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Wednesday, June 4, 2003

  • Next grad dean comes from Manitoba
  • Concern: there's not enough research
  • Clarifications, events, other stuff
Chris Redmond

China's Dragon Boat Festival

[Feds Break Little-Known Canadian Law]

The bottles aren't there, but otherwise it looks like any other summer barbecue. With the liquor licences for Federation Hall and the Bombshelter pub still suspended, the Federation of Students is making the best of a bad situation and opening the Bomber for lunch anyway, starting today. This light-hearted Imprint ad makes the point.

Next grad dean comes from Manitoba

A cancer and nutrition researcher from the University of Manitoba will come to UW September 1 as the next dean of graduate studies. Her appointment was approved last night by the board of governors.

[Bird] The dean-to-be is Ranjana Bird (left), who graduated from UW in 1974 with a degree in biology before going to Guelph for graduate study. She has been at the University of Manitoba since 1988 as a faculty member (currently in the department of human nutritional sciences), an associate dean in graduate studies, and since 2000 dean of the faculty of human ecology.

She will come to Waterloo as a tenured faculty member in two departments -- biology, and health studies and gerontology -- as well as graduate dean for a five-year term.

Says UW provost Amit Chakma: "Ranjana Bird is an experienced administrator who has a deep and abiding interest in graduate studies and research. I am confident that she has a good sense of the challenges UW faces in respect of graduate studies and of how the University should be positioned to respond to these challenges -- including UW's commitment to doubling graduate enrolment over the next eight years, and to raising $20M to increase graduate scholarships."

Bird's research focus is on nutritional oncology, growth and differentiation of epithelial cells, growth requirement and metabolism of neoplastic cells, toxicological evaluation of environmental components, and the role of nutrients in chronic diseases. She is given credit for discovering a promising candidate for an intermediate biomarker for colon cancer, called an aberrant crypt focus, in research at the University of Toronto in 1987.

"I believe that Dr. Bird will do an outstanding job," says a memo announcing the appointment from UW president David Johnston. It's being sent across campus this morning.

She is the choice of a nominating committee that was set up last winter under Policy 44 to find the next dean of graduate studies -- a position that came vacant when optometry professor Jake Sivak resigned as dean to take up a research chair. Since September 1, Gary Waller -- the associate provost (academic and student affairs) -- has also been interim dean of graduate studies. Jim Frank of kinesiology is the associate dean.

The president's memo this morning announces that Waller, whose term as interim dean was to end June 30, "has generously agreed" to stay on the job through August 31.

Commuters taking up the Challenge

By midday yesterday, UW staff, faculty and students could boast that they had saved some 4,400 kilometres of automobile commuting and the resulting environmental damage. That's the word from the annual Commuter Challenge, according to UW waste management coordinator Patti Cook.

She's pretty much a one-person show, organizing UW's involvement in the national event -- which has a local side, as Waterloo and neighbouring Wilfrid Laurier University are competing to see which can get the best turnout. Participants are asked to make it to campus at least once this week without taking the usual drive. They can walk, bike, bus -- or telecommute.

"Waterloo's doing great!" Cook said yesterday, but urged people who are accepting the challenge not to forget to register, so their participation can be counted. That can be done either on the web or by e-mail (plcook@uwaterloo.ca).


Are you trying the Commuter Challenge this week?

  You bet!
  No -- not interested.
  No -- I would if I could, but it's not practical.
  I already walk, bike or bus, so there's nothing for me to change.


Concern: there's not enough research

Provost Amit Chakma told the board of governors yesterday that UW leaders spent some time at their recent planning retreat talking about "benchmarking" of research activity -- comparing UW with what goes on at other universities.

It's a topic he has raised before, particularly in his presentations about the 2003-04 budget, where one chart compared Waterloo with the rest of the "G10" research-intensive universities in Canada. UW has 6.4 per cent of the faculty members in the G10 institutions, but only 2.3 per cent of the research revenue. "Not having a medical school, a health presence, contributes to that," Chakma told the board yesterday, "but we still come to the conclusion that we're not doing as well as we should."

Things are getting worse, he added, reporting that a decline in its share of research income has now cost UW a prestigious Canada Research Chair. The chairs are allocated to universities across the country proportionally to their research grant income, and Waterloo's share of 'discovery grants' from the big granting agency, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, has dropped by 6.5 per cent in a decade. So Waterloo will get one less chair than originally expected.

Chakma hastened to note that the amount of money coming in for research is still going up -- but it's going up faster at other institutions. "It's not that we're not doing well," said the provost, "but relative to others, we're slipping."

The main reason, he said, is resources. One calculation of university budgets shows that Waterloo ranks 34th, or about halfway down the list of Canadian institutions, in the amount of money per student that it has to spend. "We have fewer faculty to teach a growing number of students," said Chakma, and a heavier teaching load naturally means less research getting done.

UW may also have a "weakness" in its "research culture", he said, suggesting that Waterloo's reputation for strong undergraduate teaching needs to be matched in other areas.

He called on the deans of the six faculties for quick reports on the problems -- and sometimes the solutions -- in their parts of the university.

"It all boils down to hiring the very best people," said Alan George, dean of math. He and Bob Kerton, dean of arts, both said they're having more success lately in attracting "stars" to Waterloo, including some people lured away from top American universities.

"We make it clear that raising funding for research is an obligation, part of the job," George added.

