A Change.org petition has been launched requesting that McMaster administration “withdraw discriminatory policies” against McMaster engineering students. The petition is a response to the University’s disciplinary actions against engineering student groups due to a violent, misogynistic songbook allegedly connected to members of the Redsuits.

“Currently, more than 4,000 McMaster Engineering students have been found guilty and incapable of operating in a professional manner; none of these students will be treated equally until an investigation is complete,” the petition reads.

In January, the University publicly denounced the songbook and barred the Redsuits from organizing campus events for the remainder of the year. Redsuits from the past two years are currently ineligible to help organize Welcome Week 2014.

The student-led petition, launched on Sunday March 2, argues that the University has taken severe measures that are unfair to most McMaster engineering students. As of March 5, the petition had garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

An external investigation is underway regarding the involvement of students in the songbook, which contains references to rape, mutilation, sex with minors and other graphic material. In response to possible unsanctioned alcoholic events that have come up during the investigation, the University has banned alcohol at events hosted by engineering student groups, including the annual Kipling formal for graduating students. The event is held off-campus every year following an iron ring ceremony.

“This event has had significant oversight from the Faculty of Engineering in the past, and deeming it ‘unsafe’ to serve alcohol at a rather expensive, licensed banquet hall is unprecedented,” the petition states.

Simon Almeida, a graduating student in chemical engineering, started the petition with input from other engineering students and representatives from the McMaster Engineering Society, though the MES has not officially endorsed the petition.

“It’s dangerous precedent if we say that, regardless of any evidence, the University can just single out a single faculty of 4,000 students and completely ban students from doing what’s in their civil liberties to do,” Almeida said.

“I know that there’s definitely been a shift in how other students view us and how the public views us. Even on the petition we have alumni stating that it devalues their degree to have the university step this far and associate all engineering students with the actions of four students. It really puts a black mark on a program that I’m really proud to be a part of,” he said.

“Although the MES never officially supported [Almeida’s] decision to create the petition, we wholly support our students’ rights to voice their opinions and stand by their beliefs,” said Ben Kinsella, vice-president (academic) of the MES.

In response to the petition, McMaster provost David Wilkinson said the University’s ban on alcohol for engineering student events is a necessary measure that will continue to be in place.

“The unsanctioned events that we’re investigating do have a connection with alcohol, so this seemed like an appropriate thing to control during the period that the investigation continues. We’re clearly wanting to move forward and clear the air as quickly as we possibly can but we also want to make sure we do the job thoroughly,” Wilkinson said.

“I guess I’m somewhat surprised at the importance the students place on the ability to consume alcohol at what is a great celebratory event like the Kipling formal,” he said. “I know from my own experience that engineering students have tremendous spirit and joie de vivre, and I wouldn’t think that the inability to drink at an event like that would diminish the ability of the students to have a great time.”

The petition also criticizes the University’s “decision to forego serious relations with engineering student leaders,” which Wilkinson said was an unfair comment.

“The dean of students has been meeting on a regular basis with leaders in the MES, so we are involving student leaders in the whole process and that will continue to be the case. The student leadership may wish for a broader consultative process but we’re somewhat restricted in what we can do there,” he said.

“We’re continuing to do our work and we’re doing it as quickly as we can. The petition isn’t going to have an impact on that,” Wilkinson said. “What the petition does is it brings to the fore some of the concerns brought to us by members of the student body  and some of the MES leaders. I will say, however, that we’ve also gotten feedback from students who are very supportive of the approach the University is taking to address certain cultural concerns. In fact, the MES itself has outlined in a number of documents over the past few years its own concerns about certain aspects of culture within the student body.”

There is no exact date by which the external investigation is expected to be finished, though Wilkinson said he hopes a conclusion will be reached “within the next couple of months.”

This article was updated on March 5 to include comment from a MES representative.

The Ontario government has launched an online database providing centralized course-to-course information for post-secondary students looking to transfer credits.

The ONTransfer.ca website was announced in mid-January and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is in the early stages of developing the initiative’s functionality and offerings. Similar online transfer guides have been launched in previous years in British Columbia and Alberta.

“What we’re trying to put in place is a system-wide process that ultimately will involve all, hopefully, post-secondary institutions in Ontario,” said Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The new website will serve as an interactive guide, building on a static course-mapping initiative by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer. ONCAT was established in 2011 among all 44 public post-secondary institutions in Ontario.

