UTSU VP Equity Farah Noori resigns

Position staying vacant until incoming VP Equity takes office

UTSU VP Equity Farah Noori resigns

The UTSU has announced the resignation of Farah Noori, who served as the union’s Vice-President Equity.

According to a statement from UTSU President Jasmine Denike, which was released on March 31, Noori informed the board of directors on March 26 of her intention to resign.

We have chosen not to publicize the reasons behind her resignation. We ask that all members of the U of T community be respectful of Farah and her privacy,” the statement reads.

Denike thanked Noori for her work and highlighted her efforts in organizing eXpression Against Oppression Week, consultations for the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment on Campus, events for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the UTSU Accessibility Fund.

It is unclear why the statement states that the Board of Directors approved Noori’s resignation on March 31, a date that has not happened yet. Noori declined to divulge her reasons for her resignation, citing personal reasons.

In November 2016, Lucinda Qu also resigned from her role as Vice-President External.

Noori was elected in last year’s spring elections with the Hello UofT slate. The position will remain vacant until Chimwemwe Alao, the incoming Vice-President Equity, takes office in May 2017, pending board approval of the election results.

U of T joins national effort to decolonize education

New principles to narrow education gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students

U of T joins national effort to decolonize education

In light of Canada’s past and present colonization of Aboriginal peoples, the University of Toronto will join 96 other Canadian universities in a comprehensive national reconciliation plan. “The Principles on Indigenous Education” aim to help decolonize education and reduce the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students by rewriting curricula to include Aboriginal history, knowledge, values, and culture. It also aims to increase opportunities and resources for Indigenous students, including the promotion of engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Lee Maracle, an Elder-in-Residence and Traditional Leader at U of T’s First Nations House, stresses the importance of conciliation and reconciliation. “I think that without those discussions, there isn’t going to be a good relationship inside Canada,” she said.

Maracle explained that the initiative should extend beyond mere Aboriginal involvement to involving Aboriginal leadership, which she says is crucial during the decision-making and implementation processes of the plan. “In general, Canada has to reconcile with us… I think by reconciling with us, what I mean by that, is that it’s up to us to determine the conditions of reconciliation… the persons hurt would have to be in the driver’s seat.”

Institutional change

The mandates within Universities Canada’s announcement included a dedication to increasing the rate of Aboriginal graduates by working with elementary and secondary schools as well as an effort to encourage other institutions to improve their relationship with Aboriginal Canadians by forming private-sector partnerships to provide opportunities for indigenous students.

Maracle supports the need for working with elementary and secondary schools. “From Kindergarten to Grade 12, that is where the problem area is. If our kids graduate from high school, they go directly to university in greater numbers than any other race in the country. The problem is, they don’t graduate, and they don’t graduate because culturally, everything is foreign,” she explained.

While U of T has several academic initiatives to decolonize education from within its own institution, its projects with elementary and secondary schools and the private sector may need further attention and study.

Lucy Fromowitz, assistant vice-president of student life, highlighted the Council of Aboriginal Initiatives, formed at U of T about six years ago. The council includes several prominent U of T Indigenous voices. “[It is] a cross-divisional group led by co-chairs, the director of Aboriginal Student Services/First Nations House and the chair of the Department of Linguistics, with the vice provost, Students and First Entry Divisions as executive sponsor,” said Fromowitz, adding “[the] council provides a venue for discussion of Aboriginal issues, strategies and program implementation, partnership development, and dialogue and response to external organizations and Aboriginal communities.”

Incorpation of knowledge and experience

With respect to Universities Canada’s new Principles on Indigenous Education, Fromowitz named several academic faculties that are incorporating Indigenous knowledge and experience, such as the Aboriginal Studies Program and the Indigenous Language Initiative on maintaining and increasing the use of Indigenous language.

The Faculties of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health include Indigenous pedagogy. In law, students can obtain a Certificate in Aboriginal Legal Studies, in partnership with the Aboriginal Studies Program. Courses in areas such as Indigenous Healing in Counseling and Psychoeducation and Foundations of Aboriginal Education in Canada are offered at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. “[In] Social Work, Canadian Roots, a national non-profit educational organization, brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in order to foster an environment of shared learning,” Fromowitz said.

