The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Tinson Chen: My name is Tinson Chen. I'm a fourth-year student in the arts and science program and combining with computer science. I use he and him pronouns and I am the President of the Students’ Association of Arts and Science Students and the [Vice President] of engagement of the McMaster AI Society.
How did you become interested in AI?
The pivot to the liberal arts was a decision I made near the end of high school. Once I'd gotten into the program and knew I wanted to stay, I got involved with the student politics of [the program]. I was a year [representative], senior program advisor and now the president. It was a good last opportunity to bring back a bunch of sorts of traditions that the last pre-pandemic year of students know. The reason I got into AI was that it's the most cutting-edge thing. The way I started with Mac AI was that I was a humanities and social science coordinator since they all have different faculty coordinators. For science and engineering, it's clearer how it relates to AI. Whereas, in the humanities and social sciences, [there’s] less obvious connection to machine learning. So, my big role was getting humanities and social science people to be interested in it.
Why did you make that turn to liberal arts?
I wanted to keep my options open. It was the end of high school and I was talking to my guidance counsellor. I was interested in a lot of stuff, into trivia too, and she told me: "Hey, there's this program that's pretty reputable and let’s you pursue everything you want to do." She was talking about artsci. I also really wanted a well-rounded education and to avoid tunnel vision for AI. I think the liberal arts can really inform the philosophy and the ethics of AI.
Considering the breadth of your interests, do you know what you would like to pursue after your undergraduate degree?
My interests, academically at least, are to do with natural language and getting computers to create natural language. If we were to create a computer that could actually convince a human of its humanity, that is sort of equivalent to solving the problem. I feel like the channel of language is the key to what we call intelligence. So that's what motivates me and why I'm pursuing a minor in linguistics as well. Non-academically, I wouldn't mind taking a couple years to cook around different places, learn different techniques and travel a little bit. You know, just learn the ins and outs of cooking.
When did you become passionate about cooking?
Wow, this is really making me realize how much I've changed going into university. This was only for the last bit of high school. Once I got to university, I was in Bates and had a kitchen. This gave me the chance to cook a lot more and get the ingredients to experiment with.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Maybe Parkinson's Law: work expands to fill time. You can do as much as you'd like. You just have to do it all shoddily.
There are benefits of taking humanities courses for students in any program
C/O Madeline Neumann
By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor
McMaster University’s integrated business and humanities program is a complete game-changer for commerce education in Canada. Combining practical business elements with ethics and other humanity-based courses teaches students to learn the value of making a sustainable and effective difference as opposed to focusing on the bottom line.
However, it is not just business programs that could benefit from integration with the humanities. While the argument has been made for mandatory ethics courses, I believe that every program should contain at least a few humanities courses for a variety of purposes.
For one, the humanities help us think and reflect, as opposed to simply memorizing. In most science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, answers, concepts and theories can be memorized. Most are logical, require technical skills and have definite “yes” or “no” answers.
The humanities, on the other hand, are at the other end of that continuum. When we consider major topics like philosophy, linguistics and ethics, there often is no “correct” answer for significant research questions.
We must think about our positionality in society, our previous biases and our own opinions to formulate our answers. This is invaluable in fostering the next generation of critical thinkers.
The IBH program specifically mixes core business courses like leadership, accounting and marketing, with humanities courses like ethics, linguistics and community outreach. Through this, we know that we have to consider and be tolerant of all perspectives on business-resulted issues.
We also have more awareness about what problems affecting our society may look like and how they are affected by language, ethics and the world as a whole. When we lack this mindset, we are limited to our own personal perspective and that of the traditional business focus: profit.
Rather, the IBH program is creating a future where business leaders consider the people and planet of the business world first and then the profit.
Sciences and technology programs could also benefit from the abstract nature of the humanities. Besides being able to think more critically considering the logical nature of most scientific concepts, the humanities can foster curiosity, creativity and empathy. We can then discover new or covert problems that need to be solved through new engineering methods or pharmaceutical research.
