Category Archives: Higher education

Six things the public & the government need to know about fair dealing

Amidst ongoing efforts by copyright-maximizing lobbyists to mislead both the public and the government (which is now undertaking its 5-year review of the amended 2012 copyright act) about what fair dealing is, and what it means for Canadian culture, innovation, and education, here are six evidence-based points worth understanding about fair dealing.

  1. Over a decade’s worth of Supreme Court rulings have firmly and consistently enshrined fair dealing as a users’ right in copyright law.
  2. If Canadian publishers are hurting, it’s not because of fair dealing.
  3. In the name of authors, lobbyists against fair dealing antagonize and vilify educators — but many educators are authors themselves.
  4. Far from “pirating” protected works, educators actively promote authors’ interests, e.g. by ordering Canadian authors’ works in large quantities for schools and students to buy. (See p. 2, item 4 of CARL-ABRC’s Fair Dealing fact sheet.)
  5. Authors need fair dealing too, no less than educators do.
  6. Fair dealing augments and reinforces our Charter-guaranteed freedom of expression: any change to fair dealing (or to copyright more generally) must be understood as a change to free speech rights.

All these points are supported by case law and rigorous, evidence-based studies (by nationally recognized experts like Bita Amani, Carys Craig, Michael Geist, Ariel Katz, and Meera Nair, among others).

So next time you read that teachers are killing Canadian publishing, or stealing Canadian content, don’t believe the hype.

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Fair Dealing Myths & Facts, from the Canadian Association of Research Libraries

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries has published a helpful, concise briefing on fair dealing in Canadian copyright law.
Get the facts, not the all-too-pervasive myths.
Fair Dealing Myths & Facts (PDF format; updated November 2017).

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.

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.

New MA course on Canadian prairie poetry & drama at Athabasca U

Athabasca University’s MA in Integrated Studies program is pleased to offer a new group-study* course for the coming fall semester: Poetry and Drama of the Canadian Prairies (MAIS 752).
The course is open to enrollment by students not just in Athabasca U’s MA program, but also in other Canadian and international graduate programs that recognize and transfer AU course credits.  Interested grad students can e-mail AU’s MA program office at cis@athabascau.ca for more information or to enroll. (Enrollment deadline: Aug. 15.)

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Highway 13 sign pointing to the town of Forget, Saskatchewan.

* “Group study”: Some of AU’s graduate programs use an online grouped study format. Students in these courses augment their studies with online group discussions and learning activities. Online grouped study courses are usually 13 weeks long and start in May, September or January. There are no extensions for these courses.

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”

Following the annual conference of the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) at Congress in Calgary, ACCUTE has posted to its English Matters blog a condensed version of my conference talk on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP):

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”: Implications of the TPP for Canadian literature and literary studies

The article identifies many major authors whose entry to the Canadian public domain the TPP will interfere with; and it highlights a few publishing and research projects that the TPP will kill, thus posing a waste of public funds and a cost to Canadians’ social literacy and access to knowledge.
The article ends with links and resources for how to “stop the TPP and the mess it would make of the Canadian public domain (not to mention the Internet).”
A full version has been sent to Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and submitted to the Government of Canada’s Public Consultations on the TPP.

Japan downgrades its universities to quasiversities: a symptom of the Humanities and Social Sciences under neoliberal attack

The Times Higher Education reports today on a drastic directive issued by the Japanese government, which instructs the country’s eighty-six national universities to close their Humanities and Social Sciences programs or “convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs.” The article reports that twenty-six universities have already agreed to comply, while the Universities of Tokyo and Kyoto have refused. One university president, Takamitsu Sawa of Shiga University, has publicly denounced the government order as “anti-intellectual.”

Which is precisely what the order is. The universities that comply with the decree should also be required to re-title themselves as quasiversities. The targeted disciplines include economics and even law.

Let’s not be misled by the Times article’s vague reference to financial pressures and low enrollments as reasons for such a short-sighted and regressive government decision. And more importantly, let’s not pretend such an order couldn’t be issued anywhere else. Britain more or less cut the Humanities and Social Sciences loose in the early 2010s, when it stopped all state investment in those areas, a harsh decision that has left those programs and departments to sink or swim by corporatizing and competing in the postsecondary market while the aggressively neoliberal British government has prioritized the “profitable” STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, math (Preston). (Of course, the postsecondary “market” is no market at all, but that social entity we used to call “the public.”)

Closer to home in Canada, the Harper government for years has been restructuring federal research grant councils to prioritize not just the STEM disciplines but more specifically their “applied” uses for business and industry (CAUT). Same goes for the ousted PC government of Alberta, which before it got sent packing had begun to take a strong intervening role in postsecondary education, with steep funding cuts, formalized “expectations,” emphasis on business-oriented applied research, pressures on institutions to collaborate if not merge in order to find “efficiencies” (McCutcheon). In addition, the PC government imposed a narrowly neoliberal kind of budgeting: “results-based budgeting,” which by projecting desired “results” in advance – by “picking winners” as one of my colleagues put it – curtails and compromises the inherently messy and unpredictable character of university research and teaching.

