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Daily Bulletin

University of Waterloo | Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, March 26, 1998

  • Skills of the electronic workplace
  • The early retirement issue
  • Historian takes Ottawa challenge
  • Engineers' art is shown
  • The rest of the story
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Skills of the electronic workplace

An open house tomorrow will explain a new training program for UW faculty and staff about the constantly changing electronic tools that are available for their work.

Bob Hicks of the information systems and technology department explains that as part of its planning initiatives in 1997, the University Committee on IST called for a training program in "the basic skills necessary for staff and faculty members to utilize the electronic technology available in an effective manner".

This recommendation, he says, was referred to the Staff Training and Development Committee, "where it was enthusiastically endorsed". The result: IST and other computing support staff "are now in the process of constructing a series of programs" to meet the need.

The "basic skills" needed by various staff and faculty members include electronic mail, Windows 95, Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, and WordPerfect. Says Hicks: "The intention of the courses is to provide instruction in a comprehensive way for people who are new to the electronic workplace and to assist those of us who have the technology but do not use it to its fullest potential."

Tomorrow's open house on the new program, "Skills for the Electronic Workplace", will start at 10 a.m. in Needles Hall room 3001. At the open house, IST will be giving an overview of the courses and their content and asking for input from managers, supervisors, and others. "Please plan to attend," says Hicks.

The early retirement issue

I was told yesterday that more than 750 staff members have affixed their signatures -- in ink or electronically -- to say yes, they want to keep early retirement on the agenda for future improvements to UW's pension plan.

It's a "poll" on interest in early retirement, not a "petition", said Neil Stewart, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees local 793, who stressed that it was started by individual union members and isn't an official activity of the union. He said an early retirement incentive is of special interest to CUPE members because their salaries are typically low (some 80 per cent of union members earn less than $35,000 a year) and they can't afford the reduction in monthly pensions that comes with early retirement under the existing rules. "That pushes us back to the poverty line," he said.

Other staff must be interested too, since CUPE has only about 300 members on campus. "Obviously a number of people want to ensure that work continues on some kind of an early retirement factor," says Barry Scott of the office of research, who is one of two staff representatives on the UW board of governors.

Scott said he expects to receive "a lot of signatures" and pass them along to the pension and benefits committee. He said he's not planning to bring up the subject at the April 7 board of governors meeting, when the P&B committee will present a package of pension plan changes for final approval. Provost Jim Kalbfleisch "will likely cover some future plans or commitments", including a further look at early retirement, when he speaks to the board, Scott said.

The current changes to pensions "are good news," Scott said, adding that the poll or survey "should be seen as a very positive approach" to taking a next step. Stewart agreed: "It's not to undermine what was done, it's to keep early retirement at the forefront."

The pension plan changes that are coming from the P&B committee this month, after more than a year of work, will provide a boost of 8 to 12 per cent in the pensions of everybody who retires from UW after May 1, either at age 65 or earlier, says Kalbfleisch. In fact, somebody could now retire at age 62 or 63 and get the same pension that he or she would previously have received after working to age 65. Or that person could keep on working to age 65 and get more.

But some people are disappointed that the changes, which were made public through a discussion paper in January, don't specifically include an early retirement incentive. "I think everybody really expected something," Stewart said yesterday.

Minutes from the P&B committee over the past months show that there was long discussion of campus interest in early retirement. At one point the committee looked at partial reductions of the "actuarial adjustment" -- the amount by which pensions are reduced for those who retire early -- and was told that the cost might be $25 to $35 million. But the committee concluded that it wasn't fair to spend millions of dollars on a feature that would benefit only some members of the pension plan: those who wanted to retire early.

The current changes are estimated to cost about $24 million, from the surplus in the half-billion-dollar pension fund.

Historian takes Ottawa challenge

UW's John English has been named to head a "consultation" on the two great national agencies that house Canada's culture and history: the National Archives and the National Library.

Said heritage minister Sheila Copps: "Dr. English will consult on several key issues including the structure of the two institutions, how they can help position Canada in the context of the rapidly evolving information highway, how they can help preserve and provide access to the collective memory of the country, and how to enhance the Government of Canada's role and responsibilities for information management. It is important for our national institutions to preserve Canada's heritage and to ensure that we are properly positioned for the information age of the 21st century."

English, a history professor who has written books on four of Canada's prime ministers, served as Member of Parliament for Kitchener from 1993 to 1997. Since his return to academic life, he has also served as Canada's "special representative" on the international issue of banning land mines.

In his work on the National Library and National Archives, English will run into issues that range from budgets and physical space to modern information technology and byzantine administration. The position of National Archivist has been vacant for nearly a year, and Copps said it won't be filled until English's work is complete.

There have been suggestions that the two agencies be combined under one management, although the Canadian Library Association says it's important that the library continue to be headed by a professional librarian, while the archives is usually seen as the domain of historians. The two institutions have their headquarters in the same building on Wellington Street in Ottawa, although most of the archives are now housed outside the city.

Engineers' art is shown

"The first-ever exhibition of art by undergraduate engineering students" runs for a single evening tonight at the University Club.

It's "a gala event", sponsored by the Engineering Society, and opens at 7 p.m. "We are excited by the response we garnered from the engineering students," says EngSoc arts director Alex Pak, a second-year systems design engineering student. "Believe it or not, there are a lot of creative people in engineering at UW. And, except for a few pages in the Iron Warrior, there hasn't been a forum for these students to share their talent -- until now."

Says her colleague, third-year SDE student Deb Boyd: "This event, along with TalEng (the EngSoc Talent Night), should cement the idea that there is more life to the average engineering student than digesting calculus and coffee. The demography of engineering students and their interests covers a lot of ground."

The exhibit is free and open to all. Renee Lazarowich of third-year SDE stresses that "the audience for this exhibit is all of UW: art crosses all boundaries and speaks to everyone. So come have a glass of wine with us, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised!" Dress code for the evening is described as "creative, semi-formal".

The rest of the story

The Federation of Students sponsors a tuition fee forum in the Student Life Centre today, from 11:30 to 1:30. UW president James Downey and provost Jim Kalbfleisch are to speak and answer questions about fees ("Why is the cost of a Waterloo education going up?") and student financial aid.

Also today:

And hunger will hit Conrad Grebel College today, as "the 30-hour famine" begins at noon. Students taking part won't eat during that time, as a fund-raiser and awareness-raiser about world hunger.

Finally, in correcting an error made in yesterday's Gazette, let me mention one thing that is not happening this week. The conference on "Designs for Quality of Life: Successful Approaches to Care of Persons with Dementia", sponsored by UW's Alzheimer Research and Education Project, is scheduled for May 25-26, not March 25-26 as yesterday's issue said.


Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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