health and several schools, from Ryerson to Western, have given in. The idea is that a fall break will help students cope with the high workload of university, leaving them less likely to get stressed, depressed or anxious.
A break may indeed temporarily lift spirits and improve mental health but further diminishing the amount of time they’re expected to show up may also make it harder for them to cope in the long run—especially if they get full-time jobs where they’re expected to show up five days a week.
Showing up to the same place at the same time each day is a skill and it’s one that universities aren’t taking seriously enough if they think they can drop even more days from their schedules.
In the Western Gazette this week, writer Mary Ann Ciosk describes a scene that plays out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times a year in university towns across Canada:
“I check the time again—the bus is now 20 minutes late, and I have three minutes remaining before my class starts… Finally, a low mechanical growl can be heard in the distance, and around the corner appears our salvation, the 2 Dundas! But as the bus approaches, a new horror sets in. The 2 does not slow as it draws near the stop, but speeds past us with its cargo of disgruntled students tightly packed together—the bus is full.”
The issue of full buses making students late has long captured the imagination of campus news editors and student leaders. This fall is no exception. University of Lethbridge students pushed for better transit at a recent mayoral candidates debate. The Carleton University Students’ Association recently met with Ottawa transit officials to tell them too many students are getting passed up. In Victoria, B.C., post-secondary students held up signs on a street corner protesting poor service.
Nonetheless, in some cities at least, the wait for a better ride to campus just keeps got longer.
One of the things that professors frequently discuss when students are not around is the whole set of difficulties faced by female professors in an academy, and indeed a world, that has historically been dominated by men.
So I was very interested to see this piece by student Easha Acharya, who argues that female professors have a harder time of it because students are biased against them. The idea here is that students are accustomed to the idea of a male professor, and are thus less comfortable with female profs. As a result, she argues, students see the authoritative male professor as normal and right while efforts to be authoritative by women are perceived as overly aggressive.
I was intrigued by this piece because my own intuitive sense on the matter was nearly the reverse. My sense has been that female professors are viewed by students are friendlier, more approachable, and more helpful than males who are seen as aloof, difficult, and arrogant.
Curious, I gathered some quick data and did some rough and dirty analysis. Drawing on the scores from Rate My Professors (which is already problematic, but provides accessible public data), I calculated the average rating for English professors in my department based on gender. I only considered tenure and tenure-track faculty (which fortunately gives about an even split). This admittedly small and local sample did nothing to support Acharya and only a little to support me. The average score out of five for men was 3.54. The average for women: 3.86. So students seem to prefer the female English profs in my department, but only by a small margin.
But gender, of course, is not the only characteristic against which one might be biased, so I tried breaking down the same numbers along a different line, age. Here the distinction was a bit greater. Professors under 50 scored, on average, 3.96 out of five, while profs over 50 scored 3.4. This might seem counterintuitive. Shouldn’t older, more experienced professors be better teachers? Or are they increasingly tired and jaded? Do students tend to prefer professors closer to their own age (or at least their parents’ age)?
To complicate matters further, these two variables may play off each other. I have heard it said among professors that older women are more subject to bias than their equally aged male counterparts. Where an older man might seem like a wise sage, the older woman is interpreted more and more like an elderly lady whose day is long past.
All of this raises troubling questions for universities. Where precisely are the biases? Do they apply equally in all disciplines? How can they be combated? And most of all, as this piece cited by Acharya points out, is it not another reason to call into question the value of student evaluations of university professors?
Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.
There’s a popular saying among members of the Ski and Board Club at the University of British Columbia, one such member reports: “If you can’t find a better solution, there’s always the lodge.”
In the future, there might not be. Whistler Lodge, in the famous resort town two hours up the coast from Vancouver, may be sold to help improve the financial situation of the Alma Mater Society, the undergraduate student group that owns it.
One might expect an uproar about losing the 42-bed chalet built in 1965 but even Ski and Board Club members are divided on whether it’s worth keeping.
Students make a lot of noise about tuition costs but are less vocal about university spending, aside from occasionally blasting administrator salaries. (At McGill, for example, the big news this week was president Suzanne Fortier’s salary: $390,000 plus a potential 20 per cent bonus.)
But a couple of $1-million university entrance sign makeovers—at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) and the University of Regina—have caught students’ attention.
