Monthly Archives: May 2015

NG blog Ottawa

This snap of the Rideau Canal is way too blue. I hadn’t adjusted my iPhone to the bright sun. But a lot of Ottawa always strikes me as unreal. It really was a gorgeous spring day in the nation’s capital, taken just last week as I traversed Wellington to get to my meetings. Tourists were gawking at the gleaming monumentality of that site, with the National Arts Centre to the right (boasting upcoming performances by Alan Doyle and the Bare Naked Ladies) and the Convention Centre to my left. Tulips were flourishing. It was grand, a reminder of what spring feels like in most parts of the country.

Then again, I spent most of the time indoors. I was in Ottawa to attend the annual meetings of the leaders’ network of the Canadian Bureau for International Education. The theme, “Canada’s Global Engagement Challenge,” is a recurring one. I have written about this topic several times. It’s always good to charge one’s batteries at the CBIE network meetings, to be reminded of the importance of the internationalization agenda for our university — and the woeful inadequacy of our Canadian response to it.

(I am keenly aware that I am writing this at the moment when we could be looking for higher tuition rates for our international students in 2016, but I hope the modest increase won’t inhibit our efforts to internationalize our campus. Students, if you really want to be strategic about fee raises don’t waste your time railing about administrative salaries, a red herring and a total distraction from the real agenda: government’s cutting of Memorial‘s base funding. Guess, what, we’re on your side.  Governments like it when the people are divided against themselves. See Harper et al. Don’t fall into that trap. Focus on the big picture, that is adequate resources and tuition equity, not the smaller one of salaries.)

Okay, so where was I? Our group heard from a number of high profile Canadians and the message was almost alarmingly consistent. Unlike Australia, which has pretty much cornered the market on internationalization, Canada has profoundly underestimated its importance to our social and economic health and vastly under funded initiatives to encourage it. I don’t know if a Trudeau or Mulcair government would do anything differently, but the record of this Conservative government is shamefully inadequate. More to the point, the private sector really doesn’t get the value of employing international students, and they are not encouraged to think any differently.  In Germany, arguably the finest model of education-workplace integration, postsecondary education is seen as a necessary stepping stone to a higher paying job in industry. The idea, as someone put it, of stepping out of your degree to go work full-time is considered, well, unthinkable. Therefore, that sector has all manner of programs aimed at training students in the actual workplace while they also receive traditional classroom instruction in the subject area. The message I heard over and over in Ottawa is that the Canadian business sector just doesn’t get it. And our political leadership, or lack of, doesn’t help. German students don’t pay tuition, by the way, and that goes a long way to explaining the difference in cultural attitude towards the value of education, period.  We do have a healthy cooperative program at Memorial, particularly in Engineering, but, again, the investment in such programs by German industry is sizably larger—to put it mildly. You’re not going to hear corporations in this country bragging about the number of qualified international students they have hired. Wouldn’t that be good to hear, though?

The other complementary piece we heard a lot about is the stubbornly low statistic of Canadian students who travel abroad for part or all of their education. As was noted, employers are actually looking for students who have real work and education experience in other countries, not to mention knowing languages other than English. For some reason, that qualitative advantage on one’s resume just hasn’t caught on here yet.

It’s not all gloomy and hopelessly provincial. Our meetings are sobering, but they help sharpen the mind and a commitment to strategic thinking about internationalization. Besides, it’s great to hang out with people who get it—and who, I might add, envy our low international tuition rates. Okay, enough about that for the moment.

As long as Canadians still question why we either bother to recruit students from away or encourage our own students to live in the wider world we have a lot of work to do.

 

 

Blog 22

When I was a lowly dean I sat in the second row on stage during convocation ceremonies. Although it restricted my view of things it also gave me a degree of privacy so that I could sneak the occasional iPhone snap of someone walking across the stage, and no one was the wiser. As Provost, I am seated on a throne chair directly next to the king president, and so there is no way to sneak anything. The DELTS cameras are squarely aimed at the stage and those of us in the front row need to stay alert, smile when appropriate, and just go Zen for the proceedings.

Last week I was in Corner Brook for the Grenfell Campus annual ritual—this time comprising three separate convocation ceremonies. That’s a measure of change, of the growth of the campus, and the increasing demand by family friends for tickets to the event. The best I could do in the snapshot department was intrude into the private floor and foot space of others while backstage, as we waited to process through the Arts and Culture Centre.

Yes, the ceremonies can be long and it’s hot under one’s robes up on stage, but it’s always worth it to hear our honourary doctorates address the audience of graduates and their families with inspired words. This year, audiences were blessed with the privilege of listening to two of the finest addresses I have ever heard. In the morning we conferred a degree upon Inuk Elder, Sarah Anala. Among numerous achievements, Dr. Anala was the first Inuk to graduate as an Honours student in Nursing. She has spent her life working to heal others, drawing not only on what she learned in school but also on her cultural heritage and personal strength to make those in need find their own courage to survive. The wounds she has healed are way more than physical, the scars running deeper than anything one can see.

Dr. Anala spoke to us about the source of her own power. She is a survivor of a brutal, residential school policy that ripped her from her family and culture at a young age and threw her into a nasty, racist world of bullies. But as she spoke you could hear only a trace of anger and bitterness. For the most part, she has made peace with that horrific past, and, as she admitted to us, harbours no hatred, sees no value in it. Instead, she transcended her own doomed destiny by clinging to the memories of her family, to her father’s wise counsel, to his advice to stand on the firm foundation of her Inuk identity. And so she did—all five feet of her, if that. When she spoke about her own daughter’s struggle to keep pace with her learning, and the support she needed and was given, there was scarcely a dry eye in the house. This country was wise enough to name her to the Order of Canada in 2009. After she delivered her eloquent, feisty, and devilishly funny speech the Grenfell audience jumped to its feet in appreciate applause.

