Category Archives: General issues in higher education

What I (should not) assume

Road with a sign on the side saying "Welcome to Idaho"

Welcome to Idaho, US Route 91, Franklin, Idaho, photo by Ken Lund, shared on Flickr with CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

 

This is the third blog post in the 9x9x25 challenge I’m doing (still one behind, as it’s week 4!). See this post explaining the challenge.

 

I’m part of a book club, and right now we’re reading Educated by Tara Westover. I’m most of the way through the book and hopefully won’t give too many spoilers, but as it’s a memoir and her bio can be seen at the website linked above, the general outlines of her educational journey are easily known. I’ll just add a few more details from the book here in my reflection on her experience and how it has led me to reflect on my own teaching practices.

The memoir

This book is about a young woman growing up in rural Idaho (and since I grew up in Idaho too, a number of the places mentioned are familiar to me, though I am not from the same region as her). Her family, due to religious and other beliefs, chose not to send their children to school (though some went for a time anyway if I remember correctly), and wouldn’t go to doctors if they could at all help it. Tara never went to school but managed to study on her own and get high enough marks on the ACT (one of the exams high school students can take to get into some colleges and universities) to be admitted to Brigham Young University in Utah. There, she went through deep financial and personal struggles, including facing a world where the beliefs she had grown up with were frequently challenged in ways she wasn’t always ready to deal with.

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“No devices” policies and accessibilty

 

The times they are a’changing, by Brett Jordan, licensed CC BY 2.0 on Flickr

 

I have had a couple of conversations here and there with faculty and graduate students about students using electronic devices in the classroom, and about policies that some instructors have saying that students aren’t allowed to use them at all (or that there are periods during a class where they must be put away, but other times when they can be used). I knew that sometimes students really need devices to succeed, particularly if they have certain kinds of disabilities; but I sometimes struggled to give good examples of when that might be the case, to help others see why electronic devices are critical for some students. In this post I’ll be giving a number of examples.

Can’t students just be excepted from the policy if they have academic accommodations?

Most instructors who won’t allow electronic devices in their classes make exceptions for students with documented disabilities that require device use for them to learn well (in most places such accommodations are required, I think). But there are still some concerns with this having the policy plus exemptions:

  • Students with those needs now have to stand out in a class in ways they wouldn’t otherwise, and in ways that could make them feel like they are divulging something they would rather not (and shouldn’t have to) divulge to others. They now stand out as the only one in the class (or, if they’re lucky, one of two) who gets to use a device while other students wonder just why they get to use one. I have seen a couple of students on social media say that as soon as they see a “no devices” policy on a syllabus they drop the class because of this concern.
  • Sometimes students’ needs may not quite get to the level required for official accommodations, but using devices makes it so that they can learn at the same level as those without those needs.
  • Getting the documentation required for accommodation can be costly, depending on where you live and whether the health care system covers that sort of thing. Some students may not be able to afford this cost. Tests needed can run into the hundreds of dollars or more. And sometimes they have to be redone every few years.

Now, I do see the need for requiring documentation for accommodations; I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that. It is important that all students who have demonstrated needs are treated impartially, and so there are rules applied to all that say what needs to be done for accommodations. But the question is: is it so important to stop device use that it means some students won’t be able to succeed as well in the course because of the second or third bullet point, above?

Some examples of when devices are critical to learning

To help make the case to others, I wanted better examples than I had already for why some students really rely on electronic devices to learn. So I asked on social media, and I got a long list! I’m going to paraphrase them here; some people divulged their own struggles, and even though they did so on a public social media site, I didn’t ask if I could embed those posts in this new medium of a blog post. So I’m just paraphrasing what people told me. And I’ve made a rough separation of them into categories.

 Motor control or other issues with hands

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pain in hands
  • Dystonia
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Eczema can sometimes be bad enough that bending fingers as much as is needed for writing is difficult because broken skin
  • There can be difficulties with fine motor control in: ADHD, Autism (including Asperberger’s), Tourettes

Visual and auditory reasons

  • If slides are posted ahead of a class meeting, students with visual difficulties can follow along on their computers with adaptive tech that allows for magnification, font changes, or other changes to make the slides easier for them to see. (One person who posted this said that posting slides ahead of time can help all students, since they can go stay on a slide while they’re making notes about it even if the instructor moves forward, or they can go back to review something while the lecture is happening to better understand what is being discussed at that moment).
  • Students with visual difficulties may be able to touch type but have a harder time with handwriting; those with lowvision can can type on a computer and then either:
    • enlarge the font, change the font to one that is easier to read, or
    • print on a braille printer for later reading, or
    • use text-to-speech software to listen to the notes later.
  • Students with auditory issues (including low hearing, deafness, or Auditory Processing Disorder) may use software to have spoken words translated into written words in real time on their devices.

Cognitive and emotional reasons

  • Some students may have difficulty with eye contact (sometimes anxiety or autism can manifest this way), and need somewhere else to look.
  • Dyslexia and dysgraphia: students can look up words or use spell check to get them right in their notes
  • Problems with executive function can mean organizing many physical papers is difficult but having a single device with files organized into folders is easier

Language learners

  • Students who are still working on expertise in the language of instruction: they can look up words they don’t understand (Google is pretty good at fixing spelling if you have just heard the word but don’t know how to spell it).
  • Such students could also use devices to record lectures (with permission), since it can be hard to pay attention and process for long periods in a language you are not already expert in.