The creativity that comes from looking beyond the answer, questioning why and how it has come to be, alongside the understanding and tolerance for everyone else’s opinions and how they can congregate can construct a more enriching STEM community.
Moreover, enrollment in liberal arts programs is steadily dropping, suggesting that many people are not considering the humanities as much when choosing their educational programs. If students are to experience these different subjects, they could find that they truly enjoy them and want to pursue something different than traditional science and medical-related degrees.
Even if they do choose to stay in their current program, any participation in any humanities courses has been proven to foster critical, clear and creative thinking: an asset for a workforce in any industry or sector.
Overall, we need to move away from the narrative that arts and humanities-related degrees are just not as profitable or worthy as STEM-related degrees. Our brain is one of our most powerful and complex assets; the humanities stretch and challenge it in a way that is incomparable to other programs.
When considering the next steps in your educational journey, consider expanding your course or program selection to include the extensive humanities offerings. A linguistics, ethics or gender studies course might just completely change the way you think and how you live your life for the better.
This article has been edited as of Feb. 27, 2020
A previously published version of this article stated that Giroux phoned his daughter to ask about Casablancas. This has been corrected to state that he asked his son.
This article is part one of a two part series. Read part two here.
The latter half of the 2010 decade brought with it the rise of various right-winged movements throughout the world. Henry Giroux, a McMaster professor in the department of English and cultural studies, felt a sense of urgency; that the public needed to be educated in order to advance our democracy and combat the right side of politics. We recently had the chance to catch up with Giroux after he published his newest book, The Terror of the Unforeseen, which includes a forward by Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes.
INTRODUCTION TO CASABLANCAS:
In 2016, Giroux received a phone call from an agent asking if he knew who Julian Casablancas was, to which he responded, “No, I don’t”. He then phoned his son to ask who the mysterious rock star was.
Casablancas brought a film crew to Giroux’s Hamilton home and interviewed the professor about his work. This was the start of the duo’s friendship. Giroux then asked Casablancas if he wanted to write a forward in The Terror of the Unforeseen to open up his narrative to a much-wider audience.
After the forward was written, Casablancas interviewed Giroux in front of a live audience at a McMaster Library event at The Westdale Theatre (1014 King St. W.) on Oct. 24, 2019. The event was entitled “The Looming Threat of Fascist Politics”.
Giroux was born in Providence, Rhode Island, living in a working-class neighbourhood. He obtained a basketball scholarship from the University of Southern Maine and graduated from the university to become a high school teacher. He received a scholarship to complete his schooling at Carnegie-Mellon University, graduating with a PhD in 1977.
After becoming a professor at Boston University, Giroux began researching what education looks like at universities; what does it mean to get a university education?
In 1981, Giroux’s research inspired his second book, Theory and Resistance in Education: a Pedagogy for the Opposition. In Theory and Resistance, he defends that education has become a privatized endeavour that does not prioritizes the public’s best interests, including the interests of students. This privatization has become apparent through the promotion of maths and sciences, and the undermining of social and behavioural teachings. Giroux concludes that universities are no longer producing public intellectuals, people who think and reason critically, with the absence of humanities and social sciences.
When Giroux went up for tenure at Boston University, everyone but the president of the University wanted to give him the teaching position.
“[The president] was the east coast equivalent of Ronald Reagan, and a really ruthless guy.. he was denying tenure to everybody on the left [side of the political spectrum],” said Giroux.
Giroux moved to Miami University where he started the first cultural studies centre in the United States. He was then offered an endowed chair at Pennsylvania State University. When the opportunity came to apply to McMaster University, Giroux leapt at the offer and was hired in 2004.
THE TERROR OF THE UNFORESEEN:
Casablancas joined Giroux’s project because he saw the value in Giroux’s ideology.
