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UPDATE (19/10/12): Court dates for civil defamation suit against the editor of this blog have been post-poned and may not occur until next year. The parties may quite possibly die of old age before this gets resolved. In the meantime, I have taken down La Maison in the hope that cooler heads will prevail.

A piece in Macleans that will resonate

September 27, 2011

with many of us, and that quotes our colleague June Madeley:

That’s ‘professor’ uptight to you,” Josh Dehaas, Macleans, Sept. 27/11.

The article addresses the issue of civility — or lack of it — in the classroom, and describes a cathartic Facebook group, That’s “Professor” Uptight to you, Johnny.

But Joey O’Kane, a vice-president of the University of New Brunswick Student Union, thinks it’s no big deal. He also thinks it’s reasonable to expect email responses from profs within 24 hours, preferably 12. “Professors have a pretty good gig,” he says. “You put in some office hours, you teach for a few hours and then you end up with a decent paycheque, so taking 10 minutes out of your day to respond to a few emails . . . I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

If one of our own student leaders can be under such misapprehensions about our work, and our working conditions, we as a profession clearly need to initiate some communication. Happily, Mark Sample addresses this very issue in “Making Your Work Visible,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (Sept. 6/11).

(Now please excuse me while I head over to Facebook).


Ain’t it the truth!

September 25, 2011

Found this floating around Facebook, from the Fried Rice God.

Solidarity Event in Fredericton

September 22, 2011
tags: , ,

The following message went out to AUNBT members this morning:

Dear AUNBT Member on the Saint John Campus:

This is to let you know that AUNBT is hosting a solidarity event for the Public Service Alliance of Canada in support of their organizing drive of APT employees on the Fredericton campus. This was scheduled to take place at the Alumni Memorial Building this morning at 11:30. At 3:10 yesterday afternoon, we were advised that our room booking had been cancelled because there would be an opportunity for APT employees to sign union cards. This is the first time in the history of AUNBT that we have had a room booking interfered with.

We are inviting all members to come to the Alumni Memorial Building at 11:30 to stand in solidarity with our APT colleagues. We know that this is very short notice, but if happen to be in Fredericton this morning, it would be great to see you.

Jula Hughes

The high costs of textbooks

September 21, 2011

A colleague, Gopalan Srinivasan, passed on the following opinion piece:

The other day my student indicated that the textbook for the course was costing almost $200 and I was shocked. The tuition for the course, which gives them about 33hours of face to face lectures, assignments, feedback and all other infrastructural support from the university, is around $500. For the text book to cost almost 40% of tuition is fundamentally wrong. I am surprised that students who raise issues about tuition, student loans and bursaries do not raise their voices more against the escalating book costs. I cannot fully explain. Maybe they are indifferent because it is added to their student loan or they go without a book and struggle. But the academic community has equally failed to express their outrage. Granted there are many of us who are authors of these text books. But the real reason for the price is the enormous margin the publishers and the distributors pocket. The secondary market for books has been systematically limited to very few runs by frequent editions with minimal change in substance. I have not see a research study that does a content analysis across editions of text books.

I wonder why, like the pharmacists, we academic cannot substitute with a cheaper generic version of a text. My guess is more than 90% of the real content required for the course can be captured in less than 25% of the pages in a text. Of course there will be a big hue and cry from the textbook publishers and to a lesser extent from authors. One can understand in the pharmaceutical industry because the original product is fully developed internally and there is an enormous research cost. A generic version uses the original manufacturer’s research. But in a text book the concepts are already in a free domain.  The rules of calculus or the formula for present value are not the invention of the authors. The text book can best be described as a bottled water business. The water business uses by and large the municipal water —mind you the capture and purification has  been paid buy us — and bottle it and sell to us as healthy and convenient. They may even spend promotional costs convincing us that the municipal water is not safe!

I think a good part of the responsibility goes to our educational system that has been built under the premise that students have to be motivated, not challenged, and that they need job skills, not education.

If we have a generic book that defines interest as “I” whereas another book defines interest as “r” and the students complain that the generic book has the wrong formulas, then they deserve to pay more for text books. A colleague of mine was telling me that when he used a cheaper text and supplemented with his own notes the students felt they had been short changed as the other class had a BIG book.

