Canada’s University Libraries Are In Peril

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by Raywat Deonandan

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post on Dec 13, 2016. The author retains all rights.

Universities and colleges across Canada are having their budgets severely tightened for a host of reasons, some more rational than others. In this quest for slashing costs, libraries have found themselves on the chopping block. To many, this move represents an attack on the very idea of scholarship, and the undermining of the nation’s quest to be a leader in the knowledge economy.

The University of Ottawa, where I do my teaching and research, recently announced that it will be reducing its library budget by almost $2 million. Since staffing is already at a bare minimum, with the librarian-to-student ratio at the second lowest in the province , the library has opted to absorb this cut by discontinuing its subscriptions to some very popular scholarly journals.

Understandably, there has been outcry among all members of the University community–students, professors, researchers, librarians, and even some administrators–who claim that cuts to the library are an assault on the very idea of a university. It began with the cancellation of a handful of journal titles. But this assault may progress to a more profound diminishing of the capacity of a library system to catalyze knowledge and accelerate learning.

It’s important that all citizens understand the role that libraries and librarians play. Their importance transcends their roles as gatekeepers to books and journals. They are genuinely both the memory vault of scholarship and learned guides that help us navigate the increasingly expansive morass of data, information, copyright, and information technology.

University libraries are where sensitive data, such as census and government survey data, are made available to researchers, serving as the guarantors of Canadians’ privacy and security. Librarians train researchers and students alike in the art and science of finding relevant information to inform their work, and show us where the lesser known, yet deeply valuable, global source materials are archived. They are conduits to accessing materials, data and knowledge in institutions in other countries. They are the masters of archiving the results of our scholarly work, making them freely available to the public.

Personally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the extent to which my university library has been indispensable in helping me to keep abreast of the constant changes to copyright law, which is such an underappreciated service in an era in which teaching materials draw from a multitude of online resources.

In addition, librarians are frankly the only profession who can regularly make sense of the emerging field of bibliometrics, which is the science of measuring the acceptance, reach and influence of scholarly work, which is so important in a time rife with accusations of scholastic fraud and politicized science.

Consequently, we need to keep in mind the paths by which the hobbling of university libraries profoundly affect every citizen and taxpayer, especially considering that by reducing a library’s ability to purchase journal subscriptions, the financial burden for such purchases falls upon the individual students and researchers. To read an individual article in a top journal costs about US$30, while a yearly subscription costs about US$200 per person.

A given undergraduate essay would have about twelve citations, which would therefore cost that student over $300. To write several such essays in a school year could be staggeringly expensive, absent the group subscription purchasing service offered by the library. In short, the decision to cut access to key journals may cost us more in the long run and download these costs onto individuals.

Research in Canadian universities is largely funded by government grants which, in turn, are funded from tax dollars. The results of such research are therefore owned theoretically by the Canadian taxpayer. They are public goods. The scholastic process demands that researchers communicate their findings formally in refereed journals, to ensure the highest standards of objective rigour and the greatest likelihood that the work is at the bleeding frontier of knowledge.

But the best journals in the world are still mostly so-called “closed access” journals, which means that a fee or a paid subscription is required to read them. These are the journals to which university libraries provide free access for students and scholars. In absence of this service, Canadian taxpayers who wish to read the results of research that they have paid for must pay once more.

This is, in essence, a kind of double taxation, which has helped to spur the more ethical “open access” movement, which in turn has seen the explosion of journals whose content is available without cost. But slow moving university culture still undervalues such journals, with some professors being denied tenure and promotion if they are perceived to rely overly on open access publishing . Therefore, for the foreseeable future, having libraries bear the cost and responsibility of securing access to closed access journals is essential to guarantee scholars access to the best knowledge in the world.

Interestingly, most of these journals are either American or British, which means that this kind of double taxation of the Canadian user isn’t even an investment in Canadian industry. It also means library subscriptions provide a cost buffer to the user against the largely unpredictable fluctuations in currency exchange rates.

In the digital era, the vision most have of the university library is no longer of a silent cathedral of books. It’s a centre of living learning, the access point to a global network of data, services, publications, and information expertise, as well as the defender of archived intellectual products. It has evolved over the years, but it remains the scholastic heart of the modern university. We wound that heart at our own peril.

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Mining the gender gap: how do aboriginal women perceive mining in Canada?

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by Raywat Deonandan, Brennan Field , and Kalowatie Deonandan

This article first appeared in the Hill Times on Dec 5, 2016. The authors retain all copyrights.

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Canada’s mining industry is an important player in the nation’s growth and prosperity, with some reporting that the sector is responsible for 3.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent of our national GDP, while also providing employment to at least two per cent of our labour force. The industry is also critical for aboriginal prosperity, given its role in employing very large numbers of indigenous peoples, especially in the North.