“The idea for the book came out of a certain sense of incredible urgency . . . motivated by the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-winged movements throughout the world,” said Giroux.
The author coined the term “neoliberal fascism”: a cross between racist ideology and a ruling financial elite class that disregards lower classes. This term is the basis of Giroux’s book, which describes how neoliberal fascism affects universities and media, along with how it has contributed to the creation of alt-right culture.
“I tried to take seriously the notion that politics follows culture, meaning that, you can’t really talk about politics unless you talk about the way in which people are experiencing their everyday lives and the problems that confront them,” said Giroux.
He believes that fascism never goes away, that it will always manifest itself in some context. Giroux used the U.S. as an example. The wealth and power held by the governing financial elite has created a state that does not care about the inequalities faced by most of its citizens.
Giroux links the above issues to the war on youth that much of his work has focused on, with the belief that youth are a long-term investment that are being written out of democracy.
Giroux sees elements of youth being written out of democracy on our own campus. He also recognized that neoliberal ideology could have been a contributing cause to the province’s financial cuts to universities.
“The [ideal] model for education is now patterned after a business culture and with that, it seems to me, comes with an enormous set of dangers and anxieties,” stated Giroux.
According to Giroux, universities used to operate as public good; however, this is no longer their priority. Instead, universities are constantly worried about their bottom line, due in part to neoliberalism. This is especially evident in the elimination of or lack of funding for programs and courses that bring in less money for universities. Giroux cites the example of liberal arts education, which he believes is vital for every student to obtain. He believes this field teaches students a general understanding of our interactions with the world and how to become a socially responsible citizen; however, Giroux believes that liberal arts are being neglected in favour of teaching science and math.
While he understands that universities run deficits, this need to meet the bottom line can open the door for them to become influenced to opt-in to privatization and corporate influence. Giroux believes the only type of influence major corporations should have on campus are in the forms of sponsorships to allow the university to carry out its business as students are neither clients nor products.
“We have an obligation as educators, not to prepare students for just the work, but to prepare them for the world and what it means.”
When asked about the Ford government’s stance on OSAP cuts, Giroux believes that the government has a limited notion of investment, likely stemming from neoliberalist ideals.
“You don’t invest in students, for them to return profits . . . you invest in students and do everything you can to make sure that they can distinguish between meaningful work and meaningless work; that they can have some vision of the future that’s rooted in democratic values, that has some sense of compassion for what it means to live in a world in which we’re completely interdependent.
The Terror of the Unforeseen is the 71st book by Henry Giroux.
“I write because I believe that writing matters, I believe that elevating ideas into the public realm may help change the way people view the world,” said Giroux.
Stay tuned for part two of this series featuring our interview with Julian Casablancas.
This week, McMaster University announced the launch of a new PhD program in the department of labour studies.
The PhD program is the only one of its kind in North America, and will allow students to engage with issues within the labour force in both modern and historical settings. The small, mentorship-based program sees a strong unity between the faculty members in the labour studies program, resource workers in the field and workplaces within the community.
The program will also allow graduates to contribute within research, administration and policy-making positions in public, private and non-profit sectors to represent the labour force, and to contribute to the ever-evolving issues that these communities face.
Students who are currently enrolled in the M.A. Work and Society program will only be required to complete three graduate level courses beyond the courses that were already completed during their M.A. studies to fulfill PhD requirements. This includes the only required course, Methods and Advanced Labour Studies Theory, other course options surround subjects such as Sociology, Political Science, Geography, Social Work and History.
Interested? Check out the School of Labour Studies website for more details about timelines, courses and admission requirements here.
By: Megan Vukelic
This Welcome Week, McMaster welcomed more than just first-year students. Scout, a one-year-old border collie, is the newest addition to campus as part of a partnership between the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA.
Scout is currently going through therapy dog assessment administered by the SPCA. The goals of the program are threefold: helping students de-stress by interacting with Scout, promoting services offered to social science students, and bridging the gap between students and faculty.
