Makes you proud

According to a Globe and Mail piece that lists the “pros and cons” of different universities, apparently the best thing one can think of to say about UNB is that the “Varsity Reds are defending champs of University Cup of hockey.” That and the Georgian buildings with which the campus is “littered.” Oy. (Alert readers will note that, as usual, UNB’s bi-campus nature is nowhere reflected in the piece.)

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.

Um, yes.

Richard Littlemore asks “Do unions have a future?” in The Globe and Mail (Marc 27, 2013). His article traces shifts in the face of organized labour in Canada, from industrial to public sector, and speculates that labour will need to focus on the service industry in the future. He also mentions some innovative, less traditional sorts of unions. The tone is upbeat, and I tend to feel that way myself. Bottom line: people are mobilized when they are treated badly. I predict an upsurge in union activism.

Gender has not gone away

Many progressive organizations, and individuals as well, are feeling so beleaguered by the current climate of austerity politics and neoliberalism in general that equity issues can get short shrift. I think, however, we ignore them at our peril. And from a union perspective, now may be a good time to seek gains that don’t have obvious budgetary implications. Though mind you, the solution recently arrived at at UBC has a clear price tag:

  • UBC gives all female tenure-stream faculty a 2 per cent raise.” James Bradshaw. The Globe and Mail (2/2/13): The initiative “comes as a result of a series of internal equity studies that found female professors of all ranks were paid $3,000 less on average, a discrepancy that could only be explained by gender after accounting for other factors.”

But there are many areas of employment practices that could better address issues of gender equity that are not so directly related to pay. An excellent opinion piece in yesterday’s NYT lays out some of the issues:

  • Why Gender Equality Stalled.” Stephanie Coontz. The New York Times (16/2/13): “Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.”

Coontz links to a study by Jody Heymann, dean of the school of public health at UCLA, of “work-family reconciliation” acts in nearly 200 countries. Heymann’s focus is the U.S., but even a cursory glance at the study reveals that the situation here in Canada is not that much better. For example, Coontz reports that

A 1997 European Union directive prohibits employers from paying part-time workers lower hourly rates than full-time workers, excluding them from pension plans or limiting paid leaves to full-time workers. By contrast, American workers who reduce hours for family reasons typically lose their benefits and take an hourly wage cut.

Canadian workers, too.

Coontz is interested in the social and psychological repercussions of hitting those “structural impediments”, hitting the “wall”:

This is where the political gets really personal. When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a “values stretch” — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by. This behavior is especially likely if holding on to the original values would exacerbate tensions in the relationships they depend on.

A fascinating argument. Also of interest are the myriad ways in which other jurisdictions seek to affect “work-family reconciliation.”


Gender balance can make universities better.” Curt Rice. University World News (9/2/13):258: “It’s not that improving the quality of the university workplace generally will necessarily make it better for women. The truth is just the opposite: making universities better workplaces for women will improve institutional quality for everyone.”