Open Letter to New Brunswick DNR Minister Paul Robichaud

Dear Minister Robichaud:

We in the academic community of New Brunswick are deeply concerned about recent announcements and actions by the provincial government regarding forest policy in the province. Specifically, we believe there has been a lack of proper consultation and transparent consideration of scientific evidence regarding: (i) the proposed Strategy for Crown Lands Forest Management that seeks to increase wood supply by approximately 20% for softwoods; and (ii) the JDI agreement (contract) that commits the province to provide JDI with specific wood supply quantities over the next 25 years. Continue reading

Catching up on news

The measure would allow Florida officials to accredit individual courses on their own — including classes offered by unaccredited for-profit providers.
“We’re saying the monopoly of the accrediting system is not designed for the world of MOOCs or other individual courses,” said Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, the bill’s sponsor.

[See also “United Opposition,” Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Ed (March 28, 2013), about a similar bill in California.]

Let’s call a spade a spade — the proposals being imposed on post-secondary institutions have absolutely nothing to do with improving an educational model, nor are they based on any empirically-tested reformation program that has been successful elsewhere. These initiatives are being enacted for two very specific reasons — budget mismanagement and an impending labour shortage.

  • Saint Louis U. Threatens Faculty With Copyright Suit Over Campus-Climate Survey.” Peter Schmidt. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “Efforts to measure the mood of Saint Louis University’s faculty members might in fact have worsened it, as the administration has threatened a faculty leader with a copyright lawsuit if he circulates his own version of a survey about the campus climate.”
  • Under California Bill, Faculty-Free Colleges Would Award Exam-Based Degrees.” Allie Bidwell. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “A bill being considered this month by the California Assembly would create a fourth division of the state’s higher-education system that would provide no instruction and would issue college credit and degrees to any student who could pass a series of examinations.”
  • AAUP Calls on Colleges to Calculate Adjuncts’ Work Hours Fairly.” Nick DeSantis. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday issued a statement calling on colleges to devise “fair methods” for calculating the working hours of adjunct instructors, after the Internal Revenue Service issued proposed rules earlier this year that sought to advise colleges on how to do so for the purpose of providing part-timers with health benefits.”
  • United Opposition.” Ry Rivard. Inside Higher Ed (March 28, 2013): “[F]aculty representatives are concerned California lawmakers are preparing to hand over untold thousands of students to for-profit companies that have not proven their courses can pass muster.”
  • Dal faculty wants more funding for programs, less for new buildings.” Clare Mellor. The Chronicle Herald (March 27, 2013): “Millions of dollars are being diverted from academics at Dalhousie University to pay for shiny new buildings, says its faculty association.”
  • Alberta demands universities streamline programs, co-operate on transfer credits.” James Bradshaw. The Globe and Mail (March 27, 2013):

The five-page draft letters [detailing government plans] come only two weeks after Premier Alison Redford’s government slashed schools’ operating grants by 7 per cent as part of its recent hard-luck budget. As universities grapple with the fallout, Thomas Lukaszuk, the new advanced education minister and Deputy Premier, is open about capitalizing on the cutbacks as a “catalyst” for changes to the system.

Passed on without comment

Quebec Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne has confirmed the adoption of a new rule that will require provincial universities to receive approval from the ministry before increasing the salaries of rectors, vice-rectors, and deans. Duchesne says the government is closely monitoring universities’ salary policies for senior management, ensuring there are no unreasonable increases. The government does not intend to reduce salaries or compensation policies already in place, the minister says. “They are able to fix (set) their salaries, but the ministry can fix some objectives.”

“Universities are not private corporations, they are not private enterprises,” [PQ higher education minister Pierre] Duchesne said. (“Quebec cracks down on university rector salaries.” Dan Delmar. CJAD 800. April 10, 2013).

So have you heard the latest?

Replacing academic faculty with woefully underpaid contingent labour is so yesterday: “Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break.” John Markoff. New York Times (April 4, 2013): “The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks.” Such as taking on additional course sections, I’m guessing.

There is a petition: Professionals Against Machine Scoring Of Student Essays In High-Stakes Assessment:

Computers cannot “read.” They cannot measure the essentials of effective written communication: accuracy, reasoning, adequacy of evidence, good sense, ethical stance, convincing argument, meaningful organization, clarity, and veracity, among others.

It’s kinda cute that in order to sign the petition, one has to verify that one is human. Like robots are going to sign this one.

Distressed student receives failing grade.

Distressed student receives failing grade. Robot grader is empathetic.


the government’s explanation of their new budget. While I cannot argue with some of their “select number of new investments,” two of them — the first two — sound like boondoggles: “$16 million in 2013-14 as part of a five-year, $80-million investment in innovation in order to jump start the economy”and “the establishment of the new Energy Institute.” And I would love to know how much of the funding for these “new investments” will go toward nursing homes, health initiatives and early-child education, and how much to the Energy Hub Institute. How about investment in our innovative youth and support for the excellent research in our universities? But no:

No increase in funding to public universities, the New Brunswick Community College and the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick with the expectation that they continue to seek operational efficiencies, and that any tuition increases will be capped at $150.

This was in the section entitled “Finding efficiencies through continuous improvement and performance excellence,” I assume un-ironically.

And why can’t we do it all? Because “New Brunswick will continue to have the lowest general corporate income tax rate in Atlantic Canada.” Ah well, I hear the government plane is up for sale. Maybe our students can pool together their oppressive student loans and fly out of here to somewhere with no extradition treaty.