 

This is still not a comprehensive list, and as one person said on Twitter, there never can be one, since technology and adaptive tools are continually changing, and people may be using tech to support their learning in ways that no one ever thought of or even realizes.

 

Sitting in a certain part of the room

Many times, instructors justify “no devices” policies or “lids down” time in class in order to encourage students to avoid distracting themselves, and in particular, distracting others. The latter can be accomplished by asking students with devices to sit in a particular part of the room, and those who don’t want to be possibly distracted by others to sit elsewhere. I sometimes hear people saying that, given the physical makeup of laptops, they ask students with devices to sit in the back of the room.

This works from the perspective of those not wanting distractions to not have to sit behind those students with laptops who may be doing things on them unrelated to the class, but there’s a worry from the point of accessibility: sometimes those students who use laptops because they need them also have vision issues, and sitting in the back is going to make the situation worse for them (e.g., if the professor writes on the board; they may have the slides in advance and can look at those magnified on their screens at least).

So perhaps a better way of approaching the issue is to ask students with devices to sit on the sides of the room, whether in front or back? This is a genuine question…I am not sure this might not raise other problems, but at the moment it seems a possible compromise. I would want to make sure there is enough space on the sides of the room for all the students who want to use devices.

 

Your examples

Do you know of other examples of when/why students might need to use electronic devices in classes in order to succeed academically? Please put them in the comments below!

 

Creating accessible documents

I am collecting a set of links with information about creating accessible documents (e.g., MS Word, PDF, Power Point). This is in part for a Teaching with Technology showcase at UBC Dec. 7, 2017.

I’m collecting them on a page on the UBC Wiki, but they are also embedded below…


 

The following are links to resources that can help when creating documents like MS Word, Power Point slides, PDF and more, to ensure they are accessible.

  • Two modules from an accessibility in broadcast media course from Humber College talk about creating accessible documents: Part One and Part Two
  • If you use Google Docs, Google Sheets, or Google Slides, Grackle Docs has accessibility checkers that can help ensure accessible documents/slides.
source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Sandbox:Accessible_Documents_Links

Mobile teaching and learning

On July 26 I participated in an elearning symposium at the University of Washington-Bothell, virtually, on the invitation of Todd Conaway. There were numerous presenters, many from far and wide, including Alan Levine in Arizona and Viv Rolfe in the UK.

Each of the presenters only had 15 minutes to speak, on something related to the symposium’s theme of “Learning Everywhere.” And since several of us were coming in virtually, we didn’t see the rest of the symposium. Fortunately, Todd did a writeup of the whole day, in a blog post.

I wanted to share here what I said in my 15 minutes, in case it’s useful to others.

college students sitting on stone steps of a building, three of them with phones in their hands

People of Berkeley – Meeting Place, shared on Flickr by John Morgan, licensed CC BY 2.0

The title and description of my short presentation were:

Teaching & learning on the go: students and faculty

Our students are learning pretty much everywhere: on the bus, at coffee shops, walking around town…. What can we as teachers to do facilitate that learning? And what can we ourselves do on the go in our teaching and learning practice? Christina will provide a few ideas on these questions, and ask for participants to share their thoughts too.

So yeah, that’s what I had planned. But I didn’t get to that last part of people sharing their thoughts too. I finished what I had planned to say with maybe 1 minute left, so there wasn’t time for discussion while I was there. 15 minutes is hard to squish things into, and I probably took on too much for that time slot. But anyway. Here are my thoughts on the two questions above, expanded a bit from what I actually said in the symposium.

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Response to letter about UBC and immigration, travel ban

In my last post I pasted a letter written by a number of people at UBC, and sent around to a larger number of people via email for feedback, making suggestions about some things UBC might do in response to the recent travel ban in the U.S. (which has now been put on hold but a new one may be coming out), issues around immigration and refugees, hate speech & violence against certain religious groups, the LGBTQ+ community, and more.

We received a response right away from Pam Ratner, Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, International pro tem at UBC. I asked and received permission to post that response here because I thought it would be of interest to many. I want to thank Pam for a quick, thorough, and helpful response!

A number of us are continuing to think about how we might work with others at UBC to address these issues and the students, staff and faculty who are affected by them. If you would like to join us, please email me: c.hendricks@ubc.ca.


Dear Christina, Afsaneh, Jenny, Tammy and Amy.

Thank you for your letter about the recent travel ban imposed via the US President’s executive order (EO), and thank you for writing a thoughtful account of the current situation, and for providing some excellent ideas about how UBC can respond.  Several of your ideas were addressed by the task force, when it was in place, and by others who are concerned about the current situation.  I’d like to share some information about initiatives that were launched prior to the EO, which are relevant, and some that have been put in place as a result.  That said, there is more work that needs to be done and perhaps you can provide the leadership as well as the impetus.

An email will likely not suffice to address the several complex matters that you identified in your letter.  I do want to address, at a high level, some of the concerns you’ve expressed to affirm that others have raised similar concerns and that some work is underway to address them.

