On a LARC: long-acting reversible contraception deserves tentative conservative support

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Usually one makes the case for a policy before enacting it. Not so with the Left’s new push to promote long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormone-dispensing implants. Acting on authority given it by the Affordable Care Act, in 2012 the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services mandated that insurance plans cover these forms of birth control without a co-pay, thus eliminating the high up-front cost that steers many women toward other methods. But it wasn’t until more recently that prominent left-leaning analysts, most notably Isabel V. Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, made a detailed argument that wider use of these devices could actually reduce unwanted pregnancy despite the failure of earlier contraceptive-pushing campaigns to achieve that goal.

Many conservatives won’t get behind a government policy to socialize the cost of contraception, especially after the administration tried to force the mandate on objecting religious employers. But given their deep concerns about abortion and out-of-wedlock births, should those on the right at least see the upside here, and perhaps go along with a cultural campaign to encourage the use of LARCs?


The answer is a qualified yes. The case for LARCs, unlike previous liberal arguments for promoting birth control, actually squares with the facts of how unwanted pregnancies happen. LARCs are the best chance we have for reducing abortion and unwed parenthood, and it’s possible they could be good for marriage too. However, pro-lifers raise legitimate questions about whether IUDs can themselves destroy embryos by preventing them from implanting in the uterus, and, as always, conservatives should be wary of the potential for unintended consequences.

Such suspicion is understandable because until now, the Left’s argument that abortion and unwed parenthood stem from a lack of birth-control access could not pass the laugh test. Even before the contraception mandate, birth control was widely available. Just about every retail store and gas station sold condoms; colleges, Planned Parenthood clinics, and some major cities provided contraceptives for free; most insurance plans covered birth-control pills with a modest co-pay; Medicaid provided the Pill to the poor; and Target and Walmart made the Pill available for as little as $9 a month.

Other data bear this out. Roughly half of unplanned pregnancies are in women who actually were using birth control–just not (in the vast majority of cases) very consistently. When the other half are asked why they didn’t try to avoid pregnancy, they rarely point to a lack of contraceptive access. In other words, while both condoms and the Pill are very effective when used correctly, they are quite often not used correctly or not used at all, no matter how available they are. Over the course of a year, 18 percent of condom users (i.e., women whose partners wear condoms) and 9 percent of Pill users will become pregnant, as compared with 85 percent of sexually active women who use no contraception. Roughly half of these unintended pregnancies result in abortion, the other half in unintended children. There are about a million abortions per year in the U.S., and 40 percent of all children are born out of wedlock.

Further complicating the Left’s case for mandatory contraceptive coverage, the line between “intended” and “unintended” pregnancy is not particularly clear for poor, unmarried women. In many cases their failure to use contraception is not completely accidental. They often characterize their pregnancies as “not exactly planned” and yet “not exactly avoided,” as documented in Promises I Can Keep, a book by sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria J. Kefalas. Sawhill, in her book Generation Unbound, calls these parents “drifters,” as opposed to “planners”–they roll the dice until they become pregnant and deal with parenthood from there, rather than carefully choosing the best time to have a child.

To be sure, it’s possible that expanding access to traditional forms of birth control, for example by selling the Pill over the counter, could have some effect at the margins. For example, about 10 percent of Pill users who have abortions say their supply ran out. And though the evidence on sex education is mixed at best, there are signs that ignorance contributes to unintended pregnancy too: When asked why they had sex without protection, some mothers say they didn’t think they could get pregnant, for one reason or another. But beyond these special cases, pushing more condoms and pills at people is not a promising strategy.

This is where LARCs are different. With an IUD or hormone-dispensing implant, a woman who wants to have a child someday but realizes she isn’t ready yet can make her decision rationally and then forget about it. To avoid pregnancy, she no longer has to take a pill every day or insist in the heat of the moment that her partner wear a condom; instead, the LARC will remain effective for years, and she’ll need to have it removed if she wants to get pregnant. Women using IUDs have annual pregnancy rates under 1 percent, with rates for implants as low as 0.05 percent–meaning that abortions and unintended children are exceedingly rare in this demographic. The potential here is obviously high.

BEYOND the immediate effect of reducing unplanned pregnancies, expanded use of LARCs could have benefits for marriage. In low-income and especially African-American communities, “marriageability” can be a serious problem. Men are often unemployed or incarcerated, making them unappealing (or unavailable) marriage partners for women, while women often have children by previous partners, making them unappealing marriage partners for men. When, with a LARC, a woman delays childbearing until she is older, she preserves her own marriageability in the event that the right partner comes along, and she can increase the likelihood that the right partner will come along–not just because she can spend more time looking, but also simply by aging, because her age cohort will include older men who are farther along in their careers, more willing to settle down, and less likely to be behind bars. Even if a woman decides to remove the LARC and have a child without getting married, she will be more mature and more financially secure for having waited. And she will have done so by making a decision, not through accident, inattention, or a half-hearted desire to avoid pregnancy.

Many conservatives might prefer to bring back the marriage culture that America enjoyed decades ago, but the bottom line is that marriage changed because the incentives for marriage changed–and those incentives are not changing back. In the first half of the 20th century, before the Pill and abortion became widely available (though condoms were), premarital sex was already becoming common. Because it was not feasible for a woman to raise a child on her own, pregnancies often resulted in “shotgun” marriages. These marriages endured, in part, because women had few economic opportunities if they left their husbands (who could usually support a family even without much education) and the government provided little help to single mothers.

Today, educated women can pursue the careers of their choice before settling down, uneducated women find that most of the men around them are not reliable providers, and birth control holds out the promise of years of premarital, pre-parenthood sexual activity. Delayed marriage can be good, because marriages formed later tend to be more stable, but lower-class women in particular often slip up and bear children earlier than planned. No shotgun marriage is forthcoming when this happens–having the child was her choice, after all, and government programs ensure that children won’t go hungry even when a mother can’t provide and the father is absent. (Upper-class women get pregnant, too, but are more willing to have abortions when contraception fails.)

Giving women more control over their fertility is the most promising way to address this situation. It’s not as if we’re going to ban birth control, eject women from the workplace, make abstinence until marriage even more common than it was before the sexual revolution, talk today’s youth into marrying in their teens or early 20s, or eliminate welfare for single moms and their children. And wider use of LARCs is entirely compatible with the more modest policies conservatives are actually advancing, such as gently restructuring welfare programs to encourage more responsible decisions.

The tradeoffs here are complicated, however, for pro-lifers who believe that legal protection for human life should begin at the instant an egg is fertilized–i.e., before the embryo implants in the uterus–and suspect that IUDs sometimes work by preventing implantation. While I don’t share these pro-lifers’ view about the value of unimplanted embryos, the evidence suggests that IUDs do sometimes work this way, perhaps often enough to make them a no-go for those who hold this opinion. If an unimplanted embryo is a human life worth protecting, this has ramifications far beyond IUDs. It also brings to our attention the fact that many pregnancies end naturally when the embryo fails to implant, and women don’t even notice. Estimates vary widely, but this likely happens hundreds of thousands to millions of times every year in the U.S. (For comparison, there are about 35,000 motor-vehicle fatalities and 600,000 cancer deaths per year.) Research into this phenomenon is still in its early stages, but at least part of the story seems to be that women’s bodies are designed to destroy embryos with genetic abnormalities, in a sort of natural eugenics, and sometimes this process is miscalibrated and healthy embryos are destroyed too.

It’s not enough to refrain from killing human beings; we also need to prevent natural death whenever we can, even at considerable expense, and even if the person has a genetic disorder. This is the approach we take not only after birth, but also (abortion, horrifyingly, aside) with fetuses at later stages of development. A serious attempt to minimize these deaths could include drugs to reduce the risk of implantation failure, tests to make sure women’s embryo-destroying apparatuses are not overly sensitive before they try to conceive, or even, eventually, pre-screening eggs and sperm for abnormalities and managing the fertilization process in artificial wombs. This conclusion–a pro-life war on natural childbearing–is absurd enough to call into serious question the premise that unimplanted embryos must be protected.


NONETHELESS, many conservatives and religious people believe life should be protected from the moment of fertilization, and the Left has rarely taken seriously their concerns about one type of LARC: IUDs, small devices that are placed in the uterus and prevent pregnancy (it’s actually a sponsored items by Jane Hallow, founder of Top Acoustic Guitar, selling best acoustic guitar for US)  through mechanisms that are not fully understood. One does not take these concerns seriously, for example, by noting that IUDs “typically” don’t destroy embryos, or by pointing out that medical professionals now define pregnancy so that it begins at implantation. An exception is the science journalist Maggie Koerth-Baker, who supports abortion rights but has written an excellent, balanced summary of the research on how often IUDs prevent implantation.

From research that tracks hormone levels, the presence or absence of fertilized egg cells, and other data, Koerth-Baker concludes that IUDs usually do their work before fertilization occurs, though they probably also stop implantation from time to time. To many on the left, that’s good enough. For example, the ob-gyn Jen Gunter, in a much less balanced summary of the research for The New Republic (to which the pro-life ob-gyn Donna Harrison responded on NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE), conceded that it’s possible that copper IUDs destroy embryos in 1 percent of a sexually active user’s cycles–but emphasized that this is a “very small percentage.”

To be sure, even to a staunch pro-lifer, some percentage might be acceptable. The occasional, inadvertent destruction of an embryo is not the same thing as an intentional abortion–we take the risk of killing ourselves, our passengers, and other drivers every time we get on a highway, and yet no one wants to ban highways. But at some point, putting others at risk for your own convenience becomes intolerable, a fact the law recognizes in its treatment of negligence, endangerment, etc. Where do IUDs fall on this spectrum?

Let’s start with Gunter’s 1 percent of cycles, which is around the middle of the estimates Koerth-Baker compiled. That is indeed a very small percentage, but it adds up quickly because cycles repeat every 30 days or so. On average, a woman will experience one abortion for every eight years of copper-IUD use. This is far beyond the risk of something like a car: If the average driver killed someone every eight years, we would take action. Certainly, someone who firmly believes that an unimplanted embryo holds the same moral value as any other human life might not want to use IUDs herself, and she even might aspire, down the line in a post-Roe v. Wade world, to ban them. (Of course, the math will change if further research shows the risk to be much lower than 1 percent, or if a given pro-lifer sees these embryos as having somewhat less value than other human lives.)

