Coach House makes it a home

The old, worn-down Coach House, with creaking wooden stairs and battered doors, has a homey feel to it that evokes the care and concern the press has for its writers. Since Stan Bevington founded the press in 1965, he has upheld the importance of interacting with authors to produce quality books.

This summer, Coach House Press finally purchased its property—two coach houses that contain the operation’s editorial and printing offices, as well as a small warehouse —at 80 bpNichol Lane, just behind Innis College. The aging buildings will require plenty of repairs, but for Bevington, tearing down Coach House and rebuilding is not an option. With its rich history of quality printing and publishing, the houses represent everything that makes the Coach House Press a huge asset to the community.

Part of what renders Coach House unique is their use of high-quality Heidelberg printing machines to produce their work.

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“Our industry is going through many technological changes,” mentions Bevington, “and it is really a challenge for us not to get carried away with the latest and greatest. We use really standard machines in a really standard way rather than buying new things all of the time. Our presses don’t necessarily go as fast as the new ones, but that doesn’t matter.” Coach House Press Editor Alana Wilcox is quick to add that the Heidelberg presses do “just as good, if not a better job, than the current presses.”

This is not to say, though, that Coach House is averse to modern technology: the press had been using the Internet as a means of promoting, advertising, and selling the books for ages.

“We got started early on the Internet,” remarks Wilcox. “Our printing company had a spin-off company that wrote the rules…you can listen to our books online and you have always been able to, but they’re still selling.”

The website is continually updated with info on newly printed books, as well as book launches and other events hosted by the press. Many of these events feature authors reading from their books.

“At the fall launch, you get a chance to see the author so that you can attach a personality and a voice to the writing, and we think that is really important,” says Bevington. Another way that the press integrates authors with readers is the tours that the press gives to students of all ages: “[We give] tours endlessly; students go away with the touch and feel and smell of books…and they remember it easily,” says Bevington.

“It’s interesting, especially when we do tours for high school students or even grade school kids. They’ve never connected the book to the process of producing it, so they come in and watch the process from the computer files, to the paper being folded and glued together into a book. They’re just wide-eyed…really, it’s quite remarkable, it’s nice to see,” adds Wilcox.

Coach House Press also gives tours to some U of T classes. “It’s very helpful for the university students to see real production as opposed to historical study,” notes Bevington. “It gives them a sense of why the paper is folded the way it is.” “[This is a] continually social space,” adds Wilcox. “People are always dropping by. You’d be surprised who you might find here one day sitting at the coffee table.”

The press also enjoys showing off its efficiency to students: the Heidelberg machinery is jammed into just three rooms, and in the last one, there are three individuals working at cutting and gluing together books. The negatives for individual books are stacked on shelves in between pieces of cardboard, with labels indicating the titles for future reprinting. “Probably our most famous play book, The Farm Show, has been continuously in print since 1972 [or] ’73,” says Bevington, “so we keep our printing plates and negatives ready for making re-prints.”

Some books published by the press are reprinted countless times, but Bevington states that the press’s goal is to “try to find authors that are not published by anyone else.” Every year, Wilcox receives approximately 1,000 new books ranging from poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction about the city of Toronto—the only genres that Coach House Press publishes—and chooses the 15 best that the press will go on to print.

Coach House helped launch the careers of such acclaimed authors as Michael Ondaatje and Anne Michaels, and every year it continues to choose unique and interesting writing by up-and-coming authors. In explaining the type of literature they seek, Wilcox mentions that they “try to do stuff that’s a little more unconventional, not straightforward historical fiction or something. We try to do stuff that’s a little more adventurous, experimental, avant-garde.”

“We look for novels that creatively use language to make a story that we would have never expected,” adds Bevington, “whereas many publishers accept the narrative as the way to do a novel.”

In addition to reprints and new literature, Coach House Press takes on special projects, such as publishing the Hart House Review and many of U of T’s literary journals. Furthermore, the press creates catalogues for the Fisher Rare Book library. “We do some beautiful work for the Fisher Rare Book Library,” notes Bevington. “They choose us because they want really prestigious work. We get to look at the finest books in the library and [make] catalogues of entire collections. Right now we’re doing a [catalogue] about Darwin—all of the books that Darwin ever published are going to be on display in the fall—and we’re going to do a catalogue that has an overview of all of [them].”