  1. You recommended that workshops, teach-ins, and discussions be held related to racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ+ violence, refugees, human rights, and immigration.  You acknowledged that many events are taking place and that we might benefit from a fund to support speakers.  There is a project underway at present that is designed to address diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus and a $2M recurring commitment to diversity has been made.  This funding was allocated when the administration discussed the implications of tuition increases for international students with the elected student leadership.  Your recommendation will be shared with the project team which is working with the AVP Equity and Inclusion, Sara-Jane Finlay.
  2. Discussions with the World University Service of Canada Student Refugee program.  UBC is very committed to working with WUSC. UBC committed significant funding to support the housing and tuition costs of WUSC students when the number of sponsored students was increased last year.  We look forward to receiving the recommendations from WUSC and learning how we can better support refugees on campus.  I know that the Registrar, the International Student Initiative, and International Student Development are very committed to WUSC.
  3. Academic conferences:  I appreciate that several academics are choosing not to enter the US at this time and are concerned about the implications of missing out on conferences and networking opportunities for merit, tenure, and promotion considerations.  This was a question raised by Mark Maclean of the Faculty Association, as well Allison Matacheskie, Director of Faculty Relations, Eric Eich, Vice-Provost & AVP, Academic Affairs, and Mark Maclean are meeting to discuss this issue.
  4. An updated webpage – we have been using the President’s webpage to point people to the appropriate government webpages in the US and Canada about the implications of policy changes in the USA.  Your suggestion about adding information is helpful and we’ll explore whether we can develop more resources on the Provost’s website.
  5. Students – we are reviewing students’ applications on a case-by-case basis for both undergraduate and graduate programs that have the capacity to enrol more students.  Dean Susan Porter, Faculty of Graduate + Postdoctoral Studies is consulting with Departments to determine their needs.  The Provost has committed additional funding for 2017-18 to help support late admissions to graduate programs and we are investigating whether there is a need to support postdoctoral fellows, as well.
  6. Visiting scholars – we have been contacted by doctoral students enrolled in US programs who were outside of the country and cannot gain re-entry to the USA, at this time.  We have invited those students to join us at UBC as VIRS students so that they can continue their research and complete their dissertations, under the supervision of their US supervisors.  We have waived the application fee for these students.  And, we are looking at other ways in which we can support scholars who may be in situations where their lives, liberty or wellbeing are at risk.  Early discussions with the Faculty Association and the Executive are very promising with respect to the latter initiative.

Thank you again for writing.  I do hope that upon learning about some of the activities you have some confidence that many people on campus are working to ensure that we contribute to the greater good and advance our community, and society, in ways that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Best wishes,

Pam

Pam Ratner  PhD, FCAHS
Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Enrolment and Academic Facilities

Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, International pro tem
Office of the Provost & Vice-President Academic
The University of British Columbia | Vancouver Campus

UBC and recent events around U.S. travel, immigration and more

When the travel ban put in place by the administration of U.S. President Trump was announced in late January I was devastated. I couldn’t understand what was happening, nor how best to respond. I did the only thing I could think of at the time, which was to ask some questions on social media, which led to a suggestion for something to do by someone else at UBC, which led to an effort to gather people from UBC together into an email list to talk about possible responses by us as individuals and also by the university community.

I was heartened to see that UBC President Santa Ono put together a task force about the travel ban very quickly, and as they were meeting I was discussing with people on our hastily-put-together email list ideas of what we might do. As the suggestions started coming in I kept track of them all and eventually put them on a shared doc in the form of a letter. I was going to send it to the task force (second announcement about the task force is here) but then by the time I and a few other people finalized the letter and who wanted to sign it, we learned that the task force had given a new and final update.

We decided to send our letter anyway, and addressed it to President Ono only instead of the task force (which I believe is now finished, given the latest update being called a “final” one). We had some further thoughts for consideration and decided they were still worth sharing.

I want to emphasize that we appreciate the work of the President and the Task Force so far, and are offering further suggestions we would like the university to consider. I fear that the issues we discuss in the letter are likely to get worse, not better, as the weeks and months go on.

I share below a copy of the letter we sent to the President’s office today. I encourage others to share their thoughts in the comments below, and if you want to join our email list of UBC students, faculty and staff who are concerned about refugees, immigration, travel, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, hate and violence directed towards indigenous and LGBTQIA communities, please email me: c.hendricks@ubc.ca.

This is a long list of issues on the table, and I expect I have left out some groups and how they are being affected by recent events (please let me know!) but sadly I think they are connected. And all I can think of to do, again, is to talk with other people who care and see what we can do, given what we know and who we are and where we are right now. And to listen, mostly: to listen to those who are most affected.


February 20, 2017

Dear President Ono,

We write as members of the UBC community who are very concerned about the recent travel ban in the U.S. that affected so many people around the world, including at UBC, and about the violence committed against Muslims in Québec. Though the original travel ban is no longer in force, the U.S. President has said there will be a new one very soon that will be more carefully drafted so as to be more enforceable. Further, we fear that expressions of hatred as well as acts of violence against Muslims, Jews, and other marginalized groups that we are seeing in several parts of the world at the moment are likely to continue or get worse.