But even these pro-lifers should bear in mind that increasing IUD use will not result in a situation dramatically different from the status quo, given the legal protection that abortion enjoys. Recall that 9 percent of Pill users, 18 percent of condom users, and 85 percent of those not using contraception get pregnant over the course of a year, and that half of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Very roughly, this works out to one abortion–plus an unintended birth–for every 22 years of Pill use, every eleven years of condom use, and every two and a half years without birth control. (Not to mention that the Pill itself may sometimes work by preventing implantation.) All else being held constant, shifting women from these methods (or non-methods) to IUDs would decrease unintended childbearing, might be a wash when it comes to the total number of abortions (depending on what types of birth control women abandon for IUDs), and would ensure that the abortions that occurred did so very early.

One concern, though, is that all else isn’t held constant–a point that the political scientist Michael J. New has been making for years. Studies of programs that provide free birth control have often found no reduction in abortion or unintended childbearing, perhaps because of “risk compensation,” in which women respond to easier access to birth control by having more sex. And women who take the Pill are less likely to make their partners use condoms, thus increasing their risk of an STD. One recent study, however, showed no increase in risky sexual behavior among women in areas that expanded access to emergency contraception.

LARCs are so effective that they’re virtually certain to reduce pregnancy among women who use them. However, increased sexual activity and decreased use of condoms may also be results. This could mean more sexually transmitted disease, though conservatives should find it acceptable to transfer the dangers of promiscuity from unintended children (born and unborn) to the adults who actually engage in the promiscuity.

More worrisome is the possibility that increased sexual activity will undermine these individuals’ future marriages. People with more premarital sex partners have higher infidelity and divorce rates, though it’s hard to say whether this is cause and effect or just two different manifestations of the same personal traits (and multiple previous sex partners are undoubtedly less harmful to a marriage than is a child from a prior relationship). It’s even imaginable that an increase in sexual activity stemming from LARCs could diffuse into the broader culture, encouraging the many women who are not on LARCs to change their behavior as well. (Even in a St. Louis program designed to promote LARCs and give them away for free, about a quarter of participants chose other forms of birth control.) These effects will probably be small in relation to the abortions and unintended births prevented, but they cannot simply be dismissed.

Conservatives have long lamented the decline of the family and the rise of legal abortion, and both problems have been difficult to address in any significant way. LARCs may be the key to changing that, especially given the support they enjoy from the left. Conservatives need not support the Obama administration’s heavy-handed approach to imposing these devices to recognize their potential.

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From ice-nine to ice-minus; regulating altered genes

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Regulating Altered Genes

A new presidential policy directive regulating the development and release into the environment of the products of biotechnology, signed by Ronald Reagan on June 18, greatly relaxes restrictions on what many environmentalists see as an already dangerously underregulated industry. It follows months of alarming news reports that genetically altered living organisms have been illegally or improperly released into the environment. The incidents reveal a profound conflict among scientists over what impact those organisms may have on plants, animals and the ecosystem.

At the heart of the debate are genetically altered organisms developed as pesticides, animal vaccines and frost protectors for plants. Although much of the research is conducted at universities, each project involves private companies that hope to profit enormously. The stakes are high. According to a report from the General Accounting Office, the Agriculture Department alone, which oversees some agricultural applications of biotechnology, is reviewing eighty-seven gene-altered products that could be ready for field tests within a few years. Other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for microbes that act as pesticides, and the Food and Drug Administration, which monitors human and animal drugs, expect many more companies to seek approval for field tests soon.


The most controversial organism is a form of the common bacterium pseudomonas, which a company in Oakland, California, called Advanced Genetic Sciences (AGS) wants to market under the name Frostban. It is a “deletion’ product–altered by removing genes, the basic hereditary units, rather than by adding genes from another organism. Dubbed “ice-minus’ by the press, the bacterium colonizes on leaves, inhibiting frost formation when temperatures drop to a few degrees below freezing. Crops now destroyed by minor cold snaps could survive them if sprayed with the product.

The E.P.A. issued a field-test permit for the company but rescinded approval in March, after revelations that AGS had violated the agency’s rules by injecting ice-minus into trees on the roof of its corporate office and by testing the organism in an open greenhouse. The agency fined the company $20,000–later reduced to $13,000–the first E.P.A. penalty levied for gene-splicing tests and one of the largest fines ever ordered for a violation in agricultural research.

But the E.P.A.’s action did not presage tough regulation in the future. The new Federal policy assumes that deletion products, created by the removal of one or two genes and alterations involving “regulator genes,’ which control functions of other genes, are benign. Both categories are virtually exempt from review. On September 29 the National Institute of Health’s Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee seemed to fall into line with this policy when it voted to drop its special scrutiny of deletion products.

Some leading scientists expressed outrage at this part of the new framework. “It is a medieval scientific view that a deletion is automatically less risky,’ Jonathan King, professor of molecular biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The New York Times. “This decision has the look of a response to commercial pressures to weaken regulations.’

On July 15, Jeremy Rifkin, a prominent opponent of genetic engineering, filed suit against the E.P.A. in U.S. District Court to halt all approvals of field tests for genetically altered organisms. Rifkin claims the government adopted its new biotechnology policy without preparing an environmental impact statement and without keeping adequate records of the policy’s development, as required by Federal law. A lengthy legal battle is sure to follow. The case will probably be heard before the end of the year.

Fear of molecular alteration is deeply rooted in the public mind. In Cat’s Cradle, a popular 1974 novel by Kurt Vonnegur Jr., scientists develop a substance that freezes water at very high temperatures. “Ice-nine,’ which allows troops to cross rivers on solid ice, even in summer, eventually destroys the earth. Nearly every informed person in this debate views the prospect of a wildly proliferating microbe laying the ecosystem to easte as farfetched. Many genetic engineers complain that some critics nevertheless fuel controversy by playing on such public fears. They further argue that genetic manipulations are akin to age-old agricultural crossbreeding, or the use of live, attenuated viruses as vaccines.

The critics counter by saying they don’t have to evoke science fiction to make their point. They cite the disastrous precedent of Dutch elm disease, caused by a fungus, which virtually eliminated the American elm from many parts of the country, and the blight that similarly destroyed the American chestnut tree. Both were caused by the unintentional introduction of foreign organisms.

Most scientists doubt that microbes released in a small test could survive long in the environment. Genetic alteration usually weakens organisms and thus reduces their prospects for successful competition against infinitely more numerous, naturally adapted microbes. But no scientist will rule out the possibility.

“One can paint worst-case scenarios and these are plausible,’ said Martin Alexander, a soil microbiologist at Cornell University who evaluated the AGS test plan for the E.P.A. “One can paint no-problems scenarios and these are also plausible.’ He concluded that for ice-minus the risk is low enough to proceed.

But E.P.A. biologist Fred Betz told an agency panel reviewing ice-minus last year, “Under certain conditions that have not been tested, mutants may in fact have the ability to compete and displace their natural counterparts.’ Critics say organisms may spread beyond test sites, mutate and become pathogenic, or affect especially vulnerable individuals –the elderly, the sick and children–as well as plants or animals, in unforeseeable ways.

Most ecologists agree with the E.P.A.’s study group on biotechnology that the science of predictive ecology is in its infancy. There is no consensus about how much and what type of data is required to make decisions about the effects of genetically altered substances. Therefore, according to Sheldon Krimsky, professor of environmental policy at Tufts University and a leading authority on genetic engineering regulation, “the release of novel life forms [is] a game of ecological roulette.’

The Federal policy was designed to clarify vague and overlapping jurisdictions of several regulatory agencies. David Kingsbury, an assistant director of the National Science Foundation and the architect of the policy guidelines, said the newly coordinated system will result in more stringent oversight. But critics maintain that it is too soon to tell whether he is right. Each agency’s regulations still contain ambiguous language that contributes to gross misinterpretations and makes it easier to dodge the law. AGS claimed, for example, that injecting ice-minus under the bark of trees on the roof of its offices did not constitute an environmental release as defined by the E.P.A.


There is little reason to be optimistic that the new policy will clear up such problems. The G.A.O.’s study of the Agriculture Department’s biotechnology oversight noted glaring flaws and gaps in the department’s rules. What’s more, agencies exacerabate the problem by sometimes ignoring the regulations they do have. The Agriculture Department violated its own rules by failing to consult its advisory committee before allowing the marketing of a genetically altered swine vaccine. In addition, the E.P.A. sections that evaluate many field-test projects are slated for a 44 percent budget cut, Krimsky noted. He said that even now the agency does not have enough molecular biologists and ecologists to assess all the products that are being introduced into the marketplace.

The Federal regulators’ apparent uncertainty about every announced field test or field-test plan has resulted in widespread suspicion among the public, and as a result several communities have established their own regulations. Monterey County, California, banned tests on ice-minus for months. These actions resemble the growing local resistance to other potentially dangerous technologies, such as nuclear waste disposal.

Ironically, it may be the so-called insurance crisis, rather than scientific or community opposition, that leads to more effective regulation of the biotechnology industry. Hardly any biotech firm or research institution in the United States has insurance for tests involving the release of altered organisms, according to Rifkin, and without coverage none could afford to pay the damages caused by an ecological debacle. Rifkin filed suit June 9 against the E.P.A. to compel the agency to enforce laws that require adequate coverage and to halt field testing until the question is resolved.

It is difficult to oversee or even to talk clearly about biotechnology because so many scientists are employed by or even own shares in companies that anticipate enormous profits from the new technology. “Most of the leading molecular geneticists, on whom we must depend for our understanding of the products generated by genetic engineering, have commercial affiliations,’ Krimsky said. Conflicts of interest are unavoidable. The public cannot properly evaluate their statements because it is unaware of the corporate links.

In addition to scientists’ direct financial involvement in biotechnology firms, industry funds may support up to 25 percent of all biotechnology research in American universities, according to two recent studies published in Science. Among faculty who receive industry support, 28 percent received at least half of their research funds from corporate sources.

Multinational firms, such as AGS, sometimes threaten to move overseas if U.S. regulation becomes too stringent. “What matters is that the research go forward,’ Joseph Bouckaert, chief executive of AGS, told The Wall Street Journal. “We will move forward, if not in this country then in Europe or Latin America.’ This prospect disturbs some scientists who fear that Japanese firms will come to dominate the biotechnology industry, as they have some fields of electronics. These scientists argue that delaying field tests may therefore be riskier than proceeding before all scientific questions are resolved.