When asked what an effective approach to decolonizing post-secondary education might be, Maracle said that it was up to Indigenous communities to determine what would help them succeed at school. “I think we have to be who we are and who we’ll always want to be, and Canada has to restore our language and cultures and they have to carry them through the institutions, their own institutions.” Maracle added that everybody should be able to learn languages such as Cree or Ojibway. “Non-native people have to have access to that language. There’s no reason why we all can’t speak Cree or we all can’t speak Ojibway if we want to.”

U of T gets three new vice-provost offices

Cheryl Regehr looks south from her sixth-floor Factor-Inwentash building window. University College tower aligns with the CN Tower in Regehr’s view overlooking the entire St. George campus.

“It’ll be a shame to give this up,” sighs Regehr. Currently the dean of the Faculty of Social Work, she is one of three top profs getting a new role in the provost’s office for five years as of its July 1 restructuring.

Regehr and professor Scott Mabury will receive newly created vice-provost roles, while professor Edith Hillan will begin a second term as vice-provost in a redesigned role.

Cheryl Misak, U of T VP and provost, describes all three as “absolutely stellar, deep-thinkers who really care about this place and want to make it even better.”

Regehr will become vice-provost academic programs, dealing with quality assurance and accountability. The role involves reviewing programs and faculties as well as aligning multiple external review processes as formerly done by the Ontario government. Overseeing interdisciplinary initiatives and academic integrity are also part of the job.

Hillan will leave her role as vice-provost academic to become vice-provost faculty and academic life. Misak said Hillan’s former role was “becoming too much” and that transferring academic program responsibilities to Regher’s portfolio will allow Hillan to focus on matters involving faculty, librarians, researchers, lecturers, and postdoctoral fellows.

Mabury, current chair of the Department of Chemistry, will become vice-provost academic operations. Misak said this will replace Safwat Zaky’s role as vice-provost planning and budget, and covers budgets, information-technology, and space and planning.

Mabury was the architect of the controversial flat fee structure proposal to be put to a Governing Council vote on May 20. Misak said his appointment had nothing to do with his involvement in that project and that she “approached him well before” the matter.

Misak said there has been no change in budget, adding that her office took a base cut of $943,000 and a one-time cut of $522,000 for the 2009-2010 academic year.

“In these troubled economic times, I would never take money out of the student experience to put it into administration,” said Misak, describing U of T’s administration as “lean” and comparable to smaller, less complex universities with identical structures.

The changes were ratified in January after an advisory committee’s review, which was voted on by the executive committee of Governing Council.

Professor Brian Corman will take over the roles of vice-provost of graduate education, previously held by Susan Pfeiffer, and dean of the School of Graduate Studies, previously held by Jonathan Freedman.

Joel Plaskett: Working out fine

Joel Plaskett loves his life as a famous musician, but he’s planning to never show up in the tabloids. The veteran Halifax rocker believes that massive celebrity would be a nightmare for him.

“Fame for fame’s sake feels like a curse,” he says. “It’s of no interest to me—it seems like misery. I love meeting my fans, but I really have no interest in having people who don’t know my music [recognize me].”

As he takes time out from setting up for a recent show in Moncton, New Brunswick, Plaskett seems far too earnest and genuine to become the kind of star who demands the spotlight. But while he’s certainly no diva, Plaskett ought to get used to fame. In an industry that spits out old stars as fast as it can embrace new ones, his career continues to grow with each critically acclaimed record he completes. He seems to play bigger venues every time he comes to Toronto, and his May 23 show at the legendary Massey Hall is a new high.

“There’s something about a theatre. If I’m aspiring to [reach a certain] place, to have a collective energy speaking to 3,000 people, that’s the best,” says Plaskett, his excitement palpable. He’s pulling out all the stops for his upcoming show by bringing along a large cast of family and friends, including backup singers Rose Cousins and Ana Egge, his guitarist father Bill Plaskett, and familiar backing band and old friends The Emergency.

“The Emergency are going to come up and join us, so it’s going to be an acoustic show followed by an electric one. We’ll build it up and get to some of the songs on the record. I’m excited about it—I’m nervous, but I’m getting really geared up.”

