All Posts Tagged With: "Cape Breton University"
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.
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.”
Red Bull, Frankenstorm, Pippa, STEM & Toronto Fashion
1. A Korean student at Cape Breton University is expected to be deported today after an outburst involving threats to a residence adviser. The decision is despite arguments from his lawyer that the incident was the result of drinking too many caffeinated Red Bull energy drinks, reports CBC News. Red Bull may yet give this guy wings—in the form of an airplane back to Asia.
2. For the first time, the fossils of feathered dinosaurs have been found in the Americas—dug up in the Alberta badlands by a Canadian team, reports Maclean’s science scribe Kate Lunau. The bones are from the same ostrich-like dinosaurs that famously appeared in Jurassic Park.
3. Frankenstorm, a.k.a. Hurricane Sandy, could merge with another weather system just in time to do serious damage to Eastern Canada and the U.S. on or before Halloween. Scared yet?
Arcade Fire, James Holmes, professor pay and maple syrup
1. Thieves in Quebec stole $30-million of maple syrup from a warehouse in St-Louis-de-Blandford, 160 kilometres northeast of Montreal. You may think this is funny until you realize that it affects maple syrup prices for all of us. It’s a clear sign we need more offshore production.
2. Here’s a charity basketball game actually worth seeing: POP Montreal will host the second annual “POP vs. Jock,” game featuring Win Butler of Arcade Fire and Nikolai Fraiture of the Strokes while Arcade Fire’s lovely Régine Chassagne provides organ accompaniment. They will battle with McGill Redmen and Concordia Stingers on Sept. 22 at McGill’s Sports Centre.
3. Harvard University is investigating 125 students for cheating on a take-home final exam. Nearly half of the students in an introductory government class are suspected of jointly coming up with answers or copying off one another. It’s a sad day folks: the honour system has been discredited.
Murderous felines, sexy engineers, burning buses…
Here we give you the 10 stories that Canadian students are talking about today. Like us on Facebook for your daily fix.
1. Nearly one in three U.S. cats is a stone-cold killer, according to the University of Georgia, which spied on more than 60 felines with video cameras. Their favorite victims are lizards, snakes and frogs, followed by small mammals (poor chipmunks!), insects and worms (uh, gross), and finally, birds. Considering the gravity of this news, is it too soon to ask if claw control is the answer?
Prof. Pettigrew on those boring graduation speeches
This weekend is convocation weekend at my august institution. Loving ceremony as I do, I tend to look forward to it. We wear our robes, there’s a bag-piper, people are happy. It’s a good day.
But I always dread the speeches. Not because I don’t enjoy a good speech. I do. It’s just that the speeches are almost never good. In fact, they often suck. And usually for the same reason. Strange as it sounds, the reason is this: people don’t try to say something interesting.
Pettigrew weighs in
With final exams on the way and final grades right behind them, students across the country are wondering where they stand. How much was that mid-term worth? Can I still hand it that essay?
Oh, and what about my attendance grade?
Anyone who’s taught a university course has struggled with the question of attendance grades. The arguments against giving marks for simply showing up are clear. University students are supposed to be adults, and it’s up to them to decide whether they want to be in class or not. Besides, grades should reflect the actual work done in the course: just being there doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything. And giving an attendance grade means taking attendance in each class, and that is boring and time consuming.
Prof. Pettigrew explains his “no… yes… ummm?” method
This week my Detective Fiction class was looking at Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, a novel about a Miami forensics analyst who is secretly a serial killer, but who only targets other killers (and yes, the inspiration for the Dexter TV show).
Trying to get my class to think through the complex moral questions that the novel raises, I asked them, “To appreciate this novel, you have to support capital punishment, don’t you?”
One of my best students jumped right in. “No” she said firmly, then instantly changed her mind: “Yes.” Then reconsidered again: “Ummm…”
And I knew I had asked the perfect question.
Pettigrew: The apathy only adds to the excitement
It’s easy to get down on university student elections. They almost seem designed to encourage apathy. After all, the winners typically hold office for only a year, too short a time to make much meaningful change before the next administration takes over.
And even when student leaders are in office, they are generally powerless to effect the changes students really want—particularly lower tuitions which are firmly controlled by senior administration, boards of governors, and provincial governments.
Add to this the fact that most university voters are only going to be around for a short time—not long enough to get much benefit out of any changes that are made—and you have a perfect storm of voter apathy.
