Top Ten Higher Ed Trends: Academic Journals, Gender Equity, Contingent Faculty and Drones

Top Ten Higher Ed Trends: Academic Journals, Gender Equity, Contingent Faculty and Drones

August 21, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


It’s 2016, happy new year! and welcome back to another Ten with Ken. I’m Ken Steele. A year ago we launched this higher education podcast with a 3 part “year in review” series. As we launch our second year, we’re going to spend a few episodes looking back at some big picture trends, PR headaches, and notable brand campaigns that impacted North American higher education last year. This week, let’s start counting down the Top Ten Trends of 2015, from equity and politics, to new technologies and new business models. [Music] 2015 was a pretty tough year. France reeled from terrorist attacks in Paris from January to November. America saw extreme drought in California, and flash flooding in Texas. The world saw devastating earthquakes in Nepal, and refugee crises in Europe and Syria. We lost Leonard Nimoy and Yogi Berra, and we lost confidence in Volkswagen over the emissions scandal. We saw the rise of macho right-wing politicians from Vladimir Putin to Donald Trump. But of course, 2015 wasn’t all bad. We didn’t just see 50 Shades of Grey in theatres, but also the Dark Side vanquished by the Light. We got up close and personal with super moons and dwarf planets, saw the launch of the Apple Watch and the safe landing of the SpaceX rocket. We celebrated “Back to the Future” day, Lexus released an actual hoverboard (sort of), and Nike produced limited edition self-lacing shoes. And in Canada at least, we saw a clear shift leftward politically, from the surprise landslide victories of Rachel Notley’s NDP in Alberta, to Dwight Ball’s Liberals in Newfoundland, to Canada’s second Prime Minister Trudeau. Of course, in politics, entertainment, technology, and science we kind of expect to see constant change. But in higher ed, where traditions stretch back centuries and innovation can take decades, did we really see that much change? Here are 10 things that I think signal real trends for higher ed, that we saw either arise last year, or gain momentum. Some themes we covered in previous podcasts, and some we’re going to want to look at in more depth soon. Let’s start with #10… Gender Equity. I’m ranking this trend last, but certainly not least, because it’s been obvious for decades, and in fact we covered it in depth in episode 6 last May. We saw plenty, good and bad, related to gender equity in 2015. British princesses won the right of succession to the monarchy, and Disney princesses evolved into tough, independent, competent heroines. York’s Lassonde School of Engineering launched the 50:50 Challenge. McMaster and McGill announced multi-million-dollar pay equity settlements. On the other hand, we also saw too much research last year demonstrating that sexism still persists in the academy. Student reviews on RateMyProfessor are more likely to comment on the intellect of male faculty members, or to call female faculty bossy or frumpy. Two top female scientists withdrew from Canada’s Science and Engineering Hall of Fame selection committee to protest the complete lack of female nominees for the second year in a row. We saw atrocious examples of sexist behaviour on social media, coming from students and senior faculty members alike. Ontario University students launched an awareness campaign for what they called the “Bachelorette Degree,” to highlight the persistent wage gap for female graduates. Narrator: “You’ve heard of a bachelors degree. Every year, thousands are awarded to hard-working students from universities all across Ontario. But what if we told you that over half of our graduates are earning something a little different? Introducing Ontario’s new Bachelorette Degree.” Female student: “When I first found out about the Bachelorette Degree, I was like, hmm… I don’t really know if that’s for me. I mean, I have to pay the same tuition as men, but then I get paid $300,000 less over the course of my career? How does that even make sense? But then I found out it actually wasn’t my choice, so… [music stops] yes.” Narrator: “Love a good discount? Great! In today’s society, your earning potential is on sale as well.” Graduate: “Mmm. Smells like lavender, and inequality.” Jason: “Hey, this sounds fun! Can I get a Bachelorette degree?” Female student: “Silly Jason, income inequality is for women graduates only!” Narrator: “It’s fun, it’s flirty, it’s feminine.