The program has stemmed from a pilot study led by James Gillett from the department of Health, Aging and Society, which focuses on the nature of bonds between humans and animals.
Gillett describes Scout as a canine ambassador for the faculty. While McMaster has had therapy dogs in residence as well as Mills Library in the past, Scout will be social science centric.
“In the residences there is not as much access to everyone,” said Gillett. “This program will make the services available to all social science students.”
However, Scout is more than just a therapy dog. “The program is not exclusively for mental health. We are trying to do both – help students deal with the stresses of campus but also give them tools for success.”
He explains that often students that need academic and personal services the most are also the most reluctant. Having therapy dogs available will make these programs more accessible and make students more likely to feel comfortable to pursue them.
Similar programs have been implemented in universities across Canada. At the University of Alberta, students are able to take registered therapy dogs for walks around the community. At the University of Saskatchewan, professors with their own therapy dogs have been bringing them to campus as part of an initiative to foster connections between faculty and students.
Therapy dogs on campus have helped reduce the fear that some students have when approaching professors or faculty. Gillett expressed his intentions of incorporating such techniques into the program at McMaster in the future, in order to foster greater community within the social science department and improve student experience.
Students in the Faculty of Social Sciences have been overwhelmingly supportive of the program, recognizing the benefits for students. Daniel D’Angela, Welcome Week planner for Social Sciences, expressed his support of the program after meeting scout at Faculty Day while he greeted incoming students.
“The SPCA dog program is a great way to provide opportunities for students to de-stress with the added bonus of promoting resources that the University provides,” he said. It is the intention of the program that Scout will have more of a full time presence at McMaster in the following school year once he has completed the therapy dog program, and will hopefully be accompanied by more furry friends.
Megan MacLeod, a fourth-year honours health studies and gerontology student, has just finished her third annual Warm Up for Winter clothing drive. The campaign, which she started herself in her second year at Mac, collects and distributes winter clothing for children and adults.
MacLeod was inspired to start this initiative after volunteering and working at the Norman Pinky Lewis Recreation Centre in North Hamilton.
“I saw a need in the community for warm winter clothing,” she said.
“Children were coming to the after school program with inadequate winter clothing … [and] I definitely felt that I could do something to fill that need.”
She certainly did her best. As of the distribution on Oct. 19, she had collected 6000 items, far more than the 3000 last year and 1000 in the program’s first year.
The clothing was stored at MacLeod’s family home in Caistorville, a small town of about 100 people, where a team of her friends and family sorted and packed the thousands of items to be transported to the Hamilton community centre.
And because of her promotional efforts, only 200 items were left over at the end of the day. The network of community organizations and school principals helped bring a record crowd to her distribution day.
The reaction from those people who picked up the clothing was also positive.
“Some people shy away from reactions like [hugging],” she said. “But a lot of people were very appreciative of it, even if they didn’t … say it, you could tell … a burden was just released from them just because they didn’t have to put out hundreds of dollars to clothes.”
MacLeod’s community involvement is not limited to Warm Up for Winter. In fact, this is the third clothing drive she’s organized. The first was a shoe drive for people living in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, for which she sent 4000 pairs of shoes to help with earthquake relief.
She also organized Glitz, Glamour, and Graduation, an initiative that provided grade 8 girls with dresses and beauty services for their graduation ceremonies.
All of her campaigns were clothing drives, but she didn’t plan that.
“I didn’t think about any of them,” she explained. “They were all spur of the moment, and because there was a need.”
She plans to continue this kind of community service in future, and not just with Warm Up for Winter.
After completing her health studies program, as well as a certificate in not-for-profit business offered through the new Social Sciences collaboration with Mohawk College, MacLeod hopes to pursue a Master’s at McMaster and eventually work for an NGO.
“A dream job would be to take what I’m doing right now and turn it into a career … something along those lines, giving back to the community. I would love to eventually do that.”
