He draws the lines

Max Stiebel (right), of the Instructional Communications Centre, had no shortage of subjects to caricature during the annual meeting of the Association canadienne-française pour l'avancement des sciences. Between four and five thousand delegates were on campus last week for the annual meeting of French-speaking scholars. McGill registrar J.P. Schuller (left) seemed to enjoy the experience.

Convocation controversies

It's convocation time for universities throughout Canada. A platoon of honorary degree recipients will be feted on campuses from coast to coast. But in at least two cases, the honorary degree recipients selected by universities met with heavy criticism.

Protesters demonstrated at the University of Regina last month when that school awarded a degree to Qiao Shi, chair of the National Congress of China and the former head of China's secret police. The ceremony was intended to mark the University of Regina's extensive academic ties with China, but philosophy professor Béla Szabados argued in the Globe and Mail that the degree shouldn't have been offered. "To honour him not only dishonours the victims of the regime he is associated with, but encourages that regime's further abuse of human rights."

The University of Alberta's decision to grant an honorary degree to premier Ralph Klein (pictured) also came under fire as faculty and student leaders painted the cost-cutting Klein as anything but a friend of higher education. In an interview with the student newspaper the Gateway, Rick Szostak, president of the academic staff association, said, "We received a number of letters and phone calls from members, all of whom protested the degree."

Klein turned down the degree in the end, stating that while he was "deeply touched" to be selected, he wanted to avoid "bringing further controversy" to the university. "Some people don't like the government's approach to making universities in Alberta better places to learn," added Klein.

Other notable honorary degree recipients this spring include McGill emeritus professor of English Louis Dudek (Lakehead), novelists Carol Shields (Queen's) and Timothy Findley (Memorial), former Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey (Trent), Bank of Montreal president Matthew Barrett (University of New Brunswick) and Michel Chrétien, the ninth most cited Canadian scientist in the world over the last decade (Laurentian).

Was it good for you?

You shared a wonderful candlelit dinner. You both have that knowing look in your eyes. You retire to the bedroom. Your lovemaking accelerates. You reach the crucial moment and you feel--well, what exactly do you feel at that point? Kenneth Mah, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology, really wants to know.

Mah is doing a PhD dissertation on orgasms. As Mah explains it on a Web site set up to support his work, "A lot of mystique, as well as mystery, still surrounds the experience of human orgasm, despite research and other efforts to understand it." So far 1,100 subjects have filled out a questionnaire for Mah. He offers participants 60 adjectives to choose from in describing their orgasms--among them, "pulsating," "erupting," "quivering" and "rapturous."

Mah says his line of research makes him popular at cocktail parties. "People are surprised at first. Then they want to know more." Anyone interested in taking part in the study can send him e-mail at kenneth@ego.psych.mcgill.ca.

According to Mah, the most popular descriptions of orgasms for both men and women to date are "powerful," "intense" and "pleasurable." Respondents also indicate that sex with a partner beats masturbation. . .um, hands down.

Students who really dig their course

The way John Shreiber sees it, architecture students need to get a little dirt under their fingernails. So he's teaching a course this semester that requires them to do just that.

Shreiber's students are constructing a pair of small gardens that border either side of the School of Architecture's main entrance. A former longtime architecture professor and a landscape architect, Shreiber says the "relationship between outdoor space and buildings tends to be overlooked by architects today."

One garden will feature 12 trees of different species--each representing a member of the school's current full-time teaching staff. The trees will be selected by the teachers themselves. The garden will also include a time capsule consisting of items picked out by Shreiber's students to capture the essence of 1996.

The other garden--located under the pathway leading to the campus entrance to the Frank Dawson Adams Building--will include seating close to a snack bar. The gardens are being created in part to mark the School of Architecture's 100th anniversary.