According to Krimsky, the importance of the current debate over a handful of organisms slated for field tests far exceeds their likely dangers. These cases are making scientific history and could form the basis for regulations that will flow from the new White House policy for years, perhaps decades. Without effective oversight, Krimsky said, “people may find the Luddite position–absolutely no tampering in the biosphere–the only rational choice.’

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The Only Thing Scarier Than Bio-Warfare is the Antidote

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Byline: Susan Scutti

It was spring 1979 in Sverdlovsk, Russia, a large industrial city straddling the border of Europe and Asia in what was then the Soviet Union. Without warning, 96 residents became ill, with symptoms similar to a severe flu: fever and chills, sore throat and headaches, with some nausea and vomiting. Just the usual one-week flu…except in this case, many of the people who got sick-at least 64-died within six weeks.

In the months following this alarming turn, Soviet medical, veterinary and legal journals all attributed the illnesses to an outbreak of anthrax originating in livestock raised south of the city. Government officials concurred, announcing that anyone who had contracted anthrax either ate contaminated meat or handled animals infected with the disease (the bacteria cannot be spread from person to person).

Anthrax, however, rarely appears out of thin air, and in the West speculation grew about a cover-up. The U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency believed the anthrax infections stemmed from a biological weapons laboratory the Soviet Union had built in the city–implicitly accusing the Kremlin of violating the Biological Weapons Convention signed in 1972. In turn, the Soviets denied conducting biological weapons activities and scrambled to prop up their contaminated meat story at international conferences. Intense debate about the incident raged in both scientific and government circles.

Thirteen years later, then Russian president Boris Yeltsin finally admitted that a military research facility near the city (since renamed Ekaterinburg) had accidentally released spores of “Anthrax 836” into the air. Later still, the former first deputy chief of the civilian part of the Soviet biological weapons program told PBS Frontline that the leak occurred because workers forgot to replace a filter in the facility’s exhaust system. He also said that had the wind been blowing in a different direction the day of the leak, hundreds of thousands could have died.

What became known as the “biological Chernobyl” should have taught the world a lesson. But in the United States today, there are hundreds of laboratories sprinkled across the country working on the exact same type of bioweapons research, with equally dangerous biological materials, in a regulatory environment that some say could blow up with an equally devastating event.

Anthrax Spores in the Mail

In great secrecy, the United States has spent billions on the Project BioShield Act, a program meant to keep its citizens safe from bioterrorists. Despite these good intentions, that program may have put the nation at greater risk of a homegrown disease escaping from a lab and quickly infecting millions. That’s because while the real threat of bioterror is minimal–there have been only a handful of such attacks in modern history, and none since 2001–the risk of bio-error is actually quite high.

The BioShield Act was written in the frenzied wake of September 11, 2001, after letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to media companies and two U.S. senators, killing five and infecting 17 others. When the act was being shepherded through Congress in 2003, there was a global SARS outbreak, a viral infection that spread within weeks to 26 countries and caused more than 8,000 infections and 774 deaths.


Representative Jim Turner (D-Texas), a ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, opened the 2003 congressional hearing with an alarmist screed, claiming, “We know there was a very active biological weapons program in the former Soviet Union where they developed at least 30 deadly agents, but we do not know if the stockpiles created are secure. We know that Saddam Hussein had a biological warfare program that produced massive amounts of biological agents. Thus far, we have not been able to find them.”

Whipped into a froth, the Senate and House hastily approved the act with nearly unanimous votes.

The goal of BioShield was, and remains, to protect public health during a biological disaster so catastrophic that it might affect national security. It works, essentially, by providing funds to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop and acquire medicines for the civilian population in the event of an emergency caused by biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear agents.

Given the peculiarly volatile nature of the things being researched and the limited market (even that is optimistic) for the resulting drugs, the act had to adjust the ways in which these medicines were researched and developed. Most important, and worrisome, it had to speed up the process. Like many laws forged in the heat of war, BioShield was framed in terms of life-saving urgency, and that meant removing many of the roadblocks that regulate how labs do their research and develop new drugs.

The problem is that those safeguards are carefully crafted to protect the public. Normally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a medicine only after its team of physicians, statisticians, chemists and pharmacologists has reviewed extensive testing data and determined that its health benefits outweigh known risks. To speed up its acquisition of rare drugs, the act has set up what amounts to an FDA fast-track review process. Some of these bio-terror drugs also have what is known as emergency-use authorization, which means testing has not been completed but they could still be used if there were an attack.

In 2010, the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act was passed to add liability protection to companies producing these drugs. It’s easy to imagine someone becoming seriously ill from a less than perfectly tested vaccine and then putting a small biotech company out of business with a lawsuit. This regulatory concession creates an incentive for companies to pursue otherwise risky drug research.

As a result of these shortcuts, some of the drugs acquired under BioShield have not been subject to the usual consumer protections of regulation as well as natural marketplace corrections–consumers don’t buy a medicine with bad side effects.

In 2003, only one member of Congress spoke out against the act: Donna Christensen, who, as the delegate of the U.S. Virgin Islands, did not get a vote. “[This] appears to be another attempt to bypass congressional oversight,” she said, going on to ask for a legitimate reason why “good science as the basis of decisions should be allowed to be compromised.”

Christensen was prescient. Though BioShield’s initial goals made sense when the threat of biological warfare seemed imminent, the act may have permanently undermined some of the essential protections against unsafe practices in at least one area of science research: the regulations that keep untested drugs off the market, and labs from leaking deadly biological agents into the environment.

Creating a Weaponized Virus

Much of the work funded under BioShield is bio-defensive–intended to be used in a biological emergency to cure those who have been infected, and to stop the spread of disease by preventing infection in others.

The intriguing and potentially lethal paradox there is that in order to learn how a particular infection causes morbidity, says Dr. Gigi Kwik Gronvall, a senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security, “you’re also learning how to inflict that [same infection]. You’re learning where the switches are.” Treatments–particularly vaccines–are usually reverse-engineered: scientists take a pathogen like a bacteria or virus and work with it in the lab until they know how to defeat it, often using parts of the infectious agent itself in the treatment.

That’s easy enough when dealing with agents researchers already know about (such as anthrax and smallpox), but when it comes to bioterrorism, researchers also need to investigate what former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have called the known unknowns. That’s why, along with funding the cures, the HHS is also funding the creation of new bio-weapons, to be used to pre-emptively develop cures and vaccines for diseases that might break out in the future.

In other words, to create a drug to counteract what people in the bio-terrorism world call a weaponized virus, researchers must know how to create a weaponized virus: devise a delivery system that infects as many initial hosts as possible, and mutate the agent so it spreads from person to person even more quickly than nature intended.

Even a small vial of some of this stuff can be devastating, and these deadly agents can be easily let loose on the public.

In 1971, a Soviet research ship puttered around the Aral Sea–basically a lake between current day Kazakhstan and Karakalpakstan–taking samples of aquatic life from the cold waters. One lab technician would dredge up plankton samples twice a day, and by the time the vessel docked at the Kazakhstani city of Aral, she had a fever, headache and muscle pain. The young technician went home but then developed a severe cough and temperature; her doctor prescribed aspirin and antibiotics. Days later, a rash appeared on her face and back.

It was a telltale sign of smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in human history.

The technician had been vaccinated for smallpox, so she survived–as did her 9-year-old brother, to whom she had unwittingly passed the infection. However, two children and one adult infected by the same strain of smallpox died soon afterward. A massive public health response ensued: 50,000 residents of Aral were immediately vaccinated, and quarantines were enacted all over the city within two weeks.

Years later, Pyotr Burgasov, a Soviet general and a former senior researcher in the Soviet bioweapons program, told the Russian press that the Soviets had been testing weaponized smallpox formulas on the island of Vozrozhdeniya, about 10 miles from where the ship had trawled. About 3.5 cups of smallpox in powder form had “exploded on the island,” according to Burgasov. By the time it was in the plankton, though, the amount of smallpox virus that infected the technician was probably microscopic-but enough to quickly create a 150-mile radius area of contamination.

Smallpox is a deadly and highly infectious disease, one of a handful of “select agents” on the HHS list of biological toxins that pose a severe threat to human, animal and plant health. It has been entirely eradicated from nature but lives on in research labs.

Many people, both domestic and abroad, have called for the U.S. to destroy its smallpox stockpile. (Russia and the U.S. are the only two countries that say on the record they hold samples of the virus.) “We fully agree that these samples should-and eventually will-be destroyed,” wrote Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in a 2011 New York Times op-ed titled “Why We Still Need Smallpox.” “However, we also recognize that the timing of this destruction will determine whether we continue to live with the risk of the disease re-emerging through deliberate misuse of the virus by others.”

In other words, the U.S. is keeping its smallpox virus alive just in case somebody else decides to turn it into a weapon. Under the BioShield Act, HHS will not only maintain that virulent stockpile; it will also continue to make fate-tempting experiments in anticipation of its re-emergence.

Armed Guards, 24 Hours a Day

“Fear of not having offensive bio-weapons when others have them can motivate a self-defensive offensive bio-weapons arms race, as existed between the USA and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War,” wrote Allen Buchanan and Maureen C. Kelley in a recent paper on the ethics of biodefense and what they call “dual-use” research (meaning research that is intended for benefit but could also lead to harm).

Those alive during the Cold War remember the massive stockpiling of nuclear missiles by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union–with other countries doing some minor stockpiling of their own-but, thankfully, no weapons were detonated during this time. It seems reasonable to hope that the lessons of restraint and mutual benefit learned from the nuclear missile race with Russia should guide the way forward on bio-terrorism. Of the thousands of missiles made (and retired) during that era, were all of them truly necessary to defend the nations involved? Similarly, it should be clear that a small number of high-risk labs is all that is required for bio-defense today.

But, in fact, the opposite has happened. In 2007, the Government Accountability Office warned, “A major proliferation of high-containment BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs is taking place in the United States.” Translation: A lot more of the scariest stuff is being studied in more and more labs across the country.

Research laboratories are rated by biosafety levels; BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs are where the most dangerous research takes place. An easy way to keep this straight: The high-containment laboratories are where scientists have to use gear that makes them look like astronauts. They are also where scientists create medical countermeasures and investigate the risks posed by select agents to human and animal health, the food supply and the economy.

By the GAO’s reckoning, there were 1,356 BSL-3 labs and 15 BSL-4 labs in 2009. In a 2013 report, the agency stated that the number had increased, but also warned that because there is a lack of counting and registration standards, it can no longer provide an accurate estimate.