Questions are being raised with the quality and fairness of a new joint McMaster-Mohawk agreement.
A new program has been launched between Mohawk College and McMaster’s Faculty of Social Sciences. Mohawk says about 10% of their student population are university graduates looking to top up their undergraduate degree with a one-year certificate.
The program seeks to eliminate that extra year by allowing some social sciences elective courses to lead to a certificate with Mohawk College.
The Faculty of Social Sciences and Mohawk College have been studying ways to fast-track students through the process over the past two years with a letter of understanding signed on September 2011.
The program, which began last year as a pilot project, has now been officially launched with two certificates programs. According to McMaster officials, the certificates are in Business Studies and Leadership and Management in the Not-For-Profit Sector, while a third certificate called Introduction to Autism is in development.
Professors at colleges across the province have recently concluded new contract negotiations with their administrations.
During the negotiations, concerns were raised about the lack of academic freedom that the colleges give professors. The central demand of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the union that represents Mohawk professors, was more academic freedom for professors alongside more job security.
Kevin MacKay, Mohawk professor and communications officer for OPSEU local 240, stated, “Currently, college professors have absolutely no academic freedom. The high school teachers in [the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association] (OECTA) actually have more academic freedom than we have after their recent contract. Academic freedom was the number one demand the college professors took into this round of bargaining, and we got nowhere with it.” OECTA represents 34,000 Catholic school teachers in the province.
MacKay says the concerns around academic freedom are real: “Currently, management in the college system is telling faculty what textbooks to use, how to deliver their material and how to evaluate it. They are even changing grades over faculty objections, and mandating delivery methods that lead to lower educational outcomes.
Edward Lovo, an undergraduate student at McMaster, has concerns with the lack of job security for many sessional professors at McMaster in light of the new program. Lovo stated, “I am interested in being a professor myself and I would hate these conditions to be imposed on me.”
Elizabeth Moore, the program’s coordinator, stated that some of the professors are only part-time at Mohawk College and hiring is not handled by McMaster.
College professors have no way to move up the ladder at McMaster to a tenured position. As professors are unable to engage in research in their fields, students may not be getting the cutting-edge insights that a tenured professor may offer.
Assistant Dean of Social Science Lynn Giordano says that the faculty has “enhanced the courses to [make them of university quality].”
Textbooks and course outlines were assessed through several committees, and one course was even deemed similar enough to a first year commerce course that it was listed as an anti-requisite. This leads to concerns about outsourcing sessional professor positions to Mohawk.
The Faculty did state that no courses were replaced by the introduction of the Mohawk-Social Science program but did not wish to provide information on how many classes were offered last year compared to this year, though an additional 800 seats were allocated in Social Science by the provost.
Collaborations between colleges and universities present exciting possibilities; however, while college professors lack academic freedom and both colleges and universities continue to rely on part-time over full-time professors, questions remain concerning job security and quality of education.
An architect has been chosen for McMaster’s new liberal arts building, which was announced last summer following a funding commitment from the Ontario government.
Although the details will not be public until the University’s Planning and Building Committee approves the architect later this month, the Wilson Building for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences will seek to accommodate new ways of teaching.
“We were looking for an architect who had experience in designing innovative learning spaces,” said Mohamed Attalla, the University’s Assistant Vice-President (Facility Services). “It’s part of our mandate at McMaster to develop learning space standards that meet the needs of the future.”
The traditional lecture-style teaching method may not fit with that vision, he said. The new spaces will be better suited to discussion and group work, as well as the infusion of more technology into teaching
Construction will begin in May 2013, and the building is scheduled to be complete by September 2015, when the incoming class of undergraduate students will be going into their fourth year.
The Wilson Building comes in part as a response to the ageing of the arts quad, the set of buildings adjacent to the student centre where most of the offices and classrooms for the humanities and social sciences faculties are held.