Look at the irony. The current generation of students are technologically savvy and I am not, whereas  my (hypothetical) publisher pays me to include in the text instructions for a specific financial calculator: press the PMT button, press “F1” press “=” etc. It takes me more time to locate those keys than to get the answer manually! I do not know how suddenly we are selling nails to blacksmiths.

What kind or reactions can one expect from the students?  Those who can afford it will consider buying a book to give themselves a “competitive advantage” and in their mind the high priced books may eliminate the “weak links”. There others who do not see it as a cost because it is all deferred in their student loans. But there will be quite a few who will be enterprising enough to circumvent the high cost. Of course copyright violations may occur, which may be illegal. But in their minds that is one way to recapture the consumer deficit. Just like bribes, which are a distribution of consumer surplus across parties, copyright violations may be a way of reducing consumer deficit. Both acts are illegal. But then, as Oliver Goldsmith once said, “Laws grind the poor, and rich men rule the law” (“The Traveller,” l.386)




Request for support

September 6, 2011

The following message from UWOFA went out today:

Dear Supporters:

Re: Targeted email campaign in support of Western Librarians and Archivists on Wednesday 7 September between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm (noon).

Western’s unionized Librarians and Archivists have a strike deadline of 12:01 am on Thursday 8 September. Outstanding issues include the disrespectful long-standing pay gap of 20 per cent between Western Librarians and Archivists – most of whom are women – and colleagues at comparative universities in Ontario.

With your support and assistance, we can avert a strike or lock-out.  UWOFA is sponsoring a targeted email campaign in support of the Librarians and Archivists for TOMORROW, Wed 7 September between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm.

To participate, all you need to do is send an email to Western President, Amit Chakma, and the Chair of Western’s Board of Governors, Frank Angeletti.

Amit Chakma:
Frank Angeletti:

Tell them you support a fair an equitable contract for Western’s Librarians and Archivists.  If you cannot send an email at the suggested time, please send it any time today or tomorrow.  Every email message of support will help us.

Here is a sample letter that you can use:

Dear President Chakma and Western Board of Governors Chair Angeletti:

I am writing to express my support for Western’s Librarians and Archivists.  I hope that the university administration will agree to a fair and equitable contract before the strike deadline on September 8th.  In particular, I hope Western will recognize the disrespectful long-standing pay gap of 20 per cent between Western Librarians and Archivists – most of whom are women – and colleagues at comparative universities in Ontario.




Thank you for your help!

Bryce Traister, UWOFA President

In honour of Labour Day,

September 5, 2011

links to two commentaries from our cousins to the south:

The blood and sweat behind Labor Day,” Kenneth Davis, Special to CNN (Sept. 2/11):

[I]t is worth recalling President Abraham Lincoln’s words during the dark early days of the real Civil War. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed,” he told Congress in December 1861. “Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”

The last Labor Day?” E.J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post  (Sept. 4/11):

[I]t would take a brave man to point out that unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production,” or to insist that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life.”

That’s what Pope John Paul II said (the italics are his) in the 1981 encyclical “Laborem Exercens.” Like Lincoln, John Paul repeatedly asserted “the priority of labor over capital.”

Put this on your reading lists, people

July 14, 2011

The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, Benjamin Ginsberg (Oxford University Press, 2011). From Dan Berrett’s review in Inside Higher Ed:

In prose that is by turns piquant, sarcastic and largely dismissive of many administrators, Ginsberg marshals anecdotes from his 40 years of experience at Hopkins and Cornell University, as well as from accounts from other campuses. He juxtaposes these with historical analysis and data showing that the growth in the ranks of administrators (85 percent) and associated professional staff (240 percent) has far outstripped the increase in faculty (51 percent) between 1975 and 2005….

Ginsberg lays at administrators’ feet a host of perceived ills: the increased curricular focus on vocational education instead of one grounded in the liberal arts; an emphasis on learning outside the classroom in lieu of core academic disciplines; the transformation of research from an instrument of social good and contributor to human knowledge to an institutional revenue stream; and the limiting of tenure and academic freedom.

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