Monday, October 18, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Monday!
It’s been a hectic month for me, including media interviews, committee meetings, board retreats, and marketing workshops pretty much from coast to coast – so my apologies if this newsletter has had to take a back seat. (I’ve also been back down the microcredentials rabbit-hole for a report I’m writing – and I hope to share a few observations with you soon.)
Thankfully, in many ways, we haven’t missed much, since the pandemic and so much else has been standing still…
Right now, it seems as though everybody I know is scrambling to make headway, overwhelmed and immobilized in literal or figurative autumn mud (whether their region is seeing record-breaking rainfall or not). Whether we’re talking about labour negotiations, land acknowledgements, daylight savings time, or vaccination rates, that really seems to be the theme of the day…
Time Stands Still
No, most of us don’t turn back the clocks for fall until Nov 7. But today, Albertans are quite literally voting on what time it is, in a binding referendum on permanently adopting daylight savings time (as the Yukon did last year, and Saskatchewan did in 1966). There is evidence that seasonal clock changes, particularly in the spring, are associated with increased risk of car accidents, depression, heart attacks and strokes. But medical experts warn that making daylight time permanent in Canada would mean 10:30am sunrises in winter and serious challenges to natural circadian rhythms, potentially increasing obesity, diabetes and certain cancers. Instead, they strongly recommend permanent standard time. (The referendum question doesn’t give that as an option.) As one uCalgary psych prof puts it, standard time is more natural, “where what your circadian clock is telling you to do and what your boss is telling you to do are less mismatched.” (Most Albertans experience solar noon around 1 or 2 pm already.) For Lakeland College and the city of Lloydminster (which straddles the AB/SK border), the referendum could mean finally getting the whole town (and both campuses) into the same time zone year-round. But sports fans are concerned about the implications for NHL hockey in Calgary and Edmonton, where Pacific Division games would have to run 9pm until midnight. Sports bars and ski resorts are also concerned.
“In fact, we already have daylight time when we are on standard time and we are on double daylight time when we are on daylight time.” – Michael Antle, Psychology prof, uCalgary
(As Han Solo said a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: “didn’t we just leave this party?”) Considering the pandemic implications, I’ve mentioned previously the rowdy street parties for Homecomings and “Fake Homecomings” at Western, Guelph, Dalhousie and McMaster. In many cases, police charges are still being laid, nonacademic sanctions are still being considered, and COVID19 case count fallout is still to be fully measured. But just as we Canadians can’t quite agree on what time it is, our institutions hold their homecomings on different weekend, so the street parties continue to hit the headlines. This past weekend, Acadia U homecoming celebrations spilled out into “roving street parties” in the town of Wolfville NS, leading to multiple arrests and charges. And some 8,000 people packed the streets of Kingston’s University District to celebrate Queen’s Homecoming – despite pleas from the administration attempting to pre-empt the chaos, and elevated fines of $2,000 to $10,000. (Said one eloquent student, “especially since last year how we didn’t get a HOCO… I think everyone’s going to go pretty hard this year.”) Queen’s has officially condemned “misogynistic signs” in the neighbourhood, and the throwing of projectiles at police. (Just days ago, Queen’s agreed to reimburse the City of Kingston $350,000 toward policing costs during this extraordinary year.)
Indigenous reconciliation efforts have been (sluggishly) underway across North America for years, so naturally we’re continuing to see CdnPSE echoes of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, even 3 weeks later. My collection of NDTR videos is now up to 97 videos. St Lawrence College has published recommendations from its Belonging + EDI task force. A team from Brock has written a UNESCO reflection paper on EDI practices for researchers. (There have been so many announcements of Indigenous programming and initiatives that I honestly haven’t kept track.) This weekend, we read that the City of Vernon is handing over the copyright in legendary Ogopogo to the Okanagan Nation Alliance. A stone knife dating back some 4,000 years, unearthed on Parliament Hill, will be returned to Algonquin nations in official recognition that Indigenous peoples inhabited the site before the government of Canada. (Imagine that!)
