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.”

They’re back! The Taliban regains control of Afganistan

With the world in a deep recession, some people might be more interested in domestic financial news and less with international affairs. But if thousands of your tax dollars are going to a faraway country, you have good grounds to want to see how that country is doing. News on Afghanistan usually arouses a lot of interest in Canada.

A law recently proposed in Afghanistan for the minority Shiite community would forbid women from refusing to have sex with their husbands, among other laws such as women requiring permission from a male relative to leave the house. The so-called “rape” law became a headline overnight. The Canadian government sounded its concern, president Obama intervened, and finally Afghan President Hamid Karzai apologized and revoked the legislation. Foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon spoke to the Canadian people with a smile, assuring them that “contentious clauses” will be eliminated.

To those who are only slightly aware of the Afghan political climate and balance of forces, this narrative of events seems like a peculiar caricature at best.

It surely fits the picture that we have of a democracy: a law is proposed, people protest, it is then revoked. Done. Afghan women can take a deep breath, and we can be sure again that our army is doing its job: protecting democracy and women’s rights.

It fits because many Canadians believe our military forces, together with other nations under a NATO umbrella, are there to “protect” a democracy that is already in place but struggling. As far as we know, we are there to protect women’s rights and that is what Karzai’s government is doing. After all he got his education not in a Madrassah but at Harvard. He wouldn’t agree to a “rape” law, would he?

I hate to wreck the party, but let me put to you some rather inconvenient facts.

The United States went into Afghanistan less than a month after 9/11 with the stated purpose of capturing bin Laden, destroying Al-Qaeda, and removing the Taliban regime. Canada later joined for the same reason. Six years after, we all know how the first two priorities went: Osama is not captured and Al-Qaeda (thanks to a new, rich training and recruiting ground called post-Saddam Iraq) is even stronger with fresh attacks from Istanbul to Mumbai to Bali. But the third one surely didn’t go that badly. The Taliban regime was quickly removed from government and women put aside those terrible burkas.

Not quite. Not anymore, anyway. The Taliban, initially removed, is back.

The American war effort erased the Taliban as a serious political force for only five years. Since 2006, the Taliban have regained strength. Outside of Kabul, they could claim as much power as the Afghan government and International Security Assistance Force (which includes Canada). Look at the Taliban’s track record in the last couple of years: they attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul killing more than 50 people, freed hundreds of prisoners in the battle of Arghandab, and even made an attempt on Karzai’s life on the anniversary of his government.

That government is not necessarily much better. From day one it has been a corrupt, reactionary force made up of ex-Taliban, Mujahideen, war lords, and drug smugglers. The idea of the Karzai government standing up for women’s rights is a sick joke to many Afghans like Malalai Joya, a female Afghan MP, who declared in 2003 that these are the “most misogynist people in the society.” She has since been banished from parliament.

Obama has recognized the growing power of the Taliban in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) and is more than ready to accommodate some of their wishes so he can have “stability” in the region. Just two months ago, he talked about “making alliances with more moderate Taliban elements.”

Lets face it: Canada didn’t go to Afghanistan to support women’s rights, but to have a military presence as a NATO ally of the United States, and inevitably followed the latter’s policies.

With such priorities as Canada’s, Afghan women will continue to suffer under the draconian, misogynist Sharia law. We should expect nothing else from Karzai or the “moderate” Taliban.

U.S. torture memos: Shame or gain?

As an American expat in Canada, I spent the four years of Bush’s second presidential term attempting to reassure myself and others that, deep down in the far-flung crannies of its proverbial heart, my homeland was pure and true. When my compatriots proceeded to elect the first person of colour to hold executive office in North America—who just so happens to be a gifted, endlessly quotable, and unfailingly photogenic politician to boot—I finally got the “I told you so” I’d secretly worried would never arrive. Gone was the anticipation of impending judgment at revealing my geographic origins; in was the cred, which doubled whenever I mentioned I paid a $50 Fedex fee to absentee vote for Obama. At last, I could start holding my U.S. passport face-up in the Pearson airport check-in queue, no longer guilty by association.