Although the press has significant projects to tend to, it is now fully responsible for an even bigger one: the upkeep of the actual coach houses. For 40 years, Coach House Press had a cooperative agreement with Campus Co-operative Residence Inc., which kept their rent low and rendered purchasing their building unnecessary. Changes occurred within Campus Co-op that left the organization saddled with debt, and at one point “the plan was for us to move so that they could make houses on the laneway,” says Bevington.

“But we wanted to stay. Many of our friends thought that we had published good books on Canadian literature and that we’re an asset to the community, so we encouraged the powers that be to let us stay.”

“Our industry is going through many technological changes and it is really a challenge for us not to get carried away with the latest and greatest.

Age of consequences

In the first week of April, amid reports of more job losses and government spending, came news that might have gained more traction were we not in the middle of a recession. The thin bridge of ice that links the Wilkins Ice Shelf to Antarctica shattered, leading many scientists to expect the shelf itself may soon collapse.

A report about the breakup of the ice bridge made the nightly news where only a few years ago, it might not have been considered worthy of comment. Two years ago Canada experienced a freakishly warm winter, and suddenly the environment was on everyone’s minds.

Climatologists became our knights in shining armour. Off they trod to international conferences to do battle with fossil-guzzling fossils such as the then-president of the United States and former Canadian Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, while valiantly asserting what may be one of the more redundant phrases in the English language: the science is real.

The battle is won. Sort of. How climate science is practiced is coming under attack again, and from an unlikely source.

Gwynne Dyer is among the most internationally successful Canadian non-fiction writers. A well-known commentator on military issues, when he spoke at U of T in December about his most recent book, he joked that he owes David Suzuki an apology for treading on his turf. Which isn’t to say that in Climate Wars Dyer doesn’t talk about military strategy—he does; it’s just that the world’s militaries are very interested in imagining models for how global climate change will also affect the world’s power structures.

In Dyer’s telling, it isn’t that the science isn’t real, it’s that it isn’t being realistic. Specifically addressing the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he said in December, “They [the IPCC] are often had for being too extreme in their models, but quite the contrary, they’re almost not adequately describing our reality in terms of the speed of change.”

Looking at the rate at which arctic sea ice has melted since 2005, for example, it appears that climate change is happening faster than predicted by even the most extreme model put forward in the 2007 IPCC report. “Here’s the problem,” Dyer knowingly intoned from on stage. “The actual observed changes in the last three or four years are so radical that they’re putting us above the top prediction: above 6.4 [degrees Celsius hotter than present] by the end of the century.”

A jump of 6.4 degreed Celsius in average global temperature is significant. To put it into perspective, Dyer says that he can imagine the world adapting to an increase of two degrees by the end of the century. But in the opening to each chapter in his book, Dyer imagines scenarios based on expert opinions about how global geopolitics will change with as little as a 2.8 degree increase in global temperature. It’s pretty scary stuff, not only for the polar bears: nuclear war between India and Pakistan, unrest in the United States due to the closure of the U.S-Mexico border, civil war in China, mass starvation in formerly well-fed countries such as Italy, the breakup of the European Union. This future world order is not an environment that will nourish healthy democracies or, for that matter, stable government in general, Dyer contends. We need to create appropriate agreements between governments now.

Dyer notes that from the 80 or so interviews he conducted for Climate Wars, “The conversations I had with the scientists generally had an undercurrent of panic running beneath them, because their perception is that the changes are happening faster than their [the scientists’] models predicted.” To crib the title of a source that he draws from frequently, right now is the age of consequences. Dyer states bluntly “the IPCC is getting it wrong,” with the effect that “we have much less time than we thought.”

An example: one of the more positive climate change scenarios presented by the 2007 IPCC report predicts that the Arctic Ocean will not be ice-free until 2060. Of the many reasons why arctic sea ice is significant, not least of these is that it acts as a reflector for the sun’s rays, effectively reducing the amount of energy and heat absorbed by the planet. Ocean water, on the other hand, absorbs heat. A less lucky scenario outlined in the 2007 IPCC report would see an ice-free arctic by 2040. Some scientists are now predicting that we will see an ice-free arctic by 2013.

