Student evaluations of teaching (SETs) are standard practice in almost every Canadian university and college. These are in-class or online questionnaires that students fill out anonymously to rate and comment on the instructor and the course, with the results passed along to the instructor and, usually, to their supervisor.
But although SETs are standard practice, they’re also controversial. SETs can provide instructors with valuable feedback that they can then use to improve the course or their teaching – the so-called “formative” purpose of such evaluations. But SETs are also often used by universities and colleges as a measure of the quality of the instructor’s teaching – the so-called “summative” purpose. Using SETs for summative purposes can be a problem because there are lots of factors beyond the instructor’s control – such as the difficulty of the course material, the class schedule, the timing and content of the evaluation itself, and even the instructor’s gender or race – that can unduly influence students’ ratings. That is why we’ve seen pushbacks from faculty members and unions at several Canadian post-secondary institutions on SETs being part of (more…)
In February, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a study of precarious employment in Ontario colleges and universities. Last week, some of the challenges identified in this study became very real when contract workers at York University in Toronto went on strike. The bargaining issues that the union and the university haven’t agreed on include job security for contract workers and guaranteed funding for teaching assistants.
The CCPA report is extremely valuable – not only because its analysis has suddenly become even more relevant, but also because (more…)
In January I made an unexpected trip to Edmonton, where I lived in the early ‘90s while I attended the University of Alberta. Some things have changed, some are the same – like -30C weather that time of year – and some have adapted, like the student newspaper the Gateway. When I was a U of A student the Gateway was a once-weekly newspaper, but it now posts most of its stories online, and the print version is a monthly magazine.
I’ve written before about studies that have investigated the process of peer review – the system by which researchers assess the quality of each other’s work. The results of some of those studies suggest that a process that is supposed to be neutral and anonymous is anything but. Now there is a new study of research published in peer-reviewed academic journals that suggests journal articles may play a role in maintaining power and resource imbalances between universities and researchers.
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…)
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…)
The Report on Business section of Canada’s national Globe and Mail newspaper invited me to write a commentary on how business people and management researchers could learn from each other. It has been a very long time since I wrote an article to a specified length and on a deadline, but it was good to use those skills again – even if at times it felt like running a marathon after doing years of five-kilometer races. Here is the finished product as it appeared in today’s paper.
When Jennifer Berdahl was appointed to a faculty position in the University of British Columbia (UBC) Sauder School of Business, a UBC press release quoted her as saying that she intended to “create change by having a dialogue directly with people in organizations”. But during this past week, a dialogue between Berdahl and UBC has turned into a situation that has gotten a lot of attention.
I want to look at this situation not only because of how badly UBC is handling it, but also because it illustrates how addressing an organization’s diversity issues in an meaningful way requires much more than just public statements.
Here is the background to the situation. (more…)
Around this time of year, as university graduation ceremonies are starting to happen, there are usually more than a few news stories about the knowledge, skills and abilities that employers are looking for in university graduates. There’s also stories claiming that Canada has a “skills gap”: that new university graduates allegedly lack the skills that employers are seeking.
These stories tend to be very one-sided discussions, based on an implicit assumption that a university’s job is to produce what employers want. Obviously, no university student wants to spend several years and many thousands of dollars to end up being unemployable. But when all Canadian universities are struggling with decreasing government funding and increasing operating expenses, I sense an increasing frustration from universities that they are expected to respond only to whatever employers want. And, in my view, this frustration also results from a failure by governments and other stakeholders to acknowledge other purposes for university education – like producing well-rounded individuals that can become active and informed members of society.
There are great employers who understand what universities do, and why they do what they do. And there are not-so-great employers who don’t understand why universities won’t produce “better” graduates. If universities were to respond to those narrow-minded employers, what would they say? Here’s what I think it might sound like. (more…)