Perhaps it’s this lingering sense of continental elation—or, more accurately on my part, patriotic relief—that makes the declassified Bybee Memo especially difficult to stomach.

Of the four declassified “torture memos,” the August 1, 2002 memorandum prepared by circuit court judge Jay Bybee has garnered the most attention since its release to the public in April. The document reads like a gulag narrative: it lays out, in grisly detail, each of the various interrogation methods used to coerce information from suspected Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. The ten chosen tactics, deemed by hip left-wing pundit Rachel Maddow as decidedly “1984-esque,” include such human rights atrocities as “walling,” “sleep deprivation,” “insects placed in a confinement box,” and the notorious waterboard.

Waterboarding first became a hot-button issue in 2007, with the controversy stemming from its description as an interrogation tactic designed to make the suspect “think” he is drowning. “I think that’s completely disingenuous, to a certain extent,” said former U.S. Navy interrogation instructor Malcolm Nance in response to this flimsy claim, in a November 2007 appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. “The person is not ‘thinking’ that they’re drowning. Large quantities of water are entering them. The water can and does get into the lungs and again, it does degrade the respiratory process. If left to its own devices it will result in respiratory arrest and could result in death. So the person does not ‘think’ he is drowning, he is actually going through the process though not completely underwater.”

The other “not torture” tactics described aren’t much better. “Walling” involves forcefully slamming the restrained suspect against a “flexible false wall,” though the document insists the objective of the practice is to startle rather than induce significant injury. As with waterboarding, the memo insists the technique serves to give a convincing but ultimately benign illusion of bodily harm. The reassurance is cavalier: “In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action.” Well la-dee-da.

President Obama outlawed the practice of waterboarding as a method of questioning earlier this year, and the declassification of Bybee’s, as well as other memos, along with recent revelation of the 92 CIA-destroyed interrogation tapes during the Bush period, points to what the world already expected the Obama era would bring to the fore: renewed transparency and reconciliation for eight embarrassing years of American administrative malpractice. A lovely gesture, but is it enough?

Rather than receive penalty, Judge Jay Bybee has been awarded a lifetime appointment to a federal appeals court, which has a jurisdiction exceeded only by the Supreme Court. Here is an opportunity for the Obama administration to take real action, to use the dirty laundry revealed in the first 100 days in office as a launching initiative towards justice in the hundreds of days to follow. Until then, I might hold off on that American flag bikini.

Flat fees sparks student movement

The Faculty of Arts and Science seems desperate to pass the flat fees proposal this summer, and the issue may very well accomplish that elusive goal of angering students enough to do something about it. Faced with what’s been condemned by almost everyone as a bad idea, our famously apathetic population appears to be waking up and demanding an end to this ill-conceived venture. The recent movement among students to get this proposal voted down before it reaches the Governing Council on May 20 has had an energy and single-mindedness long absent on this campus. And for the proponents of this proposal, it’s completely of their doing.

There has long been a struggle between students who advocate for direct action, which is the norm on campuses around the world, and those who would rather engage within the structures provided. As intelligent young people, it’s easy to see the value of engaging in a constructive debate with U of T’s administration about the future of the institution. But the way in which administrators have conducted themselves throughout the process to approve flat fees has shown their unwillingness to allow students a real say in the affairs of our school.

What’s even more shocking is the administration’s apparent refusal to heed the warnings of its own faculty. Lost in the recent debates around lawsuits and protests is the fact that the committee charged with investigating the implementation of this proposal recommended it not be introduced right now. This recommendation was ignored, and committee chair Scott Mayberry, who pushed for flat fees, got a promotion. He was appointed Vice Dean the day after the Faculty Council vote went through.