At this point, the University of Toronto, McMaster University, the University of Ottawa and Western University have not signed onto the ONTransfer initiative. Algonquin College, Cambrian College, Confederation College and St. Lawrence College are also not yet committed.

According to McMaster University’s provost, David Wilkinson, McMaster applied to join the database but a glitch along the way led to the university being excluded when the initiative was announced.

“We’re actually very interested in the credit transfer process. The best we can understand is there was a paperwork mix-up somewhere and the courses we accept for credit are not loaded on the database, so we’re in the process of fixing that,” Wilkinson said.

Siobhan Nelson, the University of Toronto’s vice-provost (academic), said the university will be “watching how the mobility and student success rolls out” before participating in the initiative.

“We want to see the concept tested before we go into it fully,” Nelson said. The University of Toronto is part of another credit transfer consortium established in 2011 among seven research-intensive universities in Ontario known as the ‘G7’.

“We looked at our records of where students are transferring into our programs and what courses they are taking credit for. That actually accounts for most of the credit transfer requests the U of T gets,” Nelson said. “Our key issue is we want to make sure we facilitate student success and credit transfer in equal measure.”

A separate consortium for engineering transfers is in the works, again linking the universities in the G7. The consortium would provide transfer pathways primarily among first- and second-year engineering courses.

The ONTransfer initiative, part of a $73.7 million investment by the Ontario government over five years, will unfold alongside the government’s push for greater differentiation among post-secondary institutions. As universities and colleges develop further in niche areas, they will also be expected to find commonalities in course offerings and provide more opportunities for student mobility. How that process will unfold remains to be seen.

“It’s a question that we [at McMaster] ask ourselves and we also engage the ministry on, because the ministry is pushing universities to be differentiated one from another in a number of ways,” Wilkinson said. “So the more we become differentiated, the more difficult it is to imagine a credit transfer system that treats courses that look similar at different universities as being ‘equivalent’ in both content and quality.”

One major challenge in determining course equivalencies is tracking what happens when courses at different universities change year to year.

“When you think about this over time, maintaining the currency of that database is an issue. I think for that reason this will develop perhaps more slowly than you might otherwise imagine, because we do need to make sure that when we accept an equivalence of a course it’s actually the same course that we evaluated,” Wilkinson said.

The ministry estimates that about 21,500 post-secondary students transfer between Ontario post-secondary institutions annually, and that transfer pathways have doubled to 600 over the past two years. By 2015, the ministry intends to “implement a well-established, province-wide credit transfer system” that would “expand and improve” post-secondary transfer pathways.

On Nov. 25 and 26, McMaster experienced a major disruption in its Internet service. Beginning at approximately 11 p.m. on Nov. 25, students off-campus were unable to access any form of McMaster’s online services, which included Avenue to Learn, @mcmaster.ca email addresses, and all domains of the Mac website itself.

Internet access on campus was also compromised, as network connections, including wireless Internet, were unavailable.

The blackout was caused by a single cable being cut by a work crew, kilometres away from the Westdale campus. Upon being made aware of the situation, the university’s Internet provider worked through the day to remedy the problem, finally restoring service by 7 p.m. on Nov. 26.

Though beginning at night, university officials did not address the situation until Tuesday morning, meaning students looking to access library resources or submit assignments for a midnight deadline were left in the dark for nearly 10 hours.

The University acknowledged the blackout and announced that all classes and tests would proceed as scheduled through the day. This, as well as other updates, were largely circulated via the McMaster Daily News website, much to the ire of students who couldn’t access the site off campus.

In response to widespread concern from students with assignments due the same day, Provost David Wilkinson initially issued a mass extension 24 hours on all work.

While considered a blessing by some students, others took to the university’s Facebook page and Twitter to express their discontent with what was called a “Band-Aid solution.”

“Why are you only extending this for assignments due today? Being unable to access resources for classes impacts all students. Not just the ones with their assignments due today,” wrote Social Sciences student Eric Gillis.

“This is especially unacceptable with some faculties, such as Social Sciences, adopting a paper-free policy. Having received no hard copy of my syllabus, you are placing the responsibility upon students to then use your service to access it online.”