Recently we have also seen evidence of the new administration in the U.S. expending greater efforts to find and deport those who are in the country illegally, which could include students at institutions of higher education or their families. We are concerned about the possible disruption to such students and their families, not just in their studies but in their lives.

We were happy to see you respond so quickly to the travel ban in the U.S. by making a statement expressing deep concern and setting up a task force right away with funding to support it. We appreciate your efforts regarding this important issue and would like to support them.

We are writing with further suggestions of what we think might be useful for the university to do. We would also like to emphasize that the situation with the travel ban is very fluid and could change quickly, and some of the suggestions below are things that could be considered for the longer term even if the travel ban is not reinstated right away.

Actions that could be taken regardless of the status of the travel ban in the U.S.

 

Workshops, teach-ins, discussions at UBC

We would like to see more events related to racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ violence, refugees, human rights and immigration at the university in the near future. First Nations and indigenous communities also continue to experience systemic inequalities, racism and violence, problems which are related to those we are raising here. There are quite a few people at UBC with a great deal of knowledge and experience with such issues, amongst students, staff and faculty. It would be helpful if there were a way for people to communicate and coordinate events and workshops around these issues, to avoid duplication and to be able to advertise them in one place.

We realize that such events are often organized by units at UBC rather than out of the central administration, but one thing that might facilitate more such events is to create a fund that could be used by units who wish to bring in speakers.

This is also a longer-term effort that could be undertaken in the portfolio of the Associate VP, Equity and Inclusion. As noted above, rhetoric, hatred and violence around Islam, Judaism, the LGBTQIA community, immigration and refugees is on the rise in many parts of the world, and this is a problem we need to be thinking about in the long term rather than only as a response to the recent travel ban.
World University Service of Canada Student Refugee program

Discussions with WUSC are currently underway to explore how best the university and Faculty can further support this program.  We encourage the University (and/or the task force) to continue working closely with WUSC and consider the recommendations coming from this student-led group.

 

Academic conferences

A number of professional associations are debating whether to possibly move their conferences or meetings outside of the U.S. We would like to ask the task force to consider how UBC might support such efforts, perhaps by providing a reduced price for use of rooms or catering. We recognize that many association meetings in Vancouver are held in hotels downtown, but for smaller meetings that could use UBC facilities we would like the university consider how to support moving such meetings from the U.S. to here.

There are also a number of academics who are choosing not to go to the U.S. at this time, and may therefore cancelling their presentations at conferences. If this is done out of conscientious objection, faculty members could note this on their CV’s and perhaps their cancelled presentations could still count for merit, tenure and promotion as if they had presented in person.

 

Actions specifically related to a travel ban, or to other reasons why students and scholars may not want to or be able to pursue their studies or scholarly work in the U.S.

 

Resource web page

It would be helpful to provide an up-to-date page with information about the current status of this or a future travel ban/travel or immigration concern in the U.S., such as the one at the University of Alberta: https://www.ualberta.ca/travel-ban-information This page could contain continually updated information as well as resources and people to contact with questions and concerns. It could also be a place to list events at UBC related to travel and immigration issues as well as those related to combating racism, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and the like. Finally, it could contain information and guidelines around data protection and privacy for members of the UBC community who do travel to the US (in light of travellers being asked for device and social media passwords).

 

Students

  • Scholarships: It would be helpful if the university could fundraise for scholarships for those affected by this or a future travel ban.

 

Researchers and professors

Some may not be able to, or may not want to risk, going to the U.S. at this time though they may have been planning to do so (or are not able to return to their home institutions). We think it would be helpful if UBC could find ways to work with departments and research centres to provide temporary placement as visiting scholars. We recognize that this is complicated, of course, by the need for housing for such scholars as well as possibly their partners and families.

 

This letter has been circulated amongst an email list of faculty, staff and students who have come together around a desire to see the university respond in as effective and helpful way as possible to recent events. However, we are only a small number of people. We encourage the task force to consult widely with various people on campus, and in particular with those most affected by the travel ban, concerns around refugees and immigration, and Islamophobia, to ensure that the university’s response addresses what they see as the most pressing needs. We offer the list of things above as suggestions from a group of people who are concerned, some of whom have been personally affected, but who are nevertheless only part of the picture. We stress the importance of also consulting directly with those whose needs are most pressing at this time.

 

Sincerely,

Christina Hendricks, Professor of Teaching, Philosophy, UBC

Afsaneh Sharif, Faculty Liaison, Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology
(Personal viewpoints and do not reflect CTLT)

Jenny Peterson, Political Science, UBC

Tammy Yasrobi, Manager, UBC IT
(Personal viewpoints and do not reflect UBC IT as an organization)

Amy Scott Metcalfe, Educational Studies, UBC


 

UPDATE: We received a response to our letter from Pam Ratner, Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, International pro tem at UBC, which I put into a new post because this one is already quite long.

 

 

professional ethics in philosophy

I was invited to speak on a panel of people talking about professional ethics to a colleague’s class last week, but unfortunately I was sick the day of the class. So I offered to provide my thoughts on the questions we were asked to talk about, in writing. I figured why not post them here, in case anyone else finds them useful, or the students themselves want to see them later, after discussed in class next week.

