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Friday, April 7, 2000

  • Ontario auditor looks at universities
  • UW plays role in alcohol research
  • Upcoming and earth-moving events

Ontario auditor looks at universities

Universities don't seem "to try to measure the value provided to customers as a result of the university's services", says the Ontario provincial auditor in a report on university accountability.

The report was done at the request of the Council of Ontario Universities following an earlier study of "accountability" done for the ministry of training, colleges and universities. It's based on visits to five campuses and surveys of other institutions. The report has now been sent to universities for their comments, and will be on the agenda for the UW board of governors next week.

Says the auditor: "There were no indicators that attempted to measure the value provided to customers as a result of the university's services -- they did not answer the question of why students and the Legislature should continue to provide the university with resources. For example: since a major reason students (resource providers) enroll in MBA programs is to enhance their earning prospects, national magazines in both Canada and the U.S. rank competing programs according to salaries obtained by graduates and, because money has a time value, return on investment."

Among the criticisms of universities' "program quality assurance procedures," the auditor noted, "We did not find that any of the governing bodies had established clear criteria against which program quality might be assessed by internal/external examiners (i.e. what does high quality mean in practice?). . . .

"The lack of criteria and indicators means that a program's quality cannot be compared to prior years or to similar programs at other universities."

Similarly, the report criticized the way universities undertake planning for both physical and academic capacity, and "budgetary rigour".

Another observation: "Mission statements were generally focussed on what the institution wanted to do. Ideally, a mission statement should identify which customer needs the organization is trying to satisfy. The organization is then in a position to determine how it can satisfy those needs in ways that provide sufficient value to its customers. . . .

"We noted that one way universities have been able to reduce their costs in the face of funding cuts, is to cut weak programs and focus on areas of strength. However, Boards do not periodically obtain the information necessary to determine whether their institution's balance between cost and program breadth is appropriate. . . .

"The universities did not have adequate systems in place to enable the Boards to ensure that their universities' resources were being managed in an efficient and economic manner. None could demonstrate to us that they were utilizing either their physical or academic capacity efficiently and economically. . . . Although the demand for programs in the various disciplines changes over time, none of the universities we visited had clear policies regarding the re-allocation of resources from disciplines with declining demand to those with growing demand."

And there was this observation about what faculty members do: "Most of the universities we visited allocated their primary resource, faculty time, to teaching, research and community service on a 40%-40%-20% basis respectively. However, it is not clear that this allocation is consistent with the sources of revenue. That is, since the majority of tuition fee revenue and Ministry grants are generated by undergraduate programs, should not the great majority of these funds be directed to maintaining/improving the quality of teaching?"

UW plays role in alcohol research -- from a Queen's University news release

The notion that consuming alcohol makes a person foolhardy and more likely to take risks is not always true, according to research by a Queen's psychologist and expert in behaviour prediction.

Dr. Tara MacDonald, with Queen's Department of Psychology, found that alcohol can actually cause someone to be more, rather than less, prudent.

Alcohol is commonly associated with many dangerous acts that are costly to society, such as drinking and driving, unprotected sex, date rape, spousal or child abuse and other forms of aggression. However, Dr. MacDonald, along with colleagues Dr. Geoffrey Fong and Dr. Mark Zanna of the University of Waterloo and Alanna Martineau of San Diego State University, decided to explore why alcohol consumption leads to reckless behaviour in some situations and cautious behaviour in others.

The researchers, whose work will appear in the April edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published by the American Psychological Association, contend that people whose mental abilities are diminished by alcohol consumption are more influenced by circumstances or "cues" in their immediate environment. Whether an intoxicated person exhibits reckless or cautious behaviour will depend on what kind of information is immediately available to him or her.

They conducted a series of studies which involved exposing participants (some sober and some intoxicated) to weak or strong cues related to the use of condoms for protected sex.

In one study, patrons of a bar in Calgary were given one of three hand stamps. One (control) group received a SMILEY FACE; one group was stamped with the words "SAFE SEX" (a mild cue) and another group was stamped "AIDS KILLS" (a moderate cue). Later in the evening, research participants were asked to read a short vignette about a sexual encounter, fill out a questionnaire and take a breathalyzer test. The results showed that the intoxicated control group members were more likely than sober people to express intentions to have sex without a condom. However, the reactions of those who had received either a mild or moderate hand stamp cue were indistinguishable from the reactions of sober people. "In fact," say the researchers, "among those who received the AIDS KILLS stamp, intoxicated participants were somewhat less likely to report intentions to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse than those who were sober."

Another study provided even stronger evidence that drinking can actually make a person more, rather than less, cautious. Study participants watched a video depicting two attractive university students returning to the young woman's apartment after a date. The two soon find themselves deciding whether to have sexual intercourse. The video makes clear that the young woman is interested in having intercourse and that she is taking birth control pills. It is also made clear that it would be difficult to obtain a condom. Neither person has one, the corner store is closed and the nearest 24-hour store is a long walk away. The final scene shows the characters trying to resolve the dilemma. Research participants were either sober, intoxicated or given a placebo and assigned to one of two groups: those who would receive cues emphasizing reasons that would lead a person to have unsafe sex and those who would receive cues emphasizing the potential costs of having unsafe sex.

When the cues emphasized the potential costs of having sex without a condom, the intoxicated participants were significantly less likely than the sober participants to report intentions to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse, whereas the sober and placebo participants were not affected by the type of cue that they received.

These results are completely at odds with the conventional belief that alcohol acts as a general disinhibitor," says Dr. MacDonald.

The findings have important implications for the development of intervention programs, says the Queen's researcher. For example, the researchers believe the use of hand stamps or key chains could prove to be highly effective forms of intervention.

"They may be more effective strategies for providing inhibiting reminders than merely placing posters around bars because these cues will not only be present in the environment where alcohol is being consumed but also later, once the person has left the bar, when the decision to engage in risky behaviour is made."

Upcoming and earth-moving events

The Canadian Federation of University Women's 36th annual used book sale gets underway today from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., continuing on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at First United Church, King and William Streets in Waterloo. A selection of "special books" will be offered today at 2 p.m., including first editions, large photographic books and collectibles. Prices for other books, reference books and magazines -- for children and adults -- range from 25 cents to $1.50 each. Proceeds fund educational awards and scholarships for local high school, college and university students.

The Next Pope: The Papacy in the New Millennium, is the topic of the 1999-2000 Devlin Lecture tonight at St. Jerome's by John Wilkins, editor of The Tablet,"Britain's most prestigious Catholic journal." Wilkins will assess the papacy of John Paul II and discuss the qualities needed in the next pope in the talk at 7:30 p.m. in Siegfried Hall. Admission is free; all are welcome.

The earth starts moving next week in the first of what will be a flurry of sod-turning (or snow-shovelling?)events on campus over the next couple of years. The ceremonial shovel will be called into action on Monday at 4:30 p.m. to turn the sod for construction of the new $15.6 million William Lyon Mackenzie King Village. Located between Village 1 and Ron Eydt Village, the new residence is scheduled to open by September 2001, housing some 320 first-year students. Speakers at the event -- on parking lot F -- will include university president David Johnston, representatives from the two student residence councils, and the project's architects, The Walter Fedy Partnership.


Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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