Monday, June 28, 2010

  • 'Accomplished a lot,' math dean ends term
  • Changes to faculty appraisals go ahead
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Panorama from Canada Day 2008]

It's three days away: The crowds will head for the north campus, off Columbia Street, on Thursday afternoon and evening for the annual Canada Day celebrations, jointly organized by the university and the Federation of Students (and made possible by hundreds of student volunteers). Details of the day's offerings are online now, from children's games and a craft fair in the afternoon to music on the main stage: the Waterboys, the Rosewoods, Vinyl Heat, Hello Bella, Rufus and more. Fireworks over Columbia Lake go up at dark, about 10 p.m.

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'Accomplished a lot,' math dean ends term

“I’m not going to be disappearing,” Tom Coleman promises as he gets ready to give up the job of dean and take the newly created Ophelia Lazaridis University Research Chair in combinatorics and optimization.

But Coleman, whose stint as dean of the faculty of mathematics ends June 30, says he’ll lie fairly low at first, both to help himself make the transition and to keep the shadow of the ex-dean from falling over the shoulder of new dean Ian Goulden.

He’ll spend much of his time at the math faculty’s office in the MaRS Discovery District building in Toronto — an outpost that, as dean, he helped create in 2007. Coleman was also involved in building a Waterloo math presence in New York City, where an office opened in 2005, developing the university’s campus in the United Arab Emirates, attracting a growing number of students from China and other lands, and attracting funding from Microsoft’s Bill Gates that is helping Waterloo promote math and computer science in west Africa.

[Coleman]In the same spirit of internationalization, Coleman (left) says he’ll spend a month this year at the National University of Singapore, where he has colleagues in his research about the use of optimization techniques to build mathematical models. He’ll take a sabbatical leave before settling down in an office in the Math and Computer building — an office that won’t be available anyway until its present occupant moves to new space when the Math 3 building is finished a few months hence.

“I feel satisfied because I’ve accomplished a lot,” says Coleman, who came to the deanship in 2005 from Cornell University. He had served there as director of the Cornell Theory Center and its spinoff, CTC-Manhattan, based in New York City, which provides such services as high-performance computing for researchers in a range of fields.

Coming to Waterloo as a dean, not just to head the math faculty but also to take a share of the university’s central decision-making, was “pretty overwhelming”, Coleman says now. Being a dean, he says, brought “not just a lot of work, but a lot of things to think about — you’re ‘on’ almost all the time!”

As he settled in, though, he could point to some accomplishments and tell himself that “I’m making a difference! . . . You get used to things, you spend your time on things where you can make a difference, and you deal with the frustrations more easily.” He might even have considered taking a second term as dean, he says, but in the often fractious math faculty, where not everybody liked his internationalization agenda, “politics went against me.”

Still, as his term ends, he recalls some of the things he’s achieved: the Gates funding, more global links, construction of Math 3, and a reduced teaching load for “research active” faculty members, something that had been long wanted. “We’re in a competitive world,” he notes, and that calls for programs — such as those of CEMC — that “help to get the best students” for Waterloo.

He says it’s hard for a university like this one, with typical Canadian levels of financing, to compete with the big American brand names. “It’s not that their programs are that much better,” he insists. “Things that are happening here are quite exciting, and will have a huge positive impact.” What has to follow, though, is reputation — and he boasts that when he visits China, one of the things people are sure to know about Waterloo is that Bill Gates visited this campus (in 2005 and 2008).

UW has some top-ranking programs already, the dean says: “Actuarial science is, without doubt, number one in the world.” (Another marquee offering: the relatively new “finance and risk management” program.) And because of the sheer size of Waterloo mathematics, “the degree to which you can specialize in undergraduate programs is quite remarkable,” which gives Waterloo graduates a head start when they arrive in graduate school somewhere else.

Moving out of administration and into his specially created research chair, Coleman says he “can build up a larger team, with more consistency”. He will continue his many years of work on applying optimization to financial questions, but “going forward,” he adds, “the evolution is to more kinds of applications,” such as medical problems. And he thinks the contacts he’s built up as dean — getting to know people, including Waterloo alumni, in companies in a broad range of fields — will lead to other new ways of applying the mathematical techniques.

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Changes to faculty appraisals go ahead

“Nearly all the recommendations” of a plan to overhaul the performance evaluation process for faculty members are going into effect, professors have been told in a memo from provost Feridun Hamdullahpur and faculty association president George Freeman.

“The Faculty Relations Committee has reached agreement on how to proceed,” they write, although a few points will need more discussion — including a proposal to do evaluations of tenured faculty every two years instead of every year, as a way of saving time and paperwork.