I’m organizing the post according to the questions I was asked to talk about.

 

What does the term ‘professional ethics’ mean to you?

For me, “ethics” has to do with the rightness or wrongness of how we act, where those are determined by rules or guidelines or virtues that aren’t only tied to laws or institutional rules. We philosophers often talk about ethics as how we should act even if there are not rules or laws to that effect. For example, there may not be any laws or institutional rules saying that those with quite a bit of money to spare should donate to those in need, but the ethical question is whether it would be morally right for them to refuse to hep anyone else.

Still, what is morally right or wrong may coincide with laws or institutional rules: e.g., lying under oath in a courtroom is against the law, and also could be morally wrong even if there were no law against it. So ethics can be about what is right or wrong to do morally, whether it coincides with laws or not.

When I consider the term “professional ethics,” I think it’s about the way we should act, morally, as members of a particular profession. There might be specific ways one should/should not act as a result of the professional role one plays in a society.

 

What does the term ‘professional ethics’ mean to your profession?

This is a little difficult for me because “philosopher” doesn’t really have a clear job description! Most professional philosophers work as professors in universities, though, so much of what I’ll say here connects with being a professor at post-secondary institution.

The American Philosophical Association (APA) recently (2016) adopted a Code of Conduct. It includes legal requirements (based on United States laws, which is where the APA is mostly housed…many of us in Canada belong to the APA too, though): these include respecting laws about nondiscrimination and avoiding sexual harassment. But it also goes beyond what laws require, to talk about how we should act towards students, colleagues and others as professors in classes and as people dedicated to hearing many sides of arguments and making the best decision after weighing all views carefully. For example, the APA Code of Conduct says that in classes, philosophy teachers should:

  • Treat students with dignity, never intentionally embarrassing or belittling them, and always communicating with them in clear, respectful, and culturally sensitive ways.

  • Nurture intellectual autonomy by maintaining a classroom environment in which students might raise hyperbolic doubts and float views that do not reflect prevailing beliefs and values, while at the same time maintaining a classroom environment in which all students—particularly students from disenfranchised groups—feel welcome and supported.

The first point above is what any professor should do, but the second, I think, speaks to the specific profession of philosophy in that one of the things we do as philosophers is listen to all legitimate arguments for or against a claim, treat them as possible candidates for truth, and make a decision based on which view has the best argument supporting it.

However, this does not mean encouraging or making everyone listen to statements that promote stereotypes or suggest that some people are worth less than others based on their group status (e.g., gender, ethnicity, ability, religion, etc.). The Code of Conduct goes on to talk about bullying and harassment this way:

Bullying and (non-sexual) harassment includes any degrading, hostile, or offensive conduct or comment by a person towards another that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause the target to be humiliated, intimidated, or otherwise gratuitously harmed.

This is somewhat similar to the UBC policy on discrimination and harassment:

Harassment, a form of discrimination, is a comment, conduct or behaviour that humiliates, intimidates, excludes and isolates an individual or group based on the BC Human Rights Code’s thirteen grounds of prohibited discrimination.

Finally, the APA Code of Conduct includes a section on “electronic communication,” including online works such as blogs or websites, and social media. Among other things, it says:

  • In a professional setting, it’s best to avoid ad hominem arguments and personal attacks, especially if they amount to slander, libel, and/or sexual harassment.

  • Language used in professional electronic communications should use the same kind of inclusive language and reflect the same kind of mutual respect as is expected in the classroom or other face-to-face interactions.

These both go beyond institutional or legal rules, except if what one says amounts to “slander, libel, and/or sexual harassment.” And they were prompted, in part (I think) by some online exchanges that have happened in recent years.

 

What importance, if any, do professional ethics play in your job?

To me, professional ethics are crucial to who I am as a philosopher, a colleague, a leader, and a professor. Treating people with respect and dignity, treating students and colleagues fairly and equitably, being transparent in what decisions I’m making (regarding my classes or work I do with colleagues) and why, are of utmost importance to me. I couldn’t call myself a philosopher or a professor if I didn’t hold these values to be crucial. And if I ever fail at fulfilling them I want people to tell me (in a respectful manner!) so I can correct what I’m doing.

Beyond that, of course, if one doesn’t fulfill institutional or legal rules of professional ethics as a professor, one can lose one’s job (e.g., for bullying, harassment, discrimination).

 

Describe real-world example(s) of where professional ethics went missing or were called into question.  This can be a personal example or one that you have heard of.

There have sadly been several instances of alleged sexual harassment by philosophy professors, with students or colleagues. Daily Nous, a site with news about the philosophy profession, has quite a few stories about these and related issues, here. This is not an issue that plagues philosophy professors alone, as there are too many other stories of professors (and students) allegedly engaging in sexual harassment.

There has also been, in the past few years, a very significant situation in which one philosopher acted online in ways that many people, including myself, found problematic. The philosopher in question was at the time a leader on a website that ranked philosophy graduate programs, and quite a few philosophers signed a statement in 2014 saying we would not participate in those rankings until the philosopher stepped down from his leadership position with that ranking system. He did eventually step down. The saga continues, though, as some of the original people who criticized that philosopher have been sent feces through the mail by an anonymous source in 2016. This was also covered by the New York Times. There have been threats of lawsuits as well (here is a story in the UBC student newspaper, The Ubyssey, about a possible lawsuit). 