Dyer suggests a number of reasons for why changes are happening much faster than the IPCC predicted. Among the reasons he gives are many unknowns—the effect that feedbacks will play in the climatic system, the growth rate of developing economies. But he also criticizes the panel itself on a number of fronts: everything from working by consensus and, he alleges, governments vetting the most worrisome findings out of the final report.

Dyer is not without his critics. Professor Bob Jeffries, an internationally recognized scholar on the arctic and a participant on the panel, says that while he appreciates Dyer’s concern for global climate change, Dyer also ascribes a different role to the IPCC than the scientists who partake in it. Jeffries contends that Dyer has gone over the top in his representation of the development of how the international scientific consensus takes shape.

Says the scholar: “I think what’s very important to say right at the outset is that the IPCC does not ever engage in policy issues—that is not our job. […] Why the IPCC is so successful internationally is that everybody recognizes it comes in on a level playing field and there’s no attempt to usurp authority, no attempt to lay down the law. It’s an attempt to give the best available blueprint from a scientific standpoint that can be available, which governments can use to make up their own mind, or the public at large can use.”

Jeffries notes that the sea ice example Dyer uses is a very good one for illustrating an unexpectedly fast rate of change, but that this increase is not true across the board when scientists look at other indicators.

“The IPCC, because it has such an international reputation for fairness and really attempting to on the one hand draw attention to what the data show you. On the other hand, there’s an attempt all the time to portray an accurate, fair presentation, with limitations,” he notes. Those drawbacks include not having all the data necessary to draw certain conclusions.

He maintains of Dyer’s criticisms regarding unkowns, “I think that’s a fair point, but it’s true of any review. It’s true of any science. There are big unknowns. […] We worked with the best information we had at the time we put this together.” Jeffries flatly denies that all the research in the 2007 report is over five years old, as Dyer said in December. There are references in the report from up to 2005 and early 2006.

The IPCC is aware of the criticisms, and has considered coming out with mini-IPCC reports on special topics such as that it published most recently on water. But the panel is also an immense process involving between 3,000 to 5,000 scientists over the five-year span it takes to write each edition of the report. Jeffries says that as far as Big Science goes, he has never been on a review committee so intensive as the IPCC: “It was simply totally physically and mentally exhausting.”

If the contention between Dyer and researchers such as Jefferies is what constitutes real climate science, Jefferies is unequivocal.

“I think we have to work with the best we’ve got, knowing jolly well that there are unknowns all the time,” Jefferies says, “and that is how scientific progress is made: you move forward bit by bit changing the conclusions as more data become available.”

Apart from the work of the IPCC, the two men may actually have fewer differences than those highlighted. The real issue is not of how science is conducted but about consciousness—ours—our own future, and who is going to make decisions for us. Both Jefferies and Dyer agree, we have less time than we thought.

Editorial: Down but not out

At the end of the year, it is customary practice for The Varsity’s outgoing Editor In Chief to write an editorial, dictating the hope and promise for future generations to come (who will stumble across this 2008/2009 bound volume en route to hooking up with a first-year copy editor in the archive room). If The Varsity is truly a record, the thoughts and aspirations of a generation in becoming, this editorial holds weight. So what can I say?

We’re fucked.

We’re the generation that’s fucked. We’re Tara-Reid-on-Quaaludes, three-sheets-to-the-wind-fucked. We’re Osama Bin Laden, caught-in-a-cave fucked. We’re “I’ve-got-an-exam-in-two-hours-and-I-can’t-even-remember-the-fucking-course-code” fucked.

Welcome to Generation Recession. Now skip off to grad school to delay your quarter-life crisis by an extra dime.

I’m writing this in Robarts right now, amongst the natives. The Commerce student beside me is asleep at his desk with his headphones on. He looks like a drooling angel. Aside from the fluorescent triangles and strains of hip hop from laptop speakers on too loud, this is a certain vision of utopia. The knowledge economy, doing what they do best. A quick walk-around survey of laptop screens belies Facebook chat and Wikipedia crib notes—but how can I judge? I’m currently YouTubing the last episode of America’s Next Top Model with a paper a week overdue. I’m fucked, but at least I acknowledge it.

