A word of thanks for university support for Humanities research, on AU’s Employee Recognition Day

[I shared this short word of thanks on the occasion of receiving this year’s PARSE research award, at today’s annual Employee Recognition event at Athabasca U, in the town of Athabasca.]

Thanks so much to Athabasca University for the President’s Award for Research and Scholarly Excellence. Thanks especially to the judges of this award; the colleagues whom I consulted about applying to this award; and Athabasca University Press, for publishing my book, The Medium Is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein and the Discourse of Technology. It’s been a long time coming: the project started over a decade ago, in 2006, and there are many reasons it’s taken so long to see print. I’m relieved to see that other studies of Frankenstein have taken as long. And I’ve made other workload choices (especially in service) year to year at AU. Maybe I’m making up for some of that time, but during this PARSE leave I’m now working on not one but three book projects. But enough about me.

The President’s Award for Research and Scholarly Excellence recognizes and supports several practices and values vital to preserving and building our research university. For one thing, the PARSE award supports Canadian scholarly book publishing at a time that sector is being squeezed by global competitors (not by copyright law, as some lobbyists claim). But for another thing, closer to home, the PARSE builds and diversifies AU’s research culture. AU support, like the PARSE, for research across all our disciplines is vital in a provincial context where we must compete for external funding and awards with two of Canada’s biggest universities (who shall remain nameless here).

As an internal support for disciplinary research, the PARSE also supports quality teaching, since research and teaching are mutually constituted in university work of excellence. In this way, the PARSE affirms and builds AU’s status as a comprehensive academic research university (or “CARI”) – a status that’s vital to our students. Students come to AU because they know we’re a real research university.

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from M. Terras et al, “The Humanities Matter!”, 2013, 4humanities.org/infographic. Click for full-size image.

And as both an AU award and a book-publishing award, the PARSE is especially appreciated by a Humanities scholar like me: in Humanities disciplines (like English, history, or philosophy), it’s books, not articles, that are the currency of the realm. And most if not all Humanities research is not applied, it’s pure or curiosity-driven (and sometimes, as a colleague reminds me, even fun-driven) research. The value of Humanities research isn’t well appreciated by the public because it’s not obviously useful. But usefulness is not the appropriate way to measure Humanities research. Humanities research may have no economic application; what it produces is critical knowledge, and that’s a vital, non-economic public good. At its best, Humanities research speaks truth to power, promotes engaged citizenship, and unsettles common sense, making the familiar strange and vice versa. Humanities research is, in a word, critical. And as Stuart Hall said, “the university is a critical institution or it is nothing.”

Thank you again for conferring on me the honour – and the responsibility – of this extraordinary award.

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Two new poems

Thanks to EVENT Magazine for publishing two of my poems, “What a name’s in” and “No family one pictures” — alongside superb work by other writers — in the current issue (vol 46 no 2, 2017).

Meera Nair on Canada’s copyright review & fair dealing at Congress

English Matters, The blog of the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), features a talk by Meera Nair (NAIT) from the panel I organized & chaired at Congress on Monday, May 29, 2017: “Canada’s 2017 copyright review: academics’ perspectives.” The panel included three presenters: Sileshi Hirko (U Ottawa) made the case for re-framing copyright’s users’ rights (i.e. fair dealing) according to human rights and international rights agreements; Lisa Macklem (Western U) discussed the implications of intermediary lobbying (e.g. by Access Copyright) and international trade agreements (e.g. NAFTA) for users’ rights in Canadian copyright law; and Nair showed how not only users but also authors depend on fair dealing.
Read more about the panel at this link, where you can also read a free PDF version of Nair’s complete talk.

Two new poems

Two poems of mine have appeared recently in literary journals:

“Shadows the words” is in this week’s (June 4th) issue of UnLost, a fantastic journal of found poetry that’s openly accessible online. This poem’s an acrostic (certain letters in every line spell a word) and a cento (a poem made wholly of lines from other poems)…so I think that makes it an acrosticento.