George Dixon, dean of science, emphasized a desperate shortage of space, saying that even when the Centre for Environmental and Information Technologies opens, later this year, science will still be short around 15,000 square feet of lab space for the work it's already trying to do.

Mike Sharratt of applied health sciences and Geoff McBoyle of environmental studies mentioned the special problems their faculties face, as their interdisciplinary style makes it hard to get the full attention of any of the research granting agencies. On the other hand, Sharratt noted, some of the funding available for health behaviour research in AHS comes through arrangements that don't show up in the statistics.

And Sujeet Chaudhuri, dean of engineering, reported that while "research intensity is not an issue for us, research burnout and research stress are a major issue." Many of his faculty members, he said, are in their "formative years" as academics, are carrying high teaching loads because of the year-round co-op program, and then are expected to carry on high-powered research work as well. It's essential, Chaudhuri said, to work towards lowering the student-faculty ratio, at least to something like the average at other universities.

In discussion, Alan Plumtree of mechanical engineering and Jim Sloan of chemistry both said it would help to have better scholarship funding to attract good graduate students -- including UW's own grads -- since they're an important component of effective research laboratories. And Chakma told the meeting that there's definitely interest in doing some "benchmarking" that would compare UW research activity with top universities in other countries. Some figures should be available later this year.

Clarifications, events, other stuff

I said the other day that the department of health studies and gerontology was looking to change its name to "population health sciences". That's a bit of an exaggeration, says the department's chair, Steve McColl: "The name change is not a formal 'proposal', but merely part of a long-term planning document that was submitted to Senate as a standard report, required for all academic departments at UW to update their progress in the 2 years following an external departmental review (which occurred in 2000). The name change might in future go forward as a formal proposal to Senate, but it is too early to say how or when this might happen. In any case, it is anticipated that the Health Studies program and the Gerontology program would likely continue under their respective titles and activities -- the department name would be changed to be more inclusive of new programs now coming on stream, such as our Health Informatics Option."

I was also a bit sloppy, apparently, in reporting a detail of the Learning Initiatives Fund on Monday. The fund is offering grants to departments to help with program adaptations and "learning outcomes enhancement", and I said that a grant could be up to $20,000. In some categories that's correct, but Tom Carey, associate vice-president (learning resources and innovation), notes that grants for "new initiatives" can be as much as $20,000 for each of three years.

Today on campus brings the second of three days of special events organized by procurement and contract services, a.k.a. the purchasing department. Today's emphasis (10:00 to 3:00 in Davis Centre room 1301) is a "health and safety show" with information about ergonomic chairs, a seminar on safe handling of gas cylinders, and displays by the firm that provides medical supplies to UW.

AHSUM, the student organization in applied health sciences (it stands for AHS Student Members), will be holding barbecues each Wednesday this summer, "weather permitting", and I think it ought to permit today, as long as you wear your woollies. "Come out for some cheap but great food," suggests Jenny Wyatt, one of the organizers. "We have hamburgers, veggie-burgers, hot dogs and a variety of beverages." The barbecue will be running from 11:30 to 1:30 on the Matthews Hall green.

Today brings the first of five weekly lectures by Christine Overall, visiting professor in feminist philosophy and an expert on human aging. She'll speak at 2:00 (Humanities room 373) with an introduction to the topic: "Death Twitches My Ear".

"Business Etiquette and Professionalism" is today's entry in the career services seminar series. It starts at 3:30; registration is through the career services web site.

A memo from Vecheslav Silagadze, president of the UW Objectivist Club, announces an event tonight, a live lecture titled "The Morality of Capitalism" by John Ridpath:

In this lecture, Dr. Ridpath will discuss the philosophical ideas which necessarily underlie the advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism as the only moral system for man. He will, within this context, explain the errors in contemporary notions of capitalism, beginning with Marxism and focusing on the role of the Judeo-Christian altruist moral code in current attacks on and misrepresentations of capitalism. Professor Ridpath received his doctorate in economics from the University of Virginia and has taught economics and intellectual history at York University in Toronto since 1967. He has published extensively in the Objectivist literature and has been given numerous teaching awards inside and outside of his university. He is a York University 1998 nominee for Canadian Professor of the Year. Dr. Ridpath has been active in Objectivism for 35 years and currently serves on the board of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute.
The talk starts at 7:00 tonight in Rod Coutts Engineering Lecture Hall room 101. Admission is free for students and $10 for non-students.

Well-spoken engineers will strut their stuff tomorrow morning, as the faculty-wide competition in the Sandford Fleming Foundation technical speaker series begins at 10:00 in Doug Wright Engineering building room 2534. These are the winners of departmental competitions that went on during May; speakers will be basing their talks on their work term experiences, and stand to win cash prizes. Everyone is welcome to listen.

Colin Campbell of the information systems and technology department makes this announcement on behalf of the IST people, and some from other parts of the university, who teach "Skills for the Academic Workplace" short courses: "We invite faculty and teaching/research staff to contact us for a day or so of one-on-one customized skills development in support of their teaching and research work. We will work with you to develop a web site, create a simulation, data analysis, graphic or animation, etc., while you master the skills to efficiently create others independently. We can also just explore possibilities." Anyone interested can reach him by e-mail: campbell@ist.

And . . . it's Wednesday, so the weekly Positions Available list is out from the human resources department. Detailed this week:

In addition, Conrad Grebel University College is looking for an accountant; applications go directly to the college. Information about all these positions is available online and from the HR department.


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