[University of Waterloo]


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About the DB

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

  • Freedom of information law coming
  • Personal privacy is also covered
  • Team unveils fuel cell car
  • About ratemyprofs, and other notes
Chris Redmond

Festival de Cannes

[Reflection in Laurel Lake]

Every Wednesday, a group of Conrad Grebel University College students pause for reflection and worship after a day of classes. Here, on the banks of Laurel Lake beside the college, they consider a meditation on the will of God as the flow of a river and how to trust God's will in a life of service. Students, faculty and staff are welcome to join the chapel group today at 4:45 at the kitchen back door.

Freedom of information law coming

UW will have to live by new rules about openness and privacy when a new provision of Ontario law comes into effect next month, but "the sky is not falling," a lawyer specializing in the topic has assured the university officials most directly involved. He's giving similar briefings today to two gatherings of department chairs and heads who need to know what the changes will involve.

As of June 10, universities in the province will be covered by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which dates from the 1980s and has already been applying to the provincial government and various other institutions.

"Exemption notwithstanding, many universities, including UW, had put in place policies or guidelines to mirror the legislation," says Lois Claxton, secretary of the university, who's chairing a small task force to deal with UW's preparation for FIPPA. An important piece of the existing system is UW Policy 19, "Access to and Release of Student Information", which puts limits on the information that can be made public without the individual's consent.

In a memo that invited administrators -- and leaders of student, faculty and staff associations -- to today's briefing, Claxton writes: "We are well on our way to putting in place the mechanisms to ensure UW will be compliant with this legislation."

FIPPA has two parts. Half of it deals with "freedom of information", meaning the right of the public to request and receive copies of "records" (paper or electronic) from UW's operations unless they are covered by an exemption that allows them to remain private.

Some major exemptions cover practically all records about employment matters; course teaching materials; research data; and outside material deposited in the university archives.

Another exemption covers "advice" received by the institution. That one was the topic of some back-and-forth at a May 2 briefing for about 30 people who are expected to be the most involved in dealing with the implications of FIPPA. Daniel Michaluk, a privacy specialist with the law firm of Hicks Morley, told the group that such things as memos and the minutes of meetings at which UW policy is being formulated may well be covered by that exemption -- but it will be up to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to interpret the rules.

Also open to interpretation is the exemption that protects "information where the disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice the economic interests of an institution or the competitive position of an institution". A likely example there: listings of firms that employ Waterloo co-op students.

On this week's list from the human resources department:

  • Research financial administrator, office of research, USG 5
  • Student shop technician, engineering machine shop, USG 7
  • Recruitment and marketing coordinator, dean of science office, USG 9

    Longer descriptions are available on the HR web site.

  • Personal privacy is also covered

    The other half of the new law deals with personal information, making clear that an individual is entitled to see what the university has on file about him or her -- with certain exceptions, such as letters of recommendation. At UW, that will continue to mean that individuals have the right to see their official files, but not some employment records.

    At the same time, there are restrictions on how the university can use personal information -- in general, in ways that the individual "might reasonably have expected" when providing the information.

    "I think most of your processes are going to be privacy-compliant," Michaluk said, indicating that Policy 19 already works in that way to protect student information. But it's expected that UW will issue a more emphatic notice at registration time making clear how and why information may be used.

    In many cases it isn't clear yet how FIPPA will affect university operations, the lawyer said. Discussion raised questions about everything from e-mail backups to the existence of the UWdir database with the names of students, staff and faculty. The FIPPA task force and the university secretariat are getting advice on these issues and they'll be dealt with over the weeks ahead.

    Karen Jack of the university secretariat has been named as UW's Freedom of Information and Privacy Coordinator, responsible for the required paperwork if a freedom-of-information request is received. However, officials are emphasizing that there's no need to stop making information public unofficially when someone asks for it. In fact, Michaluk said, the more information UW publishes routinely, particularly on the web, the less reason there will be for someone to file a formal request.

    He'll be repeating the material from the May 2 briefing in two sessions today aimed at a broad range of administrators from across campus. Detailed training will follow later in the month for the people who will actually have to deal with the new regulations day-to-day.

