Friday, June 6, 2008

  • Pension fund reports a surplus
  • History teaching: 'telling stories'
  • Building's under way; more notes
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Vegas expressions at the roulette table]

Nobody gambled that yesterday’s Keystone Campaign event, “Viva Las Vegas”, would be anything but lively. “The weather was a wild card,” writes Julia Wegenast of the development office, noting that the outdoor party was moved into the Student Life Centre on short notice, “but the cloudy skies didn’t put a damper on the Vegas spirit. Many participants enjoyed blackjack, roulette and bingo, while some cheered their favoured horse on to victory at the races. Others tried not to get lost in the shuffle at Caesar’s Palace as they enjoyed hot dogs, popsicles, cookies, and cupcakes.” Close to 2,000 people attended, she says, celebrating the continuing success of the Keystone Campaign, which raises $1 million a year from more than 1,000 faculty, staff and retiree contributors to UW. Elaine Brown of the Village I office and Ian Taylor of Athletics and Recreational Services belted out a series of show tunes, and speeches were given by event volunteers and organizers. Keystone Campaign co-chairs Steve Brown, Pamela Helmes-Hayes and Bob Norman, along with UW president David Johnston, expressed their gratitude to all participants. Throughout the event, prizes were distributed to game winners and lucky participants. Joanne Voisin of the registrar’s office won the grand prize of a GPS vehicle navigation system.

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Pension fund reports a surplus

The faculty and staff pension fund was in such good shape at the end of 2007, despite a year when Canadian stocks rose modestly and American stocks wobbled up and down, that officials are hastening to send the government an official fund valuation just in case the figures should drop.

As of January 1, 2008, the fund had an “actuarial value” of $915 million and a market value of $938.6 million, according to a report presented at this week’s meeting of the UW board of governors.

The assets were greater than the fund’s liabilities — the amount needed to meet pension obligations to more than 5,000 past and present employees — according to two different actuarial calculations. A “going concern” calculation showed a surplus of $23 million and a “solvency basis” calculation showed a surplus of $116 million.

A third way of calculating the assets and liabilities produces a “wind-up deficit” of $163 million if the pension plan went out of business today, the board was also told. But that’s based on a formula that the Financial Services Commission of Ontario doesn’t use when it passes judgement on pension plans. The calculation that interests the FSCO is the “going concern basis”, since the university and its pension plan will be continuing in operation.

Like other organizations, UW has to file a financial statement with the FSCO at least once every three years, at a time of its own choosing. “We are among the lucky in the Ontario defined-benefit pension plans,” said associate provost Catharine Scott as she presented the figures to the board. Scott called UW’s fund “a very good, very high-quality and very safe pension plan. We would like to file this.”

What UW has is a “defined benefit” pension plan, in which pensions are based on a formula involving an employee’s salary just before retirement and the number of years he or she has worked at the university and paid pension premiums. UW, as the employer, must at least match the employee payments every year.

At present UW is putting in $1.55 for every $1 paid by employees, a figure that will go down to $1.37 on July 1. It’s estimated that this year employees will put $15.8 million into the pension fund and the university will add $21.7 million.

The fund is invested in Canadian and foreign stocks (about 21 and 29 per cent of the total, respectively), fixed-income securities (29 per cent), and real-return bonds (20 per cent). The fund’s investments earned a 1.62 per cent return during 2007, the lowest figure in several years but still better than 2001 and 2002 when there were actual losses.

The board was told that there are 1,306 current pensioners as of January 1, 2008, and 3,402 “active members” employed by the university and paying into the pension fund.

A feature of UW’s pension plan that doesn’t appear in many other plans is a cost-of-living increase that’s added to pensions each July 1 (changing to May 1 starting in 2009). As of July 1, 2008, pensioners will see a 2.2 per cent increase, says David Dietrich of UW’s human resources department.

Dietrich also announced that myPENSIONinfo, the software package that will allow staff and faculty to estimate their own future pensions, view their pension statements online and access other information about the pension plan, will start being available on June 10. “Rollout was delayed a month,” he says, “because of last-minute system glitches. We are giving members access to this new service gradually — about one-third on the 10th, another third on the 11th and the last third of the campus on the 13th. We are using a phased rollout to in order to be able to handle queries about the software, although all the feedback to date by a focus group and others who have tried the software is that it is very user-friendly.”

Also at this week’s board of governors meeting, Scott — who chairs the pension and benefits committee — presented a revised version of the Statement of Investment Policies and Procedures. “We must redo this every year,” she said, noting that in this year’s changes “everything is housekeeping.”

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History teaching: 'telling stories'

an excerpt from Kelley Teahen’s article “Making History Come Alive”, in the spring issue of the UW Magazine for Waterloo alumni

Getting students to relive historical moments, whether famous or everyday, is another way to have them connect powerfully with the past.