Neoliberal or “market-fundamentalist” policy and financial disciplinary measures like those constantly threaten the Humanities and Social Sciences with the proverbial death by a thousand cuts. More like the direct and brutal Japanese directive, in 2007 the New Brunswick government proposed to turn the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus into a polytechnical training college. That move – rumoured to be a means to better provide industry-specific job training for the province’s highly concentrated and interconnected oil, forestry, and Anglophone media businesses – was thwarted by public outcry and campus mobilization, with the support of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

As neoliberal governments around the world show themselves increasingly to serve not the voting public or the public interest but rather the financial elites and corporations that now manage so-called democracy to advance their own profiteering interests, these governments would evidently like nothing more to suppress and shut down the Humanities and Social Sciences programs and departments that inconvenience if not threaten business elites and neoliberal politicians with policy analysis, ideology critique, public-interest advocacy, and public mobilization, among other valuable forms and practices of counter-discourse. The Humanities and Social Sciences help to advance critique as one of the university’s core social missions; as Stuart Hall famously said, “the university is a critical institution or it is nothing” (qtd. in Giroux).

Which means that, as warily as we have to watch for drastic and overt policy moves like the Japanese government order, we also have to refute and reject the perennial claims that the Humanities and Social Sciences are in some kind of financial or existential crisis. We must understand that crisis is a manufactured crisis, a crisis constructed by the powerful interests whom these disciplines and practices inconvenience, threaten, and expose. Several globally renowned scholars, among many others, have made forceful arguments not just for the continuing relevance and utility of the Humanities and Social Sciences, but for their urgent and pivotal importance to democracy, civil society, and the public interest. Martha Nussbaum argues that these disciplines vitally advance democracy and engaged citizenship. Natalia Cecire identifies these disciplines as powerful influences on our everyday life – and calls BS on pundits and policymakers who keep trying to belittle and dismiss them. And Wendy Gay Pearson points out, without exaggeration, that these disciplines can even save lives:

looking at texts for what they reveal about what it is like to live in a particular world can be exceedingly relevant, indeed even a potentially lifesaving experience. This is especially the case with queer novels and films: they teach isolated and distraught young people that they are not alone. Particularly for those in rural areas or in intensely homophobic environments, reading a novel or seeing a film that shows that another world exists can and does save lives; it is no secret that gay teenagers are at significantly greater risk of suicide when they are most isolated from contact with other gay people and especially when they genuinely believe that there is no-one else like them. (16)

Relatedly, some psychology studies of reading have drawn media attention for giving the weight of scientific evidence to conclusions that those working in the Humanities had already known all along: that reading widely, reading difficult and diverse texts, and reading outside one’s zone of comfort and personal experience all expand the reader’s capacity for empathy and understanding (Chiaet). More empathy is evidently not what serves elite interests or the class divisions they keep widening.

But, as an unfortunate torrent of events just this year has already demonstrated, the pernicious persistence of systemic racism, sexism, bigotry, misogyny, homo- and transphobia, and gendered and sexual violence in all areas of contemporary social life vividly and tragically underscores the need for more – not less – teaching and learning in the Humanities and Social Sciences, areas that are not at all peripheral but vitally central to the pursuit and production of social justice, civil society, and an engaged and informed citizenry. To marginalize or destroy them is to destroy the very idea of the university, to leave it a crippled quasiversity – it is to leave the university, and by necessary extension the public interest it is historically mandated to serve, truly in ruins.

Works Cited

Chiaet, Julianne. “Novel finding: Reading literary fiction improves empathy.” Scientific American 4 Oct. 2013.

CAUT. “Federal Budget 2015. Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). Ottawa. 21 Apr. 2015.

Cecire, Natalia. “Humanities Scholarship is incredibly relevant, and that makes people sad. Natalia Cecire’s Blog 4 Jan. 2014.

Giroux, Henry. “Public Intellectuals Against the Neoliberal University.” TruthOut 29 Oct. 2013.

McCutcheon, Mark A. “Threats to academic freedom (and the public interest) in Alberta.” Academicalism [blog] 15 Jan. 2014.

Nussbaum, Martha. Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton UP, 2010. Excerpt rpt. at http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/07/open-book-education-for-the-soul

Pearson, Wendy Gay. “Queer Matters: A Response to Robert Fulford.: English Studies in Canada 32.4 (2006): 13-17.

Preston, Alex. “The war against Humanities at Britain’s universities.” The Guardian 29 Mar. 2015.

Sawa, Takamitsu. ”Humanities Under Attack.” Japan Times 23 Aug. 2015.