Despite those steps forward, there are plenty of steps back. Seven tribes are still suing uAlabama to return almost 6,000 human remains and artefacts buried at Moundville between 1020-1650 (more than 30 yearsafter the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act came into effect). Here in Canada, the Attorney General of New Brunswick has banned land acknowledgements by provincial employees due to legal actions involving Indigenous land titles – particularly forbidding the use of the word “unceded.” (FWIW, a UBC law prof says the order is “legally unnecessary.” And a uAlberta native studies prof says land acknowledgements have always been “literal lip service” anyway.) Clearly some are still a long way from acknowledging truth, much less figuring out reconciliation…
As Canadian workplaces (and campuses) transition back to some semblance of normal, employee tensions are erupting in labour actions. Across Canada, thousands of workers in healthcare, federally-regulated or public service roles are facing imminent unpaid leave or suspension because they refuse to get vaccinated. (Some have been marching in the streets for months.) After 18 months of self-reflection, overwork and burnout, and with increasingly aggressive competition for mid-career talent, millions more workers have been joining “the Great Resignation” rather than return to the office. With supply chains hobbled and consumer demand resurging, labour unions are “having a moment”: there have been strikes against 178 US employers so far this year, ranging from coal mines and cereal factories to hospitals and a major Hollywood union (which was poised to strike today, until a tentative agreement was reached on the weekend). Some 100,000 workers are threatening to walk out for “Striketober” in the US – including Instacart drivers and 6,800 uCalifornia lecturers.
Across CdnPSE, the Athabasca U Faculty Association is bracing itself for a strike or lockout, after its contract expired in Jun 2020. The UMFA is in the midst of a strike vote right now, and says uManitoba is “hemorrhaging talent” because of consistently low salaries since the province’s freeze on wages in 2017. (Among the U15, only uLaval has a lower average salary, according to StatsCan.) OPSEU, representing faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges, has been negotiating a new contract this Fall – but is now under a “total communications blackout” as mediation continues. This is by no means a comprehensive summary – admittedly, I usually ignore news about collective bargaining as a pretty consistent level of background noise in watching for signals of future trends. But as Alex Usher has observed, many Canadian universities reported surprise surpluses last year. Faculty and staff are experiencing the same anxieties, stresses, inflation, and burnout of other workers. We can probably expect more turbulence than usual in labour negotiations as we emerge from the pandemic…
Of course, it’s still an open question whether we’re “emerging” from the pandemic anytime soon. Since last week’s précis, the pandemic rollercoaster has been suspended in a moment of weightlessness, as most key indicators plateau before they (hopefully) start to decline…
Few Cases on Campus
A week ago, I reported that 72% of Canadians were fully vaccinated against COVID19. Today, we’re at 72.376%. You’re not wrong to feel like our progress against the pandemic is frozen in time: that’s pretty paltry progress, even with widespread vax mandates being announced across the country. (Consider that tiny Palau, a Pacific archipelago, holds the world’s top spot with 99% of those over age 12 fully vaxxed!) Even though lawyers are pretty consistently saying that public health trumps worker freedoms or collective agreements, there remain more than enough covidiots (even in my hometown, alas) to keep the protests in the public eye. Quebec has had to backpedal a month on its vax requirement for healthcare workers, because 22,000 vaccine-hesitant workers would bring the system to its knees. (Can you really be a healthcare “professional” if you don’t believe in science?) Other provinces might find their mandates problematic too, in healthcare systems “with no wiggle room.” (Alberta’s deadline is next week.)
Firing the Boosters
As our momentum wanes in the fight against COVID19, it’s becoming clear that third doses will eventually be required for many people. Last week, an FDA panel advised Moderna boosters for those aged 65+, or at severe risk due to underlying conditions or workplace exposure. (Similar advice was given last month for Pfizer/BioNTech boosters.) And on Friday, the panel recommended boosters for the supposedly “one-shot” J&J vaccine (although they might wind up being mRNA shots). Here in Canada, third doses are available to immuno-compromised people in every province and territory, and have been recommended for LTC home residents and seniors in congregate settings. A Nanos poll found that 69% of Canadians are interested (and 84% at least “somewhat” interested) in getting a third dose. Meanwhile, the UN is appealing for $8B to help equitably vaccinate 40% of people worldwide before 2022.