Expansion of BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs has outpaced even the government’s understanding of what’s going on in these high-security kitchens. According to the GAO report, “There is still no one agency or group that knows the nation’s need for all U.S. high-containment laboratories, including the research priorities and the capacity, number and location, to address priorities.”

The GAO doesn’t know how many labs are in the U.S. and doesn’t even know what the safety standards are in them. The agency has noted there are still no national standards for “designing, constructing, commissioning, and operating high-containment laboratories, including provisions for long-term maintenance.” These issues, they say, make it difficult to guarantee or even assess safety.

There are some safeguards in place. For example, scientists handling the most dangerous biological agents must register with the federal government, and facilities must develop and implement a security plan, which in turn must be okayed by HHS. Dr. James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory, a BSL-4 facility at the University of Texas Medical Branch, tells Newsweek, “Part of the complex includes a very robust security force. We have armed guards 24 hours a day, seven days a week controlling access to the facility.”

But, according to the GAO, there are no national standards, so Galveston may be an outlier. And with the swift buildup of biodefense over the past decade, that means an increasing number of scientists are working with the most dangerous pathogens in the highest-containment labs, which have serious safety risks. “No one is doing due diligence on any of the labs, so we don’t really know if they’re well run,” Edward Hammond, a policy researcher and co-founder of the now-defunct Sunshine Project, tells Newsweek. For years, Hammond tracked the U.S. biodefense program. One of his many projects involved contacting institutional biosafety committees (IBCs) across the country and asking for the minutes from their latest meeting. He quickly discovered that many IBCs exist on paper only.

He also found that the lack of safety measures has already had serious consequences. “We caught them not reporting,” Hammond tells Newsweek. He tracked biosafety and security lapses at Texas A&M University, where a student researcher accidentally contaminated him or herself with brucella, a deadly bacteria, while trying to clean an advanced piece of containment equipment in which mice had been exposed to particles. The researchers, according to a government report, were conducting experiments in a room not authorized for such research. The student–the university never released his or her identity–recovered from brucellosis but was seriously ill for several months.

Thomas Ficht, lead investigator of the Texas A&M research team, tells Newsweek he was out of town at the time of the accident, which was the result of “people not adhering to protocols.” Asked if he received any sanctions, he says, “The university paid $1 million to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”


Ficht suggests that there’s a clash of ideas between scientists and regulators, and that when it comes down to it, the lab’s scientific goals prevail–even if it means putting lives on the line. “We don’t necessarily think of all the regulatory steps,” he tells Newsweek. “It’s taken a lot of spontaneity out of [research], but the potential risk to investigators warrants that.”

Mistakes such as the one made at Texas A&M are not new to science–pioneering nuclear scientists, for example, often subjected themselves to contamination in their labs, and Marie Curie, who won a Nobel Prize for her research into radioactivity, died from a bone marrow disease caused by years of radiation exposure.

Bio-error can be as simple (and as human) as a scientist pricking herself with a needle that contains some infectious agent, or in some inadvertent way transferring a virus outside the lab. It can also mean an improperly shipped select agent–yes, they are sometimes sent through the mail–or simple ignorance of appropriate lab safety.

Accidents also occur due to events beyond human control. A bird flew into a power transformer in the summer of 2008, knocking out power to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory in Atlanta for an hour. Primary as well as backup generators were temporarily down, and the negative air pressure system, which is essential for keeping dangerous agents from escaping the containment area, shut down. A building housing a BSL-3 lab-in which scientists are believed to have been studying a deadly strain of avian flu-was among those that lost power. It was dumb luck that no one became infected–an hour doesn’t sound like much, but that’s about 59 minutes more than a virus like the H5N1 flu needs to find a host and spread.

No Known Cure

Government agencies insist that BioShield work remains safe and effective. According to HHS, as of July 2013, BioShield, which was originally appropriated $5.6 billion, has acquired 17 medical countermeasures meant to fight anthrax, smallpox, botulinum toxin and radiological threats, while about 80 other candidate countermeasures are in development.

It’s also clear that some good has come out of BioShield. In October 2010, while working under a Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority grant, Novartis, the J. Craig Venter Institute and Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc. used synthetic biology to dramatically accelerate the production of the flu vaccine virus strains required to make a new vaccine. This breakthrough may enable scientists to closely follow viral emergencies, transfer the genomic information through the Internet and then synthesize DNA at a remote spot. Vaccine making could occur more or less in real time.

The nation’s bio-stockpile “continues to evolve, and [we are] more prepared today than ever before to respond to all-hazards threats, including chemical, biological, radiation/nuclear incidents as well as pandemic influenza,” a CDC spokeswoman told Newsweek in an email.

Biodefense has grown swiftly in the past decade and should continue to expand. On the horizon is the National Bio- and Agro Defense Facility, a 574,000-square-foot complex near Kansas State University tasked with developing treatments for animal diseases that could pose threats to human health and the food supply. One-tenth of the space will be devoted to BSL-4 laboratories for handling fatal, air-transmissible pathogens that have no known cure.

Last year, BioShield was reauthorized by Congress (this time by a vote of 370-28) and is set to receive an additional $2.8 billion in unchecked funding. With that much money on the table and a welcoming regulatory environment, biodefense research seems bound to spread like, well, an infectious disease.

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Test site for germ warfare?

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Last October Democratic Senator Jim Sasser revealed that the U.S. Army plans to build a $1.4 million biological weapons test laboratory that will conduct secret research on “substantial volumes of toxic biological aerosol agents.” The news sparked protest among scientists who fear the facility will violate the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons. Harvard University microbiologist Richard Goldsterin spoke for many of his colleagues when he told Science, “In my mind, the opening of this facility substantially escalates the biological arms race.” The Defense

Department explained that the purpose of the research will be defensive, which is permissible under the treaty, and that the tests will be carried out under conditions of utmost safety.

The project was temporarily stalled when a lawsuit brought by a Washington-based research group forced the department to assess the need for an environmental impact report before construction could begin. In early February the Army concluded that no such report was needed. In the next few weeks the U.S. District Court in Washington will hear the case.


The new laboratory is the centerpiece of a $250 million modernization and expansion program at Dugway Proving Ground, a chemical and biological weapons research complex located eighty-seven miles from Salt Lake City. Dugway’s workload is expected to double by 1988, according to the Army, and 309 employees will be added to its payroll.

The proving ground’s history gives little reason to trust in the Defense Department’s characterization of the research to be conducted there. In the 1950s and 1960s, the University of Utah conducted sercet experiments under contract with Dugway, involving large-scale field testing of some of the most infectious and toxic biological warefare (B.W.) agents, including tuleremia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, plague and rickettsia (“Q-fever”). The tests are the only known outdoor dissemination of B.W. agents near populated areas. Because they were subject to Army censorship, it is unknown if full test results have ever been released.

The testing of chemical weapons at Dugway caused a furor when an accidental discharge of nerve gas killed thousands of livestock in 1968. Information about the field tests of B.W. agents came out in 1969, when William Lockhart, a professor of law at the University of Utah, obtained documents relating to them in the school’s research office.

According to the documents, which included the research contracts, correspondence and memorandums, the test were designed to track the spread of various disease-causing agents. The germs were transmitted by insects, and their course was charted by tabulating the location and number of wild animals infected. Animals were also infected in aerosol chambers. The Dugway experiments were intended to collect data on how B.W. agents behave outside the laboratory. The lack of such information had prevented their use on the battlefield.

The research contracts refer to “primary areas of biological agent release” and to animal testing “at appropriate distances downwind from such areas”–strongly suggesting open-air spraying. Lockhart says that the university probably became involved when Dugway requested its help to track the spread of disease-causing agents to areas outside the facility during earlier tests.

The Army was fully aware that the diseases might spread outside the test zones to populated areas. One contract states, “It will not be possible to prescribe safety parameters to preclude the spread of [diseases] to livestock or humans.” Another calls for analysis of “morbidity surveillance data regarding . . . geographical spread beyond focal areas and/or the Dugway Proving Ground geographic limits.” The data would be used to determine “the initiating . . . and spread of infection from wildlife to man or his domestic animals.” The researchers concluded, “The best control procedure is the passive one of doing nothing, other than surveillance, and allowing the [disease] to come to its own natural termination.”

Biophysicist Robert Sinsheimer, chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, called the tests irresponsible. “I don’t know of any other instance of this kind of experiment,” he said.

At the University of Utah, however, researchers regarded the tests as proper, according to an internal memorandum, because the diseases studied were endemic to Utah or nearby states. But as Sinsheimer points out, “If [a disease] is endemic and a problem, you don’t want to increase the problem.”

When the biological weapons tests were discovered in 1969, there was so much criticism that by 1971 the university decided to greatly restrict its secret research for the Army. But unlike the Dugway nerve gas incident, the revelations of B.W. tests drew little attention beyond the university, and the controversy was forgotten after President Nixon signed the biological weapons convention. Last year, however, opponents of the new Dugway lab revived it.

Whether secret outdoor tests of B.W. agents took place in other parts of the country is unknown. However, reports surfaced in the 1970s that the Army conducted outdoor tests in several large cities with “simulants”–relatively innocuous organisms that mimic the behavior of B.W. agents–during the 1950s and 1960s [see Leonard A. Cole, “The Army’s Secret Germ-War Testing,” The Nation, October 23, 1982]. Simulant tests are believed to have caused several illnesses and at least one death. In view of those tests and the ones at Dugway, the Army’s protestations that it is concerned about public safety and is testing only for defensive purposes must be regarded with considerable skepticism.

In its request to Congress for funding, the Army said the laboratory would be used “to evaluate biological defensive readiness and to test protective gear and detection/warning equipment by employing toxic microorganisms and biological toxins requiring a level of containment and safety not now available within the Department of Defense.”

But those claims have never been subjected to public scrutiny. Although appropriations for such a facility are normally debated by Congress, the Defense Department sidestepped that by burying the funding request in a routine application to transfer unspent funds from other Army projects. Such requests are typically rubber-stamped by the ranking Republican and Democrat on the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees’ Subcommittees on Military Construction. Senator Sasser had done so but then took the extraordinary step of withdrawing his assent. In a letter to subcommittee chair Mack Mattingly, Sasser complained that there was no statutory authority for the project and that it raised “important questions with regard to the potential capabilities for testing and production of offensive lethal biological and toxin weapons.” He concluded that the Army sought “to avoid the regular authorization and appropriation process of the Congress.”

