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Costs of convocation should be factored in from the start
A post-secondary education may be the ticket to higher earning potential, but not before your institution bleeds you dry.
After you finished your last assignment, you feel free as you did the first time you coasted down a hill on your bike after getting your training wheels off. Then you apply for convocation and realize that, unless you’ve got over $100 just kickin’ it in the bank, you won’t be crossing any stage.
With the amount of student fees lumped together and tossed at us every September, you’d think the cost of convocation would be covered. Even if someone doesn’t want to cross the stage and rent regalia, my university—and most in Canada—charge students a fee to graduate.
I guess we shouldn’t be that surprised. Distance education students still have to pay gym membership fees. Health insurance is compulsory, too, unless you opt out, and even then you pay upfront and get a refund. What makes convocation any different?
York professor and Waterloo student deserve a closer look
A men’s issues event I reported on in March at the University of Toronto drew masked protesters who were there to intimidate people, city police there to keep things in order and it was, inevitably, delayed by a fire alarm. What followed was a rather lightweight critique of women’s studies from University of Ottawa professor Janice Fiamengo.
I was pleased that free speech prevailed, as it was by no means assured. A lecture a few months earlier hosted by the same men’s issues group, The Canadian Association for Equality, was almost shut down. Protesters accused professor Warren Farrell of “hate speech” for, among other things, his controversial views on date rape.
CAFE will host another provocative professor, Lionel Tiger, tonight in Toronto. That event will be at a private venue off campus where the group will raise funds for a men’s centre.
Universities shouldn’t fire scholars just for being mean
Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.
As you might imagine, cyberspace went nuts, calling Miller lots of nasty names, calling for his resignation, and hinting darkly at the possibility of legal action. Many outlets then took a closer look at some of Miller’s other public statements including the time he wondered whether women might be wise to schedule job interviews while they are ovulating because, he said, they are more sexually attractive then. There are also renewed questions about his ideas and involvement in Chinese eugenics—as in this article which seems to equate wealth with intelligence, and ends with an allusion to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World—Miller seems unaware of the fact that the novel actually condemns biological manipulation for social benefit.
Addressing teacher oversupply will please many in Ontario
Ontario’s government announced today that it plans to double the time students spend in teacher’s college to four semesters starting in September 2015. It will also increase the minimum number of days spent on placements from 40 to 80. And here’s the big news: it will cut admissions, starting that fall, by 50 per cent.
One reason for the dramatic change is the oversupply of education graduates. About 9,000 new teachers per year have been graduating in Ontario. Add in foreign graduates, many of them Canadians who went to U.S. schools, and there are about 11,000 teachers certified each year competing with each other and with graduates from previous years, while only 6,000 are needed.
The plan to double the length of the education was an election promise made by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in 2011 and it’s a politically smart move for Premier Kathleen Wynne to follow through on.
Artwork deemed “inappropriate” for donor event
Queen’s University student David Woodward’s final project All I Am Is What I’ve Felt got the type of reaction many new Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates dream about: he was asked to take it down, meaning far more people will now see it.
Woodward, 22, was not surprised his work—10 white briefs adorned with cryptic slogans and images, some of them sexual—offended people. Still, he didn’t expect to be censored. He says the work is autobiographical and discusses “the limitations of romantic love.”
It has also stimulated discussion about the limits on freedom of expression at campuses like Queen’s where some employees get carried away in their mission to avoid offending anyone.
Here’s what happened. Woodward was asked by his campus alumni office, along with other visual artists and musicians, to show off his work to potential donors at an event in April. He forwarded a link to a website that showed his product. On the big day, he arrived early and hung his undies.
Sensitivity only reinforces stereotype of Muslims as violent
An event that has become all too common in our benighted century is the suppressing of anti-Muslim sentiment over fears of retribution. Canadians will recall it happening, for instance, at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2006.
More recently, the Australian National University made international headlines, when the student newspaper there was barred from running a satirical graphic about Islam.
The Woroni had already skewered other religions, but when it got to Islam, university officials stepped in, saying that the piece might gain “traction” in social media and could spark violent protests. The university’s vice-Chancellor called the graphic “offensive and discriminatory” and hinted that the Koran should be off-limits because of “very unfortunate side effects.” Even Civil Liberties Australia defended the Uni. Crikey!
Poor marks for a new technology
Sometimes when I’m halfway through a pile of 40 essays, I get tired. At these moments, if I had a grading machine, I would probably be tempted to insert the remaining essays and watch them pop out all freshly marked.
