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Letters to the editor


Now is not the time for nagging

In the midst of a pandemic, when there are so many uncertainties, stresses and challenges, suggesting that people get over their tendency to procrastinate seems unkind at best (“The thief of time,” November-December 2020). So what if we are slower to do things or don’t get everything done? Academics are chronic over-achievers. The world has changed and, for those with responsibility for the care of others, the last thing they need to hear is get over yourself and stop procrastinating.

Carol Strike
Dr. Strike is a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.


I’ll get around to that

The recent neurobiological research mentioned in the article on procrastination, that we view our future self as the stranger who will do for us whatever we are delaying, is very interesting (“The thief of time,” November-December 2020). One wonders if chronic delay doesn’t have some adaptive value as well – the proverbial sober second thought and all that it implies for survival. It can be so easy to get into the loop where that seems reasonable, over and over … and, then, the task we set out to do never quite happens.

Peter Stephenson
Dr. Stephenson is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Victoria..


Source, please?

is there a source for that Francis Bacon quotation? (Editor’s note: the quotation is “Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake,” cited in the article “The pull of procrastination,” November-December.) It seems to be all over the internet, but without any reference to which of his works it can be found in. It certainly can’t be found in any of his works published on Project Gutenberg – I looked. I went to the trouble of checking with a Bacon scholar who didn’t recognize it, either. I suspect that it’s merely pseudepigraphic, though I’d be happy to be shown that I’m wrong.

Sean Lawrence
Dr. Lawrence is an associate professor of English at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.


The value of university

While universities are ostensibly about getting information out of textbooks and into the heads of students, in practice there is so much more going on, and so much more value that students get from their university experience than simply learning academic content (“Is online learning at a tipping point?” University Affairs online, November 19). Renowned University of California administrator Clark Kerr famously said that his job was to provide sports for alumni, parking for faculty, and sex for the students. While this comment was made partly in jest, it points to the kind of social interaction that students value, learn from – and which can’t be had online.

If learning social interactions seems trite and not worthy of societal investment, you might ask yourself how much of your work and personal satisfaction comes from interacting effectively with other people, taking charge in some situations, allowing others to when appropriate, and recognizing the difference. You aren’t born knowing these things, and postsecondary education of young adults is an important venue for this aspect of human development.

The bigger question that this article – and so many similar ones – raises is whether we as a society value forming the future members and leaders of our communities. It is instructive to look at the options. Some jurisdictions in Canada are following what we might refer to as the Mississippi model of investment in the common good: minimize redistribution of wealth and do as little as possible to help those in poverty or with other needs. The result of this experiment is obvious: Mississippi lags in nearly every measure of personal and business success in the U.S. The alternative is for society to agree that robust investment in our youth through excellent, in person education is not just wise but essential. Do we really need to be debating this?

Stephen Rader
Dr. Rader is a professor of chemistry at the University of Northern British Columbia.


A conversation starter

Tim, thank you for starting this conversation (“Identifying the reason[s] behind a mid-career slump,” by Tim Kenyon, University Affairs online, November 2). For people who are in tenured appointments, it does seem as if the institutional culture sets up an impossible model to fulfill. In my experience, I hit all of the hurdles that you mentioned. And if a person decides that their personal research trajectory needs to be changed, that takes so much valuable time and effort to build a new network. I also know an awful lot of female associate professors who are stuck there forever, caught up in the service/teaching/you are no longer protected, stop whining category.

So, thanks for naming it and getting us to talk about all this. At my institution, service and teaching are not valued like research, so if your research slips that is it, you are on the discard pile. And how do you rebuild and reframe your experience in meaningful ways that help you get back on the bus of your research career? Looking forward to the next instalment.

Catherine Harding
Dr. Harding is an associate professor of art history and visual studies at the University of Victoria.


No legal remedy for unlikableness

Thank you for this wonderful, clear and concise article! (“Creating a respectful workplace? Don’t start with the law,” Legally Speaking column, University Affairs online, November 9). I have had parallel conversations as president of our small union. I have had to explain to colleagues time and again the difference between a formal grievance and feeling “aggrieved.”

If the dean was impolite to you, that is not harassment (unless this behaviour is based on the prohibited grounds outlined in the article). It is a sign that the dean is not a nice person. There is no legal remedy. The proper response is to not like them.

David Seljak
Dr. Seljak is president of the St. Jerome’s University Academic Staff Association and is a professor in the department of religious studies at St. Jerome’s, affiliated with the University of Waterloo.