At Mattingly’s urging, the subcommittee members voted to override Sasser’s objection. In a letter to Sasser, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said that the lab would not be used to develop offensive biological weapons and that the Defense Department did not intend to violate the 1972 B.W. convention. But even the military acknowledges that the difference between offensive and defensive B.W. research is a tenuous one. Many leading scientists question the need to test such agents for purely defensive purposes. Harvard University biochemist Matthew Meselson, one of the country’s foremost experts on chemical and biological warfare, says that simulants could provide more useful information than actual agents, without the risk.

Many scientists contend that truly defensive work can and should be done openly. They believe that the Defense Department’s acknowledgement that the lab will be used for secret work suggests that the department intends to develop offensive weapons. A further concern is the possible use of the lab to conduct experiments in recombinant DNA (gene-splicing), which molecular biologist and Nobel laureate David Baltimore says should be completely ruled out for the most toxic organisms. Gene-splicing could be used to refine existing biological agents to create, for example, greater potency or resistance to antibiotics [see Piller, “DNA–Key to Biological Warfare?” The Nation, December 10, 1983]. Although the Army says no gene-splicing research is projected at this time, neither has it been ruled out. Weinberger has defended the lab as essential to counter a perceived Soviet advantage in genetic engineering. In addition, the use of aerosol sprays in DNA experiments is opposed by most scientists. “Aerosols are the most dangerous vehicle for dissemination,” according to David Novick, a molecular biologist and former member of the Federal committee that oversees recombinant DNA work. He said that Federal guidelines on such research call for the absolute avoidance of aerosols because of the greater likelihood that some organisms would escape.

The Army claims that testing will be carried out under complete physical containment, but Novick says that is “a theoretical as well as practical impossibility.” Biological containment–genetic crippling of potentially dangerous organisms to make out-of-lab survival impossible–is required under gene-splicing guidelines, but it would be antithetical to the testing of biological warfare agents.

After the subcommittee approved funding for the lab, the Foundation on Economic Trends, headed by Jeremy Rifkin, an author and critic of genetic engineering, and Gene La Rocque, a retired Navy admiral and director of the Center for Defense Information, filed suit to bar construction. They charged that the Defense Department had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact report.

Rifkin points out that besides being so near a major metropolitan area, Dugway is the site of a conventional-weapons testing range. That raises the additional concern that dangerous microorganisms could be released should a projectile accidentally hit the lab. Rifkin believes his organization’s suit will force the Army to give up the idea of testing B.W. agents because the environmental safeguards required by law cannot be implemented.


But even if the suit is successful, research in biological and chemical agents is likely to continue, following a familiar pattern established by the Reagan Administration in other military areas. To a relentless drumbeat, Soviet strength is exaggerated while equivalent U.S. capabilities are minimized. Using that method, the Administration has in each of the past three years nearly succeeded in getting Congress to renew the manufacture of nerve gas, which was halted by President Nixon in 1969.

Now the military’s sights are on biological warfare. As “yellow rain,” the toxic substance allegedly used by the Russians or their allies in Indochina and Afghanistan, receded from the headlines, the Administration found a new enemy: Soviet genetic engineering. On at least a dozen separate occasions last year, during which funding for U.S. military biotechnology research mushroomed, the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency accused the Russians of using gene-splicing to create new biological weapons. In his letter to Senator Sasser, Weinberger wrote, “We continue to obtain new evidence that the Soviet Union has maintained its offensive biological warfare program and that it is exploring genetic engineering to expand their program’s scope.”

Representatives for the Defense Department admit the evidence falls far short of proof, but most information is classified. When I made a request under the Freedom of Information Act for material to verify the Administration’s claim about Soviet genetic engineering experiments, I received hundreds of pages from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the C.I.A. Nearly every reference to Soviet military work in genetic engineering had been censored.

Not that those agencies are opposed to selective leaks. Last year, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson and Wall Street Journal editorial writer William Kucewicz published stories based on classified information “proving” that the Russians were using genetic engineering for military purposes. Although considered unsubstantiated and one-sided by knowledgeable scientists, the articles gave the military’s scare campaign a major publicity boost.

More important than the verity of those articles is their relationship to repeated allegations–in support of the new lab and in connection with many previous projects–of violations of the B.W. convention by the Soviet Union. The Administration’s charges were publicly disputed by Paul Warnke, Gerard Smith and Herbert Scoville Jr., former arms control advisers to four Presidents. Even if true, the argued, the allegations should first be made to the Russians privately. The Administration’s talk of treaty violations without demonstrable proof arouses suspicion that its real motive is to frighten Congress into approving money for new weapons.

Speaking about yellow rain on public television’s Nova, Harvard biochemist Meselson said U.S. accusations could make verifiable agreements impossible, either because the negotiating atmosphere will be poisoned or because enough U.S. senators will be persuaded to scuttle ratification. “Treaties should be based . . . on verifiable provisions,” he said, “but these allegations have muddied the waters and hang as a miasma over the negotiation process.”

Given its unsavory history, the same miasma hangs over Dugway Proving Ground.

>>> View more: From ice-nine to ice-minus; regulating altered genes


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Search Results Where are students learning the most? A study of 610 universities suggests that smaller schools are best–and finds Canadian universities falling short of their U.S. peers

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It’s mid-January, a couple of weeks after the Christmas break, and Mark Woodcroft, a fourth-year biochemistry major at Trent University, is hanging out in the lab with professor even Rafferty, his research supervisor and chair of Trent’s chemistry department. Woodcroft is doing what many Canadian undergraduates never get a chance to do: an independent research project under faculty supervision.

So, a reporter asks, what’s your research project about? Woodcroft casts a sly smile at his profand then launches deadpan into an explanation of the “bioaccumulation of per-fluorinated carboxylic acids.” His audience predictably befuddled, Woodcroft stops mid-sentence. He and Rafferty chuckle in unison. It sounds like a well-rehearsed routine. Not something many 22-year-olds get to cook up with a professor.

In upper-year courses, the class size is small enough for a professor to know each student by name,” says Woodcroft. “I also know everyone in my program by name. I doubt many students at a larger school can say that.”

Personal contact with faculty members, a sense of community among undergrads, and classes that push students to their intellectual limits–these are all things that many undergraduate students desire. Research suggests that these also promote learning; in the language of the National Survey of Student Engagement, these and other aspects of student engagement are “correlates of quality.” And according to the NSSE Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice results appearing on the following pages (see pages 102 to 106), undergraduate educational quality at Canadian universities with only a few exceptions–is below that of American universities.


On the following pages, you will also find results from the Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium, or CUSC, a Canada-only survey that is much more tilted toward assessing student satisfaction. In 2007, CUSC surveyed first-year students at 32 universities. The answers to two key CUSC student satisfaction questions are featured on page 108. NSSE asked two student satisfaction questions as well; the results for those questions are also published here. You can find results for seven additional CUSC student satisfaction questions on our website, at macleans.ca/oncampus.

While undergraduate student satisfaction remains relatively high at Canadian institutions, the NSSE benchmark results suggest a different story: satisfied or not, many Canadian university campuses are not as engaging and may not be offering as good an educational experience as their American peers. And the problem is particularly pronounced at Canada’s large research universities–the schools educating the overwhelming majority of Canadian undergrads.

The American-based NSSE survey is a tool widely used by universities to analyze, benchmark and improve their institutional performance. Since 1999, the American-based NSSE (pronounced “Nessie”) has been conducting its survey on a growing number of campuses, and calculating its Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice for each participating school. Beginning in 2004, a growing number of Canadian universities began to take part in NSSE. The biggest push came from Bob Rae’s 2005 review of post secondary education in Ontario. Rae called on the province to establish measures for evaluating quality and publicly reporting on system performance. In his review, Rae asked, “How are we doing? How are others doing? Is there a jurisdiction that does it better?” His conclusion: “We simply don’t know enough about how we are doing or how others are doing.” To this end, Rae recommended that all Ontario universities participate in NSSE. All Ontario universities have done so over the past two years, and most universities in the rest of the country have joined them. Several of the 47 universities that Maclean’s surveys in its annual rankings of Canadian universities have never participated in NSSE; they include Bishop’s University, Cape Breton University, St. Francis Xavier University, Memorial University, Universite de Moncton and Universite de Sherbrooke.

Most universities on both sides of the border initially kept their NSSE and CUSC reports confidential or only released selected bits of information; it was only after Maclean’s, backed by the power of provincial access to information laws, began asking for NSSE and CUSC results that all Canadian universities went public.

On the following pages, you will find results for 41 Canadian institutions that participated in NSSE in 2005, 2006 or 2007. NSSE asks first-year and fourth-year undergraduates at participating schools nearly 100 questions about what they have been doing during their university careers. It is not a student satisfaction survey; it asks students to report on the mechanics of their classes, student habits and life at university. The questions–from how often they met outside of class with faculty members to how often they were involved in group work with other students–cover aspects of educational practice that have been shown to promote student engagement, which itself has been shown to promote more and better learning.

For example, faculty-supervised, independent research projects like the one undertaken by Woodcroft would have helped to boost a university’s Student-Faculty Interaction, Enriching Educational Experiences and Level of Academic Challenge benchmark scores.

What’s important to stress is that NSSE doesn’t directly measure learning outcomes. It measures engagement,” says Ken Norrie of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), which advises government on improving all aspects of post-secondary education, including quality, access and accountability. “If you believe in years of research that engagement is consistently highly correlated with learning outcomes, and we can measure engagement through something like the NSSE survey, then we have a proxy for learning outcomes that you can roughly associate with learning quality.”

So what do the NSSE benchmarks tell us about the undergraduate learning experience at Canadian universities? A good number of Canadian universities–mostly smaller, primarily undergraduate institutions, but including larger institutions such as Ryerson, Queen’s and McMaster–met or exceeded the 2007 NSSE Level of Academic Challenge benchmark average of the results from 610 mostly American universities. The academic challenge benchmark is made up of questions covering areas such as how much time students spent preparing for class, the number of textbooks assigned, number of written papers assigned, and coursework that emphasizes analyzing and synthesizing ideas.

A fair number of Canadian universities–again, mostly smaller institutions–also exceeded the NSSE benchmark for Supportive Campus Environment. The supportive campus environment benchmark focuses on whether the campus provides the support students need to succeed academically and thrive socially, and assesses the quality of students’ relationships with their peers, professors and the administration.

