Friday, March 26, 2010

  • Universities scrutinize Ontario budget
  • Earth Hour: an 'individual' effort
  • Cold hard facts on a cold hard Friday
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[From wood to plastic, with a big grin]

‘High optical transparency, high strength, low thermal conductivity and expansion, and low density with minimal thickness’ — not Andrew Finkle himself, but the material he and three other nanotechnology engineering students are showing off today in the Davis Centre. Their project, Xyloclear, is on display along with other work from nanotech, which is holding its first end-of-year project symposium as the inaugural undergraduate class, who enrolled in 2005, reach graduation. (Software engineering students are also holding a symposium to show off their projects in Davis today, and systems design students will wind up the symposium season with an event next Wednesday.) More about Xyloclear: “The purpose of this design project is to develop an injection moulded proof of concept prototype that demonstrates the effective dispersal of nanocrystalline cellulose whiskers within a polycarbonate matrix for use as strong, lightweight window alternatives.”

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Universities scrutinize Ontario budget

Ontario treasurer Dwight Duncan presented his 2010 budget yesterday, promising funds for the 20,000 college and university spaces the province intends to create this September, and warning that “the broader public sector”, including university employees, faces a pay freeze.

Now university officials try to untangle the details, sorting out how much they can spend on educating how many extra students, and how and when salaries will be affected. Bob Truman, Waterloo’s director of institutional analysis and planning, says some things won’t be clear at least until legislation is tabled to implement the plans that Duncan announced in broad outline yesterday.

Provost Feridun Hamdullahpur said a teleconference was scheduled today in which officials will hope to clarify the rules on pay for university faculty and staff.

A government question-and-answer document, issued last night, states that under the legislation that will be introduced shortly, “Non-bargaining employees in . . . colleges, universities, . . . and many other provincial agencies, boards and commissions would see their compensation structures frozen for two years.

“Employees who are part of a union or who bargain compensation collectively would see their current agreements honoured. When these agreements expire and new contracts are negotiated, the government will work with transfer payment partners and bargaining agents to seek agreements of at least two years’ duration that do not include net compensation increases. The fiscal plan provides no funding for compensation increases for future collective agreements.”

But it’s not clear whether “compensation structures” includes individual salaries; or whether scale increases would be treated differently from “merit” and “progress through the ranks” increases; or whether Waterloo staff and faculty members are groups that “bargain” or not. (The campus also has a local of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing hourly-paid staff.)

And the university’s 2010-11 budget, which is ready for approval by the board of governors in early April, is already based on the assumption that any salary increases have to be covered by cuts in other spending, rather than on new revenue from either government or students.

Elsewhere in the budget, Duncan promised new funding to support growth in universities and colleges. Says a government backgrounder: “Ontario has one of the highest rates of postsecondary education attainment in the world at 62 per cent. However, as the economy changes, 70 per cent of all new jobs will require postsecondary education or training. Through its Open Ontario plan, the McGuinty government’s goal is to raise Ontario’s postsecondary attainment rate to 70 per cent. There will be a place for every qualified Ontarian who wants to go to college or university. The government will also increase international student enrolment by 50 per cent, while guaranteeing spaces for qualified Ontario students.

“Commitments to postsecondary education in the 2010 Budget include investing $310 million to add 20,000 new spaces to colleges and universities this September. This is in addition to providing $155 million in 2009-10 to fully support enrolment growth at colleges and universities, including $65 million announced through the Fall 2009 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review;

“Aggressively promoting Ontario postsecondary schools abroad to encourage the world’s best students to study here, settle here and help Ontario build a stronger economy;

“Improving students’ ability to navigate Ontario’s postsecondary system by providing additional resources to support the implementation of a credit transfer system.

“These measures will make Ontario one of the world’s leading jurisdictions for postsecondary education.” The immediate response from local campus leaders was mostly favourable.

One thing the budget didn’t address was tuition fees. Information about 2010-11 fee levels will be coming soon, the finance minister indicated. Globe and Mail university columnist Joey Coleman speculated last night on the reason for the delay: “a great deal of thought is being put into ensuring that any increase in tuition is offset with targeted financial aid to prevent a drop in students from under-represented backgrounds.”

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Earth Hour: an 'individual' effort

Saturday night’s “Earth Hour” will have limited effects on the main campus, but can still make a big impression on individuals, says Rick Zalagenas, director of utilities and maintenance for the university’s plant operations department.

The annual event, now in its fourth year, calls on people worldwide to reduce their use of electricity as a gesture towards energy conservation and environmental awareness. This year’s hour is set for tomorrow from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Consciousness-raising is the key purpose, Zalagenas says — and so, “We’ve tried to steer it to something that students can really take ownership of.” Individuals will probably darken their residence rooms, for example, he said yesterday.