However, after 20 years of grading university essays, I know this would be terribly misguided. I’m here to help my students learn how to thrive in university—and beyond. In order to do that, they need to have strong thinking, reading, and writing skills. Machine generated grades will not help them develop these skills. With this in mind, I pick up my pen and go back to providing the constructive human feedback that will help them.
Just to be clear, I am not some remote professor in an ivory tower above Lake Ontario. In fact, I am a non-tenured “gun-for-hire,” fighting hard in the trenches of the humanities. This past year alone I have taught 914 students in six classes in writing, literature, and film. I have graded hundreds of exercises and essays, some brilliant, some hard to understand. I have worked with 19 teaching assistants, generated over 20 evaluation rubrics, assigned 12 essays. Basically, I have been battling to keep my head up, to keep teaching as well as I am able, and to keep grading the many essays that come my way.
On Judith Butler’s honourary degree from McGill
Every convocation season, some group somewhere in Canada protests an honoury degree recipient or commencement speaker. This year, the controversy is over the honourary doctor of letters that McGill University will bestow upon feminist scholar Judith Butler on Thursday.
Butler is well-respected by those who follow gender theory and perhaps equally despised by supporters of Israel because she calls the nation an “apartheid state” and seemed to sympathize with the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah when she called them anti-colonial and anti-imperialist forces. She later clarified that she doesn’t support “violent resistance,” but that’s not good enough for McGill Hillel and McGill Students for Israel who want the honour reconsidered.
The fact that these students are speaking out against her degree is a healthy sign. Nonetheless, the honourary degree should go ahead. I say bring on the controversial thinkers. That’s what university is all about. Or supposed to be about, anyway.
Why I don’t buy into “sizeism”
Journalism student Gemma Michael, in a recent opinion article in The Charlatan student newspaper at Carleton University, wrote that “fat-shaming” is “society’s final ‘ism.’” According to her, “ideas about beauty, and the outrage and disgust that persists when someone in media doesn’t fulfill that idea, is a social issue.”
It’s an example of how activism against those who promote smaller body sizes has gained ground on campuses. Last week the idea of “sizeism” entered the mainstream consciousness when blogger Jes Baker’s letter addressed to clothing-maker Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries went viral. The Militant Baker, as she’s known on her blog, also posted provocative pictures of herself and a parody of the brand’s logo: “Attractive & Fat.” Some of these pictures have her posing nude, others in an actual A&F t-shirt and one has her flipping both middle fingers at the viewer—or perhaps at an imaginary Jeffries.
What did the CEO say that so offended her? “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told online magazine Salon in 2006. “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Jeffries’ comment was undeniably offensive, but is being overweight really the next “ism?” Can the experience of fat people really be compared to racism or sexism? Or is this an overreaction?
We must engage the past even when it’s uncomfortable
Remember the end of the film Dead Poets Society? When the students all stand up on their desks and cry “O Captain, My Captain!” as a tribute to the wronged and noble teacher Mr. Keating?
The reference is, of course, to a famous poem by the American writer Walt Whitman. Whitman is one of the giants of American literature, and the poem is usually interpreted as an elegy to the recently assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, of course, was, much-hated in the South for, among other things, his opposition to slavery.
So it might have come as a surprise that the man who so eloquently eulogized the Great Emancipator is now at the centre of a controversy over racism. A graduate student at Northwestern University is, according to reports, willing to fail a class rather than perform a piece of music based on a Whitman work. The student insists that Whitman was an “historically racist” man, who denigrated African Americans and opposed their voting rights.
New statistics counter the popular narrative
Since the recession, so the story goes, almost all 27-year-old university graduates are sitting in mom’s or dad’s basement playing Guitar Hero, firing off job applications and ranting on Facebook about how they’d be better off as plumbers.
This has become such accepted wisdom that when Allan Rock, president of the University of Ottawa, argued in a speech last week that it is, in fact, a myth, the Ottawa Citizen saw it as news.
Newly-released Statistics Canada charts of unemployment rates by education among 25 to 29-year-olds back up Rock’s point. Last year, university graduates were more likely than anyone else in that age group to be employed and just as likely to be working as the same age group was back in 2005 when no one fretted about jobs.
Prof. Pettigrew: UBC’s skatepark is an embarrassment
The University of British Columbia is awfully excited about their half-million dollar skatepark.