But on the remaining three benchmarks few Canadian universities met the American standard. A handful of small, primarily undergraduate schools, led by Mount Allison University and Acadia University, are among those that consistently exceeded their American peers. Interestingly, while the University of Western Ontario did not register above-average scores, two of Western’s affiliated colleges–Huron and Brescia–scored highly in all areas.

The Student-Faculty Interaction benchmark–where no Canadian university exceeded the NSSE first-year benchmark and only three surpassed the fourth-year average–focuses on the different ways that students interact with faculty members inside and outside of the classroom. Students are asked, for example, whether they have worked with a professor on activities outside of coursework, talked about career plans with a faculty member, received prompt feedback from faculty on their academic performance and worked with a faculty member on a research project.

The overwhelming majority of Canadian students attend large, research-focused universities. Can institutions of such size offer top-level undergraduate experiences, as defined by NSSE? Results from the University of Michigan, a giant public university that is also one of America’s leading research powerhouses, suggests that it is possible.

What is Michigan doing right in undergraduate education? Earlier this decade, Michigan was one of 20 American universities identified by NSSE as having outperformed on the NSSE benchmarks. A NSSE-commissioned study visited each of the outperforming campuses to find out what practices were leading to those high NSSE benchmark scores. For example, explaining Michigan’s success on the Student-Faculty Interaction benchmark, the study cited Michigan’s small classes and research opportunities in first year; programs that encourage students and faculty to eat meals together; mentorship programs; extensive email contact between students and faculty; and professors’ offices that are located in residences. On the Level of Academic Challenge bench mark, the study pointed to a commitment to excellence that permeates the entire Michigan campus: faculty resistance to grade inflation, introductory courses designed to challenge students’ ability to problem solve, and small classes that encourage active learning and challenge students to develop critical thinking and independence in carrying out research projects.

NSSE director Alex McCormick says while universities can use NSSE to improve, “these are things that take some intentional effort to move the needle on. It’s not quite as simple as stepping on the accelerator in your car.” And while he believes that universities can learn a lot about best practices from one another, he cautions that it’s not always easy to make direct comparisons. Schools that enrol a large number of adults or commuters, for example, are likely to have lower scores because students have less time to spend on campus and, as a result, tend to be less engaged than traditional undergrads living on campus. Yet the same school’s more traditional undergraduate population may be just as engaged as undergrads at other campuses. “There is a robust body of evidence that shows that the vast majority of the variation in individual student scores is within institutions, not between institutions,” says McCormick. “So if you look at all the individual students that are surveyed and look at variation in their responses to the NSSE items, about 90 per cent of that variation occurs within institutions and only about 10 per cent is between institutions.” As a result, says McCormick, “distilling it down to a number or set of numbers for an institution” may mask variations among departments or faculties at the same university. McCormick says that NSSE needs to find ways “to help institutional leaders look more deeply into variations within their walls.” In other words, the really interesting story may be one like that of the benchmark scores from Western’s affiliate colleges, which are above those of Western itself.

Norrie of Ontario’s HEQCO sees a similar promise in NSSE. Canadian universities are mostly still in the early stages of drilling down to examine variations among faculties, departments, courses and even gender and ethnic background. But Norrie says he regularly hears from university administrators who have hit on revealing findings. “When you start doing variations in NSSE results across faculties or departments, and you find some interesting variations, you say, ‘Okay, what’s going on?‘” says Norrie. “And that gets you into a conversation about what explains the variation and the different ways of teaching and learning.”

Phil Wood, associate vice-president of student affairs at McMaster University, has established his own mini-benchmark from a set of 16 NSSE questions that zero in on an area of particular interest to him: student growth and development. Because Wood oversees student services, he’s interested in figuring out things like: is it beneficial for a student to live in residence? Do students living in residence report higher NSSE engagement scores and higher scores on his mini-benchmark?

In 2005, the University of Toronto–an institution that is in many ways similar to the University of Michigan in terms of its vast size and the quality and breadth of the graduate and research programs it offers-hired American Tony Chambers to fill a newly created position, associate vice-provost of students. Having worked at post-secondary institutions in both countries, Chambers is often called upon to discuss the uses, and limits, of NSSE, particularly in the Canadian context.

“The systems are considerably and extremely

nuanced, and I think for us to compare what happens in the States to what happens in Canada is sort of a worthless analysis, to be quite honest,” says Chambers. “It gives us a sense of what institutions are doing, for sure, where we can make some decisions at an institutional level, but in terms of systems of education, I don’t think the analysis is worth a whole lot, quite honestly.”

Chambers says that some NSSE questions use terms not in wide currency in Canada, or terms that some students may interpret differently than their American peers. This could affect the answers offered by Canadians.

Despite its limitations, NSSE is proving to be a valuable diagnostic tool for Canadian universities. Back at Trent, president Bonnie Patterson says NSSE has helped to validate what she and her colleagues already knew: that Trent is a smaller, tighter-knit campus, where students experience a good number of small classes, with professors who will probably know them by their first name, and opportunities to do research or independent study with a faculty member.

For Patterson, NSSE’s added value is that it offers comparisons among institutions, and highlights areas needing improvement. Partly in response to its findings, Patterson says that Trent has channelled resources into five key areas, including library resources and technology in the classroom. “There is always a much longer list of what you can’t do than the list of what you can do,” she says. “Would I have loved to put money into hiring another 15 or 20 faculty members? You bet. You have to find the balance of what makes you successful in student opinion and in satisfaction and what makes you successful in learning outcomes, but at the same time trying to be responsive to them almost from a consumer perspective.”

All Canadian universities struggle with trade-offs: whether to hire more professors or build an athletic complex; upgrade labs, fund new research or offer more undergrad course selection. Like Patterson, university administrators say that surveys such as NSSE and CUSC have helped in that process. “It validates, it informs, it gives us a better insight into the detail of issues,” says Patterson. “Rather than our own serendipitous, ad hoc examples or anecdotes, it gives you large opinion pieces that we didn’t have before we got into these surveys.”


Want to see more student survey results? For additional questions from the CUSC survey of university students, as well as data from past NSSE and CUSC surveys, please visit macleans.ca/oncampus and click on “Rankings.” You can also find college student surveys, covering the opinions of more than 150,000 students at 45 Canadian colleges. Visit macleans.ca/oncampus and click on “Colleges.”



The following pages contain the results from two major student surveys: the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium (CUSC). The NSSE and CUSC surveys, which were commissioned by the universities, ask more than 150 questions about specific aspects of the undergraduate experience–inside the classroom and beyond–designed to provide universities with data to help them assess programs and services.

The U.S.-based NSSE began in 1999 and is distributed to first- and senior-year students. NSSE is not primarily a student satisfaction survey, but is rather a study of best-educational practices, and an assessment of the degree to which each university follows those best practices. In 2004, 11 Canadian universities participated for the first time in NSSE, with 14,267 students completing the survey. By 2006, that number had grown to approximately 60,000 students at 31 Canadian institutions. Seventeen universities or their affiliates participated in the 2007 NSSE, representing roughly 14,000 students–fewer than in 2006 because most institutions conduct the NSSE survey every two years.

The NSSE results are headlined by the Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice, created by NSSE to compare performance across all universities–American and Canadian–in five key areas: Level of Academic Challenge, Student-Faculty Interaction, Active and Collaborative Learning, Enriching Educational Experience, and Supportive Campus Environment. Each school’s benchmark result was calculated by NSSE, based on student responses to a variety of questions. NSSE also asked two important student satisfaction questions; school-by-school results appear on the following pages.

CUSC was created in 1994; it is a Canada-only survey, and unlike NSSE, it is in large part a student satisfaction survey. In 2007, 32 universities took part, including two institutions–UBC and the University of New Brunswick–that surveyed multiple campuses. Surveys were sent to a random sample of approximately 1,000 first-year undergrads at each university. Institutions with fewer than 1,000 first-years surveyed the entire cohort. More than 12,700 students responded.

Two CUSC student satisfaction questions are featured in this issue of the magazine. For the results of seven other CUSC satisfaction questions, visit macleans.ca/oncampus.


The charts on the accompanying pages list 41 universities, including affiliates, that participated in recent NSSE surveys, as well as 31 university campuses surveyed for the 2007 CUSC. In each chart, universities are listed in descending order. When displaying NSSE benchmark results, universities are ordered according to their senior-year benchmark scores; for student satisfaction questions, order was determined by the percentage of survey participants who chose the highest level of satisfaction, for example, “excellent.”

The NSSE and CUSC surveys include more than 150 questions; we have published those–the five key NSSE benchmarks, plus two satisfaction questions each from NSSE and CUSC–that are the most broad and summative of student experience. NSSE charts include universities taking part in the 2006 or 2007 survey–or both–as well as one institution (Regina) that last conducted the survey in 2005. In each case, we display results from the most recent survey year. No data from first-year students are displayed for Royal Roads University as this institution does not offer first-year courses. No data from senior-year students is included for the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. UOIT took part in the 2006 NSSE, and this relatively new institution (founded in 2003) did not at that time have a senior-year class. Data displayed for the University of Western Ontario does not include results from the three Western affiliates, each of which conducted its own survey.

For a listing of additional CUSC results, as well as data from past NSSE, CUSC and Maclean’s surveys, please visit macleans.ca/oncampus and click on “Rankings.”


Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice

The NSSE survey asks undergrads nearly 100 questions to assess how
engaged they are with their schools, their professors and their peers.
Student engagement has been shown to be highly correlated with learning.
The benchmarks compare engagement at all universities--American and
Canadian--in five key areas. Level of Academic Challenge assesses
the intellectual demands on students, measuring such things as the
number of assigned readings and written reports, as well as
coursework that emphasizes judgment and transforming information
into more complex interpretations. Student-Faculty Interaction
gauges professors as mentors, measuring how often students meet
with faculty to discuss career plans or ideas, or work with them on
research projects or other activities outside of class.