Fellow McMaster student Ashleigh Patterson echoed this sentiment.

“You still don’t seem to understand or at least aren’t acknowledging that off campus students can not access any subdomain of mcmaster.ca…we can not do research, submit assignments, or communicate with our faculty and classmates.”

Students also criticized the university’s lack of a contingency plan for the situation, and their set-up not being based on an external service provider. Frustration was especially high considering the time of year, as students faced not only tests, but also final projects and essays that relied heavily on library resources, for example.

By mid-afternoon, more than 12 hours after the blackout had begun, officials responded to students’ comments by offering extensions for all work due Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

However, the response did not address the cases of tests, presentations, and labs, all of which remained unclear. The end of semester test ban, a required part of every semester, was eventually dissolved so as to allow professors to push back any assessments as needed into the last few days of classes.

A day that celebrated the achievements of Forward with Integrity initiatives left the overall state of the academy largely undefined.

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David Wilkinson, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), gave his State of the Academy address on Oct. 10 after presentations and receptions of various Forward with Integrity had taken place throughout the day.

"Forward with Integrity," an open letter by McMaster President Patrick Deane in 2011 was turned into an initiative allowing students to apply for funding to complete projects that would make Deane's vision a reality. 78 projects have been funded since, including the Learning Portfolio on Avenue and a psychology project studying how people can be perceived differently when conducting job interviews over Skype.

Beginning at 11:30a.m., presentations of numerous FWI projects filled the schedule at CIBC Hall, leading up to the State of the Academy. Wilkinson called his own address “window dressing” to a day of celebration.

“We decided this year’s State of the Academy Address, as it was originally called, to turn it into a whole day event of celebration,” said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s address, to a room filled with faculty and staff, highlighted academic research issues and remained vague regarding the overall state of McMaster University.

The Provost highlighted a few FWI projects with positive fanfare and video presentations. The Learning Portfolio received strong attention and was touted as a growing success.

“It really is an opportunity for students to integrate their learning into one place,” said Wilkinson.

With the address, Wilkinson said that he hoped to develop an identity for McMaster as both a research-intensive and student-centred school.

“Strong linkage between student centered-ness and research focus is really how we intend to define ourselves as an institution," Wilkinson said.

When it came to more technical matters, Wilkinson left a few questions unanswered.

He chose not to speak to the school’s budget in his address, instead referring the audience to the University Factbook for details.

“The State of the Academy can be all about budgets and numbers. I didn't want to do that last year and I’m not going to do it this year either. So we won’t talk a lot of budgetary situations,” said Wilkinson.

“The University Factbook…was released a couple days ago. It has an update of all of the numbers.” The document is available on the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis website.

Wilkinson was also vague with when it came the Ontario government’s push to have post-secondary institutions specialize further.

On the matter, he said “The government pays the freight, and when they want to change something, we have to pay attention to that.”

Wilkinson explained that McMaster will have to negotiate with the provincial government over the course of this academic year.

He was relatively unclear in what the school will be doing to prepare for this, saying, “One of the key things for us to do as an institution is to get our ducks in order and be prepared to state how we wish to be seen as a differentiated organization compared to other universities in the province.”

“I think, actually, we’re in pretty good shape to develop that process.”

With regards to McMaster’s internationalization, Wilkinson said, “This is the one area of Forward with Integrity that hasn't received the attention it deserves.”

 

In a leaked framework proposal, the province expressed an urgent need for universities and colleges to further specialize in niche areas. The Ontario government sent the draft to administrators, seeking clarification on strategic enrolment plans and feedback on metrics tied to funding.

The leaked document, entitled “Ontario’s Proposed Differentiation Policy Framework: Draft Discussion Paper” and marked confidential, comes on the heels of expected changes to the post-secondary sector by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The document stresses the need “to protect the gains of the last 10 years” in the face of current fiscal challenges.

The Ministry stated that it “has opted for differentiation as a primary policy driver for the system” and outlined eight components under which institutions can be evaluated. The components range from teaching and learning to innovation and economic development.

The government also proposed evaluation metrics to be used in funding considerations, based on discussions with various stakeholders since 2012. Some metrics include teaching-only faculty, student employment outcomes, employer satisfaction, research productivity and distribution of credentials.

