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Canadian higher education in review — University Affairs

As the eventful year of 2021 draws to a close, here are the stories and issues that shaped the year in Canadian higher education. Re-enjoy some of our award-winning content during your vacation. And in the spirit of the season, share this newsletter with anyone in your network who might not know about UA.

Universities continued to adapt to the spread of the epidemic

With the calendar shifting from 2020 to 2021, students, faculty, and administrators were still adjusting to remote work. Some faculty members are beginning to see positive results from their hub, some have tried to see what experiential learning should look like now that everyone is learning remotely, and others have shown their students that they are not alone in feeling lost and stressed. Meanwhile, staff who typically assist students on campus have continued to figure out how best to deliver mental health services online.

However, it wasn’t all bad. Libraries have continued to provide invaluable services during the pandemic, instructional designers have been spotlighted, showcasing their unique talents on how to adapt online courses for faculty, and some alumni events have been better attended online than in previous years after they became default.

For our part, we have published several how-to articles on how faculty members communicate with their students online, how to supervise graduate students via Zoom, whether or not to make your course asynchronous, as well as how to effectively build an online classroom community . Some academics have even had to go through the unique experience of leaving one job and starting another, all in a virtual environment. As Dinuka Gunaratne said in his advice column, “Patience, practice and preparation. These three elements became my pandemic interview mantra.”

As the weather warms, university officials are beginning to discuss several issues around Zoom: Should we go back to campus in the fall? How does that look? Then, in mid-July, Seneca College was the first post-secondary institution to announce that it would require students and staff to be vaccinated in order to return to campus for personal learning. A number of institutions followed suit shortly thereafter, and soon every university across the country was debating whether to adopt a vaccine mandate. As discovered by Maxwell J. Smith, and Jacob J.; Shelley, Justin A.; Drayberg, and Ivy Dong in their opinion column: “Many will make sure that vaccination requirements are implemented on college and university campuses in order to keep themselves and others safe. Others will oppose such requirements, and this opposition is likely to be framed in terms of rights violations.”

By the end of the summer, most students had mandates in place, and universities then tried to push through some of the inevitable socialization and mental health issues that had to surface after students had been confined to their bedrooms for the past year, while professors were resurrecting that. – Modify their courses for personal learning.

Just because students and staff are back on campus doesn’t mean everything was sunny and rainbows. Questions are beginning to arise about the financial toll the pandemic has caused at many universities, and whether the special COVID-19 research funding distributed by funding agencies has been well spent or should have been allocated instead to basic research that could benefit society in the long run. .

With the Omicron variant currently causing havoc across the country, universities are once again facing tough decisions about their winter semesters. As Shannon Dea writes in her thoughtful column about what a post-pandemic university might look like: “Make no mistake: COVID-19 will leave deep scars on higher education, on staff and students who are already the most vulnerable within the system. When we begin to imagine a post-pandemic university. As a result of the pandemic, we must work to ensure that the changes we are making do not deepen existing inequalities or create new manifestations.”

Wrestling with Truth and Reconciliation

Canada’s reckoning with its treatment of indigenous peoples accelerated in 2021 – including at many universities. We have done our best to give this important topic the coverage it deserves, and to include indigenous writers as much as possible. In April, Kelly Potsalis explored the ways researchers and indigenous communities are shaping the future of environmental science. Our digital journalist Laura Bollen-Stubbing wrote in June about the growing pressure at Ryerson University to change the institution’s name, and Riley Yesnu followed up in December with an update on how the renaming process is going. We’ve also profiled the Ryerson’s Yellowhead Institute, an Aboriginal-led think tank that puts the community ahead of the competition.

The cover story for the July and August issues took a comprehensive look at what universities in different parts of the country are doing to advance the recommendations made in the TRC’s Final Report. What emerged was a contradictory picture detailing the great progress that had been made and the more difficult work ahead. As Shelley Johnson, Canada’s first female research chair in tertiary education, put it: “We’re tall on the rhetoric and we’re tall on the low staple fruit. That is, how can we hire more Indigenous people? How do we engage older people in a meaningful way? How do we offer more grants? Scholarships or scholarships for Indigenous students? That is where it ends up, mostly, across the country.”

The work still to be done was the focus of the National Building Reconciliation Forum, which actually took place in September and attracted around 400 participants. The event included testimonials from ambassadors representing 11 first countries in Quebec. One of them was Andrea Brazzo, of the Enoch of Kanjikswalogjuak, who said that the desire for reconciliation must be fulfilled through more concrete actions. “For example, all university professors should be educated about Inuit, First Nations, and major events in our history, such as colonization, residential schools, and the slaughter of sled dogs,” she said in our story about the forum. “They need to know all of that to understand us.”

