The Mail

The Mail

December 3 2001
The Mail

The Mail

December 3 2001

The Mail

University issues

Many in the academic world often question the scientific validity and the methodology used in determining your annual university rankings (“Universities 2001,” Cover, Nov. 19). However, I think the special issue is a very valuable source of information for numerous young students in making, perhaps, the most critical decision regarding their university education. For parents, the information must be very helpful in ensuring that their sons and daughters make a choice based on information rather than on pure peer pressure. As an academic,

I find the special issue useful because I come to know the characteristics others are looking for in us. The universities that have consistently done better over the years must be doing certain things better than us. This information can help me in deciding the activities that I should concentrate on in order for my university to be perceived better by others. I paid $5.70 (after taxes) for the special 2001 edition of Macleans, but the information it contained is priceless.

S. K. Goyal, Professor, Decision Sciences & MIS, Concordia University, Montreal

Tucked among your telling ranking measurements of universities is “the percentage

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of first-year classes taught by tenured and tenure-track professors (three per cent), a measure of how much access new students have to top faculty” (“How we rank Canadian universities”). The implication is that non-tenured or part-time or contract faculty are not top teachers, which is erroneous. Tenure-stream appointments carry with them a commitment to research that often overshadows a commitment to excellent teaching. A university can afford only so many tenure positions. Roughly 25 per cent to 50 per cent of all undergraduate teaching at Canadian universities is carried out by part-time faculty. Many of these have PhDs and years of teaching experience. Macleans is wise in noting that access to top teachers must remain a university priority, not just in first year but in all classes. But that they are to be found only among the tenured is poppycock.

Bill Plumstead, North Bay, Ont.

A year and a half ago, like the 18-year-old subject of one article, I graduated with a phenomenal 97-per-cent-plus average, athletic and academic decorations to boot, and had accepted a $26,000 Chancellor’s Scholarship from Queen’s University. September couldn’t come fast enough. I was on my way to great things, I had medical school to prepare for, more awards to win, grades to make. A year and a half has taught me some very important lessons. My acceptance and praise from Queen’s put me in high esteem with my parents, my relatives and my small town. My year, however, was completely miserable. Queen’s is a terrific university—phenomenal people, great programs, contagious spirit—but its highly ranked, highly esteemed, well-reputed grandeur was the designer shoe that gave me blisters. I was forced to decide between my own happiness and not disappointing my parents and my peers. I made the choice that today draws sympathetic looks, gossip and ridicule. Rejecting three remaining

A personal choice

Although I understand the desire to rank things, I think there are certain intangibles about a higher education that cannot be rated (“Universities 2001,” Cover, Nov. 19). On Dec. 6,1 will sit my last exam leading towards a BA at the University of Manitoba. I was in Croatia when I enrolled in my program and began my first course over six years ago. Since then, I have gotten married, had three children and moved four times. All the while, the flexibility of Manitoba’s distanceeducation program has allowed me to stay on track with my studies. It’s because of this that the U of M will always be No. 1 in my books.

Jayson Tarzwell, Oshawa, Ont.

years of scholarship and a “safe degree,” I am currently working to earn enough money to afford life in Toronto and am taking correspondence courses to put me at pace with students already engaged in my program of choice at—gasp!—Ryerson Polytechnic University, ranked No. 19 of 21 schools on the Primarily Undergraduate list. Long story short, do not choose your university or your program because rankings or parents or peers are telling you it’s best for you. Choose what really is best for you.

Rénée Taylor, Kingston, Ont.

Your criteria of size, currency and funding to measure quality of libraries on Canadian campuses is irrelevant in today’s electronic world. The University of Calgary libraries provide access via their online catalogue and electronic periodical indexes to a world of journals, court decisions and other research literature that would amount to tens of thousands of volumes in a traditional count. Access to this world of electronic research literature has levelled the playing field in Canadian educational institutions, so that the smaller universities can provide ready access to information otherwise unavailable.

Sue Beugln, Calgary

We’re pleased that your lead article in this year’s Macleans university issue reminds high-school students and their parents of the true value of an arts and sciences degree (“Choosing the right university: an insider’s

guide”). In fact, the wide-ranging, lifelong skills graduates gain from an arts and sciences degree—the abilities to reason, create, evaluate and communicate—are exacdy the skills that more and more of todays employers tell us they’re looking for. Canada’s universities believe that we have a responsibility to get this message out to parents and students and, as you pointed out, to better communicate the value of the arts and sciences to the public. That’s why we’ve just launched a new communications campaign that will give young people and their parents the information and resources they need to learn the real story behind the success of arts and sciences graduates. For those who would like more information, our new Web site ( in English, in French) contains a wealth of information about programs, career choices and resources.

