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Letters to the editor

 

Tragedy of the commons

It’s about time. I’ve been telling my first-year economics students this for years (“We’re way past the point of preventing climate change, it’s time to adapt,” November issue). No species on our planet has solved a common property resource problem absent coercive central regulation or a simple and cheap technological fix. We didn’t have either for the North Atlantic fishery, and we don’t have either for the atmosphere. We need to stop seeing climate change as a moral issue. It’s about incentives. Most importantly, money spent by Canadians on adaptation will benefit Canadians. Money spent by Canadians to prevent climate change will have such a small effect worldwide that we might as well say it benefits no one.

Lorne Carmichael
Dr. Carmichael is an emeritus professor of economics at Queen’s University.

 

A two-pronged approach

An excellent article, which makes very good points about the need for a strong focus on adaptation to a changing climate (“We’re way past the point of preventing climate change, it’s time to adapt,” November issue). That said, I don’t see adaptation and mitigation as an either/or issue, but rather as a two-pronged one. Surely, in spite of the causes of climate variability and change, we have had to consider a range of solutions to our problems involving a dynamic climate.

We have had to adapt. This is not new. What is new is the apparent acceleration of the changes, which have largely been attributed to human-induced impacts. As such, while adapting to a variable and changing climate will continue, as it should, there is a moral imperative to also work on mitigation for the longer term. Yes, Canada’s evident contribution to the human-induced impacts may be small, but leadership sometimes involves stepping forward on principle, in part with a hoped-for outcome of eventually influencing others accordingly.

Jim Kells
Dr. Kells is a professor emeritus in the department of civil, geological and environmental engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

 

Reinforcing the status quo

Mrc Spooner’s observations that performance-based funding is biased towards a narrow definition of research and education that privileges economic utility is, regrettably, just highlighting the intended outcome for many right-of-centre politicians and lawmakers in the U.S. and Canada (“University performance-based funding is bound to fail,” October 22). The optics of accountability matter more than the exponential costs of reporting and calculation. Ongoing budget uncertainty is in many ways intended to keep universities on the defensive.

The more compelling objection, though, to governments eager to implement performance-based funding is his observation that these simplistic, high-stakes KPIs (key performance indicators) will in fact constrain innovation and entrepreneurship in the higher-ed sector, when ostensibly the intent is to encourage it.

The unintended consequence of this is to reinforce the status quo. Under the proposed Ontario funding model, institutions will be punished for failing to maintain their own three-year average performance on a set of 10 metrics. No matter how remarkable the breakthrough,
or how it contributes to the prosperity of the province or the country, no institution will be rewarded for outperforming in any way. Higher education needs a funding model that incentivizes innovation, excellence and strategic focus.

Ken Steele
Mr. Steele is a higher-education strategist and president of Eduvation Inc.

 

Reinforcing the status quo

Mrc Spooner’s observations that performance-based funding is biased towards a narrow definition of research and education that privileges economic utility is, regrettably, just highlighting the intended outcome for many right-of-centre politicians and lawmakers in the U.S. and Canada (“University performance-based funding is bound to fail,”  October 22). The optics of accountability matter more than the exponential costs of reporting and calculation. Ongoing budget uncertainty is in many ways intended to keep universities on the defensive.

The more compelling objection, though, to governments eager to implement performance-based funding is his observation that these simplistic, high-stakes KPIs (key performance indicators) will in fact constrain innovation and entrepreneurship in the higher-ed sector, when ostensibly the intent is to encourage it.

The unintended consequence of this is to reinforce the status quo. Under the proposed Ontario funding model, institutions will be punished for failing to maintain their own three-year average performance on a set of 10 metrics. No matter how remarkable the breakthrough,
or how it contributes to the prosperity of the province or the country, no institution will be rewarded for outperforming in any way. Higher education needs a funding model that incentivizes innovation, excellence and strategic focus.

Ken Steele
Mr. Steele is a higher-education strategist and president of Eduvation Inc.

 

A call for chapters

In the December 2012 issue of University Affairs, Tema Frank wrote about ways in which sabbaticals are changing. Change in higher education has increased since that time, and many foundations of the institution are clearly under attack. Of importance to us is the apparent erosion of opportunities for sabbaticals. There may be many reasons for this, but reductions in the number of tripartite tenured faculty, and a corresponding undervaluing of research, is certainly one.

With this in mind, we have had a book proposal accepted that aims to draw together narratives about diverse sabbatical experiences. The objective is to portray what is done during sabbaticals with a snapshot of what academics currently use them for. The goal is to cross disciplinary boundaries and to have chapters from both within Canada and internationally.

It is hoped that a collection of narratives will augment what others, such as Ms. Frank, have written about sabbaticals. We hope that the
collection shows the multi-faceted value of the sabbatical and its intrinsic importance within a strong academy. Details of the call for chapters can be found at uts.nipissingu.ca/timothys/.

Timothy Sibbald and Victoria Handford
Dr. Sibbald is an associate professor in the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University. Dr. Handford is an associate professor in the faculty of education and social work at Thompson Rivers University.

 

Undergraduate learning

This is such an important topic (“We need to have a candid conversation about quality undergraduate education,” Adventures in Academe, November issue). I think both the high-impact practices described here, as well as the foundational undergraduate learning goals of critical thinking, oral and written expression, analysis, and so on, are at odds with the factory-farming model of undergraduate education that is happening almost everywhere in the system right now. A national summit on undergraduate learning would be very timely.

Raymond Dart
Dr. Dart is an associate professor in the school of business at Trent University.