Board of Governors, June 28, 2001 - Appendix VIII, Annex 4

Report on the 255th Meeting of the Council of Ontario Universities

Thursday, Friday, April 26 and 27, 2001

D.M.R. Bentley, Academic Colleague

The recent meeting of the Council of Ontario Universities was thin on substance but rich in anticipation because of the imminence of the provincial budget, which, it was expected to address two of the issues upon which the universities have been concentrating their advocacy efforts: (1) funding for incremental growth and (2) additional funding for facilities renewal or deferred maintenance. Despite the lack of buoyancy in the economy and the demands of the health-care system, there were grounds for cautious optimism in COU that the Government has heeded the universities' arguments, and may even be open to the possibility of making a multi-year commitment to the postsecondary education sector. By the time Senate receives this report, the budget will have made apparent whether COU's optimism was warranted.

Council heard that the COU Taskforce on Student Assistance is moving towards the formulation of its report and attending to two issues in particular: (1) the improvement and streamlining of the existing system and (2) the development of a realistic needs-assessment mechanism. Council also heard that student debt reduction and debt management are among the Taskforce's top priorities.

Council approved a letter emanating from the COU Taskforce on Secondary-School Issues to the Minister of Education requesting, in essence, that the "Ministry, in consultation with COU and other appropriate bodies, develop measures to monitor the consistency with which grading practices and standards are applied in Grade 11 and Grade 12 University-preparation and University/College-preparation courses."

Council greeted warmly the news of the establishment, through the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies, of a Scholar Awards Program in Women's Health that will support graduate and post-graduate research and study in women's health in Ontario. Although the effective date (March 31) of the funding ($3 million) approved by the Minister of Health and Long-Term will not allow many scholarships to be offered in the coming year, the Program is expected to be in full operation shortly after that.

Finally, Council heard a highly encouraging update on the Digital Library project from Michael Ridley, the Chair of the Ontario Council of University Libraries, and, from Robert Birgeneau, late of MIT, a near-euphoric description of that institution's announcement of its OpenCourseWare (MITOCW) Initiative, which will make the materials for nearly all MIT's courses freely available on the internet over the next ten years. By no means all members of Council were as cheered as Dr. Birgeneau by the implications of what the President of MIT, Charles M. Vest, has characterized as the "natural marriage" in the MITOCW Initiative of "American higher education and the capabilities of the World Wide Web," "the traditional openness and outreach and democratizing influence of American education and the ability of the Web to make vast amounts of information instantly available," but all agreed that the Initiative has profound implications for education in Ontario. There is an African proverb to the effect that when elephants mate, much grass gets trampled. There is also a curiously resonant editorial in the May 4, 1878 issue of Publishers' Weekly that reads in part as follows:

Is it possible that ten years hence the Publishers' Weekly will be a sheet of tin-foil, answering the questions of customers as to the new books of the week by letting on the clock-work at the alphabetical list? Will the stationary business be confined to the sale of tin- foil sheets…? Will schools be taught from the phonographic legacy of the great teachers of the past (A.D. 1900, say), or by telephonic phonography from one "grand central" teacher in the Bureau at Washington (being disciplined by local machinery), so that books and teachers and school-book agents will all be swept away together? But one's head reels with the possibilities. (441)