This technique is particularly helpful in bringing to life eras before the time of film and photographs, says Greta Kroeker, a recent hire at Waterloo who specializes in the Early Modern (Renaissance and Reformation) era of European history. In larger lectures, she says, "I'll get students on their feet to act out a Spartan phalanx. Or for a lecture on the black plague, I'll get a third of the students to put their heads down on their desks. Then I'll tell the rest, those people are gone now. They are the ones who used to harvest the crops, weave the cloth, and build the roads. What are we, who are left, going to do now?

"I try to involve a physical response in some way," she says. "Whether it's seeing what it's like when one-third of the population is dead, or forming a phalanx, this is what students remember."

Lynne Taylor, a historian who teaches courses on the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, also faces the challenge of "getting my students into the heads of the people of the time. To students today, the 19th century is very far away."

"Sometimes you get a brainstorm about how to convey a concept," she says, with a conspiratorial smile. "Take, for instance, time. People used to tell time by the sun, and the first clocks had hour hands only. In the first factories in the 19th century, no one had a watch, and you worked by the factory manager's clock. So, in one class, I paper over clocks in the room and make all the students put away their watches and cell phones and computers. And I say, I have the clock. I will let you know when the class is over. They get very twitchy! It brings home how conscious we are now of time. The exercise drives them crazy, but it works."

Historians in the department, from medievalists to modernists, present image-rich lectures on PowerPoint. Gary Bruce's interactive PowerPoint, "Did I Vote for Hitler?" was mentioned specifically in his Distinguished Teacher Award citation.

"Students need to understand that Hitler did not seize power: he was elected," Bruce says. "We know there were groups in Germany that supported Hitler: youth; Protestant regions over Catholic ones; and the lower-middle class over business leaders." So Bruce created a series of characters. Each student then decides, if I were that character, would I vote for Hitler? On one slide, there's Ines, a pretty blonde student who goes to a Protestant church and loves to walk on the beach. Next is middle-aged Dieter who is Catholic, a vice-president of a company, and enjoys campfires. The PowerPoint fly-in lines reveal the answers: she voted for Hitler; he did not.

The techno-wizardry can be impressive and entertaining. But, in the end, often it's the art of storytelling that builds the strongest bridge linking students to the lessons of the past. "I think history is a unique discipline in that it gives you the ability to tell stories in the classroom: if told right, the stories pull the students right in," says Andrew Hunt.

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[Eight figures digging into a pile of dirt]Building's under way; more notes

Enough yellow hard hats to go round, but not quite enough silver shovels: that's how things looked yesterday morning at the groundbreaking ceremony for UW's $55 million Engineering V building. The site, on the present parking lot B, looks across the railway tracks to Engineering III and Carl Pollock Hall, and an overhead walkway is planned. Yesterday's ceremony featured UW officials (including dean of engineering Adel Sedra at far right), politicians, alumni donors, and student leaders including Alexandre James, co-director of the Waterloo Engineering Endowment Fund, which is providing $1 million toward the "student design centre" that will be part of the new building. The ceremony also served to launch the "Vision 2010" fund-raising campaign that will help to pay for both Engineering V and other advances in the engineering faculty.

Robert Rosehart, former president of Wilfrid Laurier University and currently acting principal of Renison College, received an honorary degree from WLU at its convocation ceremony yesterday. • The Artery Gallery in downtown Kitchener, operated by students of UW's department of fine arts, is a candidate for one of the awards at the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Arts Awards Gala to be held Sunday night. • This year's Euro Cup soccer tournament is beginning, and the Bombshelter pub in the Student Life Centre is promising "game-time specials" for those who drop in to watch the games.

If you imagined that student work in the UW school of architecture is all about designing buildings, you need to broaden your view a little — well, more than a little. Drop boxes have been in several spots in the Architecture building this week along with pieces of paper waiting to be filled out, thusly: "As part of a small art installation, please take a moment to fill out a simple note of confession (private hopes, public fears, shameful truths, proud lies, intimate messages). Anything and everything would be appreciated. Notes should be kept anonymous. Any identifying information will be censored." The form adds that the project has been approved by the UW office of research ethics.

And . . . tomorrow will be a historic day for UW, or at least for its recently opened school of pharmacy. The first job postings will go online tomorrow morning for first-year pharmacy students as they prepare to go out on their first work terms in September.


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Link of the day


When and where

Annual Child Care Festival linking four child care centres on campus, guest performer Erick Traplin, 9:45 to 10:30 a.m., Village green.

Wilfrid Laurier University convocation ceremonies final day today in Waterloo, June 11 in Brantford, details online.

Let’s Dance rehearsals continue today, performances Friday-Saturday, Humanities Theatre.

Kenneth A. Woolner, formerly of UW department of physics, “share your favourite anecdotes, stories and memories of his life”, 4:00, University Club.

