Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Department of unintended consequences

Bicycle locks endangering health of McGill’s most vulnerable trees
The tree in question, a 10-year-old magnolia acuminata, stands in front of the Macdonald-Harrington Building. It’s not much to look at, standing barely 10 feet tall, with a few spindly branches at its uppermost reaches – branches that carry fewer and fewer leaves in the summer months.
The tree, a protected species in North America and the only one of its kind on McGill’s lower campus, is dying. And it’s not dying of disease or as a result of an infestation of some exotic bug. Ironically, it’s being killed by cyclists.
With the greening of lower campus, more people are riding their bikes to McGill and the extra two-wheel traffic means crowded bike racks. The University is in the process of doubling the number of bike racks on lower campus from 1,200 to 2,4000. Nevertheless, some cyclists insist on chaining their rides to anything that doesn’t move, including fences, signposts, wheelchair access ramps – and small trees.
The problem with the latter is twofold. First, the constant rubbing and banging of locks, chains, pedals and pointy derailleurs cut into the protective bark, leaving the tree susceptible to disease, fungi and insects. It also impairs the flow of sap, which usually runs just below he surface of the bark.
Second, the relentless traffic of people and bikes at the base of the tree tamps down the soil, compacting it and making it more difficult for the roots to absorb water – another hindrance to the healthy flow of sap.
With its vital supply line of sap in an increasingly compromised state, the magnolia tree is literally withering to the point where its trunk at bike level is significantly thinner than it is higher up the tree (see photo). It is slowly strangling to death.
“This tree has almost stopped growing,” said Champagne. “It should be twice as large as it is now. And it’s a shame because in Canada this is a fairly rare tree.”
The situation is compounded because cyclists are locking their bikes to smaller trees all around campus, including just inside the Milton Gates.
As a result, a generation of smaller, less robust trees is increasingly at risk of developing serious problems.

Gee, I wonder why bicycles are being inappropriately and excessively crowded just inside the Milton Gates?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Compare and contrast

Does Canada lack global ambition?
"We don’t have enough time on task, we don’t have enough days in the year, we don’t have enough hours in the day. We don’t have enough emphasis on science and math. We don’t have a high enough standard for literacy, an encouragement for people to be literate and numerate when they graduate. The people [teachers] who perform the most precious job in our society and economy are not rewarded for success nor punished for failure.

So mediocrity is protected and excellence is not rewarded. At the university level, I think we have high quality institutions but again I would say that we tend to be very constrained by collective agreements. Fewer and fewer days in the year are actually spent teaching."

University considers cutting semesters from 13 weeks to 12
SSMU VP Abaki pushes for the change, arguing that McGill students work harder than their peers

The McGill administration is currently considering a number of changes to the university's academic calendar, including a proposal to shorten the lengths of the fall and winter semesters by reducing the number of hours students are in contact with their professors.

Standard McGill classes currently give students three hours of contact with instructors per week for 13 weeks, for a total of 39 hours per semester. The proposal, which is being considered by the Working Group on Calendars and Dates, a subgroup of McGill Senate's Committee on Enrolment and Student Affairs, would reduce the required number of contact hours to 36 per semester.

Students' Society Vice-President University Affairs Joshua Abaki has pushed for the changes, arguing that McGill students must work harder than their peers at other universities. According to Abaki, McGill is the only member of the G-13—a group of research-focused universities in Canada—that requires 39 hours.


It may be of interest here to note that McGill's faculties are not unionized.

Concerning the astonishing student complaint that they are getting too much teaching for their dollar, it is perhaps also worth noting that in-province tuition for Quebec universities is far lower than equivalent tuition is at other G13 universities.

"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value." Thomas Paine.