Canadian voters in general lament that voter turnout is down near 60 per cent. That number seems huge compared to most student elections like the 11 per cent that’s apparently common at The University of Manitoba.
But low turnout shouldn’t lead us to dismiss student elections altogether, because the very things that make them less than exciting for student voters make them fun for outside observers like me.
Why students are flocking to Memorial University
The 21st Maclean’s University Rankings includes a close look at Atlantic Canada’s schools. To read more, buy your copy today.
Amber Haighway, a fifth-year music education student at Memorial University (MUN) in St. John’s, Nfld., has many jealous friends studying in places like Toronto, New Brunswick and back home in Nova Scotia. They say things like, “I can’t believe you pay that little for a whole semester—that’s the price of one course at my school.” It’s not far from the truth. As the Glace Bay native explains, “it’s more affordable to travel from Nova Scotia and pay for school, books and housing in Newfoundland than to go 10 minutes down the road to Cape Breton University and live at home with my parents.”
In my opinion, they’re paid well enough already.
More than 1,000 students at Brandon University have signed a petition asking for their tuition money back because of a faculty strike that caused classes to be cancelled since Oct. 12.
But the Brandon University Student’s Union (BUSU), which has collected the signatures, doesn’t blame the professors—who are striking for the second time in three years—for their three weeks of missed classes. BUSU supports the picketing profs. They agree they’re underpaid.
But are Brandon’s professors really underpaid? More importantly—are professors underpaid in general? It’s a question students and taxpayers should ask—they’re the ones who pay the bills.
Philosophical conversations make a comeback on campus
University students just aren’t what they used to be, it seems. James Lang, reviewing a book by Cathy Small in The Chronicle of Higher Education, sadly concedes that today’s students no longer engage in the big undergraduate discussions of the meaning of life, the sort of late-night, possibly pot-scented talks that he had when was he was young. Indeed, he concludes, this new bunch of students no longer has “a curious and thriving intellectual life outside of their courses.”
Similarly, according to this U of T Dean, today’s young people no longer see a course as a chance to explore concepts and knowledge for their own sake, but merely as pragmatic means to Spartan ends. Then she hints that they may more boring too. “I sometimes wonder if people feel less curiosity now that they can just turn to Google,” Kelly Castle rhetorically asked in The Grid.
Fees are up 4.3 per cent this fall: Statistics Canada
There tends to be a lot of talk this time of year about how high tuition fees have become. This year, the debate has been especially loud, because it is an election issue in more than one province.
And that was before Statistics Canada revealed today that tuition is up 4.3 per cent over last year to an average of $5,366 for undergraduates. Inflation is estimated at 2.7 per cent, which means tuition costs are growing faster than most prices.
The obvious problem with high fees is that no one likes to pay them. And when the issue is raised by politicians, it’s usually raised in terms of access: the economically disadvantaged won’t or can’t seek higher education if the price tag is too high. Research has suggested that children from lower-income families are less likely to go to university than richer students, but why that’s the case is a complex mix of social and economic factors, actual cost being just one, according to this study by Statistics Canada. As conservative commentators have noted, even now where tuition is highest, participation rates remain relatively high even among low-income students.
Another reason to prefer small universities is the access to full-time profs.
There’s a lot of talk these days about the disappearance of the tenured professor. We now regularly hear that most of the undergraduate teaching these days is done not by the experienced, expert, tenured professor, but rather by the “ill-paid, overworked lecturer.” When statistics are given, they are for the country as a whole, but those numbers, I suspect, paper over vast differences among different kinds of schools.
In my department, for instance, there are seventeen teaching positions in total. Of those, thirteen are full time and eleven of those are tenured or tenure-track. Of the four who teach part time, one works at the university in another capacity, another is a professional writer married to a tenure-track member. The third is employed elsewhere, and the last is a woman who has just finished her MA and is teaching part time while she applies for her PhD. They each teach the equivalent of one full course per year, generally in areas where the course offerings and enrollments cannot justify full-time positions. Overall, our under-paid part-timers teach about ten percent of our course offerings. Even if you include the full-time sessionals (who are paid using the same grids as tenure-track people, and who have similar benefits), around three-quarters of our courses are taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty.
To be sure, our part-time faculty members are not paid as much as full-time members, but, by the same token, they do not have non-teaching responsibilities either. They are not expected to maintain a research program, for instance, nor do they have to sit on the various committees, boards, and task forces that the rest of us do.