But mining development also unavoidably creates dramatic changes in aboriginal communities, both positive and negative. Aboriginal women are affected in quite distinctive ways that do not receive a great deal of attention, but that have long term impacts on both community and productivity. With the Canadian mining steadily expanding and feeding an increasing global need for natural resources, it behooves us to take steps to address the concerns of these women, to minimize the negative impacts and cultivate the positive ones.

Our recent study collected previous researchers’ interactions with aboriginal women, and re-analyzed them with an eye toward elucidating those women’s unique perspectives on the Canadian mining industry. Our findings suggest that there is a constructive path forward for all stakeholders: aboriginal women and their families, government, and mining companies themselves.

In short, aboriginal women are concerned about the social impacts that mining has on their communities, most prominently the unequal distribution of employment and remuneration opportunities between the two genders, the aggravation of existing social ills, and the increased erosion of traditional ways of life.

Jobs for aboriginals created by the mining industry are not equal between women and men, with the latter receiving comparatively high-paying, and often high-risk, labouring and technical opportunities, while women are often relegated to lesser-paying culinary, clerical or custodial roles. In other words, societal gender divides are being reinforced by the arrival of the mining industry in these communities. This is an impediment on the road toward gender equality not only in aboriginal communities, but also within Canada as a whole.

In terms of social ills, the perception is strong that the sudden influx of employment income, combined with the time constraints that come with it, is leading to challenges in parenting. An elder in one study opined, “the kids really run the show. I think that there is more money in town because of the mine. But now parents are hardly ever at home. … They have replaced parenting and guidance and caring with money.” Many women also fear that the increased income is fuelling pre-existing substance addictions. But this is balanced against a general overall appreciation for the money entering the community.

Shift work is also seen as contributing to the decay of traditional lifestyles. With less time to hunt, prepare and preserve food, women feel that their families’ diets are shifting toward processed foods, causing both poor health and a rapid decay in their traditional family dynamic.

Shift work is a special cultural challenge to people used to being in constant close proximity to one another. Indeed, one woman believes that the arrival of mining has led to more marriage failures, “because they’re not used to being away from their families.”

This has led, again, to stresses in parenting. For example, due to rotating and uncoordinated work schedules, parents are finding it difficult to provide consistent discipline for their children in a single, uncontested voice. There is therefore a perception of increased intergenerational conflict flowering from the arrival of commercial mining.

From our findings, even when the concerns of aboriginal women are included explicitly in formal negotiating agreements, the women often feel as if such inclusion is merely window dressing, intended at most to fulfill the legalistic stipulations of impact benefit agreements, while the spirit of such agreements is ignored.

A policy path forward, then, is to include aboriginal women as decision-makers in all stakeholder engagement practice, not just as token voices in the formulation of impact agreements. There is a role for government in assuring that these women’s concerns are considered when mediating mining access requests. New research is also needed in exploring new models of employment for women, beyond gender stereotypes, and models of less socially detrimental shift work and wage labour.

 

Raywat Deonandan is an assistant professor with the interdisciplinary school of health sciences at the University of Ottawa. Kalowatie Deonandan is an associate professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Brennan Field has a master’s degree in political studies and is currently pursuing a PhD in geography at the University of Saskatchewan.

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A Plea For Optimism In The Trump Era

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by Raywat Deonandan

This article was first published in The Huffington Post Canada on Nov 11, 2016.

The Trumpocalypse is upon us. If you are among the Orange One’s supporters, congratulations; your guy won. In the words of a Facebook friend, I hope he’s as great as you think he is. For the sake of civility, I will assume that you had rational reasons for selecting him, and were not driven by hatred of women, non-Whites, or foreigners.

If you are, like me, horrified by the proposition of four years of Trump-style Republican rule of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, these are dark days. My social media feed is alive with expressions of doom and Apocalyptic despair, as protests abound and professional friends in the U.S. are unironically looking for opportunities in supposedly more progressive countries.

I get it. There’s a sense that president-elect Trump will roll back all of the progressive initiatives that President Obama worked so hard to bring to Americans. There will likely be fast action to repeal Obamacare, to de-fund agencies offering reproductive services to women, to further drain the treasury by implementing deep tax cuts, and some vicious efforts to hunt down undocumented immigrants and, frankly, to terrorize non-White newcomers.

Longer term, Trump and Pence are in a position to appoint several new Supreme Court members, essentially giving U.S. government and society a right-leaning bias for the next generation. What this means for landmark decisions, like Roe vs. Wade, is uncertain. But fear and trepidation are understandable feelings for many Americans today (the majority, based upon the popular vote).

I am a foreigner, a Canadian. So the domestic policies of a U.S. President do not directly affect me. It is, however, worth pointing out that ultra-Right actors here in Canada were quick to celebrate the Trump victory, former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative leader wannabe Kelley Leitch prime among them.

While the U.S. president’s domestic policies might not affect us Canadians directly, his or her foreign policies have profound effects on our lives, hence we can feel justified in having an opinion on who occupies the White House.

