2015 was a rough year, from terrorist attacks in France and extreme weather in Texas and California, to the Volkswagen emissions scandal and the surprising rise of Donald Trump. But we also saw the launch of the Apple Watch, the Lexus hoverboard, and Nike self-lacing shoes. And there was a profound leftward shift in Canadian politics, from Rachel Notley’s NDP in Alberta to Dwight Ball’s Liberals in Newfoundland, and of course the second prime minister Trudeau. But there was also no shortage of developments directly affecting higher education. Some we have covered in previous episodes of this podcast, and others will deserve more attention soon. Here are Ken’s picks for the top ten.
From pay equity settlements and campaigns to encourage female enrolment in Engineering, to sexism in social media, and in nominations for the Science and Engineering Hall of Fame, gender can’t be ignored when we look back at 2015. Dedicated episode on Gender Equity
Electronic textbooks are being explored, particularly at Olds and Algonquin colleges, but last year we saw real momentum building for open texts – free, online, peer-reviewed textbooks. California, BC, and Manitoba have committed funding to so-called “Textbook Zero” programs, which can reduce student attrition by 10%. And the US Congress is again considering the Affordable College Textbook Act, to encourage the development and adoption of open text alternatives. Dedicated episode on e-Texts and Open Texts
Last year the “new faculty majority,” untenured part-time sessional instructors, joined fast-food workers on the picket line in the US to fight for a $15 minimum wage. While the situation in Canada is somewhat better, striking sessionals at York University still made national headlines. Dedicated episode on Adjunct & Contingent Faculty
Consumer drones hit the mainstream last year, about 4.3 million of them worldwide. They’re being used to patrol college entrance exams in China, and have entered the curriculum for programs in journalism, video, agriculture and firefighting, among others. But drones really took over last year in PSE marketing departments, with everybody featuring aerial footage in their videos.
A study published last year found that as much as 70% of scholarly output in some disciplines is in the hands of just 5 multinational publishing companies, and since publication determines tenure, promotion, research grants and university rankings, these corporations are the de facto “power brokers” of higher ed. They are posting better profit margins than Apple, and institutions from McGill to Harvard are finding they can no longer afford to subscribe to scholarly journals. Last year we saw editors and editorial boards quit in protest over pay-to-play peer review, extortionate subscription rates, and extensive peer review fraud.
Last year there was also a groundswell of protest against generous executive pensions and administrative leave, allowing university presidents in particular to “double-dip” and get paid double their salary, or their salary in addition to pension in retirement. Western University president Amit Chakma took the brunt of the outrage, but other cases included Michael Goldbloom at Bishop’s, Arvind Gupta at UBC, Heather Munroe-Blum at McGill, Tom Traves at Dalhousie, and Sean Riley at StFX. When a scarcity mentality sets in, people start looking for scapegoats, and presidents are tempting targets.
Next time, we’ll finish this countdown with the 4 biggest trends affecting higher ed last year, from political correctness to major demographic shifts. (Subscribeto get access to future episodes a full week in advance!)