It’ll earn you… 30% less.” Even though female students are now the majority in most program areas, schools of Engineering and Business remain dominated by males. In the senior faculty ranks, we’re a long way from gender equity across the board. It is not over yet! I’d say top trend #9 for 2015 was… open textbooks. Textbook publishers have been moving toward electronic platforms for years, and we dedicated an episode to the subject back in September. eTexts are on the rise. Schools like Olds College are providing students with ipads, and at Algonquin College, 100% of students now have access to electronic textbooks at no additional cost. But in 2015 we saw a real growth in momentum for open textbooks in particular. The State of California started things rolling in late 2012, committing to create free, open-source textbooks for the 50 largest college courses in the state. A month later, BC followed suit, committing $1 million to create peer-reviewed open texts for 40 post-secondary courses. In early 2015, at the Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver, we heard that so-called “Textbook Zero” programs can reduce student attrition by up to 10%, simply because the student has the required textbook. By fall, BC Campus had more than 100 open texts available. The government of Manitoba announced its own Open Textbook Initiative, basically to review and adapt the BC Campus texts for use in Manitoba. In October, the Affordable College Textbook Act was reintroduced in the US Congress, to fund the development and adoption of more open textbooks. That’s a lot of momentum for open textbooks in a single calendar year, and I’m beginning to feel optimistic that governments are going to start spending a little more money, to save students a whole lot. Top trend #8 of 2015: protests over the plight of adjunct and contingent faculty. We dedicated a segment to the topic back in July. Check it out for more details. No question, institutions face growing budget pressure as state and provincial funding dries up. Lecture halls have grown about as much as they can, and it doesn’t look like MOOCs will replace course sections anytime soon. Over the last decade, the solution has been to flood the market with PhD graduates, and to offer them starvation-level wages to teach courses without job security or benefits. In the US, the plight of this “new faculty majority” has become blatantly obvious. Last spring, adjunct professors joined fast food workers on the picket line to fight for a $15 minimum wage. In Canada, the situation is marginally better, but adjuncts still get paid less than a third of their full-time counterparts to teach the same course. Striking sessional instructors at York University drove national headlines last spring, but the problem is far from resolved. It’s just not sustainable, in the long term, for academia to balance its budget on the backs of young instructors. And the issue rose to public awareness last year. On a lighter note, top trend #7:
[Mechanical voice] the rise of the machines. Not deadly terminators or transformers
– at least not yet. Drones hit the mainstream in 2015, and were being pilot tested for everything from Amazon delivery to Domino’s pizza. An estimated 4.3 million drones were sold worldwide in 2015, and they were expected to be the #1 Christmas gift last month. I didn’t get one! In China, high schools started using drones to patrol college entrance exams, monitoring for digital cheating. Drones started popping up in academic programs and curriculum too, from firefighting and agriculture to filmmaking and journalism. But we’re just starting to see the impact of drones on labour markets and academic programs. Where drones really conquered last year, was in college and university marketing departments. Aerial drone footage was appearing everywhere.