Level of Academic Challenge

                                 BENCHMARK SCORE
                     Senior-year result   First-year result

Mount Allison               49.6                60.9
Royal Roads                 n/a                 60.1
Trent                       51.8                59.4
Huron (Western)             50                  59
St. Thomas                  51.8                58.4
Acadia                      51.4                57.4
Brock                       50                  57.2
UNBC                        47                  56.9
Brescia (Western)           50.6                56.7
Laurentian                  50.7                56.7
Ryerson                     52.1                56.5
McMaster                    52.4                56.5
Lakehead                    50.9                55.9
UNB (Saint John)            48.1                55.9
Queen's                     53.4                55.9
OCAD                        49.1                55.8
UPEI                        47.2                55.7
Wilfrid Laurier             52                  55.6
NSSE2007 *                  51.6                55.5
Victoria                    49.6                55.4
Guelph                      48.2                55.4
King's (Western)            50                  55
York                        49.7                54.9
Dalhousie                   48.8                54.8
Ottawa                      48.6                54.5
Waterloo                    52.6                54.5
McGill                      51                  54.2
Toronto                     50.1                54.2
Concordia                   49                  54
UNB (Fredericton)           48.6                53.7
Saskatchewan                47.4                53.6
Western                     48.8                53.6
Laval                       49.9                53.5
Windsor                     46.8                53.5
Calgary                     48.5                52.9
UBC                         49.9                52.8
Lethbridge                  45.7                52.6
Alberta                     49.3                52
Regina                      45.7                51.1

Note: UOIT first-year score was 54.2.

* NSSE 2007 represents results from 610 Canadian and American

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Student-Faculty Interaction

                                   BENCHMARK SCORE
                     Senior-year result   First-year result

Mount Allison               23.6                49.6
Huron (Western)             27                  43
Acadia                      30.1                42.6
NSSE 2007 *                 32.5                40.9
OCAD                        28.7                39.9
UPEI                        24.8                38.8
St. Thomas                  26.8                37.9
Brescia (Western)           27.2                37.8
UNBC                        25.2                37.6
Brock                       22.3                37.3
Lethbridge                  22.4                37.1
Trent                       24.4                36.5
King's (Western)            26                  36
Nipissing                   26.7                36
Laurentian                  23.2                35.3
UNB (Fredericton)           25.5                33.9
Ryerson                     25.1                33.3
Dalhousie                   23,4                32.8
Guelp                       18.9                32.8
Queen's                     21.8                32.6
Wilffid Laurier             22.7                32.5
Saskatchewan                20.4                32
McMaster                    23.1                31.8
Windsor                     22.1                31,4
Western                     22.5                31.1
Calgary                     20.6                30.9
Royal Roads                 n/a                 30.9
Concordia                   21.7                30.8
Lakehead                    24.2                30.7
Victoria                    21.8                30.7
Carleton                    23.1                30.2
McGill                      20.1                30.2
Regina                      21.8                29.8
York                        22.4                29.8
Toronto                     19.4                29.1
Alberta                     20.4                29
Laval                       18.9                28.9
Waterloo                    21.1                28.6
UBC                         20                  27.4
Ottawa                      18.6                27.2

Note: UOIT first-year score was 27.7. UOIT did not have a
senior-year class in 2006. Royal Roads does not have
first-year classes. See "Reading the Charts," page 101.

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Listed below and previous and following pages are results for 40
Canadian universities or affiliates that took part in NSEE in 2006
or 2007, as well as one (Regina) whose students completed the survey
in 2005. In all cases, results for the most recent survey year are
displayed. Active and Collaborative Learning assesses involvement and
teamwork, measuring how often students work with classmates, make class
presentations, or participate in community-based projects. Enriching
Educational Experience recognizes that diversity and complementary
learning opportunities enhance academic programs. This includes
internships and co-ops, community service, study abroad, as well as a
campus environment that promotes contact among students from different

Active and Collaborative Learning

                                    BENCHMARK SCORE
                       Senior-year results:   First-year results:

Royal Roads                    n/a                    53.9
Brescia (Western)              36.6                   52.5
Brock                          35.9                   52.5
Mount Allison                  32.4                   51.4
Acadia                         40.5                   51.3
Ryerson                        40                     51.2
OCAE                           43.6                   50.6
NSSE 2007 *                    41                     49.9
UNB (Saint John)               36.1                   49.4
Lethbridge                     31.8                   49.1
UPEI                           36                     49.1
UNBC                           35.9                   48.6
Trent                          35.4                   48.3
Huron (Western)                35                     48
UNB (Fredericton)              35.2                   46.8
St. Thomas                     36.1                   46.7
Wilfrid Laurier                37.7                   46.6
Nipissing                      38.3                   46.2
Guelph                         34.1                   45.3
Lakehead                       38.5                   45.2
McMaster                       38.6                   44.9
Regina                         32.6                   44.6
Laval                          37.9                   44.4
King's (Western)               34                     44
Calgary                        35.7                   43.7
York                           34.5                   43.7
Queen's                        36.1                   43.6
Laurentian                     31.1                   43.5
Saskatchewan                   31.3                   43.3
Concordia                      34.8                   43.2
Dalhousie                      35.1                   42.9
Carleton                       35.2                   42.8
Victoria                       32.5                   42.8
Windsor                        32.1                   42.6
Alberta                        33.7                   42.1
Ottawa                         30.8                   41.4
McGill                         34.6                   41.2
Western                        32.3                   40.5
UBC                            34.2                   39.7
Waterloo                       33.7                   38.9
Toronto                        29.7                   35.6

Note: UOIT first-year score was 41.5.

* NSSE 2007 represents results from 610 Canadian and American

Enriching Educational Experience

                                  BENCHMARK SCORE
                       Senior-year results:   First-year results:

Mount Allison                  27.3                   41.1
Acadia                         28.1                   40.6
NSSE 2007 *                    26.9                   39.7
Huron (Western)                27                     39
Queen's                        27.5                   38.9
Waterloo                       26.8                   37.4
Guelph                         24.7                   36.9
Brescia (Western)              27.2                   36.7
McGill                         26.8                   36.7
McMaster                       25.6                   36.1
Brock                          23.3                   35.8
Ryerson                        25.3                   35.6
Trent                          26.2                   34.8
UNB (Fredericton)              22.9                   34.4
Calgary                        24.1                   34.3
Laurentian                     22.6                   34.3
Wilfrid Laurier                25.4                   34.1
UBC                            25.3                   33.9
Alberta                        25                     33.7
UNB (Saint John)               24.5                   33.7
Lethbridge                     21.2                   33.6
Dalhousie                      23.3                   33.2
Western                        26.3                   33.2
OCAD                           23.7                   32.9
Carleton                       24.3                   32.7
Victoria                       24.1                   32.7
UNBC                           25.7                   32.6
Ottawa                         22.8                   32.6
Regina                         20.6                   32.6
Windsor                        22.9                   32.3
King's (Western)               24                     32
St. Thomas                     24.2                   31.9
Lakehead                       24                     31.6
Laval                          21.2                   31.6
UPEI                           22.4                   31.3
Toronto                        22.9                   31.2
Royal Roads                    n/a                    31.2
York                           23.2                   30.4
Saskatchewan                   20.2                   30.3
Concordia                      22.8                   30
Nipissing                      24.6                   29

Note: UOIT first-year score was 26.8. UOIT did not have a senior-year
class in 2006.

Royal Roads does not have first-year classes. See "Reading the
Charts," page 101.


Benchmarks of Effective
Educational Practice

The Supportive Campus Environment benchmark recognizes that
students perform better at schools that support academic and
non-academic endeavours, and that cultivate positive relationships
among students, faculty and staff. Surprisingly, scores at
many schools decline between first and fourth year.

Supportive Campus Environment

                                    BENCHMARK SCORE
                       Senior-year results:   First-year results:

Huron (Western)                56                     64
Brescia (Western)              59.6                   63.5
Mount Allison                  59.3                   62.7
Acadia                         63.3                   60.4
Royal Roads                    n/a                    60.1
UPEI                           58.2                   59.9
Nipissing                      63.5                   59.8
King's (Western)               57                     59
St. Thomas                     58                     57.9
UNB (Saint John)               55.3                   57.4
Brock                          56.3                   57.3
Guelph                         60.6                   56.9
Trent                          59.3                   56.8
NSSE 2007 *                    59.6                   56.7
Queen's                        60.7                   55.8
Wilfrid Laurier                59.8                   55.3
UNBC                           56.2                   54.7
Lethbridge                     53.9                   53.5
McMaster                       58.3                   53.4
Laurentian                     55.9                   52.9
Victoria                       56                     52.8
Western                        58.6                   52.5
UNB (Fredericton)              53.9                   51.8
Windsor                        51.7                   51.8
Concordia                      52.5                   51.5
Regina                         51.8                   51.5
Saskatchewan                   51.8                   51
Lakehead                       56.2                   50.8
Ryerson                        55.6                   50.3
Carleton                       56.5                   50.2
Waterloo                       57.5                   49.5
Dalhousie                      50.9                   49.1
Alberta                        53.4                   48.6
Calgary                        51.2                   47.4
OCAD                           54.1                   46.4
McGill                         50.9                   45.6
Ottawa                         49.4                   45.3
UBC                            50.8                   44.9
Toronto                        51.6                   44.8

Note: UOIT first-year score was 59.8. UOIT did not have a senior-year
class in 2006.

Royal Roads does not have first-year c asses See "Reading the Charts,"
page 101.

* NSSE 2007 represents results from 610 Canadian and American


Student Satisfaction Results

The CUSC survey is an annual study with a focus on student
satisfaction. The 2007 survey, whose results are featured below,
canvassed first-year students for their opinions. Participating
universities sent an extensive questionnaire to a random sampling of up
to 1,000 students, asking questions about everything from academics to
support services. In 2007, nearly 13,000 students responded.

Generally, I am satisfied with the quality of teaching I have received.

                      Agree (%)   Agree (%)

Nipissing                33          60
Trent                    33          62
Wilfrid Laurier          30          63
Brandon                  29          64
UOIT                     29          57
Winnipeg                 29          60
Carleton                 26          64
Lethbridge               26          66
Ryerson                  26          62
Fraser Valley            25          67
Mount Saint Vincent      24          60
UNB (Fredericton)        24          66
McMaster                 23          65
Saskatchewan             23          65
Concordia                22          63
UNB (Saint John)         22          69
Saint Mary's             22          67
Montreal                 21          67
UNBC                     21          70
UBC (Okanagan)           19          69
Brock                    19          72
Victoria                 19          70
Dalhousie                17          70
Regina                   17          72
Alberta                  15          70
Ottawa                   15          72
Simon Fraser             15          71
Manitoba                 14          71
Windsor                  14          69
UBC (Vancouver)          13          68
Calgary                  13          71

I am satisfied with my decision to
attend this university.