That evening, we were lucky enough to hear from the second honourary degree of this year’s ceremonies, Barbara Doran, filmmaker, mentor, and my very good friend. How satisfying it is to see someone you admire and care so much about receive the attention and accolade she so fully deserves. Dr. Doran has made over thirty films, including the hilariously award-winning The Grand Seduction and numerous documentaries on a myriad of subjects. Dr. Doran spoke to us in ways surprisingly similar to those of Dr. Anala, because she, too, is a survivor of a system that trapped women at home, stripped them of their confidence and thus of their agency. Dr. Doran’s story is not about residential schooling but generally about St. John’s in the 1950’s and 60’s. With her mother dying early, Dr. Doran was raised by an older sister, eventually taking any job she could find to feed and clothe her own two children. She recounted the killingly funny experience of working as a researcher in a science lab at Memorial, a job that ended badly and grotesquely, but that had at least opened her up to the possibility of attending Memorial and finding a form of salvation in the sheer privilege of learning. The open door into which she inevitably walked led to the podium from which she was delivering her convocation speech.

As with Dr. Anala, Dr. Doran’s personal journey is one of endurance and courage in the face of limited means and even slighter opportunities. Both women found a way out of their debilitating predicaments through forms of knowledge. For Dr. Anala it was the rich legacy of language and the culture of her Inuk people. For Dr. Doran it was the emboldened feminist critique of dominant culture that illuminated her path forward. From killing rats in a science lab she ended up working as a researcher in Montreal at the acclaimed women’s Studio D at the National Film Board. We jumped to give Dr. Doran a Standing O, as well.

Two women, roughly the same age, one a Newfoundlander, the other from Labrador, both as high as a chair, both drawing on their inner strength and acquired knowledge to go so much further than anything their own parents could have imagined.

Memorial has a lot to boast about, and adding these two extraordinary people to the pantheon of Honourary Doctorates is just about the smartest thing we have done.

Blog21

Last week was just way too busy to complete a blog. Besides, I was in the great city of Chicago for half of it. If you’ve been there you’ll recognize the Cloud sculpture in Millennium Park, otherwise known as the Bean by the locals. More on that shortly….

There is a lot to write about, a lot on my desk, but not writing about the budget this week would seem just too much like avoidance. That said, it’s all too fresh and, to some degree, still in play. There is only so much I can say while the ink is still drying and we are actively trying to figure out how best to deal with the announced cuts. With the price of oil plunging and the government deficit growing colossal it would have been more shocking to get a generous-spend budget. The provincial government had sent enough signals in advance to warn everyone that there would be consequences. Indeed, they not only sent signals but they deliberately foreshadowed their own budget decisions with early announcements, such as a planned reduction in the size of the public service.

The university was very much part of a pre-budget dialogue with the Department of Advanced Education and Skills about possible scenarios. First, we had to agree on actual numbers of staff and students and historic spending patterns before we could entertain what the future might look like. With those facts and figures finally in agreement we then discussed our needs and priorities, the way any respectable budget submission would. Keep in mind that one day we were talking to one Minister of AES and the next to another who occupied his place. Department shift happens. You roll with the punches. As if there were a choice.

And despite all the talk and assumed agreement you never really know what the final budget will look like until it is read aloud in the House of Assembly while everyone waits to exhale. So it is that among other cuts to Memorial’s 2015-2016 budget there is a license to raise tuition for graduate students and for international undergraduates. Government cannot impose those fee hikes but it can relax its freeze to allow the university to propose such hikes to the Board of Regents. In view of just how many millions of dollars we are being asked to suck up that just might happen. In this moment, I say ‘might.’ It’s just a little too early to tell.

Memorial has been proud of its low tuition advantage for a number of years and so it is too bad that we might have to thaw the freeze, at least for this year. Understandably, our student leaders are very unhappy with the whiff of any sort of fee increase, and if I were still a student advocate I’d be clearing my throat to make some noise, too. But I am not a student, just an advocate, and sitting in the Provost’s office I am all too keenly aware of just how complex a plant this is to manage and how many demands there are on our operations. If we do request a fee increase it will be modest enough to maintain our lowest-in-Canada rates, but any increase sucks when you are trying to generate larger cohorts of graduate students, to be sure. It’s worrisome. But so is our degenerating infrastructure and our hazardous tunnels.

Should we go the fee-raise route, time will tell if our continuing, healthy graduate student and international application rates take a dip. My gut tells me a modest fee hike won’t really affect those rates, but we’ll see, as we must.

Walking around the sunny urban landscape of Chicago last week, I kept gawking at the buildings owned by the University of Chicago, one of the most prestigious private universities in the world, famous for many reasons, including a host of Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. The UoC boasts some fabulous real estate, as well as over 9,000 grad students, almost double the number of undergrads. That’s a model of a research university to drool over, and an inspiration for our own ambitious enrolment plan. Grad tuition there starts at about $42,000 a year, by the way—US dollars, too. I know it’s apples and oranges, but there I was (way back in the picture), reflecting on the reflection of the magnificent Chicago skyline and considering the difference. The US university market can obviously bear that amount. What will ours bear, I wonder… we are likely to find out, sooner than later, like it or not.