From Oxford University to Holland College, everybody’s been showing off their manicured lawns
and ugly rooftops. MIT Admissions joked that acceptance letters
would be arriving by drone. [Music: Ride of the Valkyries] If your marketing department doesn’t have a drone yet,
it will soon. And I bet budgets for rooftop beautification
will increase, as well. In 2015 we also saw signs of change coming to… traditional academic journals. A few immensely powerful publishers have a chokehold on scholarly publication. A study published last June demonstrated that in the Social Sciences, for example, just 5 corporations control 70% of scholarly output. And since publications are critical for university rankings, tenure and promotion committees, and research grant awards, that means those corporations are the de facto “power brokers” for academic careers. They haven’t been shy about exploiting their monopoly, either. Some journal subscription fees have been doubling, while costs of electronic production are plummeting. Publishers like Elsevier have been posting 39% profit margins – healthier even than high tech giant Apple! The Huffington Post declared academic journals “the most profitable obsolete technology in history.” In 2014, McGill and Brock (among others) cancelled subscriptions to thousands of journals because of rising prices. Even Harvard, with its $40-billion endowment, declared it could no longer afford some journals. When open access negotiations broke down last summer, universities in the Netherlands urged faculty to boycott Elsevier publications, to resign as editors and peer reviewers, and to stop publishing in their journals. Last November, the editors and editorial board of Elsevier’s linguistics publication, Lingua, did just that. Journals have maintained their monopoly because of the credibility of peer review, but even that became contentious last year. An editor at open-access journal Scientific Reports resigned last spring in protest over a new policy that asked authors to pay a premium to expedite the peer review of their articles. Last May, an anonymous peer reviewer created a media firestorm with a sexist remark on a paper. And we saw peer review fraud, peer review rings, and hundreds of articles retracted because of faked peer reviews. Journals’ choke-hold on scholarship makes no sense
in the internet age. It’s hardly fair that universities must pay billions of dollars a year to rent the right to read their own scholarship. I think a landslide change is inevitable, even if right now all we’re feeling is a few tremors. In 2015 there was also a groundswell of protest against… generous executive pensions and administrative leaves. A year ago, my list of the biggest higher ed headaches of 2014 included questionable expense accounts at Red River College, and attempts to circumvent government salary caps at VIU, Kwantlen, and Capilano Universities. In 2015, the outrage of faculty, unions and the public seemed focused specifically on some high-profile cases of “double-dipping” salaries, when university presidents (and it was all university presidents) took double pay in lieu of a sabbatical year, or received multiple pensions simultaneously. The most prominent case came to light last April, when Ontario’s sunshine list of public sector salaries revealed that Western University president, Amit Chakma, had received $967,000 in 2014 — more than double his annual salary! Now, technically Chakma had done nothing wrong, but the almost million-dollar paycheque ignited a firestorm, including a non-confidence motion in Senate, a fact-finding investigation, and eventually the resignation of the board chair who signed the contract. Chakma returned half the money, but the university paid almost $100,000 to lawyers and PR consultants. Last May, Quebec’s education minister challenged the $622,000 departure bonus in the contract of Michael Goldbloom, principal of Bishop’s University. Goldbloom promised to forgo half of the severance pay. When UBC president Arvind Gupta resigned abruptly last summer, after just one year on the job, it was revealed that he would receive an extra year’s pay, about $450,000. Last November, McGill University union leaders objected to the supplementary pension being paid to former principal Heather Munroe-Blum, a $284,000 top-up to her $87,000 pensions from McGill and UofT. And in Nova Scotia, we saw controversy over $1.3 million being paid to Tom Traves, former president at Dalhousie University, who continued receiving his salary for 3 years after retirement. Likewise former StFX president Sean Riley received more than $1.2 million for unused administrative leave, which the faculty union called “egregious.” In September, the Nova Scotia Minister of Advanced Education told university board chairs that generous post-retirement salaries are no longer acceptable in a time of rising student costs. When budgets get tight and a scarcity mentality sets in, everyone is looking for a scapegoat, and presidents are a tempting target. I’m quite sure we will continue to see controversies over executive compensation in the years ahead, but boards will probably shy away from contracts that permit “double-dipping.” Well, thanks again for taking ten with me. That brings us about halfway through our review of the biggest higher ed trends in 2015. We’ve looked quickly at a few themes from previous episodes, like Gender Equity, Open Textbooks, and Contingent Faculty. We also looked at the rise of Drones, and the evolution of Academic Journals, which probably deserve a closer look sometime. And we looked at the backlash against Double-Dip salaries, a topic we’ll revisit when we sum up the biggest higher ed headaches of 2015. Next time, we’ll finish our countdown with the 4 biggest trends affecting higher ed in 2015, from political correctness to major demographic shifts. I hope you’ll join us! Meanwhile, please take a moment to subscribe,
on iTunes, YouTube, or by email. [Music]