Regardless of whether this proposal will be good for the U of T’s finances (and the jury is still out on this), no one is denying the proposal is bad for students. What we are left with is an administration pushing through a plan that no one wants and in a way that will almost certainly antagonize students and faculty. If there’s one redeeming virtue of this proposal, it’s that by its existence it will force students to take stock of their place in this university.

Flat fees one vote away

On April 27, a sparsely-attended meeting of U of T’s Business Board approved a highly controversial measure to make all future Arts and Science undergrads pay for five courses even if they take as few as three. The measure must now pass a vote at Governing Council, and survive a lawsuit by students trying to block its implementation.

Anna Okorokov is the sole undergraduate representative among the Business Board’s 23 voting members. She ran for student governor on a promise to represent students in fee-hike votes. Okorokov told The Varsity she regretted not being at the April 27 vote, but that it conflicted with a final exam, which she believed she could not defer because she would be out of the country over the summer.

Okorokov voiced moderate support of the university’s stance on flat fees, repeating administrative arguments about the proposal’s upsides to students. “Program fees have the potential to be beneficial,” she said. “Those that are able to take on five or more credits will find it in their favour.”

Approximately six per cent of undergraduates take more than five courses, according to data compiled by U of T.

David Ford, the graduate student representative on the Business Board, was also absent from the April 27 vote and did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Varsity sent to his Governing Council and U of T email addresses.

The Faculty of Arts and Science Council approved flat fees in a questionable vote that has students and FASC members suing to have it declared illegitimate.

The university’s VP and Provost Cheryl Misak has defended the right of Business Board to overrule any objections that may emerge from the Arts & Science council.

“Faculty councils do not, in fact, engage in the business of setting tuition hikes,” Misak said.

The university’s official position is that flat fees are not a fee hike, but an adjustment in the way fees are calculated. According to data from the university, were the proposal be applied to current U of T students, this change would force half of all full-time students to either change their course load or pay up to 66 per cent more tuition than they currently do.

Opponents of flat fees have also said approving the proposal would be detrimental to the school’s grim financial status.

“I fail to see how the proposal will help,” said George Luste, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association.

“What the proposal clearly does promise is a rather naked, unseemly, and undignified cash grab from a population who should hardly be expected to shoulder the responsibility of bailing us out of our financial troubles,” he added.

U of T’s endowment fund has lost $1.3 billion in the current recession.

Calling the proposal “unethical,” Luste also objected to what he sees as the proposal’s inadequacy in addressing the increased class sizes and teaching workload that would result from the proposal’s projected “intensification” of undergraduate course loads. U of T has forecast a moderate drop in full-time student enrolment and a large increase in the number of course-spots the Faculty of Arts and Science teaches. Luste had argued that this intensification would swell class sizes and faculty workloads.

“The additional enrolment is projected to be in the range of 854 to 1,683 full-time equivalent students,” Luste said. “Student-faculty and student-librarian ratios will continue to rise.”

Misak criticized Luste’s objection, telling the meeting she did not see how it “hangs together.”

She replied that the flat fee proposal aims to hire slightly more faculty to teach fewer students. She did not address the university’s own estimates indicating that the remaining students will fill up to 5,000 more actual classroom spots.

Neither Luste nor White-Grove were permitted to respond.

If the university expects enrolment to drop so steeply that higher course loads and lower enrolment will balance out class sizes, that would require roughly 2,300 to 4,200 students to drop out of full-time studies, leaving the university no added revenue from flat fees. Instead, U of T is projecting $8 million to $14 million more revenue per year.

UTSU VP university affairs Adam Awad remarked on the “astounding lack of detail as to where resources will be allocated.” He was among a group of students who made the case that flat fees will drain university finances through course intensification, rather than improving them.

Awad pointed to Brock University, which implemented flat fees two years ago but is now being forced to slash its budget.

Course intensification will strain not only finances, but quality of education, student representatives warned. “Seventeen faculty members is not going to mitigate a 10 per cent increase in course sizes,” said last year’s ASSU president Colum Grove-White. The university has stated that it will hire up to 34 new faculty to cope with course intensification.