What’s not okay is that our university administration is trying to cope with the recession through the just-passed Flat Fees program, a terrifying initiative on the way to a creepier, privatized regime, making us the Harvard of the North Korea. Forcing students to pay for courses they’re not even taking is not a way to sort out U of T’s finances, David Naylor. Some of us have to work while we’re in school. Some of us have to pay our own rent. And some of us live in basement apartments, surviving on ramen noodles, where we regularly find ourselves trying to write a philosophy paper after an eight hour shift, overhearing our roommates have especially vigorous sex with their boyfriends from North Bay. (I’m speaking entirely hypothetically here.)

My point is that while students consider it a privilege to go to U of T, U of T should consider it a privilege to have us. No one is more ambitious and less satisfied than a U of T student. We have less sex, more stress, and higher tuition than the students at Guelph, and are enjoying ourselves the least out of any school in Canada, according to Maclean’s anyway. What are we fighting for? Why suffer through lower marks, bigger classes, and more competition if the future’s hopeless anyway?

Shouldn’t I have gone to Trent?

U of T students might be down, but they’re not out. We’re resilient and smart enough to make our education work for us, even if the administration couldn’t care less. And that starts with following your passion, and trying to do some good for your community, no matter what the consequences are.

Throughout my five years of school and 100 issues editing The Varsity, I’ve thought long and hard about what it means to be a university student, and in particular, a student journalist. It’s an experience adults tell us we’ll never have again—the opportunity to study what we want, how we want to study it, and what’s more, our future is completely in our hands. Coming from a teeny surburban high school where I was lucky to have gym class, I wanted to be a cultural critic but didn’t know how. Luckily I found the (weird, hella incestuous) community of U of T journalism—first writing about music for the Innis Herald, working my way through The Strand, The Gargoyle to finally editing The Varsity—an experience that allowed me to pursue a career writing about the arts for SPIN, EYE Weekly, and the Village Voice. Could I have done it if I was plagued with student loans well into the thousands, with a full-time course load? Hell, I’m barely passing with my credit and a half.

My point is that your education doesn’t have to be what you learn in class. It can be many things—staying up all hours of the night to put out a magazine highlighting Toronto’s 25 artists 25 and under, fighting with your co-workers about whether to italicize an obscure scientific report, and working on something you really care about with the people you care about. (Thanks to the extremely dedicated and talented Varsity staff. I am lucky to call you both comrades and colleagues.)

When your dream dies, zombify that shit. Like Gene Simmons says, “Life is too short not to have delusional notions about yourself.” Here’s hoping yours can live on even in a time of economic disparity, Generation Recession. We’re rooting for everything we know you can achieve.

Yours truly,

Chandler Levack
Editor In Chief
The Varsity Newspaper

Hot Jocks

Alex Mclaren – Rugby

This fourth-year rugby star puts it simply: “I’m a 10. That’s what it comes down to.” But perhaps Mclaren should consider describing his appeal in letters, explaining that his entire team is “an interesting combination of all that good stuff: they’re really fit and muscular and then really smart because they all have A averages and get a bunch of academic awards.” When Mclaren isn’t playing rugby or acing his commerce courses, he runs his own record store, plays guitar, and dreams of putting his brains to good use by becoming a professor of economics.

Matthew Morris – Football

Morris was a key part of the Blues team that snapped the 49-game losing streak and was U of T’s sole representative at this year’s CFL Evaluation Camp. But this star defensive back and fourth-year history major actually started out playing baseball. “I always wanted to play football as a kid, but my parents didn’t want me to play […] they were scared of the violent nature of the game,” he says. Ever since Morris made the transition to football, he’s had the swagger, the confidence, the body, and the talent to be a hot jock and to pursue his dream of playing in the CFL.

Suzannah Moore – Rowing

This second year sociology student describes a hot jock as someone who is “determined, dedicated to the sport, and to their team members” which makes her the perfect candidate. She explains that rowing “is a team sport […] there’s a connection that you build with your teammates that I don’t think any other sport allows.” Moore shows her commitment by waking up at the “ungodly hour” of 4:30 a.m. for practice—a feat she’s accomplished ever since she began rowing in Grade 10 in her hometown of Peterborough. When she isn’t rowing, Moore dedicates herself to dance as a member of the Vic Dance team.

Erin McNeely – Basketball

Only a third-year physical education student, McNeely has already accomplished so much. Perhaps this is because she got a head start by skipping the second grade. McNeely’s played soccer, and has participated in dance and gymnastics, but it was basketball that stuck. “My dad played and really loves the game so that kind of egged me on,” she says. Lucky for us, McNeely was part of the Blues team that went to the CIS Nationals last year. While she dreams of returning to the nationals and opening her own physiotherapy practice, for now, NcNeely says, “I’m comfortable with myself. I like who I am. I like being an athlete, and I just kind of go with it.”

Nick Magalas – Basketball

Magalas, a fourth-year religion specialist, must have received his abdominals from a higher power. Magalas started playing basketball, his “one love” at five years old,

which he suggests might have been the work of “divine intervention.” This Burlington native attributes his choice of U of T to aggressive recruitment, and credits the University with “making a player out of him.” Magalas began the season with a 36-point performance against Ryerson, giving him the confidence to be “the man.” Born October 7th, Magalas is extremely balanced, on and off the court.

Viv Chan – Volleyball

Perhaps the best way to describe Chan is versatile. Chan excels at both indoor and beach volleyball, and is very committed to her sport. She plays as a libero, a defensive specialist that wears a different coloured jersey, and dubs herself “the backcourt general.” Trained as a setter and a left side hitter, Chan was summoned off the bench in a crucial match against Queen’s, leading her team to victory. A Sagittarius that aims high, this “tomboy with funk and style” wants to become a chemistry teacher.

The spoils of war

As my mom and I discussed our short but successful shopping spree on the way back, an older man stepped onto the train and sat opposite my mom. We continued to talk, oblivious to our surroundings, until the man, seeing our headscarves, exclaimed “Assalamualaikum” (Peace be upon you), the Islamic greeting of well being. We muttered replies under our breaths, wishing him peace but not wanting to communicate with a stranger.

I could see his reflection clearly in the glass window next to me. He stared at the empty seat beside him and began to talk. “You are all my brothers and sisters. I am Iraqi, I am the son of Baghdad.” His voice rose with patriotism and his tone became passionate. “I am the son of Baghdad! Baghdad was a city of scientists and geniuses, now look what it has become. I love Baghdad, but I am here. You are all my sisters.” And then, a realization dawned upon him. “I am 58 and I am about to die,” he said in a soft voice, “and I haven’t seen my sister in 27 years.” He repeated this last sentence painfully, over and over, reminiscing about the last time he had seen her. And then, with his voice filled with anger and hatred, “Bush is the enemy of God and humanity. Harper…”

“Excuse me sir, we understand you. Now please take a seat or leave the train, yalla,” the driver intervened in a soft voice, practicing the little Arabic he knew. The man quieted down and stood in a corner, offering his spot to a woman who had entered the train with a stroller. I could see in the reflection how sad he looked. His gaze was glued to the floor, a bereaved expression on his face.

These are the real spoils of war. From what I gathered, he only witnessed it secondhand, but it affected him deeply. If the impact on a secondary victim of exaggerated political egos and unreasonable drives to power is so great, I do not want to imagine the mental state of the innocent children exposed to the inhumane conditions of war.

I wondered if the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still bore hatred deep within their hearts. And then I thought closer to home. Every few days, a fallen Canadian is brought back from Afghanistan from a war that is not ours to fight. We salute the soldier for his bravery and move on. But what of the thousands of men still fighting an endless and meaningless battle, and what about their hopeful families’ mental and emotional states? Those of the poor families living in war-torn districts? Children who must accept gunfire as their morning alarm and rocket launchers as fireworks, who have learned to live with missing family members and amputated limbs? Sadly, this isn’t unique to Afghanistan. What about Darfur? Zimbabwe? Northwestern Pakistan?

As I sat there and wondered how many more deaths and how many more familial and proprietal expropriations it would take to quench the political greed of a select few, I could do no more than share the dismal expression on the stranger’s face.

U of T marks Rwanda Week

Tuesday night saw the launch of Rwanda Week, a series of events to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, which runs until Saturday. All events are at 45 Willcocks Street, in the William Doo Auditorium.
The week’s events focus on recovery and healing in post-genocidal Rwanda.

“It is only through memories that we can establish anything peaceful,” said event organizer and genocide survivor Sharangabo Ntare. He added that raising awareness and listening to survivors’ stories is the only way genocide prevention is possible.