They should be embarrassed. It’s hard enough to get people to take higher education seriously. Crowing about being the first campus in North America with an “angled slappy bank” doesn’t help.
For one thing, there are few activities that invoke juvenile sensibilities as skateboarding. It is, quite literally, child’s play, and, as such, right off the bat, it seems unsuited for a university campus. Is a bouncy castle next on the list?
But that in itself is hardly grounds for making too much of a fuss. Universities build needless, expensive, inappropriate things all the time. Business schools, for instance.
‘U4 League’ highlights benefits of eastern schools
If you’re a high school student in Alberta or Saskatchewan, I bet you can’t tell me where Bishop’s, Mount Allison, Acadia or St. Francis Xavier are located. That’s a shame considering they’re all ranked in the top half of their category in the Maclean’s University Rankings.
The presidents of all four institutions have just announced a new group they’ve formed, the U4 League, which will spread the word out about these lesser-known campuses located in rural New Brunswick (Mount A.), Nova Scotia (Acadia and St. FX) and Quebec (Bishop’s).
The U4 isn’t just about spreading the word. These presidents want to provide more opportunities to their students than are currently possible with populations of fewer than 4,500 students apiece. They also want to share information to cut costs.
The plan, though short on details, seems smart. Small enrollments are both the greatest assets and biggest curses of these schools. The U4 will show off the benefits and counteract the weaknesses.
When a university is as small as these four (a rarity in Canada, though more common in the U.S.), there are obvious benefits. The bread and butter of undergraduate education—communication skills, critical thinking skills and group work skills—appear to be better delivered in small classes on small campuses, at least according to the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement.
These are truly universities where professors know most of their students’ names. (They’re also universities where students are unable to avoid past romantic partners, but never mind that.) As Michael Goldbloom, principal of Bishop’s, points out, many Canadian students are “living on transit.” The U4 students, meanwhile, are living on campus seven days per week. Seven days sounds impressive. At the University of Guelph, a school bigger than the U4 combined, my younger brother says it’s so crowded that he only went to campus a couple days per week last semester.
Being small is a weakness too, however. It means limited course offerings, fewer potential dates and fewer choices in general. The U4 might overcome this somewhat with their combined population of 12,500. If one school has a field trip to Malawi, students from the other three campuses might tag along. If one has a course in American history, students from other campuses could take that class remotely. Purchasing power and marketing expenses can be shared too, keeping costs down.
Marketing is especially pressing for the U4. Although they’ve managed to grow in recent years, they’re in regions like Nova Scotia where the pool of applicants is small and expected to decline. Each campus already gets about half of its students from other provinces and that ratio will need to grow just to maintain current populations. The U4 also wants to become better known internationally since foreign students pay big bucks that can somewhat offset declining funding.
Most interesting is that the U4 project trumpets a “teaching focus.” Students might assume all universities are teaching-focused, but that’s not exactly true. U4 professors participate in research, but it’s less of a priority on their campuses than at McGill or Toronto, where 600-seat lecture halls can make undergraduates feel like low priorities compared to research and graduate students.
Of course, some undergraduates are fine with big classes so long as they’re near the action of a research-intensive school. That makes the U4 League a good reminder that there are trade-offs when choosing a university. It’s best to consider all the options and pick what’s right for you.
There’s enough to worry about right there on campus
Sean Wilson, a board member of the University of Regina Students’ Union, says that student leaders should be focused on things like tuition, residences and public transit. Recently, they’ve often been focused on the Middle East instead. Not on those killed by their own government in Syria, the sexual minorities mistreated by Iran or women subjugated by Saudi Arabia. No, they’ve been debating whether to join such international power brokers as Lenny Kravitz and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland in their commitments to not buy Israeli products or host Israeli academics.
Big deal right? I would argue yes, and not just because these student unions are taking sides.
Educators have bigger things to worry about
Students looking to spill secrets about crushes or amusing campus escapades have a new outlet on Facebook. “Confessions” pages that post anonymous messages have been popping up at universities, colleges and high schools from Lakehead University to the University of Regina to Western University and as far away as Australia’s University of Adelaide.
The pages are being criticized by educators, who see them potentially leading to cyberbullying if the anonymity is broken. I don’t think they should worry. I think they’re fun, harmless and the risk of names getting out seems low. For the most part, these pages are a much-needed outlet for those wanting to vent or laugh, rather than viciously attack each other. Officials shouldn’t be so worried.
