If you study education in Ontario, you will hear the name Bill Davis everywhere. Here in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education we have an endowed research chair focused on Community College Research – the William G. Davis Research Chair. Many researchers gravitate naturally to studies on universities and this Chair position has ensured a strong body of scholarship on Ontario’s colleges.
Our department is just one grain of sand in Bill Davis’ legacy of empowering education. He was the education minister from 1962 to 1971 and under his initiative four new universities were started (Laurentian, Trent, York and Brock). He was also a champion for the Francophone board, which has benefited my family immensely. And our own faculty of education – the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) was started during his leadership with an exclusive focus on research rather than teacher training.
Yesterday he passed away. As I read tributes to his life this morning, I was particularly moved by Mayor Patrick Brown’s tribute. Mayor Brown recounts a time when the retired Bill Davis called him on the phone and encouraged him to be less partisan. I re-read that paragraph again. A strong leader, who had clear opinions and advocated for education but understood the dangers of partisan politics. After a year of social and political divisions, I am so thankful for the legacy of Premier Bill Davis and his commitment to work across party lines to benefit all Ontarians. May we do likewise.
Thanks to my colleague Jacqueline Beaulieu, I have been learning a lot about the unseen workers at universities: tech support and student services. I now smile when I hear someone say “students and professors have moved seamlessly online!” because I know the amount of work that occurred behind the scenes. In late March my university-issued computer died from zoom-related complications (hopefully not contagious!) and I made the trek into campus to get a new one. I was so impressed with Phil, the computer guy, who had social-distance appointments set up for nine hours straight to help people like me “seamlessly transition.”
My students are mainly university and college employees working in student support positions. They have worked fearlessly, often in multiple time zones, to keep their students connected, informed and emotionally sound.
These colleagues ARE the essential workers at universities. There has been no break for them. As universities look toward the fall, with fiscal fears looming, it is important that these essential worker positions are not cut. Because we may mistakenly attempt to save the ship by chopping down the sail. Jacqueline and I wrote about this dilemma in University World News;
Student Services can be distant and detached
It has been great fun to partner with Ken Derry at UTM and brainstorm new ways to teach undergraduates. He joined my class (1803: Recurring Issues in Higher Education) to discuss how empathy and engagement must go hand in hand for instructors.
This picture shows an activity from early February when the class used Lego to show the challenges facing student service providers. Since many of them are student service providers, their models were excellent. This model showed the power gap between the student (who seems absent) and the student service provider who has some cumbersome infrastructure.
It took some time for my professional M.Ed students to warm up to this activity, but it has definitely received the most positive feedback of any tool so far. By the time each group had explained their model, we had analysed almost every angle and contingency of student affairs work.
Lego modeling was one of the engagement tools we discussed when Ken joined the class this week and we had a chance to think critically about all the pedagogy tools we had been using. It is delightfully humbling to have an outside facilitator lead your students in a discussion of your pedagogy. I suspect I will need to change several of the assignments for the next course based on their helpful feedback!
Guest lecture at University of Montreal
Last week marked a turning point in my role as a visiting scholar at the Université De Montréal. It was a privilege to work with my dear friend Olivier Begin-Caouette and to meet his colleague Alexandre Beaupré-Lavallée and excellent doctoral students. It was also a wonderful experience to give my first formal guest lecture in French.
Learning from UdeM’s largely quantitative approach was also a good challenge and this allowed me to move ahead on two of our comparative research papers – four country studies on the external activities of professor (comparing – a) Croatia, China, Argentina and Canada b) Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia and Canada). Watch for these papers in an upcoming
Higher Education Policy special issue.
After three years, 69 ethics applications, 34,000 invitations and 9 graduate assistants… (drum roll please)… Our descriptive statistics are finally done for all 51 items on the survey. We owe a big thank you to Dina Abdulkhalek – our summer GA who worked to put the broad data trends on the website. These can be found here:
This fall I am continuing my position as the manager of the Canadian Chapter of the Academic Profession in the Knowledge Society at OISE (University of Toronto’s Education Faculty). We were fortunate to receive a SSHRC Insight Grant which will take the project to March 2020 and allows us to bring on more awesome students (cannot say enough about our student crew!). For the first time this year, we have graduate assistants at the Université de Montréal, University of British Columbia and four here at OISE. Our year will focus on publishing our survey findings as we guide the students through journal submissions, book proposals and media writing. In March or April we plan to have them present their nascent papers at a research symposium – so stay tuned and make sure to come to OISE to hear their presentations.
To stay connected to the full Canadian team, I am going to the Université de Montréal as a visiting scholar in November. It will be a great chance to train our student there, present my thesis research and work on Olivier Begin-Caouette’s latest project on the provincial factors that influence Academic Research Production in Canada.
The international meetings for the Academic Profession in the Knowledge Society (APIKS) study have begun and we are looking forward to seeing how Canada is distinct from other countries in the professional experiences of academics. However, the fun of sharing our findings has already begun in the Canadian context. Our whole research team was able to be at the 2019 annual meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education – hosted at UBC in June. We shared our findings at our panel and were thankful to Kerry Banks and Leo Charbonneau who made sure the event was covered in University Affairs. You can read their piece here:
June was amazing with great conferences in Vancouver and Toronto. At the top of the list was definitely the Shaping Sustainable Futures in the Internationalization of Higher Education conference (SSFIHE). The OISE team who put it together included Clara Kim, Diane Simpson, Emma Sabzalieva, Nadia Kachynska and Scott Clerk. They nailed the topic and it drew a lot of interest from those of us who have wondered about the long-term shaping of internationalization. Read my piece on it here:
@mariaressa twitter image
One of the wonderful aspects of working at a university is meeting really great thinkers and activists who are actually making a difference in the world. The only downside is sometimes you get used to it. Fortunately, there is no “getting used to” Maria Ressa (and I mean that as the highest complement!). I was blown away by her presentations at the 2019 Worldviews Conference. I had not expected to be so inspired by her journey and her mandate. Talk about life-risking commitment to democracy. I will carry her words with me for the upcoming year.
The Worldviews conference continues to be the most impressive conference line up and format for me. The speaker selection is done with precision and OCUFA deserves credit for the world they put into this. You can read my piece about Worldviews here:
Recently, while I was researching an editorial for University World News, I came across the University of Winnipeg’s Community Renewal Corporation. This non-profit organisation has helped revive the campus and develop relationships with the surrounding community through environmentally conscious, social enterprise. Not only have they transformed their campus to be the centre of urban culture (and become Kyoto Protocol compliant!) – they have consulted for other universities to unroll this model at their university. Over the past year, as we have watched conservative provincial governments take steps backward for the environment and urban communities, UW’s activities should wake us up. Universities can set the urban development agenda for the future and do not need to wait around for governments to empower them. You can read my piece on urban development and universities here: