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Think Twice before You Press [Send]

Good morning, and happy Tuesday!

Today is also apparently “World Opera Day,” “National Molasses Bar Day,” and “National Kite Flying Day” (not in Canada, clearly). But more appropriate to my theme today – it’s also “Safer Internet Day.”

Today, just a quick look at the perils of speaking or typing in haste, and some recent multi-million-dollar consequences…



Sounding Off

Some outspoken (usually tenured) academics strive quite consciously to make offensive, incendiary statements. Sometimes profs quite literally set the world on fire, but more often the arson is figurative, inflicting psychological and political damage all around them…


Burning Bridges

The highest-profile CdnPSE example is doubtless psychologist Jordan Peterson, who (it saddens me to say) has 4.6M YouTube followers and several national bestsellers, like 12 Rules for Life. Thanks to Patreon and Joe Rogan, among others, Peterson earns an astounding $80,000 a month for his angry online rants, $35,000 per speaking engagement, and has a net worth of $8M. He gained global notoriety for drumming up hateful, violent opposition to gender-neutral pronouns at UofT back in 2016. (I covered the story in detail in a “Higher Ed Headaches” Ten with Ken, if you want to hear him and his critics first-hand.) Naturally, Peterson couldn’t just leave uToronto quietly, but had to publish a national op-ed last month, about what he considers the many evils of leftist EDI and ESG initiatives (in the National Post, of course).


Beware the Trolls

Peterson’s live and recorded rants flow so rapidly and naturally it certainly doesn’t appear he has to think before he speaks – but before mounting a rebuttal, his critics most certainly do. The comments on a recent article in the uToronto student newspaper, The Varsity, are unanimously overflowing with adoration of Peterson and disdain for UofT. (Unless you count some of the replies to those comments, which amount to accusations they were written by “trolls” and “fake accounts.”) uVirginia psychology prof Brian Nosek, one of Peterson’s indirect targets, remarks: “as a parent, I have learned that responding to tantrums tends to make them worse.” So thinking twice is required of everyone but Peterson, apparently. (I’m sure I’ll regret writing this, too.)

“As a parent, I have learned that responding to tantrums tends to make them worse.”Brian Nosek, psychology prof, uVirginia



Fatal Errors

What has been more common in CdnPSE lately, rather than academics who get rich for speaking off the top of their heads, are profs and administrators who get themselves into hot water for speaking too soon. And as always, the magnifying power of social media or email automation can turn human error into a major embarrassment…


Privacy Violation?

Last October, uSaskatchewan medicine prof Kyle Anderson was forced to publicly apologize for his “egregious error in judgement” on Twitter: “Like so many of you, I am exhausted, horrified and constantly disoriented by the daily nightmare we’re experiencing in Saskatchewan right now. I am trying to do as much as I can to raise awareness of the disturbing reality around us, and yesterday I went too far.” In trying to highlight the dangers of the pandemic, Anderson “outed” a prominent anti-masker and recent political candidate, as being admitted to hospital with COVID19. Anderson explained that he did not actually violate privacy legislation, since he obtained the information simply by phoning the hospital as a member of the public, and it had been previously posted online by 3 other writers. Nonetheless, his Dean publicly criticized the move, also on Twitter, as behaviour “well below the level of integrity, professionalism and judgement I expect of every member – faculty, staff and learners – of our college.”

I confess, I understand the temptation. It seems as though antimaskers and antivaxxers ought to be shocked out of their denial every time a prominent sympathizer falls ill with COVID19. (But of course, that doesn’t happen.)

“Like so many of you, I am exhausted, horrified and constantly disoriented by the daily nightmare we’re experiencing in Saskatchewan right now.”Kyle Anderson, professor, uSaskatchewan College of Medicine


<File Not Found>

The incessant and increasing cyberattacks on higher ed institutions since the pandemic and remote work opened up VPN access wider, serve as a clear demonstration of the catastrophic risks of a single stray mouse click. (And it certainly doesn’t help that so many people clearly create their passwords without a moment’s thought: here are the 200 “worst.”) Your IT department can share many cautionary tales with you, but it’s also true that a misguided keystroke or line of code by the experts can be disastrous as well. In mid-December, a “routine backup procedure” on a Cray supercomputer at Kyoto U accidentally wiped out 34 million files and 77 terabytes of data – some of it permanently. The glitch set back the work of 14 different research groups, and at least 4 will be unable to restore it. Kyoto U has temporarily deactivated the backup system.  Gizmodo



Faults of Admission

In the olden days, PSE applicants had more to fear from words shared in haste on social media platforms, but lately admissions offices themselves are the ones making costly mistakes…