As for the buildings on the central campus, “we’re fully supportive, but there’s very little we can do,” Zalagenas said. Staff discussed turning off the lights of the Dana Porter Library, which shines brightly on the highest point of the campus, but concluded that the result would be a safety hazard. The library will be open until 11 p.m. Saturday, which is the night before its extended exam-time schedule begins.

He said a reminder has been issued to night shift custodians to turn off the lights whenever they’re finished working in an area — not just during Earth Hour, since there isn’t a custodial shift on Saturday nights anyway, but all the time.

He also noted that plant operations is always working on energy conservation projects, with the result that despite new buildings and new demands, the total energy consumed by the campus hasn’t been rising. Waterloo officials take pride in keeping UW one of the lowest per-square-foot energy users among Canadian universities.

If anybody wants to see what the campus looks like with the lights out, Zalagenas said, the time to see it will be April 24, the Saturday after the end of exams, when hydro will be shut off to many buildings and exterior lights for 28 hours so crews can make utility connections for the new Quantum-Nano Centre. Even with the campus almost empty that weekend, he said, there are safety issues, and police are working with plant operations about how to provide extra security.

To celebrate Earth Hour tomorrow, the Federation of Students, the UW Sustainability Project and other groups will sponsor an event in the multipurpose room of the Student Life Centre. Promised between 7:30 p.m. and midnight are “art contests, prizes, live music/ jam session, food, crafts, info booths, raffle draw and a movie”. And the lights will go out between 8:30 and 9:30.

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Cold hard facts on a cold hard Friday

There's only about a week of winter term classes left; next Friday, April 2, is a holiday, and Monday, April 5, will be an honorary Friday to balance out the Monday that was missed in February.  And then come final exams, running April 9 through 23 (distance and online courses, April 9-10). The registrar's office reminds everybody, as usual, that if an exam day is lost to bad weather or general disaster, exams will be rescheduled for same time, same place, on the next free day, which usually means the following Sunday. However, this year there's a wrinkle, because on Sunday, April 25, power and other utilities will be shut down on most of the campus, for unrelated reasons. Accordingly, "the next free day" would be Monday the 26th. Memo to all concerned: no storms, please, in the week of April 19 to 23.

Speaking of winter storms . . . Frank Seglenieks of the UW weather station has issued his quarterly roundup: "Although the first months of the winter were only slightly warmer than average, the extremely warm temperatures of March made the entire season much hotter than average. Overall, the temperature was 1.5 degrees higher than average; this makes it the warmest winter since 2005-06 and the third warmest of the last 10 years. Also significant is that there weren't really any extended cold snaps. We never had more than two days in a row when the temperature was more than 5 degrees below average. The last time we had a winter like that was back in 2001-02. But the real story of this past season was probably the lack of precipitation, in particular snow. We got 113.2 mm of precipitation (this is a combination of rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain, and whatever else nature threw at us) compared to an average of 184.5 mm, so that's about two thirds of the average."

People seem to be enthusiastic about the preliminary design for Waterloo’s new web site, made public a few days ago. “We have been blown away by all the great feedback,”writes Adam Hewgill, technology guru in the housing and residences department and a member of the “working group” that’s steering the web project. “While all the positivity is rewarding,” he says on the blog, “the constructive criticism we have received is the most valuable at this stage. Please keep discussing the design, watching this blog, and letting us hear from you.” There’s need for a particular kind of feedback now, according to another working group member, Annie Bélanger of the Dana Porter Library. “Usability is key to the new site design,” she says, “and that means that we need to test, test, and test how the site is working and should be working. To do all of this testing, we need volunteers. For a mere 30 minutes of your time, you can be part of making Waterloo yours! No specific experience required — just your thoughts and experiences with the site. We'll be offering Food Services gift cards to volunteers.” Following the initial invitation, a fair number of undergraduate students volunteered, she says, so “we especially need non-undergrads at this point,” including graduate students, staff members and faculty. Sign-up is online.

Recent gleanings from Twitter, not including any of the things I’ve tweeted myself under the user name @uwdailybulletin: “The robots at this year's FIRST competition look like soccer-playing roombas.” • “Gotham’s a great font. It’s bold, yet understated. the type of font an engineer would make.” • “Guy down the hall is offloading big boxes from upgraded hardware. Deadline on annual professional allowance must be approaching.” • “Attackers are using GMail's imap feature to attack #uwaterloo Nexus mailservers causing lockouts. Nice DoS.” • “Just uploaded the Lion Dancing from International Celebrations Week to youtube! Check it out,” • “I passed someone on a unicycle on my way to the parking lot...only at #uwaterloo!”