At the opening ceremony Tuesday, representatives to Toronto mayor David Miller proclaimed April 7 as the Day of Reflection on the Rwanda Genocide.

Doctors Without Borders founder James Orbinski will speak tonight. Friday evening will feature survivor testimonies and a televised interview with scholar Gerry Caplan, author of Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide. Saturday’s closing ceremonies will see poetry readings, musical guests and a candlelit healing procession, as well as a talk by Rwanda’s former justice minister.
All events are free and open to members of the public. For more information, head to

Dirt on the mining industry

Few Canadians know that the majority of the world’s industrial mining companies are located in Canada. Many of those companies are responsible for violating human rights abroad through practices condemned by Amnesty International, NGOs, and human rights and church groups. In the Porgera mine of Papua New Guinea, villagers are routinely shot by mine guards, and there are numerous reports of rapes, detentions, and beatings by local militia and guards. Graham Russell of Rights Action, an advocacy group in Honduras and Guatemala, has recorded hundreds of instances of murder, torture, and beatings by mining companies. He notes that these cases are typical of abuses by Canadian mining companies operating abroad.

Environmentally, water depletion and water contamination are problems. Mines produce massive amounts of toxic waste that cause acid mine drainage and heavy metal contamination. Gold mining and metal processing uses vast amounts of water, often in drought stricken areas of the world such as Australia. It also utilizes dangerous chemicals such as cyanide in its leaching processes, posing a threat to local water systems, and releases deadly arsenic into ecosystems. Cyanide has caused havoc in water systems across the world with over 30 spills in the last five years.

An estimated 50 per cent of mining operations occur on native lands. For many indigenous people, who often rely on their environments for food and necessities, mining threatens not only their livelihood, but also their traditional way of life. Their lands tend to be vulnerable to encroachment because of their lack of power within their country’s political system; their land and water rights are often ignored and their environments destroyed. Examples include the Pueblo Diaguita, an indigenous group in Chile, trying to stop the Pascua Lama mine from destroying traditional lands, the Wiradjuri of Australia, the Western Shoshone of Nevada, and, closer to home, the Ardoch Algonquin.

Despite these problems, there are currently no laws to regulate what Canadian companies do abroad and no way to hold them accountable. According to the Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, “Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and of indigenous peoples.”

The Norwegian Pension Fund decided to divest from Barrick Gold earlier this year. The Porgera mine has been a prime target for criticism because of its use of the local river for tailings disposal, a practice banned in almost every country in the world. Green Party deputy leader Adriane Carr has noted that, “It’s got to be bad news for Canada when a foreign government says it’s going to sell its shares in a Canadian company they figure is unethical.” According to Sakura Saunder of, a site dedicated to tracking the abuses of Barrick Gold, it is time for the rest of the world to catch up with Norway’s example.

In 2006, the government launched a series of national roundtables to find ways to ensure that Canadian mining companies operating abroad adhere to social responsibility standards. The process was recommended by the Commons’ Foreign Affairs committee. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government recently rejected the roundtable recommendations to tie diplomatic and economic support for Canadian extraction companies operating in developing countries to socially responsible conduct abroad. Liberal MP Bernard Patry called the government’s plan a “disgrace,” questioning why it took the government two years to put together what he believed was a worthless response. NGOs are holding the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Barrick Gold—neither of which participated in the roundtables—responsible. They point to letters that the two organizations sent to Canadian officials in the summer of 2007 warning against adopting the recommendations. Liberal MP John McKay has now tabled a private member’s bill looking to codify many of the roundtable recommendations in legislation.

It is well known that the University of Toronto accepted money from Barrick Gold CEO Peter Munk to build the Munk Centre for International Studies. U of T also trains engineers to enter the mining trade, and is financially tied to several Canadian mining companies, as well as to investment in the tar sands expansion. U of T even has a “Mining Building.” A U of T campus club, the Toronto Mining Support, recommend that U of T cut it ties to Barrick Gold, Munk, and the mining industry as a whole, on the grounds that the industry has proven unethical, socially irresponsible, and environmentally destructive. Corporate funding also endangers academic freedoms, as the case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri illustrates.