The UTM Student Union posted a photo of the school’s massive new stone entrance-way on its Facebook page and asked, “how much do you think the UTM signage on Mississauga Road costs?” The answer: $998,000. More than 80 shared the post. Student Ju Li expressed outrage to The Medium newspaper: “The fact that University of Toronto, a public institution, splurged $1 million on a vanity project is rather outrageous.”
Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla, co-founder of PayPal, CEO of SpaceX and Hyperloop dreamer, once told Maclean’s he didn’t attend the University of Waterloo because there were more women at Queen’s, a fact he repeated recently in an interview with Queen’s alumni magazine:
“It was a close call for me between Waterloo and Queen’s. I was going to do physics and engineering at Waterloo, but then I visited the campus… and, you may not want to print this… but there didn’t seem to be any girls there! So, I visited Queen’s, and there were girls there. I didn’t want to spend my undergraduate time with a bunch of dudes.”
It sparked a discussion on the social site Reddit and an unexpected official response from Waterloo. In a YouTube video, a campus recruiter leans in and addresses Musk. “You’re right. In the 1990s, our women were significantly outnumbered by a bunch of dudes, as you put it, and we’re sorry for that. I’ll let you in on a little secret though. We may have had one or two women you missed.” She then adds, “we’ve spruced the place up,” and the camera cuts to a recruiter spritzing promotional materials with perfume. She then tours the campus and happens upon Canadian Federation of Engineering Students president Lisa Belbeck, Canada Research Chair Susan Tighe, Engineering Dean Pearl Sullivan and other notable females. The message: Waterloo is welcoming to women.
But the video has offended some who say it makes light of the fact that there are still relatively few women in engineering. Indeed, the proportion in undergraduate programs has stayed stubbornly low. It was 16.1 per cent in 1991, hit 20.6 per cent in 2001 and fell to 17.7 per cent in 2011. Filzah Nasir, a second-year student, pointed this out in a commentary criticizing Musk and the video that was printed in the Iron Warrior, Waterloo’s engineering newspaper. “Musk made a decision to attend a university where he would have a better chance of meeting women,” she writes, “because, of course, men go to university to learn, and women go to university so men can have something pretty to look at.” It goes on to say Waterloo should be “embarrassed” that their program is 81.5 per cent male and that sexism is prevalent, evidenced by posters that “terrorized” women two years ago. They showed Marie Curie and said women scientists would “nuke the whole Planet.”
The video hasn’t gone over well with some commentators on Reddit or YouTube either, where some suggest it was made by a feminist “who can’t take a joke” and others criticize the quality.
Belbeck thinks the video has been mostly misinterpreted. “It was to poke fun at what Elon said and people are taking it too seriously,” she says, pointing to the scene where recruiters spray perfume on promotional materials. While she won’t speak for other women, she says she hasn’t experienced sexism at Waterloo and wasn’t offended by either Musk’s words or the video. “I thought it was fun.”
The University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and McGill University are once again the top three Canadian schools in an international comparison. This time it’s the Times Higher Education‘s 2013-14 World University Rankings. Those same three are gold, silver and bronze in the Medical Doctoral category of the Maclean’s 2014 Rankings and on the other two global lists, QS and ARWU.
Once again, 19 Canadian universities are on Times’ list. The rankings are based on 13 performance indicators including the learning environment, research volume and citations. The top three overall are the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Oxford University. All of the top 10 are in the U.S. or U.K.
Here are all the Canadian schools that made the list with last year’s ranks in parentheses:
When members of Western’s cheerleading team launched a member into the air on their way to the football game this weekend against Queen’s, their attempt to boost school spirit during homecoming was rewarded with a $140 fine. London Police deemed the demonstration “a nuisance” and ticketed head cheerleader Max Gow.
The team’s coach told the London Free Press he and Gow plan to fight the ticket. That won’t surprise anyone. What will is that this fine was just one of 270 issued during Saturday’s celebration. The number might seem high to outsiders but students here are used to the annual ticketing blitz know as “Project LEARN” (Liquor Enforcement and Reduction of Noise), when party, noise and litter bylaws are strictly enforced for the first month of classes. Many students, myself included, think the campaign targets us unfairly.