Already, the proposed framework is raising questions about institutional autonomy and student impact, particularly for those living in northern and rural areas.

On Sept. 24, OPSEU, a union which represents more than 8,000 college faculty, requested that joint task forces be set up “to both mitigate the negative impact of any changes on faculty, but also to achieve the changes to the objectives.”

Since roundtable discussions began last year, CFS-Ontario and OCUFA have expressed concerns about differentiation being a cost-saving measure. OUSA has cautioned that teaching and research should not be separated in the differentiation process.

In response to recent concerns, TCU minister Brad Duguid said, “We [the province] will not be micromanaging but we do have a stewardship role.” He said the province would “use funding mechanisms to drive change in the system.”

“If there’s a world-class institution doing something in one area and another institution down the road wants to get in on it, that doesn’t really make sense,” he said.

Duguid also emphasized the importance of “building a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism.”

“Some of our institutions are doing a tremendous job [of doing that]. We need to encourage that because it’s going to benefit graduates in any field.”

For McMaster University, a large-sized school with approximately 24,000 full-time students, one challenge will be to reconcile high research intensity with a student-centred approach - two facets that have been identified as equally important in the University’s 2011 “Forward With Integrity” mandate. With greater differentiation, it remains to be seen how the university will effectively balance the two priorities.

McMaster’s provost, David Wilkinson, said the proposed framework is not surprising but it is unclear how the province will move forward in terms of funding.

“It’s too early to tell what the impacts [of the framework] might be,” Wilkinson said. “It’s certainly a competitive process and it does force us to demonstrate to the ministry how we can be more effective than other universities. It will also provide certain avenues for collaboration.”

Like other Ontario universities, McMaster is already differentiated to an extent—for example, the University is well known for its school of medicine and flagship interdisciplinary programs.

Laurentian University, a smaller institution in Sudbury with a total of 9,700 students, has also been setting itself apart from other institutions. Laurentian released its strategic plan in 2012, outlining the University’s distinctive programs, including mining engineering, sports psychology and applied geophysics.

Laurentian president Dominic Giroux said the university has looked to expand programs that aren’t readily available elsewhere.

“When I first came in [Apr. 2009], the strategic plan was 16 pages and had 102 priorities – I wanted the board of governors to submit to us a report of no more than five pages to identify a limited number of signature programs in research excellence. It took us about 10 months. What came out loud and clear at the initial stage was the need to focus, focus, focus,” Giroux said.

“Differentiation shouldn’t lead to program expansions or closures - it’s an issue of where more space should be allocated,” Giroux said.

By Oct. 11, administrators are expected to respond to the government’s proposed framework. The government stated it would provide a finalized framework by late October.

While various groups have been consulted since 2012, the government will negotiate only with institutions about metrics and funding. Universities’ strategic mandate agreements will be under negotiation until spring 2014.

The McMaster Association of Part-time Students cleaned house last Friday. Its board of directors announced that MAPS had “ended its relationship” with its beleaguered executive director Sam Minniti and that none of the current board would stand for re-election at the Association’s Feb. 5 annual general meeting.

On Monday, MAPS released its 2011 financial statements, the contents of which had been kept under wraps for months.

Sam Minniti had served as MAPS' director since 2005.

The news comes after an investigation of MAPS by McMaster University “in light of significant concerns that were raised regarding MAPS’ business practices,” according to a December statement from the University. The investigation began last spring, after McMaster’s board of governors denied MAPS’ request that its per-student fee be increased from $7 per unit to $10 per unit.

Now, the University is looking for more oversight of the Association. In a statement released last Friday by McMaster’s Provost, David Wilkinson, the University outlined a number of conditions for the continued operation of MAPS, most of which were centred on more transparency and better financial reporting.

Meanwhile, multiple candidates in this year’s McMaster Students Union presidential election have argued that summer students who were full-time students in the fall and winter shouldn’t be paying MAPS fees, given that their MSU membership lasts into the summer. MAPS fees are charged to students who take fewer than 18 units in a two-term academic session.

David Campbell, who is on leave from his post as the MSU’s Vice President (Administration) to run for the presidency, has even included the sentiment in a platform point.

MAPS’ 2011 financial statements showed that the organization had student fee revenue of $507,035, of which $354,023 went to salaries and benefits.