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Link of the day

Elmira Maple Syrup Festival

When and where

Co-op job interviews for spring term positions, “continuous” phase March 9-31, rankings open every Tuesday and Thursday. Details.

‘Relative Proximity’ exhibition of work by fourth-year fine arts students runs until April 11, East Campus Hall gallery.

Online voting for senate: Seven faculty at large positions and one St. Jerome’s University faculty position, polls close today. Details.

First Robotics Competition Waterloo regionals, competition for high school students, March 25-27, Physical Activities Complex. Details.

Dance Dance Canada recitals in Humanities Theatre continue: Friday 1:00, Saturday and Sunday 8:00.

Econometrics Conference (12th annual), “Volatility and Systemic Risk in Global Capital Markets”, hosted by WatRISQ, today from 8 a.m., Davis Centre rooms 1301 and 1302.

School of planning speaker: Steven Jefferson, K. Smart Associates Ltd., “OPPI  Healthy Communities Handbook” 12:30, Environment I room 243.

Aftab Patla Memorial Cup celebration and fund-raiser for department of kinesiology: tailgate barbecue 3 p.m.; undergrad vs. grad and faculty hockey, 5 p.m., Icefield; post-game wrap-up, Bombshelter pub, 7 p.m. Details.

‘From Mountains of Ice’ excusive print-on-demand title, author Lorina Stephens, Saturday 1 to 4 p.m., bookstore, South Campus Hall.

University Choir spring concert: “Voices of Light” Saturday 7:30 p.m., St. John’s Lutheran Church, 22 Willow Street, tickets $10 (students $8).

‘So You Think You Can Dance Waterloo’ final competition Saturday, Federation Hall.

Extended library hours March 28 through April 23: Davis Centre library open 24 hours a day, except Sunday 2 to 8 a.m.; Dana Porter Library open 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Details.

UW Stage Band spring concert, “Time Flies” Sunday 2:00, Conrad Grebel UC great hall, admission $8 (students $5).

UW Chamber Choir concert, “Early English Baroque” Sunday 7:30 p.m., Waterloo North Mennonite Church, tickets $15 (students $10).

‘Venture 4 Change’ workshop for innovators and social entrepreneurs, Monday, Whistle Bear Golf Club. Details.

Jan Rohrbach, communications and public affairs, retirement reception Monday 3:30 to 5:00, University Club, all welcome, RSVP ext. 33580.

‘Rethink Modern Leadership and Innovation’ presentations by corporate executives, sponsored by Waterloo chapter of IEEE, March 30 through April 1. Details.

Teaching-Based Research Group drop-in session for faculty and staff interested in research about teaching and learning, Tuesday 10:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Using Twitter to Increase Student Engagement” Tuesday 3:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Engineers Without Borders co-CEO Parker Mitchell speaks on the development of EWB, Tuesday 5:00, Math and Computer room 2066.

Blood donor clinic March 31, 10:00 to 4:00, Student Life Centre multipurpose room, appointments call 888-236-6283.

Orchestra @ UWaterloo concert Thursday, April 1, 8:00 p.m., Humanities Theatre, admission free.

Ken Dryden, MP, gives Waterloo’s Last Lecture: “It’s Time for Canada”, April 5, 4:30, Theatre of the Arts. Details.

Athletics Awards Reception (50th annual) April 5, St. George’s Hall, Waterloo: graduating senior reception 5:00, all athletes reception 6:30, dinner 7:00, video presentation 7:50, awards 8:15. Details.

Waterloo Public Interest Research Group annual general meeting and social, April 5, 5:30 p.m., Math and Computer room 5158. Details.

Instrumental Chamber Ensembles spring concert April 5, 7:30 p.m., Conrad Grebel UC chapel, admission free.

UW staff conference annual event; keynote speakers will discuss work-life balance, emotional intelligence, “Sparking Innovation and Change”, other sessions, April 6-7. Details.

Faculty association annual general meeting April 6, 2:00, Math and Computer room 4020.

UW board of governors April 6, 2:30 p.m., Needles Hall room 3001.

One click away

High school graduation rates rise again
Video shows quantum computing director speaking at TEDx
Magnetic North Theatre festival heading for Waterloo
Atlantic province universities 'may hold key to immigration'
Ontario minimum wage goes up March 31
Recruiting Chinese students: a work in progress
Another Schulich school, as Nipissing gets $15 million
U of Guelph plans for Earth Hour
England's universities face 'first budget cuts in years'
Action urged against campus racism
'How can Canada lead the digital economy?'
'Major milestone' in saving First Nations University
Ann Coulter talk cancelled at U of OttawaCAUT calls for apology
Nominations invited for student Innovation Challenge Awards
Spinoff firm 'moves forward in the robotics market'
Recreation prof speaks on 'culinary tourism'

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