Plaskett’s new album, Three, is an ambitious triple-disc set that finds his songwriting skills in top form. The sprawling, 27-track collection features material ranging from old time rock and roll to wistful Maritime ballads and slow-burning anthems. Three is also a solo album in the truest sense of the word: Plaskett not only wrote the album alone, but also produced it, engineered it, and played all the instruments himself.

“This was a hell of a lot of work,” Plaskett deadpans. “It was fun to do, but it took a lot of focus for an extended period of time.”

As he started writing, Plaskett began to notice phrases appearing in threes, and thus picked up the emerging theme for the whole project:

“I started thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll make a record with every song in threes…but there are all these other songs too…and I want to make a record with my dad too.’ So I had three albums in my mind, and I thought, ‘Oh, maybe it will be a triple album!’”

The three discs follow the trials of a touring musician as Plaskett sings about departure, loneliness on the road, and the slow return home. It’s an extension of the lyrical territory he began to mine on his 2005 solo album La De Da, and he’s conscious of picking up on familiar themes.

“People who follow my back catalogue will hear phrases they’ve heard before. I recycle language a lot—there are phrases you rest on when you speak. As a writer, I sometimes slip back into describing things a certain way. And I’ve always really liked that in [the work of] Springsteen or Chuck Berry. It becomes an iconic part of their catalogue, like the way Springsteen writes about Jersey.”

The comparison is significant: just as Bruce Springsteen has long been regarded as the poet of the Jersey shore, Plaskett has built a reputation for himself as the voice of the Maritimes, the local rock star who didn’t abandon home for greener pastures. As he continues to take on challenging projects, Plaskett is cementing himself as one of Canada’s most prolific artists. But does he ever think about his legacy?

“Not really,” he says. “I work with my head down most of the time, and I’m always surprised when people want to talk to me about it. The only thing I think about in terms of a legacy is creating a body of work that’s changed and that’s interesting from a distance. I don’t want to take [my audience] for granted, so I continue to try to change up the shows, play different venues, and create a catalogue of records that people can look back on and see consistency, but not the same record, over and over again.”

Plaskett sounds like a grizzled veteran at the young age of 33, but he also has eight full-length albums and a slew of EPs to his credit. As he modestly describes where he’d like to end up, it seems that Plaskett would definitely be content to settle into his place as a Canadian music icon. Just not, hopefully, with his face plastered all over US Weekly.

Engineer strike ends

After a seven-day strike, the Canadian Autoworkers local 2003, representing the University of Toronto’s 90 operating engineers, returned to work yesterday.

The small union was looking for a pay increase after its three-year contract expired on August 30. Negotiations between the university and the CAW hit a roadblock the next day.

“All we’re asking for is a fair agreement, nothing more,” said John Venetas, a CAW member.

Picketing took place on all three campuses. But the strike was most evident at UTSC, where buses had to cancel their routine stops through the campus.

So as to not disrupt the university’s daily functions, U of T passed the task of running the university’s air conditioning and ventilation systems onto the operations and service staff.

The university and the CAW returned to the bargaining table on Friday. After several hours, the university agreed to the union’s demand of a one-year agreement to a 1.5 per cent pay increase.

Comic relief

The Toronto Reference Library played host to sequential art stars foreign and domestic this weekend, with the fourth installment of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Aiming to promote “the literary and artistic merits of comic books and graphic novels,” the previously annual festival is now held every two years. Organizers expected this year to at least match the numbers of the 250 artists and 6,000 visitors who attended 2007’s TCAF, held at Victoria College.

As a prelude to the following weekend’s events, May 2 was Free Comic Book Day. Comic shops across the city, including The Beguiling, co-presenter of many TCAF events, offered select comics—including a compilation by TCAF artists featuring local talents Kate Beaton, Kean Soo, Ryan North, and Willow Dawson—for free.

Comic artist and turntablist Kid Koala kicked off the festival with a dance party at Lee’s Palace on Thursday. The following day, Harbourfront saw an exhibit of comic arts tools and installations, as well as a discussion with artists Seth, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and Adrian Tomine, all of Montreal comics mag Drawn & Quarterly fame, on how each artist goes about creating cartoons.

