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University of Waterloo | Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
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Wednesday, June 7, 2000

  • UW's in line for green award
  • Open house for new learning centre
  • Pushing Ottawa for 'overhead' funds
  • And a few other notes today

UW's in line for green award

Air quality alert days

The Daily Bulletin and the UW weather station web page will be among the media announcing "air quality alert days" when the breathing gets tough this summer.

Key UW departments are among the places notified by Waterloo Region's community health department when an alert is issued. The plant operations department, in particular, responds to poor air conditions, says Patti Cook, waste management coordinator: "Plant Operations will attempt to eliminate or cut down on gas powered equipment. As well, they will attempt to curtail solvent based painting, use of solvents, etc., and as they do on very humid days, minimize the use of vehicles, gradually raise the A/C temperatures, so that the chillers are not running hard and heavy.

"Individuals can help by shutting off; unnecessary lights, computers, printers, photocopiers, fume-hoods, and raising their work area thermostats. The Environmental Safety Facility will attempt to curtail chemical recovery on those days, eliminating any exhaust from the bunker."

It's Environment Week in Canada -- as good a time as any to take note of improvements above ground level and below it -- and today, in particular, is the second annual Clean Air Day.

"Please plan to walk, cycle, use public transit, carpool, rollerblade or telecommute," says Patti Cook, UW's waste management coordinator, pointing to part of the week's publicity: the Commuter Challenge, June 5 to 9, which "encourages us to use alternatives to the single-occupancy vehicle and be active participants in sustainable transportation initiatives". Says Cook: "It's a healthy thing to do for yourself and for the environment. If you can't commit to a whole week then just try participating on Clean Air Day Canada."

Her recently-published State of the Environment Report lists a multitude of achievements on campus since "greening the campus" and waste reduction came into public consciousness a decade ago. A few examples, small and large:

In short, says Cook, "We are reducing our ecological footprint and our costs, complying with the law, and changing our relationship with the environment."

On the sensitive subject of lawn spraying, she notes that the target of 0 per cent pesticide use was achieved in 1999 ("exceptions for infestations and hard surface maintenance"). For sports turf, spot spraying is done only as required to maintain safe playing conditions. And 10 per cent of the campus is now naturalized landscape instead of grass.

Cook and her office are taking part in an Energy and Environment Forum to be held tomorrow at Kitchener city hall. And the WatGreen program, which embraces many waste management projects that involve students as well as UW staff, has been nominated for one of several environmental awards that will be presented at the end of the day. "We will be recognized, but we don't know if we're going to win," says Cook, noting that WatGreen has received three similar awards in the past decade. The UW-based Residential Energy Efficiency Program is also among the nominees.

Open house for new learning centre

The Centre for Learning and Teaching Through Technology -- LT3 -- "celebrates its first birthday" today, as its new brochure explains, with an open house at its new home on the third floor of the Dana Porter Library.

Today's event, from 3 to 5 p.m., gives everyone interested a chance to see not just the LT3 offices but the Flexible Learning Experience ("FLEX") laboratory, with computers that can run a startling variety of software and furniture that can be pushed into a startling variety of positions so faculty can try different teaching and learning techniques.

"We have brought together an exceptional team," the LT3 brochure says, "and launched an exciting set of pilot projects to support learning and teaching through technology. . . .

"Innovation in learning and teaching through technology is a strategic capability for the University of Waterloo. The LT3 Centre will be the focal point for UW's leadership in this dynamic area."

Part of LT3's work involves research on teaching technologies, being done with external funding, including a major grant announced a few days ago from the federal government that will support studies of teaching through broadband video over the Internet. Other projects are smaller and specific to UW, as they seek to find ways that particular professors can teach particular topics more effectively.

The LT3 brochure, published just in time for the open house, mentions a number of things that are going on already. For example:

LT3 will be launching a "strategic grants program" for instructors this fall, the brochure says, and can provide expertise on such matters as "course management systems" and "re-usable courseware components".

It notes: "LT3 assists in design, research, and evaluation studies which identify what works best within specific disciplines to enhance learning and teaching through technology. The results of these studies immediately benefit the students and faculty members concerned, and make a much-needed scholarly contribution to advancing our knowledge."

