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Letters to the editor

 

Planning is everything

The article on strategic planning (“Strategic plans help universities tell their story,” May-June issue) unintentionally captures one of the greatest skepticisms about strategic plans: that they may be crafted primarily for external consumption, with little meaning or relevance to internal audiences. Striking the right balance while still providing effective and meaningful guidance within the institution is very difficult.

My general observation is that strategic plans make perfect sense to their immediate authors but less and less as the circle expands outwards. Without knowing the assumptions and trade-offs behind the plan, it’s easy to misread or dismiss it. I sometimes think that all strategic plans should be accompanied by special heavily annotated versions, explaining in detail what each phrase really means and why those exact words were chosen. Despite this, I think strategic planning has great value – but as an ongoing exercise in institutional culture, not as a single document. In a line attributed to Dwight Eisenhower, “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Jonathan Malloy
Dr. Malloy is a professor of political science at Carleton University.

 

Investing in Canadian publishing

To the board of the Canadian Association of Learned Journals: nicely articulated (“The realities of journal publishing: a view from Canada’s not-for-profits,” University Affairs online, May 28). One of the ironies here is that many of the big peer-reviewed journals that charge the big bucks, though typically considered “reputable,” do not copyedit and fact-check the papers they publish. This is not so different from the growing business of predatory publishing, a swarm of new journals that will publish almost anything for a fee, under the auspices of a journal name that looks scholarly.

On top of those challenges is the growing expectation (including funding policy changes by the European Union) for all published papers to be open access, and to have original data archived and available for review. Implementing policies for open-access journals begs for a funding model that does not put poorly funded researchers at a disadvantage; perhaps it is time for greater public investment in Canada’s not-for-profit publishing sector to assure continued quality and access to publicly funded research. The old dusty, fuddy-duddy world of quiet academic publishing doesn’t really exist anymore!

Philip J. Burton
Dr. Burton is co-editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research and is a professor, ecosystem science and management, at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Feedback’s important, if they take it

I read the article, “It’s a professor’s duty to teach proper essay writing” (May-June issue), while sitting in my office waiting for students to pick up essays so they could read their (extensive) feedback. So far, after several posted office hours on two separate days, fewer than five students have picked up their essays – in a class of nearly 70. This is becoming the norm.

I spend one 60-to-90-minute class a semester in first year courses going through the nuts and bolts of essay writing, with multiple best and worst examples, links to style guides, warnings about my irritation with sweeping introductory lines they obviously encourage in high school (“Since the dawn of time …”) and, of course, details about plagiarism. I sense that my efforts aren’t making much of a difference. If students don’t read the feedback, how will they learn? I don’t think we should take all the responsibility away from them.

Diane Enns
Dr. Enns is a professor in the department of philosophy at Ryerson University.