    Team unveils fuel cell car -- from the UW media relations office

    UW's team, which is leading after the first leg of a three-year North American competition to develop a sustainable crossover vehicle, yesterday unveiled its hydrogen fuel cell hybrid. The Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) unveiled its modified Chevrolet Equinox at CAMI Automotive Inc. in Ingersoll. Visitors could ride in -- and in some cases drive -- the team's entry in an international competition entitled Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility.

    UW's entry in Challenge X is the only one that includes an alternative fuel powertrain combining hydrogen and hybrid technologies to reduce the vehicle's environmental impact. During the first phase of the competition last year, UWAFT's detailed vehicle design process won eight of 10 categories and earned the team first place.

    "Developing alternative technologies is a key part of reducing greenhouse gases and creating new economic opportunities," said a message from Gary Lunn, the federal minister of natural resources. "It ensures that the future generation of automotive engineers will be able to provide clean energy at affordable prices. These students are showing how we can all contribute to a Canada of clean air, land and water."

    The team has spent the last year integrating and refining advanced vehicle technologies into its vehicle. It will test its work against 16 other teams during the second round of the competition from June 1 to 7 at the GM Proving Grounds in Arizona. All teams will compete in more than a dozen static and dynamic evaluations, including tests for towing capacity, acceleration, off-road performance, greenhouse gas impact, total well-to-wheels fuel economy, emissions and consumer acceptability. Teams are also required to give oral presentations and submit a technical paper.

    "We've worked very hard this past year and are very excited to see how our Equinox performs and compares," said Chris Mendes, UWAFT co-captain and lead mechanic. "The real value of this competition is the first-hand exposure we get to the advanced technologies being developed for the vehicles of tomorrow, but we are also in it to win."

    The annual Challenge X competition, organized by General Motors Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, is inspiring hundreds of engineering students with a real-world application of their knowledge and skills. It helps the next generation of engineers develop a greater awareness of automotive technologies for the 21st century. It also shows how cooperation of academia, industry and government is a good approach to developing more energy-efficient and "greener" automotive technologies, to improving the economy and the environment, and to keeping North American technology competitive on a global basis.

    Major sponsors of the UWAFT team are Natural Resources Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Hydrogenics Air Liquide, Research In Motion and Marathon Technical Services.

    UW Retirees Association annual general meeting, wine and cheese, 12 noon, Ron Eydt Village.

    'Are You Thinking About an International Experience?' Workshop sponsored by career services, 4:30, Tatham Centre room 1208, registration online.

    Waterloo Public Interest Research Group presents Gerald Van Decker, RenewAbility Energy Inc., speaking on the Power-Pipe device for reclaiming heat from waste water, 5 p.m., Carl Pollock Hall room 3385.

    Employee safety orientation Thursday 10 a.m., Davis Centre room 1304. Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System training, Thursday 2 p.m., Davis 1304. Information ext. 5613.

    Accelerator Centre, north campus Research and Technology Park, opening celebration Thursday 11 a.m., 295 Hagey Boulevard.

    Credit union seminar: "Estate Planning 101", Thursday 12:15, Davis Centre room 1302, RSVP ext. 3574.

    International student information sessions about applying for off-campus work permits: Thursday 3 p.m., May 31 10 a.m., Davis Centre room 1302. Students, staff and faculty welcome. Background online.

    Infusion Angels venture capital firm, based in UW Accelerator Centre, launch party Thursday 4 to 6 p.m., University Club, RSVP (416) 593-6595.

    UW Off-road Mini-Baja Team unveils its new car Thursday 6 p.m., Sybase parking lot, Hagey Boulevard.

    Hong Kong alumni reception Thursday 6 p.m., details online.

    Centre for International Governance Innovation presents Eric Helleiner, UW political science, "Making Poverty History and Debt Cancellation", Friday 11:45, 57 Erb Street West, reservations rsvp@cigionline.ca.

    Graduate Student Association trip to Stratford Festival, choice of "Oliver!" or "London Assurance", Saturday, May 27, bus leaves 3 p.m., tickets $35 at Graduate House.

