Spring means conferences and lots of travel–fog permitting..
April 30th, 2010

Spring means conferences and lots of travel–fog permitting– to exotic places, like Ottawa, Toronto, and, last week, Charlottetown.  I attended the annual meeting of the deans of arts, humanities, and social sciences. About 40 or so of these tired but noble administrators convened on the thriving campus of the University of Prince Edward Island for a couple of days to compare notes, discuss trends, and drink some of the local maple-syrup-flavoured wine. Not recommended–although we did frequent some wicked pubs with superb local brew. I digress, surely.

I am not a dean of arts but I had been invited to speak to the group about some of the financial challenges facing universities and in particular the arts and social sciences community. By the time my turn came up we had been fully apprised of just how rapidly things had to change for the university sector, particularly regarding those faculties and schools that had not changed to any discernible degree in decades, maybe ever. Driving the need for change is one huge factor: demographics. The size of incoming undergraduate classes has been declining, with few exceptions, and will continue to do so for at least the next fifteen or so years. This means a severely diminishing labour force, with, for the first time in my lifetime, to be sure, a larger group of people over rather than under the age of 55. These maturing seniors will start putting enormous pressures on the health care system, and therefore on provincial and federal treasuries, leaving less and less for post-secondary education. It will become increasingly difficult to justify channeling public monies into institutions that are shrinking. (more…)

Postcards From the Edge will return next week, as the Dean of Graduate Studies is out of town, and away from her computer.
April 23rd, 2010


In Ontario everyone knows what everyone else’s salary is…
April 15th, 2010


In Ontario everyone knows what everyone else’s salary is—that is, if one is in the public sector and earning more than $100,000. Publication of what is commonly called the Sunshine List is a much anticipated annual event, the chance for hard-working citizens to compare their own earnings with others with whom they share the water cooler. Publication of the list is mandatory, an action demanded by the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, designed to make Ontario’s public sector more open and accountable to taxpayers.

Other provinces are following suit. British Columbia now mandates an executive compensation disclosure which shows exactly how much senior managers are being paid. Naturally, such lists generate a lot of gossip, buzz, envy, and resentment. Academics are particularly prone to feeling slighted by the revelation of another’s salary. We harbor the ideal that our post-secondary institutions practice pay equity, and that employees are getting paid according to what they deserve and according to terms and conditions governing everyone in the workplace. (more…)

It’s April, spring has sprung, and a lot of silliness follows…
April 9th, 2010


It’s April, spring has sprung, and a lot of silliness follows from longer days and the end of winter semester. Listed below is a digest of true stories and recent commentary that merit attention—or at least caught my attention. No April Fool’s items here, trust me.

Item #1

American college students rallied last week to advocate marijuana as a safer alternative to alcohol on their campuses. In France, a new government report proposes a different solution to the problem of binge drinking among students: campus wine tastings in university canteens.”

Where’s Canada in this story, I wonder? Advocating weed in place of alcohol on Canadian campuses is probably unnecessary, since those who want to toke up always have and always will, and wherever they can. It is also true that this country is maddeningly diverse and so such a campaign would probably have way more traction in British Columbia, where so much of the plant is grown, harvested, and exported, than, say, Prince Edward Island, a small and conservative province whose icon is a red-headed girl with freckles. As for wine-tasting on Canadian campuses, well, that would lead straight to binge drinking, not away from it. Perhaps it’s just as well we are left completely out of these headlines. (more…)

Graduate Studies is risen this week, and hallelujah to that. Several blogs ago I wrote…
April 1st, 2010


Graduate Studies is risen this week, and hallelujah to that. Several blogs ago I wrote about the funding challenges we were facing owing to our rapid enrolment growth and our increasingly competitive funding packages. We were compelled to suspend fellowship funding to incoming students and cut back on department budgets. That’s all putting it mildly. It’s been a rough few months coming to terms with the gap between our current resources and our projected needs. Our applications are now up over 60% over last year at this time. We are feeling the force of our own momentum. We can’t make it swing if we don’t have the bling.

So it was that when the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador brought down the annual budget early in the week we all thought we had died and gone to heaven. It is Holy Week in some quarters, after all. I was sitting high up in the visitors’ gallery when the Finance Minister Tom Marshall read the paragraphs about $2 million coming our way for graduate fellowships and I can tell you I just about bounced up to the ceiling and kissed the plaster angels. Decorum in the Legislature prevails, however, and so instead I threw my arms up in the air and brought them down in obeisance towards the government side of the House, a gesture any dictionary will tell you signifies not only respect but also submission. Okay, not submission, more gratitude than surrender, sure, but deep and abiding gratitude, amen. (more…)