Pushing Ottawa for 'overhead' funds

A priority for UW -- and other universities -- this year will be persuading the government of Canada to start paying for the indirect costs of the research it supports, UW leaders said yesterday at the summer meeting of the board of governors.

It's a longstanding grumble from universities, summed up simply enough: when research is done in a university lab or by a professor, a grant (most often from a federal government agency) pays the direct costs of the work but not the indirect or "overhead" costs. None of the research grant can be spent to pay for heating, lighting and cleaning the lab, the cost of accounting and purchasing services, not even a share of the professor's salary.

The result, as president David Johnston said again yesterday, is that a university that increases its research funding actually tightens the squeeze on its regular budget.

The problem is peculiar to Canada. In the United States, research grants are routinely accompanied by extra payments for overhead. They're calculated as a percentage of the grant -- anywhere from 20 per cent to more than 100 per cent of the amount that's coming in for the direct costs of the research, depending on the granting agency, the individual university and the kind of grant or project.

UW provost Jim Kalbfleisch reminded the board that there was some good news for universities in the Ontario provincial budget last month: the province said it would start paying overhead costs along with research grants that come from that source. "We still don't know what the rules are for allocating the money," said Kalbfleisch, but there's $30 million in the budget, and he's guessing that UW will receive $1 to $1.5 million from that source in the coming year.

Contracts, unlike grants, routinely do bring overhead payments with them. UW's Policy 26 says that payment for overhead costs "must be included in Research Contracts and should be included in Research Grants, whenever possible. Overhead is usually determined at a minimum of 30% of the direct costs of a contract or grant."

But federal grants make up the biggest share of UW research funding -- 40 per cent of the total, or ten times as much as provincial grants -- and so far they bring no overhead funding at all. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has been pushing Ottawa on the issue for years. Finally, there's some hope for change, Johnston suggested yesterday. "We have the sense that there is some positive movement within the federal government," he told the board.

Positions available

Since there's no Gazette issue today, the weekly list of staff positions available is being distributed to departments as a memo. It's also available on the human resources department's web site.

Job titles on the list this week:

  • Undergraduate secretary/advisor, mechanical engineering, grade USG 5
  • Applications database administrator, information systems and technology, grade USG 11
  • Payroll benefits assistant, human resources, grade USG 4
More information: ext. 2524.

And a few other notes today

The campus recreation program is offering a mid-term lift from now through June 14: the Mid-Term Fit Card. It costs $15 (at the athletics department office) and "entitles you to attend any nine fitness classes including Saturdays, between June 12 and June 23". Complete the cycle and you get your $15 back, plus a water bottle by way of a reward.

The health services clinic will be closed today in the morning, to allow staff to attend a workshop; it'll open at 1 p.m.

Jeffrey Shallit of the computer science department will give a noontime talk today to the Librarians' Association of UW (12:00, Davis Centre library conference room). His topic is "The Uneasy Mix: Internet Plus Libraries".

The Centre for Behavioural Research and Program Evaluation today offers the next in its series of cancer control seminars. Sharon Campbell, associate director of the centre, will speak on "Skin Cancer Etiology and Prevention: A Public Health Conundrum", at 12:30 in Matthews Hall room 3119.

Members of the 2001 mathematics graduating class are being urged to assemble "at 4:30 sharp" on the steps in front of the Math and Computer building -- if they can figure out which side of MC is the front -- for a group photo. The picture-taking will be followed by "a short information session" from the Math Graduation Committee, in MC room 2065 -- with cookies.

Communications and Information Technology Ontario, a "centre of excellence" with much UW involvement, has a special event today in Toronto. It's a "Tech Talk Workshop" focusing on telephone applications using web technology. Says an announcement: "The advent of languages like VoiceXML (the Voice eXtensible Markup Language) leverage web technology to build telephony applications as easily as people now build visual web applications. This seminar will discuss the main aspects of building telephony services using this approach." More information is available on the CITO web site.

Finally, I said yesterday that the career development seminars now seem to be being called "career resource workshops". Wrong, I'm told. Maybe somebody wrote that one time in error, but "development" is still the key word. The next such event is tomorrow, from 10:30 to noon in Needles Hall room 1020, on the topic "Know the Employer".


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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