“There’s no research looking at the academic implications intensification will have on students’ lives,” Grove-White added. He cited the widespread practice in Computer Science and Commerce—the two U of T programs that currently charge flat fees—of “course-shopping”: enrolling in six courses and dropping the weakest one before marks are noted on a student’s transcript. Such a “six-to-five special,” governors agreed, would make it even more difficult for students to get a spot in overcrowded courses.

Okorokov noted that the matter is still due to come before Governing Council, where she also has a vote and is scheduled to attend. That meeting, set for May 20, will take place at at UTM.

Meanwhile, roughly a hundred students protested outside the meeting chamber at Simcoe Hall. “We lobbied to get the proposal voted down in FASC. The end result was a meeting which is currently being challenged in the courts due to its undemocratic and potentially illegal nature,” said ASSU president Gavin Nowlan. “We did everything right in terms of convincing staff and the administration that this plan needed to be examined more carefully, yet the administration still conspired to get this plan voted through.

“I don’t hold any reservations that the Governing Council will add its rubber stamp to this flawed proposal. The fact that such a detrimental proposal can be passed speaks to the flawed nature of the Governing Council itself.”

Grant Gonzalez, member of GC and FASC, says he intends to vote against the proposal as he did on Faculty Council. But with only eight students among 50 GC members, flat fees is expected to pass.

WITH FILES FROM DYLAN ROBERTSON

Some like it hot

Best Worst Movie

Michael Stephenson was 12 years old when he starred in the inept low-budget horror movie Troll 2. After years of crossing the film off his resume, he was astonished when Troll 2 saw its fortunes rise, becoming a cult anti-classic through midnight screenings and word-of-mouth. Coming to terms with his undignified debut, Stephenson has gathered together most of the film’s cast and crew for interviews in this entertaining documentary that’s less about the “making of” a classic than the impact its notoriety has had on its participants and society at large.

The most amusing interviewee is Claudio Fragasso, the no-nonsense director of Troll 2 who slams the “actor dogs” who disrespect his work. But the real protagonist is George Hardy, an Alabama dentist whose early acting ambitions are rekindled when he finds himself the subject of cheers and adoration at screenings. We only gradually realize that Hardy’s apparent bemusement hides a burning desire for fame and recognition. Best Worst Movie starts as a zippy tribute to a minor cult movie and becomes something deeper: an examination of how one copes with having participated in “the worst movie ever made.”

—Will Sloan

Rating: VVVV

Clubland

Clubland doesn’t really require 44 minutes to get its main points across about Toronto’s Entertainment District: yes, 905ers and Peter Gatien just want to have a good time during their weekend parties. No, Adam Vaughn and condo residents don’t like drunken street brawls or excessive noise. Each faction waxes on and on about the irredeemability of their opposition, and local director Eric Geringas does little to encourage his subjects to consider alternate viewpoints or even a bit of compromise.

Cinematographer Andrew MacDonald, however, gets past Clubland’s divisiveness by skillfully showing us what truly goes down behind the windowless walls at Peter and John or on the penthouse patios at King and Spadina. Some of these moments play to stereotypes a little too well: one clubgoer notes that his counterparts always seem to be either “rich, or ‘fuck you’ rich.” Overall, though, Clubland provides an engaging picture of the Entertainment District that you won’t see in Tourism Toronto brochures.

—Shoshana Wasser

Rating: VVV

Invisible City

In Invisible City, Toronto-born director Hubert Davis portrays the lives of two teens from Regent Park, Mikey and Kendell. The story follows the young men from grade 10 through grade 12, illustrating what life is like in one of Toronto’s most notorious ghettos. Despite each boy’s drive to make something of himself, the efforts of their two encouraging mothers, and committed local community worker Ainsworth Morgan, both boys run into trouble with the police, the legal system, and in school.

