12 March 2008

Interview on Global TV About Ryerson, Facebook, and Avenir

For the record, let me state that I am not yet a professor. Over there on the right side of the screen I describe my current status: (as of this posting) I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. But that long descriptor doesn't work well for television or press interviews. I typically ask producers to use the tag, "Researcher at OISE (or University of Toronto)" to describe me.

But, collaborative construction of identity being what it is, since I sound like a professor, and carry myself (i.e., walk) like a professor, and more or less look like a professor, and am located at the same place as a lot of professors, media outlets often construct me as, well, a professor. So despite my direction otherwise, Global calls me professor in this morning's interview.

With that out of the way, these days, Ryerson University seems to be sounding, walking, looking like, and locating itself as an institution firmly rooted in the Industrial Age. The appeals decision about Chris Avenir's case is yet to be announced. But according to Ryerson spokespeople, they are framing this case as one of "drawing the line" with respect to academic integrity. Unfortunately for Avenir, it seems that the so-called line is an arbitrary judgement about gaining "academic advantage" that might well be drawn wherever Avenir is not. In doing so, Ryerson is enacting what organization theorist and professor Chris Argyris calls organizational defensive behaviours. Simply put, Ryerson will not be wrong in this case, constructing their reading of the circumstances to justify their initial action - an action that was over-the-top, in my view.

But pushing their case for academic integrity to the extreme causes the inevitable reversal. Ryerson risks their own reputation in the eyes of current, and more important, future students who might consider Ryerson U as a place to pursue higher education as preparation for the contemporary world and workplace. The Avenir case demonstrates that contemporary forms of cyber collaboration causes some of Ryerson's professors a bad case of fear, loathing and paranoia. By arbitrarily deciding that physical presence collaboration is acceptable (eg. the university provides physical space in which that collaboration occurs) but an online space for the same activity is not, the institution sends a strong and clear signal: If you want a great Industrial Age education, Ryerson might be the place for you. But if you want to prepare yourself for the UCaPP world of the 21st century, perhaps U of T, Queens, Western, or Waterloo might be better choices for an Engineering school.

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Aaron said...

Great interview, "prof." ;)

Count me among those who were, until recently, considering pursuing a higher education at Ryerson. Between this and a few other recent decisions of theirs, they've shown themselves to be sufficiently behind the times that I will, unfortunately, be forced to look outside the city I call home.

enkerli said...

It does seem like "image" is the most important issue, here. Ryerson may wish to push this as an issue of "high academic standards" and want to back the prof out of solidarity, but the message sent to the outside world is that pedagogical principles at Ryerson are, as you say, stuck in the Industrial Age.
Obviously, the situation is probably more complex. But because it's about image, Ryerson will have some damage control to do, whatever the outcome of the appeals process may be.

On the "prof" issue, I get pretty much the same problem. Even students who heard me ask them not to call me "prof." Even students responding to a blogpost about not being called "prof."
Luckily, unlike some of the stuffier titles like "doctor," "professor" is one which can be applied colloquially with some impunity.
It's just sad that the news team didn't check on title use before the interview.

Anonymous said...

This has to be a very excruiciating time for Ryerson since they've got to wait for the decision on Avenir's case before they do any damage control. This is a good case study for PR classes around the world for sure.