And “New patriot love” is in the current issue (#3) of Milkweed Zine, a bold and diverse queer feminist erotic ‘zine based in Toronto. This poem’s a dirty riff on Canada’s flag and national anthem — just in time for Canada’s 150th! 😉

29 May 2017: Academics’ views on Canada’s 2017 copyright review (free & open to public at #CongreSSH)

At 1:30 pm on May 29, at Congress hosted by Ryerson U in Toronto, I will be chairing Academics’ Perspectives on Canada’s 2017 copyright review — it will be an Open Congress panel, meaning it’s free and open to the public.

Speakers:

Sileshi Hirko (uOttawa and Open AIR): “Reframing User’s Right under Canadian Copyright Jurisprudence as a Human Right”
Lisa Macklem (Western U): “Copyright’s Role in Preserving and Ensuring Access to Culture: The Way Forward”
Meera Nair (NAIT): “Copyright Review 2017 – a Plea to the Academics”

This panel will share perspectives on the federal government’s upcoming review of Canada’s amended copyright law (tentatively scheduled for fall 2017). The public discourse on this review is dominated by the views of publishers and copyright holders’ intermediaries who are calling for the government to revise if not retract the legislative expansions regarding fair dealing. Rights holders’ lobbyists like Access Copyright and the Writers’ Union of Canada have been claiming that fair dealing is endangering Canadian publishing and content creation. How can educators and researchers (who, in these roles, are also promoters of culture) respond to these accusations and demonstrate the social and economic value of “dynamic fair dealing”?

The panel is hosted jointly by the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) and the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities / Société canadienne des humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN).

Dear students: please clearly name your assignment files

Just a tip for university students in this digital age: it’s always a good idea to name a file that you’re submitting as written work for a course with the following details:

  • your name;
  • the course number; and
  • the assignment name (or keyword).

For instance, instead of submitting an essay as a Word or PDF doc with the file name “Essay 1” try naming the file something like this: “McCutcheon-Essay1-ENGLXXX”.

There are two great reasons to clearly name your assignment files:

1. Doing so will endear you to your instructors — and improve your learning — because you will save them a significant bit of filing work, leaving more time for them to give you meaningful feedback. Put yourself in the instructor’s shoes: An instructor gets dozens, or, in some courses, even hundreds of written assignments from students. If they’re all files that are titled something like “Essay 1,” then the instructor has to open each one just to find out who submitted it. That time adds up, and it eats into the time they would rather spend giving you meaningful feedback, not doing filing and paperwork.

2. Doing so will also protect your claim to your own written work as your intellectual property. Sure, a file name can be easily changed. But no instructor would bother doing so — except maybe to indicate which student submitted it, what course it’s for, and what assignment it is. Putting your name, course number, and assignment keyword(s) in the file name establishes a virtual papertrail that identifies you as the author of a given piece of writing, and protects your investment and your interest, in case any assignments get lost in the inevitable shuffle. (Adding these details to file names also makes them much more easily searchable in computer drives and folders.)

I don’t know whether there are privacy policy implications of clearly naming files, but all universities have clear policies and rules for the secure storage, retention, and destruction of student records and information, which I believe should dispel the potential privacy concerns that might be raised in response to this suggestion. But on this, or on any other aspect of this “best practice” suggestion, I welcome your comments below.

Stephen Harper as Killer Robot

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is my new article in English Studies in Canada‘s just-published special issue on the automated body.

shaskillbot-screenshotWhile an article about Harper might seem like a political postmortem, the former prime minister’s popular caricature as a robot speaks to widespread fears about the implications of technology for democracy. These alarming implications have been analyzed recently in tech CEO Berit Anderson’s article “The rise of the weaponized AI propaganda machine.” Anderson’s article is a must-read for appreciating the extent to which digital technology now poses a real and present threat to democracy. Anderson’s article sort of picks up — and dives in — where mine leaves off, as a discussion of how that threat has been growing in Canada for some time now.

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Stencil by “myheadhurtsalot” (https://i.imgur.com/JFfG3.png). My thanks to this Redditor for their permission to reprint their image in my article.

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is currently available online via the Project Muse database, but ESC‘s decent open access policy means the article will be publicly available soon, in 6 months to a year (that’s soonish, for academia). But in the meantime, if you want a copy and can’t access Project Muse, leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail at academicalism[at]gmail[dot]com.