The film provides a well-told, voyeuristic narrative about how difficult it is to better oneself when sequestered in such a community. However, for those who haven’t grown up in Toronto and thus aren’t familiar with the Regent Park area, the film will lack context. Without establishing a frame of reference, many of the film’s nuances and themes (including the immigrant experience, ghettoization, and Regent Park’s new mixed-income development project) can easily go unappreciated.

—Alixandra Gould

Rating: VVV

Rembrandt’s J’Accuse

Words not often used when describing the films of British provocateur and misanthrope Peter Greenaway: fun, accessible, and entertaining. A companion piece to Greenaway’s 2007 Rembrandt biography Nightwatching, Rembrandt’s J’Accuse explores 31 “secrets” of Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch. Greenaway postulates that the work contains hidden elements of satire, social commentary, and, most importantly, suggestion of a murder conspiracy among the pictured militia-men.

Far from a dry academic exercise, Greenaway’s film is a lively and passionate work of art analysis, and makes a strong case for the importance of visual literacy when deciphering paintings. As a companion piece to Nightwatching, it deepens and enriches the previous film while also surpassing it with its own playful charm. Plus, this is one of your few chances to see Greenaway decked out in 17th-century garb, so savour it.

—WS

Rating: VVVV

The Reporter

Though it begins with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s investigation into the Second Congo War, The Reporter is less about Kristof’s celebrated career than his personal reporting philosophy—Director Eric Daniel Metzgar positions Kristof’s concerns in terms of the dichotomies that face many modern-day journalists. It’s heartening to see that even Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters struggle to find a balance between focusing on issues or individuals, writing objectively or compassionately, and simply stating the facts of a story or trying to make a difference with it.

Metzgar also includes commentary from the American adolescents that accompanied Kristof on his most recent trip to the Congo, but their characters feel largely extraneous to the film. After all, even medical student and Rhodes Scholar Leana Wen becomes hapless and uninteresting when placed in Kristof’s shadow. Reflective documentaries such as The Reporter do require experienced subjects in order to be authoritative. Kristof’s opinions, however, would look no less valid in the absence of his younger foils. —SW

Rating: VVVV

Those Who Remain

Those Who Remain provides a glimpse into the lives of Mexican families affected by immigration to the United States. As fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands decide to leave for the States in search of a better life, their loved ones remain in Mexico and must somehow cope with their absence.

Directors Carlos Hagerman and Juan Carlos Rulfo focus on a handful of families connected to someone who already has or is about to make the life-threatening journey to America. Through emotionally wrenching stories of loss, absence, and worry, one gains poignant insight into the lives of the people who are often forgotten amid the politics of immigration: a wife and mother of three is pained at the thought of saying goodbye to her husband for the third time. Another mother has watched her hair turn gray as her son lives in another land. Finally, a daughter tries to repair her broken relationship with her father after his seven-year sojourn. Those Who Remain is far from lightweight, but braving the subtitles is well worth it.—AG

Rating: VVVV

Tyson

In James Toback’s Tyson, Mike Tyson is frustratingly difficult to pin down. Is he an intellectual? A narcissist? An animal, disciplinarian, poet, criminal, or fool? For 90 minutes, Mike Tyson addresses the camera in a stream-of-consciousness monologue about his life and career that shifts abruptly from sympathetic to appalling, and then back again. The result is a deeply engrossing self-portrait, one of the few documentary profiles that really gets in its subject’s head.

Toback, another showbiz survivor, is the right man for the material. He displays a deep understanding of his subject and allows Tyson to speak for himself without making any apologies, trusting the audience to draw its own conclusions. My own verdict: Tyson is easier to identify with than we may care to admit. Who among us doesn’t have the capacity for both self-reflection and hubris in equal measure? After years of hype as “the world heavyweight champion,” and even more of scorn as an earlobe-chewing has-been, the real revelation of Tyson is simple: warts and all, Mike Tyson is merely human.—WS

Rating: : VVVVV

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.