In other words, no “roads scholars” here.
The reason a university like mine does not employ an army of sessional instructors is not because we are superior in terms of virtue. It’s practical. We simply can’t. In Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal, there is a veritable sea of PhDs looking for work, and universities take advantage. In Cape Breton we only have the sea, not the PhDs, and to attract scholars we need to offer tenure-track — or at least full time — work. I suspect much the same situation obtains in Antigonish, and Brandon, and other small places removed from major centres.
So while at many universities, students can get through much of their degree without ever meeting a tenured faculty member, at a small school like mine, you can easily meet five of them the first week. There are some disadvantages to a small-town school, but laments about the state of “today’s university” ignore some of the real advantages.
Saying goodbye can be tricky at this time of year.
Cape Breton may be the last place in the country where people unabashedly wish you a Merry Christmas at this time of year. Not Happy Holidays, I mean, but actual, full-throated, unironic, “Merry Christmas.”
I hear it a lot at the university because December exams (Christmas exams as we say at CBU, though they do not feel like a gift to the students or the faculty) because the end of the examination period quite clearly marks the last time we will see each other, at least until January, depending on the course. After ten years, it still makes me a bit uncomfortable.
When I was a student in Ontario, I made a point of not saying “Merry Christmas” to my professors because I usually did not know them well enough to presume that they did celebrate Christmas, and I did not want to cause offense. So I usually said, “have a good holiday” which worked for people celebrating Hannukah or Christmas or whatever, but could also be taken to meant the time off between semesters.
My students seem to have no such compunctions, and every time I hear them say “Merry Christmas,” I wonder if they have considered whether I might be, for instance, Jewish. And if I were, wouldn’t “Merry Christmas” be a bit insensitive? I’m pretty sure that they don’t think about that, and if they did, I’m pretty sure they would reply that they wouldn’t be offended by “Happy Hanukkah.” But that’s only because most of us here in Cape Breton are Christians or (like me) descended from those who were. “Happy Hanukkah” doesn’t bother us, because we have never felt marginalized by the domination of Hanukkah in December, or by the domination (and oppression) of Christian culture in general. I wonder how my Jewish colleagues feel about this.
And this is to say nothing of other groups who do not celebrate Christmas such as Muslims, and, perhaps surprisingly, some Christians. As it happens, I do celebrate Christmas as a winter festival, but it makes me uncomfortable when students assume that I do, because I feel like they are making me part of that in-group where it is assumed that everyone has the same values and traditions.
What should you say to your prof as you leave the exam room? Something friendly. “Have a nice break,” or “see you next semester,” or steal my “good holiday” line.
Just not “Merry Christmas.”
Are our chief academic bodies on life support?
A recent conference in British Columbia asked what universities ought to do with their Senates. Once the sites of fiery debate over academic issues, Senates are now mostly “comatose,” said one participant, and need to be “revived.”
I recently finished a two-year Senate term at my august institution, and, in my experience, there is some truth to the concerns. Senate meetings are so long, members often don’t want to make a fuss lest the meeting go even longer. Some senators may only be there because no one else was willing to do it, so they are just waiting out their term. Moreover, since most things go through a long process of approval and consultation before they get to Senate, senators often feel that it is not their place to object.
That said, I attended more than one Senate meeting in my two years that featured intense debate. One particularly memorable exchange focused on a controversial report over the role of the university in prioritizing certain kinds of research. Less fiery, but equally rich, was a long Senate debate over the introduction of a fall study break. The Senate at the University of Manitoba recently entertained a controversial motion about the power of deans, a motion clearly raised in the light of the Gabor Lukacs affair, and which inspired just the kind of debate over principle that supposedly no longer exists. Still further, it was not that long ago that the Trent University Senate rang with debates over their residential college system. In short, the reports of Senate comas are greatly exagerated.
It must also be noted that the quiet meetings of Senate itself can be misleading because such bodies usually have sub-committees who consider matters in separate meetings and then make recommendations to be considered on the floor of Senate itself. It is in these meetings that much of serious debate happens and when I was a member of the Academic Committee of Senate, vigorous debate was the norm at our meetings, though you would not always know it by the time the recommendations (complete with compromises and explanations) came to Senate proper. In other words, a quiet meeting may only be the final step in a very loud process.