Resurgent in Europe
In the northern hemisphere, where vaccination rates are lowest, colder weather is fuelling the pandemic again. Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia are seeing rising case counts. Italy is introducing the strictest vax requirements in Europe, prompting violent protests. New COVID19 cases in Russia are surging towards 30,000 per day, and deaths an all-time high of 1,000 per day, as the Kremlin urges 60% of hesitant adults to get vaccinated. (36 M Russians need to be vaxxed, and another 7M are now due for boosters.)
Although the fourth wave is ebbing across most of Canada, several regions are still struggling.
BC Clamps Down
Likewise, there are new circuit-breaker restrictions in northern British Columbia until Nov 19, closing bars and restaurants entirely and limiting gatherings, even for vaccinated people. (BC’s mask mandate has also been extended to kids from age 5+ in indoor public spaces, including schools.)
“We are all in. We have thrown in everything but the kitchen sink, and the kitchen sink went in a week ago. We are doing everything we can to support the north.” – Adrian Dix, BC Health Minister
Anxious in Alberta
Surge in Saskatchewan
COVID19 infections appear to have plateaued in Saskatchewan, but actual infections may be 3-4x higher than reported, due to inadequate testing and tracing. The province has the highest rate of active cases in the country, and its hospitals remain dangerously stretched: elective surgeries have been postponed, SK is asking other provinces for spare ICU staff and considering sending patients to Manitoba, and the province is just a few ICU patients away from having to activate its triage protocols.
Optimism in Ontario
Sure, the website slowed to a crawl, but Ontarians were invited to start downloading their QR codes this weekend, to streamline vax checks and “allow businesses the comfort to keep operating safely.” Not only did the US announce it would reopen its land border to Canadians on Nov 8, but that it would also accept mixed doses (like so many Ontarians received). And later this week, Ontario is expected to unveil its “long-range” plan to lift capacity limits on restaurants and other venues, over the next 3-6 months. (Nothing is likely to change until we get 14 days past Thanksgiving, though.)
NB “Red Alert”
New Brunswick hospitals have moved to “Red Alert,” with record numbers of COVID19 patients, and the province has imposed circuit-breaker lockdowns in several regions.
Back to the Beginning
I mentioned last week that newly leaked DARPA grant proposals have revived suspicions about the possibility that COVID19 was originally leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The first WHO investigation into COVID19’s origins, which ultimately reported only inconclusive findings, was led by a team including Peter Daszak, a researcher implicated by the leaked documents. Now, the WHO has announced a brand-new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), to investigate the origins of COVID19 – although China may well refuse to permit them entry to the country at all. WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan co-authored an editorial published Wednesday in the journal Science that emphasizes, “Laboratory hypotheses must be examined carefully, with a focus on labs in the location where the first reports of human infections emerged in Wuhan.” 24 scientists have been shortlisted for SAGO, out of 700+ experts who applied. Washington Post
Ignorance is Bliss
(I’ve been so tempted to start a regular column entitled “Well, Duh!”) A series of studies in the Netherlands has found, unsurprisingly, that avoiding news during the pandemic correlated with better mental health and wellbeing. “Doomscrolling” tended to generate feelings of powerlessness and information overload. “Those who opt for news avoidance to protect their mental well-being might make the right choice.”
Rather than contributing to the problem, I’d like to think I’ve been helping my readers by distilling 20 hours of reading into one précis a week… I hope!
There has been a flurry of new college commercials released in the past few weeks, but here’s one of my favourites…
Hands-On at BCIT
BCIT is sticking with its tagline, “Education for a complex world,” but the latest recruitment campaign emphasizes how its learning is industry-connected and “hands-on.” This :30-sec commercial features BCIT students and grads working at Microsoft, Seaspan, Lifelabs, Clio, Envirochem and Cytiva. “You want to make a difference? For yourself, for others, for the world? Then it’s time to get your hands on new ways of thinking, new possibilities and higher potential… Put your hands on the skills, connections and real-world experience to make it happen.” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading, and I hope your week is off to a great start!
Stay safe and be well,
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