A conference on mining issues is scheduled at the University of Toronto for April 26. Participants include Protest Barrick, Rights Action, Bob Lovelace and Ardoch Algonquin, the Beehive Collective, presenters from Papau New Guinea, Chile, the Philippines, First Nations affected by the tar sands, Congo, and other affected communities. For more details go to or visit “A Question of Sustainability” on Facebook.

Editorial: Flat fees will hurt students

Turning points in history usually fly by unnoticed, only to be discovered in retrospect. But we’re pretty sure that 20 years from now, U of T students will look back at this as the week when everything changed.

The Faculty of Arts and Science Council has approved a program of flat fees for full-time undergraduate students. Next, the proposal will go to the Business Board, and eventually Governing Council. If it passes without amendment, by 2011, new students taking three to six courses will have to pay for five.

The proposal is deeply flawed, and it has been rushed through in a mere two weeks without proper deliberation, debate, or scrutiny. The diversity of opposition on campus is revealing. Student unions are, predictably, opposed, as are leftist groups on campus.

But the economics department also voted against the initiative. Several professors criticized it at the meeting. The Program Fees Implementation Committee, which reports to the faculty, had one student, the president of the Arts & Science Student Council. He claims that the only consensus reached by the committee was that September 2009 was too soon to implement the plan, due to lack of research. It’s clear this is not a normal policy change, with a broad coalition behind it. This radical proposal, a taking place at the largest faculty at U of T, will dramatically alter the culture and social makeup of our university.

Much has been written about the impact flat fees will have on student engagement. But there are even more important issues at stake. Flat fees are a tuition increase seemingly targeted at students least able to bear it: those who work long hours, parents, and caregivers.

With the flat fee threshold set at three courses—lower than other universities implementing flat fees, which have set thresholds at four or 4.5 courses—these students will have to pay full tuition or drop to part-time status. As part-time students, they will not receive interest-free OSAP, and will have access to fewer scholarships and bursaries. Even basic benefits like daycare subsidies are tough to obtain without full-time student status.

There has been a lot of arm waving about increased financial aid under the new system, but the fact is that Arts and Science will be in deficit years into the future with or without flat fees. It’s difficult to imagine where new aid would come from. There has also been no discussion of how it would be distributed. Would any be available to part-time students? What about students who don’t qualify for low-income bursary programs but must still finance their education through OSAP and bank loans?

We also note a number of troubling aspects to the Faculty of Arts & Science Committee meeting that passed a revised version of the initial plan on Monday.

The meeting itself was rushed. Twenty minutes was taken up by Dean Meric Gertler’s initial presentation in favour of the proposal, which left only an hour for discussion. Critics voiced their concern, and Gertler was given the chance to respond. No one else was granted such extensive speaking rights.

The initial proposal would have taken effect in September 2009. Under the revised plan, students with a course load of four credits will be considered full-time in September, and the threshold will be lowered to three credits for September 2011. The revision does not change the nature of the proposal, only lengthens the timeline. This is by no means a concession—it’s an obvious attempt to assuage the harshest critics in the here and now, to the detriment of future students who will be offered no part in the discussion.

This timeline shows that flat fees are a long-term change, though they are being pushed through due to a short-term problem—the suspension of endowment payoutsin the face of the recession, resulting in a $5-7 million forecasted deficit. Once implemented, flat fees are here to stay. Flat fees is a permanent response to a supposedly immediate problem.

At the meeting, Gertler was asked whether an increased course load would affect student life. Gertler stated that there is “no systematic evidence” that an intensified course load adversely affects student life. In fact, there is no evidence either way, because no one has conducted the research.

If systematic evidence is Gertler’s priority, you would think he would have supported a motion put forward by the St. Mike’s registrar, to effectively see how things go in 2009 and wait until later to pass the changes for 2011.

Gertler shot down this proposal on the basis that he wouldn’t ever want to be subject to the complaints he’s heard over the past two weeks again. Apparently, whatever burden flat fees will place on students is nothing compared to how public opinion taxes Meric Gertler.

But for the sake of future students, we hope that Gertler, Governing Council, and President David Naylor think hard about what all of those complaints mean. They mean that Arts & Science students don’t want to be burdened by yet another financial concern. They mean that undergrads are desperately trying cling to their fleeting extra-curricular lives. They mean that the needs of the students, the heart of this university, are being denied once again. If this is the turning point that defines this administration, then they should have turned down the other road.