Louise Fréchette, former deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, now at Centre for International Governance Innovation, free pubic lecture on poverty and inequality, 4:30 p.m., CIGI, 57 Erb Street West.

School of Optometry announcement by John Milloy, Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities, regarding funding for clinical education, 4:45 p.m., Optometry room 347.

5-km run and 1-km walk in support of Hildegard Marsden Nursery, Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., details and registration online.

Class enrolment appointments for fall term undergraduate courses: continuing students, June 9-14; new students, July 14-27; open enrolment begins July 28.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre, Monday 2:30 p.m., site north of Biology buildings.

Lectures in quantum information: Anthony Leggett, Institute for Quantum Computing, “Prospects for Topological Quantum Computing” June 10, 17, 19, 24, 26, July 3, 8, 10, all at 2:00 p.m., Research Advancement Centre, 475 Wes Graham Way, room 2009.

Career workshop: “Networking 101”, first of three sessions, Monday 4:30, Tatham Centre room 1208, information and registration online.

Alumni in Kelowna networking reception Tuesday 5:30 to 8:30, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, information online.

Spring Convocation: applied health sciences and environmental studies, Wednesday, June 11, 10:00; science, June 11, 2:30; arts (some programs), Thursday, June 12, 10:00; arts (some programs), June 12, 2:30; mathematics, Friday, June 13, 10:00; computer science, June 13, 2:30; engineering (some programs), Saturday, June 14, 10:00; engineering (some programs), June 14, 2:30, details online.

‘Magic: Frontiers and Boundaries’ international conference hosted by department of classical studies, June 11-15, details online.

J. W. Graham Medal Seminar by this year’s winner: Eric Veach, Google Inc., “Searching the World with Google Maps”, Thursday 2:00, Davis Centre room 1302, reception follows, details online.

Distinguished lecture: Alan Kay, Viewpoints Research Institute, inventor of Smalltalk, “Steps Toward the Reinvention of Programming”, Thursday 4:30 p.m., Theatre of the Arts.

Matthews Golf Classic for students, staff, faculty, retirees and friends, June 16, Grand Valley Golf Course, details online.

Canadian Mental Health Association, Grand River Branch, “Leading a National Mental Health Strategy” presentation, discussion and annual meeting, June 16, 3:00 p.m., Humanities Theatre, information 519-766-4450 ext. 371.

25-Year Club annual reception June 17, 6:00 p.m., Physical Activities Complex, by invitation, information ext. 32078.

Zonta Club June dinner meeting, guest speaker Louise Fréchette, former deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, now at Centre for International Governance Innovation, June 18, 6:00, South Campus Hall, tickets $20, e-mail diane@

Dropping courses: last day for 50 per cent fee refund, June 20. Last day to receive a WD grade for spring term courses dropped, June 27.

Vancouver alumni event: Southern Ontario Alumni Reunion barbecue at Jericho Beach Pond, Sunday, June 22, 12:00 to 4:00, details online.

California alumni: Networking reception for alumni at Stanford University Faculty Club, Thursday, June 26, 6:30 p.m. UW Day at Padres baseball game, June 27. UW Day at Dodgers baseball game, June 28. Digital Moose Lounge Canada Day Picnic, June 29, Huddard Park East, Woodside, details online.

Long weekend: UW holidays Monday, June 30, and Tuesday, July 1, for Canada Day; classes cancelled, offices and most services closed.

Canada Day celebrations Tuesday, July 1, on the north campus: children’s fun-fest, arts and crafts fair, food, stage performances and other activities, 2 p.m. until evening; fireworks 10 p.m.; details and volunteer information online.

Teaching and Learning ePortfolio conference, July 7-8, St. Jerome’s University, details online.

Charity golf tournament: Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology presents Swing2Cure in support of Grand River Regional Cancer Centre, July 9, Rebel Creek Golf Club, registration ext. 37106 before April 1, details online.

Student Life 101 open house for September’s new students, Saturday, July 19, information online.

Rogers Cup men’s tennis tournament, July 19-27 at York University, details available online about UW alumni tickets (also for students, faculty, staff).

Last day of classes for spring term: July 30. Exams August 5-16.

Homecoming 2008 Saturday, September 27, details on alumni web site.

One click away

Do Students Learn from Laboratory Work? Slides from recent presentation
Grad's research: evaluating the Multiculturalism Act
'Engineering traditions, pranks and school spirit'
Honorary degree from Laval for Mike Lazaridis
Lazaridis gives another $50 million to PerimeterStar
'Work visa changes help international students'
Big opportunity for humanities scholars (Globe)
George Mason U 'struggles' with its Emirates campus
Higher education reform in the Middle East
Yale provost nominated as next Oxford vice-chancellor
Former cabinet minister to head U of Ottawa

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