academic

University Diversity

Diversity in the workforce is a challenging issue for many organizations, but it’s particularly critical for universities. This is partly because many universities are publicly funded, which might imply that they have a larger responsibility to represent the population that financially supports them. And universities that teach about inclusivity and equality should surely be expected to live those values in their own operations.

But another reason is that universities are large and very visible organizations. Unlike workers at companies whose operations are largely unseen, workers at universities interact with large numbers of people – students, communities, governments – every day. So if there is a lack of diversity in the workforce at universities, it will be far more noticeable than it might be in other types of organizations.

Statistics Canada collects data on gender diversity among post-secondary instructors, but it doesn’t collect data on racial, ethnic or international diversity in that occupation. So I was very interested in (more…)

Pumpkins and Pomposity

Margaret Wente, a columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper, isn’t known for having insightful or original perspectives on issues. Earlier this year, it was discovered that some of her columns were truly unoriginal – that is, they contained unattributed material taken from other sources. But the topics of Wente’s columns also tend to be recycled, and two weeks ago she returned to one of her favourite topics: the silliness of some academic research.

Since I’ve written about Wente’s attacks on academics before, I recognize that I’m also recycling topics by devoting a blog post to her latest anti-academic screed. But Wente’s reasoning and analyses in this column are so appallingly weak that they deserve to be called out.

Wente’s column starts (more…)

Graduate Degrees and Low-Wage Work

Underemployment is a phenomenon in the labour market that doesn’t get a lot of attention. That’s partly because the term “underemployment” can mean a couple of different things. One definition of “underemployment” is part-time workers who would prefer to be working full-time, or who are actively seeking full-time work while working part-time. Those situations aren’t always captured by measures that simply count the numbers of part-time workers, because those data don’t look at workers’ reasons why they are working part-time.

Another definition of “underemployment” is workers that have higher qualifications than the requirements of the job they’re employed in. This is also referred to as “overqualification”. And there’s a new study with some fascinating data about underemployment or overqualification among people with graduate degrees. (more…)

Selective Attention

At the end of April, Margaret Wente, a columnist for the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper, was accused of plagiarism for the second time. Her column temporarily disappeared, and Globe editor David Walmsley stated that “[t]he Opinion team will be working with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again”.

Wente’s column started showing up again on the Globe’s editorial pages in mid-May. If her June 11 column is an example of her rehabilitated writing, it looks like Wente might have learned not to plagiarize – but she continues to express opinions that don’t fit the facts.

The column in question pooh-poohs the idea of “quotas for women” to encourage more equitable gender representation in leadership positions. Wente states that “in business circles, it is now conventional to declare that companies with more women on their boards are more socially responsible and tally better financial results”. She then proceeds to attack that idea by citing this recent academic article by researcher Alice Eagly, presenting it as proof that a diverse board of directors does not improve a company’s financial performance or the board’s own effectiveness.

I’m not sure where Wente is finding these “business circles” that believe in diverse board membership. (more…)

Letting the Sunshine In

How much light should a “sunshine list” shine?

Public sector compensation disclosure lists – “sunshine lists” – are lists of individuals in public sector jobs that are paid more than a certain amount. These annual lists usually include the person’s name, the public sector organization they work for, their job title, and their annual earnings for that fiscal year.  In Canada, five provinces have some version of a legislated “sunshine list”: Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick. (Other provinces publish salary information in their public accounts, but don’t produce a single comprehensive list.)

The reasons for publishing these lists usually involve “accountability” and “transparency” – but recently there has been pushback from some of the workers included on the lists. (more…)

Conferences and Codes of Conduct

Nearly every organization has a code of conduct for its employees. These codes are usually explicit rules about what the organization’s members are and aren’t allowed to do, including the penalties – from reprimands to firing – for breaking those rules. Often there are also statements of the organization’s guiding values and principles, which employees are expected to uphold in carrying out their work or making decisions. But when employees go to professional events like conferences – events related to work but which take place outside the workplace – the rules of behaviour aren’t always as clear.

Behaviour at conferences is something that I’ve been thinking about as conference season is starting for me. Every year, away from the watchful eyes of their supervisors and their human resources department, some people act like idiots. They might do things like ask questions during a seminar or presentation with the sole intention of making the presenter look bad and making themselves look good. Or they might harass other conference attendees, usually at social events, by doing things like looking down women’s tops, making inappropriate comments about how someone is dressed, or uttering racist or sexist insults (I’ve personally witnessed all of these).