To go by the man’s actual statements, a Trump presidency might result in wanton nuking of random targets. Or a partnership with Russia against the wrong side in Syria. Or maybe nothing at all. No one knows. A Trump presidency fills many with dread, largely because of the competing forces of his egregious claims and his status as a complete unknown with no policy track record.

But in the interests of our mental health, I would like to put forward a brief argument for hesitating optimism. The Trump presidency is going to be a reality. We who opposed him need to accept it. Here’s how I’m getting through it.

1. Science policy

Yes, I’m about to cling to the barest of silver linings. As with almost all of his platform, Trump’s position on science is vague. And certainly it stands to reason that he is likely to gut environmental programs and earth sciences surveillance programs.

But taking space policy as a case example, the Trump verbiage aligns somewhat well with the ethics of pure scientists. While Clinton would have mirrored Obama’s position of requiring all funded programs to be mapped onto social priorities, Trump’s position seems to be to allow space scientists to dictate the scope of their investigation, regardless of whether the outcomes and outputs of that investigation are immediately applicable to American life.

This might mean an increased focus on deep space exploration, where unfettered discovery is to be encouraged, and a decreased focus on low Earth orbit, where observations of Earth and climate changes are prioritized.

In fact, historically, Republican presidencies are more closely correlated with increased research and development funding, across many scientific domains, than are Democratic presidencies. The problem, of course, is that each party de-emphasizes fields that do not correspond with their political agendas. In the case of Republicans, this means a decrease of focus on environmental sciences.

2. Congressional reform

Amazingly, Trump intends on introducing term limits to elected representatives in the House. I’m not sure what this would look like, but on its face this strikes me as a positive move toward more honest, responsive and representative government. Of course, there’s already a push-back, as Mitch McConnell has already declared that such reform “will not be on the agenda in the Senate.” But we will see.

3. He’s a complete unknown

Bear with me now. This argument is a bit of a stretch, but I’m doing my best. With Hillary Clinton, given her long life in public service in the public eye, there would be no surprises regarding her intents, and tactics. She was a known quantity. For better or worse, we were pretty darn sure which of her claims would bear fruit, and which she had no intention or possibility of acting upon.

With Trump, all we have are his vague proclamations and the composition of his team. Now, to be as honest and forgiving as possible, his proclamations are not altogether worrying. He will replace Obamacare with “something terrific”, for example. If he’s not full of sh*t, then…. cool.

On the other hand, his advisors are, almost to a person, monstrous. The records, actions, opinions and intellectual qualities of Mike Pence, Ann Coulter, Omarosa, Katrina Pierson, and Newt Gingrich are known quantities. This fact inspires neither joy nor confidence.

However, if you’re able to put aside the limitations of his rogue’s gallery, then the Trump presidency is a blank slate. Trump himself has a public history of liberal behaviour. He’s not particularly religious, and clearly not a cultural conservative, despite his recent campaign-trail stance. So maybe… just maybe… his actual actions will reflect more his inclusive Manhattan lifestyle and not his backwater election pandering.

4. Some historical perspective

I’m an old man now. I’ve heard this end-of-the-world talk before. Maybe it’s different this time. Bill Maher and Seth MacFarlane think so, with the latter tweeting, “We got through Bush. You got through Obama. But this is different. Half of your fellow countrymen and women now feel as if they are in a strange land that is no longer their home. That should give some of you pause. We now need proof that he is who you say he is, and not who he appears to be.”

I certainly see the temptation to perceive the rise of Trump, especially in the wake of his unprecedented divisive election tactics, as the anointing of a true tyrant, a leader with dictatorial ambitions, who has not hidden his open disdain for a large segment of the population he purports to lead.

However, this is a plea for optimism. So let me say that I was a very young man of 13 when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. But I was politically aware enough to understand the ramifications of Reagan’s conservative, hawkish policies. We had just had four years of Carter progressivism, and I had just met the first Prime Minister Trudeau; I could tell that Reagan was a different animal.

When Reagan was elected, deep in the latter days of the Cold War, I was utterly convinced that World War III would start before his term was over in 1984. I was sure a post-nuclear apocalypse would befall us well before my 20th birthday.

I was wrong.

When Bush Jr. was “elected” the first time in 2000, I thought it would be business as usual, my political cynicism was so well entrenched. Bill Clinton, after all, was, to my mind, a right-leaning Democrat or a left-leaning Republican; I couldn’t see much difference. Why would Bush be any different?

I was wrong. He was a nightmare.

When Bush Jr. was re-elected in 2004, I was sure the world had gone mad. How could the American electorate reward an anti-civil liberty stance, scaremongering, torture, and blatant abuses of the vaunted constitution? Surely, the path to fascism had been joined.

I was wrong. Bush’s second term was horrible. But it wasn’t the end of the world.

Well, Trump probably won’t be the end of the world, either.

I hope.

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