The recommendations were made in the spring of 2009. “Compared to other universities,” last spring's report pointed out, “the merit process at UW plays an unusually important role in determining annual pay increases for faculty.” However, “the existing system is not being used as effectively as it might be, there is unfortunate variation in the way it is implemented across campus, and it is poorly understood.”

One problem the review cited is that merit ratings depend mostly on the department chair. It suggested creating a performance evaluation committee in each department, to provide expertise on the various fields of study in the department and “reduce concerns about arbitrary decisions made by one person”. The decision from the faculty relations committee: larger departments (those with 15 or more professors) must have such a committee; smaller departments will decide whether they want one or not.

Another recommendation was for a formal document in each department “outlining the evaluation process and the performance expectations in their department for scholarship, teaching and service”. The hope, says the memo, is that departments can approve that kind of document very shortly, retroactive to the beginning of 2010, so that it can be used as the standard when professors’ performance for this year is evaluated in early 2011.

Last year’s review recommended, and the faculty relations committee has now agreed, that scholarship (research) should be evaluated “on the basis of a two to four year period”, while the other two parts of a professor’s job — teaching and service — should be evaluated “on the basis of work done since the previous evaluation”. The review also went into detail about what kind of evidence about the quality of teaching, research and service is most suitable (“departments should be open to other sorts of evidence of teaching quality besides student questionnaires”).

And the provost and the faculty association president have agreed to “further investigate two related issues: whether the merit evaluation process has features that generate anomalies such as those based on gender; how to use the flexibility of the merit evaluation process, in conjunction with other policies, to make UW a more family friendly employer.”

The memo asks departments to get to work “as soon as is practically possible” on putting the new procedures into effect, even though some of them will require formal changes to the faculty Memorandum of Agreement that will take a little while to approve.


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Link of the day

Jazz in Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal

When and where

‘Celebrate Canada’ luncheon, University Club, June 28-30, 11:30 to 2:00, reservations ext. 33801.

Centre for International Governance Innovation presents Jasteena Dhillon, Harvard Law School, “Rule of Law and Justice Development in Post-Conflict: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan” 11:45, 57 Erb Street West.

Career workshop: “Exploring Your Personality Type”, first of two sessions, 2:00, Tatham Centre room 1113. Details.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Dealing with Classroom Disruptions” Tuesday 12:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

‘Romance of Medicine’ audiovisual presentation on the history of medicine by Prakash K. Pispati, Mumbai, India, Tuesday 12:00, Renison UC chapel lounge, reservations ext. 28657.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “19 Technologies in 89 Minutes” Tuesday 2:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Propel Centre presents Saul Shiffman, University of Pittsburgh, “How Smoking Lapses Progress to Relapse” Tuesday 3 p.m., Matthews Hall room 3119.

‘Ideas for Sustainable African Development’ update on Project Imani, Tuesday 7:15, St. Paul’s U College. Details.

Canada Day holiday Thursday, July 1; UW additional holiday Friday, July 2; offices and most services closed, classes not held.

Ottawa and Montréal long weekend, July 1-4, bus and accommodation $199, tickets at Federation of Students office.

Women’s volleyball “all skills development camp” for girls 12-17, July 5-9, Physical Activities Complex. Details.

The Queen visits Research In Motion facilities in Waterloo, July 5, 11 a.m. Details.

Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference hosted by Waterloo July 6-10. Details.

‘Be Engaged’ lunch-and-learn presentation for staff about student engagement, July 7, 12:00, Arts Lecture Hall room 208.

Swing2Cure charity golf tournament sponsored by Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, July 7, 10:00, Rebel Creek Golf Club. Details.

The Impact of Canada’s Oil Sands, forum with Marcel Coutu, Waterloo graduate, president of Canadian Oil Sands Limited, sponsored by faculties of engineering and science, July 8, 4:00, CEIT room 1015. Details.

University Choir spring concert July 10, 7:30 p.m., The Cedars, 543 Beechwood Drive, tickets $10 (students $8).

Class enrolment on Quest for fall term courses: students enrolling for the first time, July 12-25; open enrolment begins July 26.

Blood donor clinic July 15 (10:00 to 4:00) and July 16 (9:00 to 3:00), Student Life Centre, call 1-888-236-6283 for appointment.

Postdoctoral fellows social gathering in Waterloo Park, July 16, 5:00 to 7:00, vegetarian and halal hot dogs at 5:30, other food welcome. Details.

Student Life 101 open house day for students entering in September, Saturday, July 24. Details.

Last day of classes for spring term Wednesday, July 28. (Note: Thursday schedule on July 27, Friday schedule on July 28.)

Civic Holiday Monday, August 2, UW offices and most services closed, classes not held.

Spring term examinations August 3-14 (online courses, August 6-7). Unofficial marks begin appearing on Quest, August 16. Marks become official September 20.

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