Robert J. Giroux, President, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, Ottawa

Whose wheat?

The wheat bag pictured in your magazine—questioned by your letter writer as to why Canadian aid would contain the word “Christian” (“Church and state,” The Mail, Nov. 19)—is labelled “A Christian response to hunger” because that’s what it is. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is not a government agency, but a Christian one supported by farmers and churches of many different denominations. They send supplies, such as wheat, where there is a dire need. I suspect the recipients consider it neither insensitive nor inappropriate to be given food when hungry.

C. M. Wilcox, Ancaster, Ont.

Make SAMe available

Sharon Doyle Driedgers article “Overcoming depression,” Cover, Nov. 12), while courageous, is overly critical of antidepressant medications. She is clearly in that 10 to 20 per cent of all depressed individuals who have marked side-effects to nearly all prescription medications currently available for this all-too-common disorder. Driedger strongly recommends SAMe, a substance that is both friendly to the liver and the joints and that, for most people, has fewer side-effects than many prescription antidepressants. However, this

substance is both very expensive and inconvenient to take, requiring as many as eight pills per day.

At the same time, I, too, believe that Health Canada’s decision to essentially ban SAMe amounted to either treating Canadians like children, or conspiring with the drug company lobby.

Health Minister Allan Rock should reverse this decision and allow those who wish to take SAMe to have free and ready access to it. It certainly has far fewer side-effects than the alcohol and cigarettes that most untreated depressives are now taking in an effort to “medicate” themselves.

Dr. Ron Charach, Toronto

No new programs

Regarding Finance Minister “Paul Martin’s grand dream” (Peter C. Newman, Nov. 19): an international environmental organization and an international body that deals with an epidemic like AIDS already exist in the framework of the United Nations. There is no need for new international initiatives, there is a need for more commitment to the existing ones. Canadian support of UN programs dealing with international environmental matters (UNEP), agricultural, forestry and fisheries issues (FAO), and health concerns (WHO) is pathetic compared with much smaller countries like the Netherlands or Sweden. Regarding Martin’s suggestions of new global initiatives, such as a form of international equalization payments, an international instead of domestic health-care system and free education until the end of high school, those are worrying ideas from a person aspiring to lead our country. Who would pay for it?

Denny Kalensky, Ottawa

A tragedy recalled

It was with great interest that I read the article “A mysterious tragedy” (History, Nov. 12 ). I was in the Middle East with the nine servicemen who died when their plane went down in Syria in 1974, and in fact flew the same aircraft on the same route the day prior to the tragedy. I escorted the bodies back to CFB Trenton, Ont., and attended most of the funerals.

While flying the same type of aircraft (a Buffalo), I cast Bob Wicks’s ashes to the wind over the nearby Bay of Quinte, as requested by his wife. I am thrilled that there is at last a proper memorial for these men and truly regret that I was not made aware of the ceremony this past summer. I certainly would have attended.

W.A. (Bill) Vermue, Guelph, Ont.

In honour of...

I believe Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Sgt. Mark Wall deserves a place on Macleans annual Honour Roll for his tireless work for more than a decade on the Mount Cashel orphanage files. He was the lead investigator in the infamous cases in which many Christian Brothers were convicted of sexually and physically abusing orphans in St. John’s. Many of the victims, now grown men, claim they would never have found their voices had it not been for Wall’s approach. He succeeded where officers before him failed.

Danette Dooley, Mount Pearl, Nfld.

I would like to nominate Bill St. Louis. This individual has made a difference in the lives of thousands of people in the community of Sudbury, Ont., for the past 15 years. He volunteers countless hours in a food bank, raising funds and distributing nonperishable goods to the many who require help. At Christmas, he ensures that many families and individuals who are in need are not forgotten. It is a massive undertaking that requires months of planning and long hours of labour.

Denis Cousineau, Sudbury, Ont.

Our population in Newfoundland and Labrador is barely more than 500,000 and we are known as the poorest province in Canada, but we have the biggest hearts when it comes to helping our fellow human kind. As a result of opening our hearts to all the people who were stranded here on Sept. 11, there are now more scholarships than ever before for our high schools, funded by the strangers we took into our homes. I would like to nominate the whole province of Newfoundland and Labrador for your Honour Roll.

Derek Oates, Corner Brook, Nfld.