Funding for the $65-million building will come from a $45.5-million provincial grant announced last summer, $10 million donated by McMaster’s chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson and a $1-million gift from the McMaster Association of Part-time Students. The University will cover the rest.
Wilson, the building’s namesake, donated his portion in 2007, which prompted the University to seek the remaining funds.
In addition to classrooms, the building will include lounge spaces and a performance theatre.
The building will go on the current site of Wenthworth House, which is set to be demolished at the end of the school year. The Phoenix, a bar owned by the Graduate Students Association, recently closed its Wentworth House location and will reopen above Bridges Café in the Refectory building on Sept. 4. The other tenants of Wentworth House have until the end of the year to find new homes.
A team has been assembled to consult on the building’s design. The team includes the deans of Social Sciences and Humanities, four professors from the two faculties and the McMaster Students Union’s president Siobhan Stewart.
“My priorities are whatever humanities and social sciences students deem to be appropriate for the space. I think it’s about trying to find a balance between both faculties, because they have unique needs,” said Stewart.
Stewart has consulted with Alex Burnett and Lisa Bifano, who are current students and presidents of the social sciences and humanities societies, respectively. She is pushing for two additional seats for student representatives, one for each faculty society.
“As it is now, we’re in the older building with the lead problems in the water and Internet access not reaching certain lecture halls,” said Burnett. “By constructing this Wilson Building, it’s validating that we are appreciated as an academic discipline, as opposed to being those students in the arts quad. Having updated facilities in terms of Internet and capable desks that aren’t falling apart and places where professors can actually project their slides that’s not the wall is the most universal stuff.”
In choosing an architect, McMaster also looked for someone who would be sensitive to the needs of the community, said Attalla. The Wilson Building will be situated near campus’ main entrance on Sterling Street, close to neighbourhoods where students and permanent residents cohabitate.
Assistant News Editor
While much of the Social Science course content is interesting and engaging, the applicability of this knowledge in the workforce upon completion of the degree is something of concern to many students in the faculty.
On March 15, the Faculty of Social Sciences held a forum, with the theme: “Understanding Our Difference, Building Our Future.” The theme of the forum was influenced by president Patrick Deane’s Forward With Integrity letter. The programme consisted of two halves: an academic panel and an industry panel. At both, professionals from the field were invited to partake in discussion with faculty and students from the Social Sciences faculty.
The speakers present on the academic panel were: James Benn, department chair of Religious Studies at McMaster, Tina Moffat, associate professor of Anthropology, Greg Flynn, CLA of Political Science, and Sandra Preston, director of Experiential Education and assistant director of Social Work.
Those present on the industrial panel were Mark Chamberlain, member of the Board of Governors, David Admes, president and CEO of Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Rebecca Bentham, executive director of the Hamilton Law Association, Paul Johnson, director of the Neighbourhood Development Strategies in Hamilton, and Denise Doyle, CEO of YWCA Hamilton.
The main objectives of the forum were to recognize the strengths, discuss potential strategies for enhancement of the undergraduate experience within the classroom and in the community. Additionally, it aimed to identify the fundamental skills expected of Social Sciences students upon graduation, with a discussion of how Social Science education can prepare students for the workforce while providing a forum for networking within stakeholders in education.
While the academic panel focused on the strengths of the faculty in relation to others, the industrial panel focused on the skills that are required from graduates.
“What you learn at university is a starting point… it’s a lifelong challenge,” said Chamberlain. “You don’t teach creativity, you don’t teach productivity, you learn them.”
The industrial panel discussed how many of the skills listed as requirements for a job position are often learned on the job through experience. According to Doyle, it is the “responsibility of employers and organizations to talk about who they’re looking to hire.”
Bentham explained that “the majority of jobs aren’t given to applicants,” but are given to people who have connections within the company.
Students need to learn how to properly brand themselves to companies to look appealing and earn the career of their dreams.