 

Any advice for handling ethically challenging situations? 

One of the best things I can think of is to talk the issue over with someone you trust, and who isn’t directly or indirectly involved but can offer good advice.

And think not just about the impacts on yourself for making one decision or another, but on general practices in your profession: if one person does something, is it an action that you think would be okay if many people did? If not, why should that person be able to do it?

Consider also: would more people be harmed if one doesn’t do anything to resist what’s wrong? Think about the precedent set for the future for people who will be in the profession, and those who are affected by the profession, if a certain pattern of behaviour becomes accepted because people didn’t speak out.

Still, I don’t think it’s morally required for people to sacrifice their own careers for what is right. Seek help and advice to find ways to address problems that could have less ramifications on your own job, or find people who can do something because their position is more stable or they have more power than you do. I feel much more comfortable speaking out these days than I did before I had a stable job, and I will sometimes offer to be the person who does so when others want to say something but their own position is more fragile.

 

Any more general advice for young professionals entering into the workforce?

Often, following rules of professional ethics is not just something one does because one is supposed to; it’s often also a matter of ensuring that the kind of work you’re doing, which should be of benefit to yourself and others, is actually done correctly. Professional ethics for a philosophy teacher and researcher means actually doing philosophy teaching and researching as opposed to just appearing like one is doing them from the outside!

Yes, a philosophy degree has many uses

The headline of a recent article from Forbes:

That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket

http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeanders/2015/07/29/liberal-arts-degree-tech/

This article gives several case studies of leaders in the tech industry whose liberal arts degrees have served them well, and how tech doesn’t need just people with tech degrees. One of them is the founder and CEO of slack.com, who was a philosophy major.

 

I heard about the article via a tweet:

 

What’s a surprise to me is that this is still a surprise. Well, okay; maybe it’s not a “surprise” to me that this is so, but rather a “disappointment.” Those of us who teach and learn in the liberal arts get it already and try to make the case as much as we can. And some of our students complain about having to try to make the case to their parents. Clearly the message isn’t yet fully being received.

Or more likely, it takes the non-liberal-arts people saying it for the message to be believed.

What kind of position I have at UBC

Recently a colleague at another institution asked me some details about the particular kind of position I have at UBC: a tenurable, teaching position. This is not terribly common in N. America (though I am hearing rumours of some more universities and colleges in Canada looking into it), and so I thought I’d share some of these details also on my blog; others may be interested as well.

Two types of faculty tenure streams

I don’t know when this started, but UBC has two kinds of tenure lines, one research-focused and the other teaching-focused. Sometimes the first is called the “research” stream and the second the “teaching stream,” but these are rather misleading because it’s not as if each group doesn’t do the other thing too (teaching and research). I’ve noticed that the most recent nomenclature (as represented on UBC’s human resources site) is the “Professor” vs the “Professor of Teaching” path.

Which brings up another interesting point about names: the third, top rung of both paths have similar names: Professor and Professor of Teaching. The lower rungs are different.

  • Professor path: (1) Assistant Professor; (2) Associate Professor; (3) Professor
  • Professor of Teaching path: (1) Instructor I; (2) Sr. Instructor; (3) Professor of Teaching

There has been talk of changing the “instructor” titles because they are simply odd (made worse by the fact that there is a role called “Instructor II” but it is not in the Professor of Teaching path at all), but nothing has been set in stone yet.

Different criteria for tenure and promotion

1. Professor path

There is a one-page chart on this HR site, under “criteria,” that gives the basic criteria for tenure and promotion in that path (and you can see on that chart that “instructor II” is actually in that path…very confusing…I think this is going to be changed soon, as noted on our faculty union blog).

There are three criteria; the two that differ the most between the two paths are teaching and scholarly activity, so I’ll focus on those.

  • teaching–for appt. at Assistant professor, one just needs to demonstrate evidence of or potential for successful teaching; for associate,  successful teaching should be above that expected for an Assistant prof.; for Professor, excellence and high quality in teaching
  • scholarly activity–often this is research, but could also be creative and professional work with dissemination
    • The Senior Appointments Committee’s guide to promotion and tenure (linked to on the HR page noted above) notes on p. 12 that Scholarship of Teaching and Learning can be counted for faculty in this stream as part of their “scholarly activity”
  • service

 

2. Professor of teaching path

I can link directly to the chart for this one on the HR site: click here.

Three criteria here two, but one is different than the above:

  • teaching–for tenure at Sr. Instructor, one must demonstrate excellence in teaching; for Professor of teaching, one must have “outstanding” teaching, be “distinctive” in the field of teaching and learning
  • educational leadership
    • for tenure at Sr. Instructor
      • “Requires evidence of… demonstrated educational leadership”
      • “Requires evidence of… involvement in curriculum development and innovation, and other teaching and learning initiatives”
    • “Keep abreast of current development in their respective discipline and in the field of teaching and learning”
  • for Professor of Teaching
    • “Requires evidence of outstanding achievement in…educational leadership”
    • “Requires evidence of… sustained and innovative contributions to curriculum development, course design and other initiatives that advance the University’s ability to excel in its teaching and learning mandate”
  • Service

Note that “scholarly activity” is replaced with “educational leadership” here. Indeed, the Professor of Teaching chart says at the bottom that “Scholarly Activity is not a criterion or an expectation for tenure or promotion through the Professor of Teaching ranks.”