In the end, I don’t think there is very much wrong with the Senate system as it is. If faculty don’t want to serve on Senate, they are going to have to suck it up. If Senators don’t want to engage in debate, they are going to have to remember to embody what we teach our students about critical thinking and citizenship. But apathy, laziness, and the sense that someone else can do it are not unique to university senates, and like most other human institutions, they revive when things get serious.
Taking a side should come after careful consideration, not instead of it.
The CBU maintenance workers’ strike is less than a day old, and a new villain in the dispute has already emerged in the Facebook statusphere: faculty. Not the strikers for walking out, not the administration for refusing the requested pay raise, but faculty for not being supportive enough. Why? Because the workers want a 2.9 per cent increase in pay, the same percentage increase that faculty got in their 2009 agreement. How can fat-cat profs pocket their loot (not that cats have pockets, but you get the point) and not support their brothers in arms who want only the same deal?
Underlying this question is the idea that unions should necessarily support one another. It’s called solidarity. Or, as a senior faculty association member put it to me, “the principle of solidarity.” Solidarity says that since the maintenance workers are a union and we are a union, we must necessarily be on their side. Whatever their position, whatever the employer’s position, the principle holds: unions are always right.
This plays well in Cape Breton, where a lifelong Caper once told me “Everybody hates their boss: it’s the pit mentality,” but I’m not buying a ticket to this show. Why not? Because solidarity means not evaluating the particular case on its merits. It means closing one’s mind and taking sides without critically appraising the evidence. That kind of thinking is dangerous in general, and it is anathema to a university. The whole point of my job as a professor is to encourage independent thinking, to get students to question authority and to take a position based on evidence. To side with one side or another only because they are on our side flies in the face of every principle of sound intellectual discourse.
Case in point: the maintenance workers want a 2.9 per cent bump, arguing that if the university can pay faculty more, they can pay others more. Fair enough. But there are reasonable counter-arguments. The most obvious is this: CBU faculty justified that raise based on a comparison with other small Nova Scotia universities. Would it not follow, then, that fair compensation for other CBU employees would be based on what others doing similar jobs at similar institutions make? Are our guys paid less than the guys at Acadia or SMU? I don’t know and I don’t know if anyone has checked, but I would want to know before I took a stand one way or the other.
For all I know, they deserve more than 2.9 per cent. Similarly, the CBUFA signed its agreement when the university was still in the middle of a three-year funding agreement with the province. Now a new agreement is being worked on and all indications are that money will be tighter very soon. So one might reasonably argue that the situation of the two unions is simply not the same. I have it on good authority that other maintenance workers at the university have already settled for what this union has refused; should the other maintenance workers be out fighting for their coworkers to be paid more than they are? That’s a tough question. And that is to say nothing of an even tougher question: are maintenance workers as important to the university as faculty?
None of this is to say that the strikers are wrong. Only that I don’t know if they are or not. Perhaps others could effectively counter my concerns, but that is just my point. If I am going to take a position at all, I would need to know the facts and think them through, and ask questions and hear answers. Sadly, that kind of thing doesn’t happen much in the context of labour disputes. Lines are drawn, sides are taken, and sneers are leveled at those who question the unquestionable principle of solidarity.
Look east to see that all universities are not the same.
I am getting really tired of people protesting too much the state of Canada’s universities in general but describing big, central and western Canadian research universities in particular.
Oil executive Gwyn Morgan gives us the latest salvo, blasting today’s universities. At our modern universities, he contends:
1. Little attention is given to the teaching abilities of faculty when it comes to hiring and promotion.
2. Faculty hate undergraduate teaching and get their grad students to do it if they can.
3. Students, at least in first year, sit silently, listening to dry recitations of material that could easily be found in the textbook or online.
4. Students only attend classes because they are coerced by pop quizzes and other underhanded methods.
I’m not entirely certain this is broadly true at any university in Canada, and I can say with confidence that it is generally not the case at other small eastern Canadian universities. Indeed, I can say with certainty that none of the above matches very well with the reality at my own august institution. To wit:
1. At my university, teaching is taken just as seriously as research when it comes to hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions.
2. Small universities like mine don’t have grad students for the most part so teaching is not foisted upon them. In any case, I can’t think of a single colleague of mine who hates teaching. Perhaps there are one or two who would do only research if they were allowed to, but those are, by far, in the minority. Based on my interactions with faculty at places like Acadia and UPEI, the same seems to hold true at other small maritime institutions. If you are a faculty member at a small east coast Canadian school and you despise teaching, let me know.