In addition to Minniti’s reported income of $126,152, the financial statements outlined $101,117 in back pay he received that year, which “relates to a retroactive pay adjustment” for a period between November 2005 and November 2010.

In a separate note, the financial statements added that “uncertainty exists as to whether a further sum to a maximum amount of $88,117 may still be owing” to Minniti.

They also describe Minniti’s recent termination. “As a result, severance pay may be owing, however, the amount, if any, is not currently determinable.”

In 2010, MAPS pledged $1 million to the construction of the Wilson Building, a new on-campus liberal arts facility that will be up in place of Wentworth House by 2015. The Association promised to pay that money out over 10 years at $100,000 a year.

MAPS gave only $60,000 to the project in 2010 and gave nothing in 2011.

It also neglected to make good on its 2012 instalment of the pledge, according to Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s Director of Public & Community Relations.

“The project remains on schedule and is moving ahead as planned,” said Arbeau about the Wilson Building’s construction, the bulk of which is funded by a grant from the Ontario government and a donation by McMaster’s chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson.

“As 2012 progressed, the University’s focus on was gaining an understanding of MAPS’ financial and business practices, and the focus now is on ensuring that MAPS enacts the requirements that we laid out in our statement last week.”

MAPS’ Feb. 5 annual general meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in Gilmour Hall 111.

The annual State of the Academy address is meant to be an opportunity for the Provost’s office to share information with the rest of the university on the school’s progress over the year. But this time, it was supposed to be different.

The 2012 State of the Academy was promoted for its “new format,” a conversation between university administrators and the greater campus community, rather than a speech. According to current Provost David Wilkinson, it was meant to “engage [McMaster] in a cross-campus dialogue.”

Convocation Hall, equipped with two audience microphones, reflected this change. Wilkinson and university president Patrick Deane, who joined him for the presentation, were seated comfortably in armchairs at the front of the room.

In elaborating on talking points offered by moderator Gord Arbeau, Director of Public and Community Relations, the two administrators made it clear that their impression of McMaster’s current situation was positive.

“When you look at the [McMaster University Factbook], what it would show you is that…as an institution we’re doing very well in difficult times,” said Wilkinson.

“There are lots of great things going on, lots of challenges, but the future really looks rosy at McMaster.”

Although a variety of topics were offered for discussion, the speeches from both Deane and Wilkinson circled back to “Forward with Integrity,” the president’s 2011 letter that offered a set of guiding principles for McMaster as it moves forward.

The emphasis of the presentation, in conjunction with “Forward with Integrity,” was to “rephrase” the goals of McMaster, and to reemphasize the “research-focused, student-centred” nature of Mac.

“We’re at a phase in laying out our sense of the institution’s future in which we need to build on what has been strong historically here and that very close connection between teaching and research, which is part of the Mac culture [and] has been since the beginning,” Deane explained. The president was intent on underlining McMaster’s reputation, reaffirming that “we are an institution devoted to learning through inquiry and discovery.” He encouraged students and faculty to “bring...[the] power of the critical and inquiring mind.”

It was broader ideas like these that made up the bulk of the presentation.

In addition to the university’s culture, Deane and Wilkinson also touched on such initiatives as the “learning portfolio,” a new emphasis on experiential education that was encouraged by “Forward with Integrity.”

“[We want] students [to] actually have a portfolio of experiences that extends beyond what shows up on their transcripts,” said Wilkinson.

The most controversial topic of discussion was the internationalization of McMaster, something the president has admitted to not always being comfortable with.

“I am very much averse to what I regard as an exploitative model of higher internationalized higher education,” Deane said, elaborating further to say that he is “not persuaded, either in terms of the long-term benefits or the ethical compulsions of this model which basically sees the world as a market to be drawn on to subsidize our current operations.”

International students now make up roughly five per cent of McMaster’s student body. The recruitment of these students is seen by many universities to be an economic benefit because of the hefty additional fees they pay. Deane emphasized that true internationalization would involve “being changed by the students who are invited to come here.”

It seemed that the audience, made up primarily of faculty and staff, with only a small representation of students, was not moved by this, or any other topics. When the floor was opened to questions, no one in the audience stepped up. Despite the insistence on dialogue, the new townhall format did not result in the high amount of audience participation that was initially envisioned.

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