    About ratemyprofs, and other notes

    "Even your pillow will need a pillow" is the thought-provoking title of a presentation today by Mark Morton of the Centre for Learning and Teaching Through Technology, or LT3. He writes: "A search of the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) database for articles featuring, or even mentioning, the online database known as ratemyprofessors.com turns up no matches. This scholarly disregard is striking, considering that ratemyprofessors.com is a trove of over four million comments on the teaching abilities of tens of thousands of instructors across North America. It would seem that if we want to discern what students consider to be desirable qualities in an instructor, we might do worse than to examine a sampling of the comments on ratemyprofessors.com. Moreover, it is enlightening to see where these comments do and don't map against schemes that purport to identify 'best practices' in education, such as Chickering's 'Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,' Terenzini's 'Six Characteristics of Learning and Development,' and the NSSE's 'Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice.' At the end of this thirty-minute presentation, the audience will have a better sense of what students and experts each consider to be best practices in education, and the degree to which these two groups succeed (or not) in communicating these expectations and assumptions to one another. The presentation will be followed by questions and discussion." The event starts at 12 noon in the Flex lab in the Dana Porter Library; preregistration is online.

    A production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" opens tonight in the Theatre of the Arts, put on by something called Poor Tom Productions. Bill Chesney of UW's drama department tells why it's happening: "Poor Tom is a local small theatre company founded and run by Tom Leslie and his wife Coral Andrews-Leslie. Tom is a UW Drama grad; Coral is a well-known local arts reporter with columns in the Echo and a radio program devoted to the local arts scene. UW Drama is hosting their production of 'Death of a Salesman' as the first in what I hope will be an ongoing initiative called SpringBoard, whose goal is to create more links between ourselves and the local professional and community theatre scene, by assisting with our venues and support during our off-season, since Drama doesn't usually mount shows in the spring term. This is an extension of things like the UpStart Festival, which invite submissions from not just students but from the community as well; Poor Tom Productions presented 'Savage/Love' in our first UpStart festival in 2004. It's been a long-time goal of Tom's to portray Willy Loman. Coral will play Linda. Drama student Nathaniel Gibbs is playing one son and a visiting student from Australia, Nick O'Brien, is portraying the other." The show runs tonight through Saturday at 8:00; tickets are $10 in advance at the Humanities box office (888-4908) or $12 at the door.

    Meanwhile, the group of UW drama students who took the department's production of "Our Country's Good" to Germany earlier this month is back all in one piece -- "a little tired from too many late nights, perhaps, but generally in good spirits," writes drama professor Gerd Hauck. "Nobody got sick, nobody got lost (for more than an hour), and nobody even came close to being arrested. . . . We made some wonderful new friends, created the foundation for future collaborations, saw some amazing sights, learned a great deal about modern Germany (east and west), and experienced some outstanding performances." He adds that the UW performance "was applauded warmly by our hosts". Among other highlights of the trip were "a rock concert in the old university town of Greifswald" and "a tour of the famous Schaubühne in Berlin, with its incredibly complex theatre technology and variable performance spaces". German media showed an interest in the Canadian visitors "which made some of our students feel like rock stars", Hauck adds.

    Space in Ron Eydt Village is being used over several days this week and next for the annual Society of Actuaries qualifying exams. . . . Bonnie Bishop in the electrical and computer engineering department (ext. 6908) would like to hear from anyone who saw her dark red Nissan being rear-ended by a white car on Phillip Street near the entrance to parking lot B yesterday morning. . . . The procurement and contract services department (formerly "purchasing") will be holding its annual trade show, with displays by a number of vendors, June 6 and 7 in the Davis Centre. . . .

    Alternatives journal, published in UW's faculty of environmental studies, has issued an invitation for material for a future issue on "creative communities", the arts and the environment. . . . GolfNorth, which operates a sizeable number of local golf courses, is offering much-reduced corporate membership rates to UW staff, faculty and retirees (call 634-8895). . . . It might be worth planning lunch at Brubakers in the Student Life Centre today just to find out what "steakezze" is, or are. . . .


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