3. Unlike classes at the big research schools that Morgan seems to have in mind, classes at my university are small, even at the first year level. In my department, first year classes are capped at 30-45 students and upper-year classes rarely have more than 20 students in them. But even in my first year class (enrollment of about 40), the emphasis is on learning to read literature as a set of skills and as a habit of mind. Most students are reluctant to talk in first year, but even so, the class is not simply a monody of cold facts; I help my students understand what it is to read creatively and to think critically. It’s a year-long dialogue.
4. Some professors may reward attendance with grades, but I certainly don’t. To my mind, the benefit of attending classes should be obvious to students: you learn interesting things and take part in interesting discussions.
Indeed, it’s amazing to me that Morgan concludes his essay by wishing for something that already exists:
What if formal lectures were eliminated altogether, in favour of informal, smaller group discussions with those talented scholars? Think of how much richer the teaching and learning experience could be.
Could be? Nay, Morgan, it is. You just have to know where to look for it.
My best argument for tenure? This awesome blog.
The recent faculty unrest at Western and Carleton has turned in large measure around disagreements over the tenure system at those universities, and whenever tenure comes up, the comments from some corners are predictable. Why, people ask, should professors, unlike any other group of employees, get unbreakable contracts for life?
Leaving aside the fact that firing people at the drop of a hat is probably rarer in the non-academic world than people let on, and ignoring the fact that tenure is not an absolute guarantee of infinite employment, there are at least a couple of very good reasons to justify tenure, and they have been well-rehearsed elsewhere. Unlike most workers, university faculty members have to spend at least nine, usually many more years training for their job, and so tenure provides a counterbalance to all that lost income and pension earnings. Some professors don’t land a tenure-track gig til they are in their forties, while high school teachers of a similar age are already planning for retirement.
But the most important and compelling reason is that tenure is part of the academy’s guarantee of academic freedom. This might sound strange to you if your job is, more or less, completing the tasks that you are given, and either liking it or pretending to. But scholarship demands that professors be free to explore ideas where ever they may lead. Good research cannot be done if the researcher’s first concern is for justifying her position. Moreover, scholars must be confident that pursuing a particular line of research will not result in threats of dismissal because the boss, or the CEO, or the clients, or the government find it offensive, or awkward, or out of line with the thinking of whoever’s feelings they care about.
Though my own research is not especially controversial, my status as a tenured professor allows me to do things that I would not otherwise do. A while back it occurred to me that it would be interesting to write a book about Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, to try to get to the bottom of many of the things that had long troubled me about the play. But then, I thought, what if I do all the work and there is no book to be written? Well, I replied to myself, that’s what tenure is for. As it turns out, it seems like there is a book to be written, and I’m writing it. If I were not tenured, I probably wouldn’t be.
Would you like another instance of what the world would be lacking without tenure? You’re reading it right now. This blog would not exist were I not tenured because it would be too much hassle and too little fun if I had to make sure that nothing in it was going to get me called onto the carpet the next day. In the time I’ve been writing in this space, I have attacked my own professional association, called the sanctity of military service into question, raised concerns about the dominant approach to Native Canadians at universities (including a critique of what goes on at my own university), spoken out against the value of traditional religion, and admitted to laughing at students. This has earned me a fair bit of opprobrium from the public, but no administrator has ever written to me asking me to apologize or “clarify” my position. No one at my august institution has ever suggested I look elsewhere for a job.
They wouldn’t even try. I have tenure.
Students’ Union seeks to break Guinness record for largest water balloon fight.
Academics love to throw numbers around, so here’s one: 3927.
Believe it or not, that’s the number of participants in the world’s largest water balloon fight, and that’s the number that the Students’ Union at Cape Breton University is trying to beat this Sunday. Am I the only one who thought that number would be higher?
Anyway, I like events like this one because they are simultaneously goofy and serious, and although the event was originally scheduled for Frosh week, I think the October date is better. October is the time when the initial rush of excitement over the new academic year has abated and the warmth and richness of the December holiday season is still too far off to serve as a motivator. New students especially have, by early October, developed a sense of just how tough university can be and will be feeling the stress that comes when you realize that if you don’t work hard, you might actually fail at this. So October is a great time to let off some steam.
Or, in this case, condensed steam. Inside a balloon. Thrown at your head.