                      Agree (%)   Agree (%)

Nipissing                54          38
Trent                    51          40
Wilfrid Laurier          51          42
McMaster                 48          45
Mount Saint Vincent      48          42
Winnipeg                 46          48
Saskatchewan             45          47
UOIT                     44          46
Victoria                 42          49
Carleton                 41          50
UNB (Fredericton)        41          50
Lethbridge               40          54
Montreal                 40          50
Ryerson                  40          52
Saint Mary's             40          50
Brandon                  39          56
Brock                    38          53
Concordia                36          58
Alberta                  35          57
Dalhousie                34          54
UNBC                     34          58
Regina                   34          61
Fraser Valley            33          59
UNB (Saint John)         32          58
Simon Fraser             31          59
UBC (Vancouver)          30          60
Ottawa                   30          61
UBC (Okanagan)           28          67
Calgary                  25          64
Windsor                  22          63
Manitoba                 20          71

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Student Satisfaction Results

The NSSE survey is not primarily a student satisfaction survey. The
main purpose of NSSE is to assess what students are doing--as shown
in the benchmark tables on pages 102 to 106--not to ask for their
opinion. However, NSSE includes some satisfaction questions, including
one asking students to evaluate their educational experience. Most
institutions' scores declined from first to fourth year.

How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at this


                   Excellent (%)   Good (%)

Queen's                 53            38
Western                 47            41
Nipissing               45            45
Guelph                  43            47
Mount Allison           43            45
Waterloo                41            44
Wilfrid Laurier         40            49
Acadia                  39            49
UOIT                    39            46
St Thomas               38            51
McMaster                37            48
King's (Western)        36            49
NSSE 2007 *             34            52
McGill                  33            48
Huron (Western)         32            49
Trent                   31            51
Victoria                31            55
Lakehead                29            52
OCAD                    29            45
Alberta                 28            53
Brock                   28            53
Carleton                28            53
Laval                   27            57
Lethbridge              27            57
Ryerson                 27            52
UPEI                    26            57
Laurentian              25            54
Brescia (Western)       24            66
UBC                     24            50
Dalhousie               23            54
UNB (Fredericton)       23            57
UNBC                    23            59
Saskatchewan            23            60
Toronto                 22            48
York                    20            55
Concordia               19            58
Ottawa                  19            59
UNB (Saint John)        18            58
Calgary                 17            58
Regina                  16            64
Windsor                 16            55


                   Excellent (%)   Good (%)

Huron (Western)         63            29
Brescia (Western)       57            32
Mount Allison           53            40
King's (Western)        51            41
Guelph                  43            46
Trent                   43            43
UPEI                    41            50
Queen's                 41            45
St. Thomas              41            49
Acadia                  40            50
Western                 38            47
Brock                   37            40
UNBC                    37            47
Nipissing               36            53
Waterloo                36            47
Wilfrid Laurier         36            52
NSSE 2007 *             34            49
McMaster                34            47
Lethbridge              32            52
Victoria                29            57
McGill                  26            52
Royal Roads             26            49
Ryerson                 24            51
Alberta                 23            56
Windsor                 23            53
Carleton                22            57
UNB (Fredericton)       22            56
Concordia               21            55
UNB (Saint John)        21            56
Saskatchewan            21            60
Toronto                 21            48
Dalhousie               20            55
Lakehead                20            52
Laurentian              20            53
Laval                   20            59
Regina                  20            58
UBC                     18            53
OCAD                    18            59
York                    18            53
Calgary                 14            53
Ottawa                  11            55

* NSSE 2007 benchmark reflects the overall result for 610 Canadian and
American universities.

Note: UOIT did not have a senior-year class in 2006. Royal Roads does
not have first-year classes. See "Reading the Charts," page 101.

Note: Table made from bar graph.


Student Satisfaction Results

NSSE is primarily an objective look at life and learning on campus, but
it also asks students to answer a few satisfaction questions. In
general, senior students are more critical when evaluating their
university experience. While the majority of students would choose to
return to their alma mater, the number drops--in some cases
sharply--for students in their final year as compared to freshmen.

If you could start over, would you go to the institution you are now


                    Definitely   Probably
                     Yes (%)     Yes (%)

Queen's                 60          31
Western                 60          30
Guelph                  54          35
Nipissing               54          35
Mount Allison           53          33
Waterloo                53          36
Wilfrid Laurier         53          36
McGill                  52          37
Laval                   50          42
St. Thomas              49          37
OCAD                    46          45
Huron (Western)         45          39
King's (Western)        45          39
McMaster                45          43
UOIT                    45          40
Victoria                45          43
Acadia                  43          45
UBC                     43          43
NSSE 2007 *             43          41
Alberta                 42          46
Trent                   42          41
Ryerson                 41          44
Laurentian              40          43
Saskatchewan            40          49
Carleton                39          46
Lakehead                39          41
Brock                   38          45
Lethbridge              38          49
UPEI                    38          46
Brescia (Western)       37          44
Concordia               37          48
UNB (Fredericton)       37          45
Dalhousie               34          45
Toronto                 34          43
UNBC                    33          54
York                    32          51
Ottawa                  30          50
Regina                  29          57
UNB (Saint John)        27          50
Calgary                 26          54
Windsor                 26          49


                    Definitely   Probably
                     Yes (%)     Yes (%)

Huron (Western)         63          23
King's (Western)        56          34
Brescia (Western)       53          32
Guelph                  51          34
Mount Allison           51          34
Royal Roads             51          35
St. Thomas              50          37
Acadia                  46          38
UPEI                    46          41
Wilfrid Laurier         46          36
Brock                   45          38
Queens                  45          38
Western                 45          38
McGill                  44          38
Trent                   44          36
Waterloo                44          37
Nipissing               43          41
UNBC                    43          43
NSSE 2007 *             42          39
McMaster                41          39
Victoria                39          47
Laval                   38          47
Lethbridge              36          45
Alberta                 34          50
Saskatchewan            34          49
Concordia               33          48
OCAD                    33          50
Ryerson                 33          44
UBC                     32          45
Carleton                30          46
Laurentian              30          42
Regina                  29          49
Toronto                 29          39
Lakehead                28          44
Windsor                 28          45
UNB (Fredericton)       26          46
UNB (Saint John)        26          47
York                    24          45
Dalhousie               21          49
Ottawa                  19          47
Calgary                 16          50

* NSSE 2007 benchmark reflects the overall result for 610 Canadian and
American universities.

Note: UOIT did not have a senior-year class in 2006. Royal Roads does
not have first-year classes. See "Reading the Charts," page 101.

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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RAK: personalizing life sciences

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In all the world’s nations, irrespective of culture, class, or religion, life is undoubtedly a person’s most important asset. Every benevolent ruler therefore makes his people’s well-being a personal crusade, for without healthy citizens, a country’s development, economy, and society cannot progress. In Ras Al Khaimah, two brand new projects embody Sheikh Saud’s mission to invest in human capital and foster an environment of world-class healthcare in his emirate. In addition to his deputy rulership, the Crown Prince has taken upon himself the position of chancellor of the Ras Al-khaimah Medical and Health Sciences University (RAKMHSU). The university was established in 2006 by the Ras Al Khaimah Human Development Foundation (RAK–HDF) to enrich the emirate’s healthcare provision capacities. In four bachelor courses at the colleges of Medical Sciences and Surgery, Dental Sciences, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Nursing, the student community is being prepared to join the medical and health sciences field of the 21st century at international standards. “Sustainable development doesn’t solely depend on building factories and high- rise buildings, but should take into account the most important element of developing the human potential,” the Crown Prince reiterated at the 2007 RAK MED conference and exhibition.


A new era in health care has also been inaugurated with the public-private RAK Hospital. In addition to providing top-notch medical service to local citizens, RAK Hospital equally extends its concept of premium healthcare with premium hospitality to visitors from abroad, opening up the emirate to health tourism. “RAK Hospital will be the cornerstone of our mission to position Ras Al Khaimah as a preeminent destination for quality healthcare in the region. The venture, seeking to redefine excellence in medical care, is in line with our broad vision to improve the quality of health care, and ultimately, the health status of our people,” explains the Crown Prince.

The $27 million RAK Hospital is a collaboration between the government of Ras AI Khaimah and Dubai-based ETA-ASCON Group. Raza Siddiqui, the group’s CEO, explains that the hospital offers 95 percent of all available healthcare services, from paediatrics to plastic and reconstructive surgery, all within an elevated level of hospitality. The private establishment has already impressed local guests since its start of service earlier this year. “In a period of about two months, we have delivered 60 babies and seen more than 2,500 to 3,000 patients. So it is doing a good service to the people of Ras Al Khaimah,” says Siddiqui.

The ultramodern RAK Hospital is managed by Sonnenh of Swiss Health. Its services are awarded the “Swiss Leading Hospitals” accreditation that applies more than 120 separate criteria in the areas of quality management, physicians’ accreditation, medical care, nursing, hotel-like facilities, and administration. This accreditation pledges to make patients feel secure in all respects to ensure a quicker recovery period. It is fully aligned with Raza Siddiqui’s philosophy of creating a healing environment rather than a mere healthcare facility. “In life, the most important thing is the desire to live. If a person is sick, he should have the desire to get well. We are not talking about illness but wellness.”

Ras Al Khaimah is by no means new to medical excellence. The emirate has pursued life sciences through the Sheikh Saqr Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi-instated pharmaceutical company Julphar since 1980. In less than a decade, Julphar became a globally recognized name, and today is comprised of seven state-of-the-art manufacturing plants, five of which are located in UAE, with one each in Ecuador and Germany. At present Julphar markets its diversified products in more than 40 countries, and has embarked on an aggressive expansion of its plants in seven more countries during the next three years.


Julphar’s CEO, Abdul Razzaq Yousef, points out that the company has had two straight decades of growth, continuously booking 20 to 30 percent shareholder’s equity, and 2007 revenue of $200 million. The new plants and distribution partners in those countries will increase their upward lift even more, bolstered by a new chain of 2,000 Planet Pharmacies throughout the region. “If we look at the Middle East and Africa region, there is a need for medications, a big need to supply to the whole of the population,” says Yousef, adding that the region is its primary target for expansion.

We have also obtained approval from the Federal Drug Administration to sell our products in the USA, where we are exporting a few medicines.” The success of Julphar exemplifies that RAK is an authority not only in health care, but equally in diversified industrial activity. “For many Americans and Europeans, the Arab countries only have camels, oil, desert, and tents,” says Yousef. “We are not only that; we want to show that we have sophisticated industries with technology, and that needs to be respected.”

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