The main event, however, was the weekend’s happenings at the Toronto Reference Library–among them, Jason Thompson, author of Manga: The Complete Guide, presenting on the history of Japanese comics in North America. The roster also featured Emmanuel Guibert, TCAF’sA French guest of honour, discussing his graphic novel The Photographer. Guibert’s harrowing story centres on the work of photojournalist Didier Lefevre, who covered a Doctors Without Borders mission to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

An off-site event called “Comic Books Are Totally Gay!” featured conversations with queer comic artists on everything from Batman and Robin to Alison Bechdel’s classic strip Dykes To Watch Out For. Rounding out the festival were seminars on how to get involved in the industry, from a panel discussion on going to school for comic arts to a DIY comics workshop by Willow Dawson.

Overall, the event proved that the wide world of comics isn’t just about saving the world in tight spandex. Then again, that stuff’s pretty important, too.

The Varsity caught up with guest of the fest and local funnyman Ryan North, creator of Dinosaur Comics and author of Dinosaur Comics: Your Whole Family Is Made Out Of Meat.

The Varsity: How did you get started creating comics?

Ryan North: My comic started in my last year of undergrad, where we got this class assignment to do something interesting with the Internet…I’d recently wanted to do this comic, but I can’t really draw at all. I had this idea for a comic where it was always the same story and was told with different pictures all the time. Then, [I realized] that’s the exact wrong comic for me to be doing, so I sort of flipped it around:“What if it was the same pictures and I just change the words?” That’s where the comic comes from.

TV: What was it about dinosaurs?

RN: [laughs] I wish I had a better answer for that. When I started the comic I had no art [computer] programs at all, except for this very old program called Warbird that had all this clip art of WWII planes, and also some dinosaur clip art. It had dinosaur parts like a dinosaur lower jaw, a T-Rex upper jaw, arms, legs, bodies…and the dinosaurs had facial expressions, so I went with them. Yeah, I always feel bad because people are like, “Wow, so you don’t draw it, and you use clip art.” But it shows that you don’t need to draw to do a comic!

TV: Were you inspired by other comics that use repeated imagery, such as David Lynch’s Angriest Dog in the World?

RN: No, I didn’t know about any of that, I thought I was being super original. [laughs] But then a year in, I found the comic, and it was funny because I’d seen only one Angriest Dog In The World comic before—and they’re all kind of the same structure, right? There’s a very angry dog and there’s a one liner in the last panel…I actually worked it into the comic when I discovered it. There’s an early comic where T-Rex adopted the Angriest Dog in the World as his pet, so I sort of capture all of his continuity and folded it all in to my own comic, without even talking to David Lynch. I just assumed it was fine.

TV: Had you done humour projects before Dinosaur Comics?

RN: In university, in undergraduate, I used to have this website where I just posted robot erotica. [laughs] I found [a picture] of these guys in robot suits holding hands, [and] I made this page saying, “This is robot porn. Here, you can come look at it and it’s very erotic.” I was making it up thinking that there wasn’t, there could be no such thing as a robot fetish,which shows how naïve I was at the time. I remember the day I [found] there was an actual robot fetish.

Arts & Science council election thrown out

The spring election results for the Faculty of Arts & Science Council have been thrown out following objections from a candidate. Fanxum Peter Zeng, an international student from Beijing, pointed out that nominations for the elections had been opened for only six business days between April 12 and 20—less than the 10 required by election procedures.

Colum Grove-White, out-going president of ASSU, said that Zeng made the complaint after being disqualified from the election for an unrelated matter. Zeng claims that he spoke to some students who were unaware of the election, so he requested the CRO and Faculty Registrar Glenn Loney “give other students the opportunity to run for the election […] in the interest of fairness.” When Loney denied his request, he took it to the office of the dean, following which the Executive/Agenda Committee decided to set the entire election aside.

“Because it’s quite clear in the constitution that there needs to be ten business days for nominations, we threw out the election results,” said Grove-White

With the spring election results scrapped, all the positions on the Arts & Science council and its committees have been reopened. A new nomination period and election are scheduled for early October 2009 when the council usually elects first-year student representatives.

Forensic biology helps shrink elephantiasis

Scientists in Ghana recently unveiled a novel strategy that relies on cutting-edge Canadian biotechnology to fight the disease lymphatic filariasis (LF), more commonly known as elephantiasis.