The current Collective Agreement also describes what is needed for promotion to Sr. Instructor and to Professor of Teaching:

  • 3.04 “Appointment at or promotion to the rank of Senior Instructor requires evidence of excellence in teaching, demonstrated educational leadership, involvement in curriculum development and innovation, and other teaching and learning initiatives.  It is expected that Senior Instructors will keep abreast of current developments in their respective disciplines, and in the field of teaching and learning.  A Senior Instructor may be promoted to the rank of Professor of Teaching in the fifth or subsequent years in rank.”
  • 3.05 “Appointment at or promotion to the rank of Professor of Teaching requires evidence of outstanding achievement in teaching and educational leadership, distinction in the field of teaching and learning, sustained and innovative contributions to curriculum development, course design and other initiatives that advance the University’s ability to excel in its teaching and learning mandate.  Initial appointments at this rank are normally tenured appointments.”

There has been a great deal of discussion in the past few years as to what “educational leadership” means. The Senior Appointments Committee’s guide to promotion and tenure lists the following as possible sources of evidence of educational leadership (p. 18):

  • “Leadership taken at UBC and elsewhere to advance innovation and excellence in teaching
  • Contributions to curriculum development and renewal (curriculum design/re-design) within the unit/Faculty
  • Pedagogical innovation
  • Scholarly teaching with impact within and outside the unit
  • Applications of and contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning
  • Innovative use of learning technology
  • Leadership and contribution to teaching and learning initiatives and programs
  • Advancement of interdisciplinary/inter-professional collaboration
  • Leadership through mentoring
  • TLEF grants and other funding obtained for educational improvement/advising
  • Other activities that support evidence-based educational excellence, leadership and impact within and beyond the University.”

For example, I have taken on a leadership role of late in “open education,” talking with others about the value of making at least some of one’s teaching and learning work open to be used, revised, reused by others. I have given several presentations on this at conferences and workshops, and was chosen to be “Faculty Fellow” with BCcampus’ Open Textbook program this year–I’m engaging in outreach and advocacy about open textbooks and other open educational resources, as well as participating in research about these topics. I think that counts as “educational leadership.”

 

 Different criteria for merit

I have discovered, over the years since I’ve been in the “Professor of Teaching” path (I’m currently in the second level, a tenured Sr. Instructor), that if I do any research in my discipline, it neither counts for promotion nor for merit pay. The reason is because of this clause in the Collective Agreement:

  • 2.04 “Judgments [for merit awards] shall be based on the duties expected of a member in the period in question and shall not be based on activities in which the member had not the opportunity to engage.  For example, a faculty member who is not expected to teach but is expected to carry out research and contribute service should be considered on the latter two criteria.  A member whose assigned duties consist of teaching and service (e.g. Instructor I) should be considered only on those two criteria.”

This language is outdated; it has been the same for many years, and yet in the meantime the requirement of “educational leadership” has come into existence for those who are in the Professor of Teaching stream–so an Instructor I would not have duties only in teaching and service, but also educational leadership.

However, even if we included educational leadership as part of the basis for judgments of merit, it wouldn’t include research into one’s disciplinary area, only research on teaching and learning–see the above examples of “educational leadership,” which include only research in SoTL and not research in one’s (other) discipline.

 

The good and the, well, questionable

There are many things I like about the kind of job I have. It is, for me, a perfect fit between having far too many courses to be able to do anything but teach, and being in a research-heavy position that makes me feel like I should not be spending too much time on teaching or I won’t be able to fulfill the other aspects of my job. Those of us in the Professor of Teaching stream teach more than our colleagues in the Professor stream–some of us more than others, depending on the department and the faculty (Faculty of Arts, of Science, of Education, etc.). But since our jobs include teaching, service and educational leadership, we can at least make the case that we need to have enough time to do the latter two, and can’t be too overloaded with teaching duties to be able to fulfill what is expected.

There are still some concerns, though.

1. That disciplinary research is pretty much discouraged for those in the Professor of Teaching path is one area of contention. Part of the concern is that those in the Professor of Teaching path are also supposed to, as noted in section 3.04 of the Collective Agreement, as quoted above, “keep abreast of current developments in their respective disciplines.” It has been (persuasively, to my mind) argued that one way to do so is to not only read the disciplinary literature in one’s area but also add to it oneself. The answer I keep hearing, over and over, is that it is certainly fine if one wants to do research in one’s disciplinary area, but it won’t count for educational leadership. Perhaps it could count for the “teaching” part of one’s job description. But the message I’ve gotten over the past few years is that it is not to be taken into considerations in judgments about merit. If I publish SoTL work yes, but not if I publish an article on Foucault.