Surprisingly, though, many conference organizers are reluctant to crack down on these kinds of behaviours by attendees. (more…)

Book Publishing and False Economies

The North American book publishing industry has been disrupted in the last couple of years. Publishers’ revenues are dropping for a number of reasons:  different publishing formats, the increased ease of self-publishing, and upheavals in distribution and sales channels. And in any business, when revenues decrease, one of the first strategic responses is usually to reduce production costs. For book publishers, that can mean reducing the costs of editing or proofreading in the book production process. But cutbacks in those areas can be a false economy, if those cutbacks significantly affect the quality of the finished product. And this week I received a review copy of a book that perfectly illustrates that dilemma.
(more…)

Universities, Governance, and Conflict

It’s been a turbulent time recently in British Columbia’s post-secondary education system. In August, Arvind Gupta, the president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), suddenly resigned less than one year into his appointment. A UBC faculty member was criticized for a blog post she wrote about the resignation; that criticism resulted in an investigation which determined that UBC had failed to protect her academic freedom. After the report from the investigation was released, the chair of UBC’s Board of Governors stepped down from his position. But then an inadvertent leak of documents by UBC reignited the controversy, and Gupta spoke out to say that he chose to resign because he felt he did not have the support of the board.

Meanwhile, in December, the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) announced that its new chancellor – the ceremonial head of the university – would be James Moore, a former federal Member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister. Moore’s appointment was opposed by the UNBC faculty association, UNBC’s two student associations, and two thousand signatories to a petition, including several members of UNBC’s Senate. They complained that Moore had been a key part of a government that had muzzled scientific research and ignored climate change, and that some of Moore’s own actions went against the values and principles in UNBC’s mission statement. Despite the assurances of the chair of the UNBC Board of Governors that the board was “listening” to these concerns, Moore’s appointment was finalized in January.

These events have generally been framed by the media as a “they said”/”they said” scenario, with two different narratives struggling to become the one that’s accepted as the truth. Presenting the conflicting points of view is important in understanding why these disputes have arisen. But the “they said”/”they said” perspective omits the contextual picture: specifically, (more…)

Employee Engagement Surveys (And Doing Them Well)

2015 was a really bad year for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). At the start of the year, business correspondent Amanda Lang was accused of being in a conflict of interest for her reporting on an issue involving the Royal Bank of Canada while having a personal relationship with a RBC executive. (Lang later left the CBC for a new job with Bloomberg TV.) Then radio host Jian Ghomeshi lost his job because of incidents that resulted in him being charged with one count of choking and five counts of sexual assault – and CBC management’s awkward handling of that situation led to the firing of two top executives. And then TV host Evan Solomon was fired after allegations that he exploited his work-related connections to sell high-priced artworks. (He found a new job on satellite radio and as a magazine columnist.)

There was one bright spot for the CBC in October when the decidedly anti-CBC Conservative party was defeated in the Canadian federal election. The potential for change in the CBC’s relationship with Canada’s federal government, which funds the CBC’s operations, was characterized by retired CBC journalist Linden MacIntyre as “the people that are the custodians of this publicly owned institution no longer seem[ing] to hate it” – but the CBC is still struggling with the fallout from the traumatic events that marred its reputation in the past year.

An external review of the CBC workplace was commissioned after (more…)

Business Professors and Activism: An Interview with Scott Behson

Being neutral in academic work is something that I think many academics struggle with. I came to academia from journalism, so my experiences in journalism might have given me a heightened sensitivity of the importance of neutrality in writing and research. But research can never be entirely neutral or unbiased – if only for the simple reason that we tend to focus on topics that we personally find interesting or important.

However, I’ve noticed that business professors generally seem to interpret being neutral as staying away from any kind of activism – unless it’s something “safe” like joining the local chamber of commerce. I have to admit that when I first started spending time with professors from other academic disciplines, I was slightly shocked that some of them did things like testify at legislative hearings in support of or against proposed legislation, or serving as board members for advocacy groups. I thought, isn’t showing your opinion that strongly going to affect your credibility? But I gradually realized that academics can, and should, use their expertise to benefit society – especially if they can help those in society that struggle to be heard or to be treated fairly.

My frustration about the relative lack of advocacy in my own academic discipline made me especially excited to discover Scott Behson’s work. Scott is an activist who works to promote more family-friendly workplace practices, especially those that affect fathers – and he is also a professor of management in the Silberman College of Business at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Scott is the author of the book The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home, which is an Amazon #1 best-seller in its categories, and which he describes as “the first book of its kind to provide advice and encouragement for working fathers, helping them to achieve success in their careers while also being the involved, loving dads they always wanted to be.” Scott is also a very active blogger, and has written for the Harvard Business Review Online, the Huffington Post, TIME, and The Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears in media, including MSNBC, NPR and Fox News; has worked with Fortune 500 companies as a consultant; and has been a keynote speaker at major events. Scott kindly agreed to let me interview him via email about his experiences as a business professor and an activist, and how he balances those two roles. (more…)