Facebook Fouls

You may recall that, way back in 2015, a dozen Dalhousie dentistry students caused a major PR headache by posting sexist, misogynist jokes in a private Facebook group. Between protests, security, suspensions and a task force, this puerile behaviour cost Dal at least $650,000. (I explored this in a different “Higher Ed Headaches” episode.) By 2017, Maclean’s was warning students that “what you post can wreck your life,” since 70% of employers and at least 35% of admissions offices were starting to scour social media. Harvard made headlines that June for rescinding at least 10 freshman admissions offers, after learning the applicants shared sexually explicit, misogynist and racist images in a private Facebook group. (Harvard’s policies allow for admission offers to be rescinded if applicants take part in conduct that brings their honesty, maturity or moral character into question.)  CBC

While missteps on social media could be an applicant’s worst nightmare, during the pandemic it seems that mass emailings have embarrassed the institutions instead…


500,000 Mis-sent Emails

Last March, uKentucky mistakenly sent acceptance emails to all 500,000 contacts in their CRM, whether they had applied or not. (The limited enrolment clinical leadership program in the College of Health Sciences normally accepts 35-40 students.) Within 24 hours, UK sent out an apology email, after which the story was picked up nationally.  LEX18 News


A $3 million Mistake

Central Michigan U staff were apparently testing new messaging tools in the student portal last month when they inadvertently told 58 high school seniors that they had been admitted to the school’s honours program, and been awarded prestigious “full ride” scholarships, covering tuition, residence, meal plan, and $5,000 for study abroad. A day later, the executive director of admissions reached out personally to tell the applicants of the error, and apologize to their families. Then 3 days after that, CMU offered them each $50,000 (4 years of free tuition) to “make it right.” That’s a $2.9M mistake, if you’re counting! Unsurprisingly, CMU had replacedthat executive director, days later.  New York Times  |  Newsweek

“We deeply regret the disappointment and frustration caused by the test message error in the student portal.”Central Michigan U statement


5,500 Scholarships at a Stroke

Last month, Michigan’s Oakland U reported that due to “human error,” 5,500 admitted students were erroneously emailed notifications that they were awarded the school’s highest scholarship, the $48,000 “Platinum Presidential Scholar Award.” (The applicants only qualified for lower-level awards – but those offers would have been worth a staggering $264M – more than a quarter-billion dollars!) Within 2 hours, correction emails were sent, but Oakland hasn’t offered any compensation for the error.  US News



Dead Letters

As more and more student communication and correspondence occurs online, automated email raises the stakes for embarrassing errors, as outlined above. But my alma mater demonstrated this month that even paper envelopes can offend en masse…


Burned by Paper

The service desk team at uToronto’s Graduate House doubtless intended to wish residents a happy lunar new year, but unfortunately a cultural misstep turned the greetings into an ominous message that “you are dead to me.” Staff placed a bowl of bright red “lucky money” envelopes in the building lobby, apparently without consulting students or staff of Asian heritage. (UofT has 15,000+ students from China alone.) Instead of other forms of paper money, the envelopes contained “Hell Bank Notes,” intended to be burned as a sacrificial offering to the dead. (Lunar New Year is a celebration of life, and mentioning death is considered taboo, “analogous to giving a gift on Christmas related to the devil.”) Students in Toronto report a “heightened sense of… anti-Asian racism” during the pandemic, and this mistake felt to many like a targeted attack. About 6,400 people have petitioned for an investigation into the “racist and culturally imperialistic action.” UofT’s governing council has posted an apology in Mandarin on WeChat.  The Varsity  |  The Strand  |  Toronto Star  |  Globe & Mail

“Presenting these ‘hell bank note’ bills to Chinese students during the Lunar New Year is analogous to giving a gift on Christmas related to the devil.”Patricia Quan, social work master’s student, uToronto (paraphrased by Stephanie Bai, The Varsity)


Of course, there’s ANOTHER major CdnPSE story involving ill-considered emails… Stay tuned for an update on the Laurentian U saga, coming soon.




Cross-cultural communication is increasingly crucial for international recruitment campaigns, but thankfully they don’t all go awry…

Rendez-vous en France!

Campus France launched a new international student recruitment campaign in November, promoting 1,700 English-taught PSE programs with the use of 8 young international alumni ambassadors. The new grads hail from Argentina, Kenya, Egypt and Australia (among other countries) and will blog in their mother tongues about their lives in France. “Rendez-Vous en France” will released a new testimonial every 2 weeks, and celebrates the “return of French life.” The effort aims to attract non-francophone students in emerging markets, who may have been turned off the UK as a study destination because of Brexit. “We want to reach countries where France is not a natural destination.” The 1:15 vid above is a peppy, instrumental “behind the scenes” teaser for the campaign.  YouTube  |  PIE News  |  Campus France  |  ICEF Monitor


As always, thanks for reading… and be careful with that <SEND> button!


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