LF spreads via mosquitoes that have fed on infected people, thereby transferring the parasitic worms that cause the disease to the next blood meal. The worms enter through the skin, colonize the bloodstream, and clog the lymphatic system. These clogged lymphs swell to painful proportions, often leaving victims permanently disfigured. Today over one billion people in over 80 countries are at risk of infection. A large proportion of these potential victims reside in West Africa.

In an effort to eradicate LF by 2020, health authorities are treating people in LF-affected communities annually with a drug cocktail that works to lower the density of worm larvae in human blood, a strategy designed to reduce the ability of mosquitoes to transfer LF.

The mosquito family is diverse and each species has different LF larvae transmission rates. The particularly dangerous species are those able to transfer larvae from individuals that have been treated with anti-LF drugs—thereby thwarting conventional methods of LF control.

This fact led scientists to speculate that the key to controlling the spread of the disease is in assessing the mosquito population of LF-affected communities. By determining the proportion of menacing mosquito species in a community, public health workers will be able to supplement drug treatment with pesticides targeting at-risk regions. But how do you design a fast and easy way to profile a community’s mosquito population?

Canadian scientists may have the answer.

In 2003, researchers at the University of Guelph, headed by Dr. Paul Hebert, showed that every organism can be identified on the basis of a simple DNA-based assay, even those that are very closely related and difficult to distinguish by other methods. The assay relies on the fact that all species encode evolutionarily related genes, with members of the same species possessing an almost identical genome. This provides scientists with a genetic “barcode” to catalogue earth’s biodiversity.

The mitochondrial genome presents an ideal source for this approach. In addition to being the “power plants” of a cell, mitochondria also encode their own genome, separate from that in the cell’s nucleus. Mitochondrial genes undergo a higher rate of mutation than nuclear genes and therefore display more genetic variability between species.

A number of foundations are currently dedicated to compiling encyclopedias of genetic barcodes.

Dr. Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, and senior investigator at the Ontario Cancer Institute at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, agrees that DNA barcoding “is a good way to differentiate between related species, and is relatively fast.”

“Variants [of species] can be correlated with behaviour […] and variant genes can be associated with [that] behaviour,” says Dr. Woodgett.

In the case of LF, barcoding can distinguish between the innocuous species of mosquito and those that are able to transmit LF larvae from an individual treated with anti-LF drugs.

Until now, DNA barcoding has been used by taxonomists and ecologists to catalogue the biodiversity of different environments. For the first time, this biotechnology is being employed in the war on a major global disease. Scientists at the University of Ghana, in collaboration with the JRS Biodiversity Foundation in Philadelphia, are using this system to lessen the transmission of LF.

DNA barcoding enables researchers to protect biodiversity while targeting disease. In communities affected by LF, researchers will be able to determine whether drug treatment is enough to contain LF infections or if pesticide treatment is also required. This approach will ensure that only communities inhabited by the most dangerous mosquito species will be sprayed, thereby maintaining as much biodiversity as possible and protecting fragile ecosystems from pesticides that are not mosquito-specific.

However, Dr. Sandra Smith, a professor within U of T’s Faculty of Forestry and an expert on insect ecology and management, isn’t so sure that they’ve found the silver bullet. She says that differentiating between species of mosquito is already possible on the basis of morphology, but she is quick to mention that barcoding can be useful in determining the identity of larvae, which may be more difficult.

To control the mosquito population public health workers can employ pesticides and biological agents, as well as reduce standing water to prevent mosquito breeding. However, Dr. Smith warns that pesticides can’t be used “endlessly and at high concentration,” or they will push mosquitoes to evolve resistance.

Whether DNA barcoding can be applied to other human diseases remains to be seen.

Dr. Woodgett is optimistic that DNA barcoding, and in the future, deep-sequencing (which can sample more regions of the genome) will aid in the fight against other human diseases. He predicts that barcoding may one day be used to investigate the effects of dietary change on the complex gut flora of patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

Dr. Smith suggests that the work on mosquitoes and LF may be translated to stemming the transmission other mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever, malaria and some forms of encephalitis that are also only transmitted by certain species of mosquito.

DNA barcoding alone may not eradicate LF by 2020, but as Dr. Smith says, “you don’t solve a problem with a silver bullet; you solve it with a toolbox.”