Confessions pages are reminiscent of Post Secret, a popular website that does the same thing. Both allow students to say things they wouldn’t post on personal pages or Twitter. The difference is that confessions pages are specific to certain schools, which may be why they’re getting scrutiny.
Prospective students worry about disruptions
Almost a year ago, I was a prospective student touring McGill University for the first time. I remember the excitement, the nerves and the shock of seeing more than 100 people protesting on campus. For the dozen or so students on my tour, it was our first impression of McGill and, to be honest, it was a bit of a deterrent.
I recall a parent on the tour asking how disruptive the protestors were for classes. It was a serious concern of his and many others. Of course, we were assured that it was not disruptive at all and that the protests had very little to do with McGill. That alleviated the concern in my mind, but I’m sure that it was not the case for others.
In the past few months, I’ve been receiving emails from friends back home in Vancouver who are currently in their graduating year of high school and are now attempting to navigate the confusion of choosing a university. While I’ve gotten the classic questions—“How are the professors?” and “What’s the nightlife like?”—the one theme that keeps coming up is Quebec’s student movement. My friends’ concerns include not only how protests affect classes, but whether they are violent or too intense. I have assured everyone asking these questions that the protests are not an issue; they stay out of McGill’s way, they are not violent and they do not affect the classrooms.
Whatever happened to debate?
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) takes issue with a men’s issues club. If it were not so serious, it would be laughable. An organization that collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in mandatory levies from Ryerson students is afraid of three students—two of them women—starting a men’s issues group.
Despite the constant rhetoric about diversity, equity and inclusion, the RSU cannot tolerate ideologies that run counter to its own. The irony of this patronizing attitude towards campus freedom is hard to miss. It’s as if the spirit of closed-minded religious dogma has jumped into bed with modern political correctness to prevent blasphemy against RSU ideological orthodoxy.
The principle is this: if you challenge official narrative, you don’t have the right to speak. But this is supposed to be a university—a place where we learn and debate in an open environment; where those we disagree with are challenged, not with censorship, but with other ideas. To agree to disagree and to respectfully debate—this is true tolerance.
Students and parents don’t see value in $400,000 salaries
I attended a lecture at the University of Toronto last week where some of Canada’s brightest higher education experts spoke to a Canadian Studies class about The Future of Canadian Universities. It was in a derelict lecture hall in University College with broken seats and dusty windows, a common sight in an age of austerity.
The consensus among the administrator, the bureaucrat and the professor on the panel was that with tuition at $7,180 and rising in Ontario and universities experiencing annual crises to balance their books, something’s got to give. According to them, that something ought to include “differentiation,” a government policy that would force professors and schools to focus on what they do best, either teaching or research—not both.
Differentiation may indeed help and it’s a conversation we should have. But it occurred to me, as I sat in that creaking seat, that something else ought to give. Them.
Ottawa student leader harassed ex-girlfriends
Calls for Cody Boast’s resignation from the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) Board of Administration poured in after students learned this week that he pleaded guilty to criminal harassment. A Facebook group called Cody Boast doesn’t represent me has gained 140 likes already. I’m one of those who clicked ‘like.’
Boast’s case goes back to 2008, when he first got charged with harassment. Since then he’s breached the terms of his probation and repeated the offense twice. According to the Ottawa Citizen’s report, the victims were Boast’s ex-girlfriends. They were subjected to constant calls, text messages and confrontations. One of the girls had nude photos of her posted on Facebook.
In February, Boast ran to sit on the Board of Administration and won his position as a representative of social science students on campus. He became increasingly visible when he wore pink to a gay pride event at a university bar. He was asked to change, his outfit deemed that offensive.
Crawling through slush isn’t harmless fun
The Ryerson Engineering Student Society was caught with its pants down last week, and president Sheldon Levy isn’t happy. In a statement, Levy described a YouTube video shot by a concerned passersby depicting underwear-clad engineering frosh week leader hopefuls crawling across the slushy campus as a “departure from dignity” and contrary to the university’s principles. In the video, the hopefuls are screamed at as they crawl across the man-made pond in the centre of campus known as Lake Devo. At one point, a male student spanks a crawling female.
Levy’s comments were met with predictable backlash accusing Ryerson of being the fun police, but he’s right. Events like this aren’t “harmless” or “fun.” Incidents of public humiliation never are. When I was a student at Ryerson, I wouldn’t cut across Lake Devo wearing a sturdy pair of shoes. Watching students in the video drag their limbs through the grimy slush just made me shiver.