Gender parity is still a major issue

The pandemic continues to highlight the unequal treatment of women in academia. We have published several articles highlighting this, including one on how women experience harassment in the workplace and are less likely to have their research published in scientific journals. why? Because, in addition to being researchers, women are expected to become full-time mothers, wives, and housekeepers. They’ve also taken on more emotional work, both at home and at their jobs, and many of them were expected to continue working at the same rate they had before the pandemic.

However, things are slowly starting to change. Women speak of this glaring imbalance. As Diana Cocos wrote in her opinion piece: “I will reiterate the importance of embracing these accomplishments, big or small, or not. We need to promote them when necessary, and encourage and applaud other women to do the same.”

Two former university presidents, Martha Piper and Indira Samarasekera, even wrote a book about how women need more nerves in order to move forward in their careers. As Dr. Piper said in her interview with Julie Kavli: “As women, we know how to work hard at spades. Nobody works as hard as women. But what we often lack is nerve. And by nerve I mean the decision to act, to go out, to do something a little different and to turn off trends” .

Dr. Kavli explored the issue further in her cover story on the struggle for gender equality in university leadership, which highlights why so many presidents are asking to leave their posts before their terms expire. She even offered three ideas to drive change in academia, so that women won’t find themselves in the same situations in the future: using data and metrics systematically and publicly, promoting cultural awareness, and designing equality more purposefully.

Momentum against racism

The struggle against systemic racism has been another focus of our coverage over the past year. A number of stories have dealt with a particular form of it that has unfortunately become more prevalent since the start of the pandemic. The University of British Columbia hosted the inaugural National Forum on Anti-Asian Racism in June. Prior to this event, we published a story in which Santa Ono, President and Vice President of the University of British Columbia, opened up about his personal experiences with the escalation of discrimination against Asia. “I don’t want this to be Canada for my daughter,” he said.

When Ryerson University hosted a second forum in November, one of the lead organizers wrote an opinion piece about the lessons that came out, and the importance of keeping the momentum going. “Being vulnerable to the recent wave of hate crimes against Asia, encouraged by the Black Lives Matters movement, and angered by the tragedies of boarding schools, I believe now more than ever that we must confront decisively the systemic racism and colonialism prevalent in our institutions of higher education,” Pamela wrote. Sujiman, Dean of Arts at Ryerson. “Merely acknowledging the existence of the problem is not enough.”

There have also been stories about the fight against anti-black racism, and two notable events contributed by Toronto-based writer Tayo Perot. For the July and August issue, I wrote an article examining what universities are doing on the issue, a year after the Black Lives Matter movement mobilized protests around the world. Among the people cited in the article is Angelique Wilkie, associate professor in Concordia University’s Department of Contemporary Dance, and co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Combating Black Racism. “How do we make sure that everyone is concerned?” says Mrs. Wilkie. “Because this is not a black issue. This is everyone’s issue.” In December, Ms. Pirro followed up with a news release about the launch of the Scarborough Charter, a national effort to tackle anti-blackness on campus. About 50 post-secondary institutions in Canada have signed up to the initiative at press time.

Throughout the year, we also sought to highlight individuals in the post-secondary sector who are advancing in a range of areas, including equality, diversity, and inclusion. One of them is Frantz Santelme, the new chancellor at the University of Montreal, whom we identified in October. “I am 48 years old, black and working in IT. Their choice of me says a lot about UdeM’s values,” said Mr. Saintellemy, who also co-founded Groupe 3737, a business incubator focused on immigration, diversity and inclusion.

Most Read in 2021

1. COVID-19: Updates for Canadian Universities
The pandemic remained number one in all of our minds. Our regular updates have helped us to keep you informed of the situation facing universities in Canada.

2. PhD graduates continue to search for stable jobs despite low prospects, says report
Arjun Chowdhury, associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, shared his thoughts on the passing score report from the Canadian Council of Academies.

3. Persistent mismatch between PhD holders and their career prospects
When the Canadian Council of Academies released a report on the challenges PhD students face when transitioning to the job market in January 2021, the higher education community took note.

4. A PhD leads to meaningful employment, but rarely in the jobs you were meant to work, reports find
A look at Concordia University’s report on Ph.D. results. Show that most graduate students remain in higher education, but in a range of positions.

5. Ryerson Revisited: Why Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Students, Faculty, and Staff Are Demanding the University Change Its Name
In July, our former digital journalist Laura Beaulne-Stuebing explored the truth and the awakening of reconciliation taking place on campuses across the country.


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