There appears to be a real push to keep the two faculty streams separate in this way. Not only do you not have to do disciplinary research if you go into the teaching stream, you’re actually encouraged not to (because it takes away time from the other things you should be doing), and you won’t get much credit for it professionally. However, I suppose we could look at the parallel in the Professor path: if someone in that stream became an outstanding teacher, earned teaching awards, became an educational leader in various ways, that would be great; but they probably wouldn’t make full professor on the basis of that. So even if I published a lot of great stuff on Foucault (which I haven’t had time to do, but you know…just imagine it’s true) it would be great but I wouldn’t become Professor of Teaching on the basis of that. I guess I can kind of see the point there. It does, however, feel strange that it’s possible for me to publish more in my discipline than a colleague in the research stream and not get merit while that person does. I can see why it’s the case, and I would get merit if I got a teaching award, maybe; would that person get merit as a research prof for a teaching award? I don’t know.

2. Another concern I’ve run across lately is that while there are a number of research grants available for disciplinary research, there is much less available for research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. For awhile it was the case that most of the research grant money available at UBC was not available for those in the Professor of Teaching stream to apply for. That is slowly changing, at least in the Faculty of Arts, where now, finally we can apply for grants to hire undergraduate research assistants, which used to be off limits for those in the Professor of Teaching path (which made no sense to me). And fortunately, we can apply for grants in the Social Sciences and Humanities from the federal government (haven’t checked for other areas of study outside social sciences and humanities).

The problem is that it’s very hard to compete for grant funding when you’re going up against people who have much more time than you do to devote to research. What I’d like to see is more funding dedicated to research work on teaching and learning. We have a fund here at UBC called the “Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund,” which has quite a bit of money for improving teaching and learning, but it’s quite clearly focused on things that are directly applied to teaching and learning, not so much on research needed previous to application (as I’ve recently discovered! Which is fine…it’s just that I’d like to have a place to apply for money for the research). I have recently put in a grant application to the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on a SoTL project; we’ll see how that goes in the national competition amongst many people who have more time for research than I do.

UBC has an Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and I was happy to be able to apply for and receive funding from them for a project this year. But it’s now time for me to seek sources of more funds than they have, and time for others to have a chance to get funds from them. Plus, next year they are offering grants 1/5 the size of what I was able to get (though I’m not actually using that much, so some of mine will go back to the kitty for others!).

3. Finally, there is a bit of disagreement around campus as regards the degree to which these two “streams” should be considered as equal–in the sense of whether or not Instructor I’s should have the same privileges and rights as Assistant Professors, same with Sr. Instructors and Associate Professors, etc. A lot of that is still being worked out. One issue of contention is voting rights within departments: can Sr. Instructors, who are tenured members of a department, vote on the appointment or tenure of Assistant Professors? Associate professors can vote on tenure for Instructor I to Sr. Instructor, but so far, Sr. Instructors (tenured) can’t vote on tenure from Assistant to Associate professor. And same with the third level. It looks like some of this is changing, according to our faculty union’s blog: starting with the next collective agreement, it looks like, “in the case of initial appointments the committee will now comprise all tenured and tenure-track members of the department.” So all tenure-track members of the department can have a say on initial hiring. But I don’t see any changes on the horizon for tenure and promotion.

It does seem a little odd that a Professor of Teaching, the top rung of one of the streams, can have no say in the tenure and promotion of someone moving from Assistant to Associate Professor. Surely, just as those focused on research can be counted on to make intelligent decisions regarding quality teaching for those of us going through tenure and promotion in the Professor of Teaching path, those of us in the latter path can be counted on to make intelligent decisions regarding quality research. It seems questionable to me to have this disparity.

 

Conclusion

I have to say I’m really happy with my position at UBC. I am thrilled that I can focus on teaching, which is what I love, and also have the job security of tenure and the chance to move up to a higher level of recognition of my work and become a Professor of Teaching. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to get a job like this! Which doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement in some areas (as there is, I expect, with most jobs).

It still happens here (and there, and there, and there…)

Every year, whether it’s explicitly on the syllabus or addressed in readings or not, questions about gender relations and gender inequalities come up in discussions in one or more of my classes. And most years someone asks something like: is gender inequality really still a problem here in (Vancouver, Canada, N. America…etc.)? Usually another student will reply with examples of how it is, but not always. And when I reply, I don’t always have the evidence on hand to support the examples I give.

I come across articles, reports, blog posts, etc., all the time that talk about yet another, and another, instance of how gender inequality is still a problem even where some students in Canada might think it’s not. But I haven’t kept a list so I could point to them.

I decided to create one, collaboratively. I started a list, but want additions from others, please.

I know the issue is so big that this document could go on nearly forever, but please put in examples that you think would help students understand that there is still a problem, in multiple areas (I have some sections for higher ed and philosophy, and there are several links about women in tech and gaming, but what other areas should be covered here too?).

To clarify, I am not meaning to say that gender inequality in the area in which I live is the only important thing to focus on. This is just one gender issue that comes up in class discussions, and I want to have a quick list of things to point to for that. There are obviously numerous gender inequalities around the world, and I would appreciate having links on the document about those as well.

The link to the document is here: http://is.gd/genderinequalitylinks

The doc is also embedded below.