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Letters to the editor


Not business as usual

Thank you for this (“Schrodinger’s semester: let’s clear the uncertainty for fall 2020,” by Ken Steele, University Affairs online, May 14). I think the biggest disservice we can do to our students and staff is to assure them that we are well on our way to “business as usual.” We are still learning about this virus and don’t fully understand how it is spread. Even if we got back to campus in September, the experience would still not be the same. Can you imagine docking marks for a student who didn’t attend class because they had the sniffles? Or coming to work if you yourself were sick? What about activities where students move from group to group, networking? Uncertainty is where we are at for the next two years, and we need to prepare everyone for the changes that are going to take place. Perhaps this is a chance to really evaluate how we teach, what we teach and how we can make connections. Academia will (likely) never be the same.

Holly Munn
Ms. Munn is an adjunct professor in the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.


A critical decision

Thank you for this realistic perspective (“Schrodinger’s semester: let’s clear the uncertainty for fall 2020”). I run the Canadian Gap Year Association and my days are spent talking to families who are in turmoil around a critical decision without firm commitments from the schools. I speak to them about the immediate realities and the long-term impact on education as we explore the best path forward for their student. Thank you for your voice of reason and helping others to understand that this isn’t a problem that can be solved before the fall semester.

Michelle Dittmer
Ms. Dittmer is president and co-founder of the Canadian Gap Year Association.

The value of social interactions

This is a great article and brings up a really important point: how social interactions drive creativity in the natural sciences (“COVID-19: scientists have lost their passive social check-in,” by David Kent, The Black Hole, University Affairs online, May 25). I wanted to share two things I’ve done to make the most of remote research:

1) We still have our weekly lab meetings, but I wanted to make these not just a replacement for in-person meetings, but better than in-person meetings. So we’ve had weekly joint meetings with lab groups across the country and from other countries; we’ve had guest biologists from government join us to talk about career development and research in government contexts; and we’ve had colleagues from the U.K. join us for joint discussions. It’s been exciting, fun and challenging – and we’ve all learned more than we would have with in-person lab meetings within our lab group.

2) I began researching the impacts of COVID-19 travel restrictions on wildlife and quickly realized that many other biologists are looking at the same thing. So we developed a research group to bring everyone together (, and that has resulted in my meeting and exchanging ideas with many researchers I never would have met otherwise. Not only do I get the day-to-day idea exchanges with colleagues via email instead of in-person this way, but it’s brought me friends and colleagues I would not have met if things were “normal.”

I would encourage readers to think outside of the box – let’s not try to simply bring back what we’ve lost – and start something even better.

Nicola Koper
Dr. Koper is a professor of conservation biology at the University of Manitoba.

Setting the record straight on Cabells

I am writing with regard to the claims made by Kelly Cobey in the article, “How Ottawa’s Centre for Journalology is tackling the scourge of predatory publishers” (by Alex Gillis, University Affairs online, March 20). The article mentions Cabells and that the Centre for Journalology chose not to include the company in a meeting on predatory publishers in 2019. This was news to us, as repeated attempts to engage with them on the issue of predatory publishing have, until very recently, been ignored. There are a number of other comments in the piece where Cabells would like to put the record straight, specifically:

  • The article quotes a figure of 13,000 predatory journals in existence without naming a source. The source is very likely to be the Cabells Journal Blacklist, which currently lists 13,233 predatory or illegitimate journals and is the only resource of such a size.
  • Dr. Cobey says the Journal Blacklist is “prohibitively expensive for many scholars.” However, we only sell subscriptions to institutions, and the pricing is not at all prohibitive.
  • It is understandable that the Centre for Journalology is seeking a free-access solution using AI, but we do not understand why that should preclude collaboration with Cabells in order to fight a common enemy. Cabells has chosen a subscription model to enable a high-quality, curated resource for academics, but would support any effort to accurately identify predatory publishing activity.

I believe University Affairs and the academic community in Canada would benefit from further coverage of this important issue. If your readers have any questions or comments, they can contact me at

Simon Linacre
Mr. Linacre is director of international marketing and development at Cabells.