University is best enjoyed with company

Frosh week’s focus on college spirit leaves many first years without the opportunity to form real relationships

University is best enjoyed with company

With frosh week behind us, it’s time to take stock. Countless first-years have marched through the streets, belted out college verses both foul and fair, and generally partied hard. The question that remains in the wake of the week’s frivolity is whether the current model for frosh week — as a time largely devoted to building college spirit — is best for the students it aims to please.

School spirit is a laudable goal but also a vacuous one which, after the college-coloured body paint has washed away, ceases to have much relevance to the day-to-day life of first-year students. Frosh week aims to provide students with a home in their college and a sense of belonging. But any such belonging will wilt in the absence of more concrete relationships with other students: it’s hard to feel engaged in a college when it’s a faceless entity.

What first years need is to build lasting friendships with their new classmates, and frosh week is the ideal time in which to do that. Ultimately, fostering friendships will have a farther-reaching effect on student contentment and happiness than college spirit, because they endure longer and are, by their very nature, individualized to meet each student’s wants. This is especially important for commuters, who don’t have a built-in community in the form of a residence.

Of course, for some frosh, spending time cheering and chanting will help them to make friends. But I suspect that these are the students who will never have much difficulty meeting people. The model for frosh week can’t be based on extroverts, because other students who might require a little push to make friends will not get one, and will end up drifting through the year flitting from class to class in a campus that has become conspicuously large.

How do we shrink the campus by fostering friendships? We can first agree, I hope, that size is intimidating for many people, and large-scale events that involve lots of noise-making don’t usually get people acquainted with each other very well. Smaller events keyed to specific interests and with opportunities for prolonged interaction will work better at introducing likeminded people than trying to get very different sorts of people interested in large-scale events where contact is fleeting. As far as possible, given organizational constraints, these events should be flexible: if students need to sign up for each specific activitiy weeks in advance, it’s difficult to hang out with the people you’ve just met and like who’ve signed up for different ones. Having alternate activities for those who don’t want to attend the raucous parties would keep everyone involved and engaged.

It’s also worth considering whether the current model, in which colleges organize their own frosh weeks, is an unnecessary constraint to meeting people. Many of the clubs at U of T are campus-wide. Why not extend that idea to parts of frosh week beyond the UTSU’s parade? Maybe that’s not feasible for organizational or funding reasons, but there seems to be no other reason to keep students entirely separate. It’s something to think about, at least.

At the risk of sounding like a trite character from a children’s TV show, university is best enjoyed with company. Insipid or not, if we foster friendships and allow people to meet each other during frosh week, the isolation and strangeness of the new environment gives way to enjoyment. It will never be possible to get everyone engaged, no matter what approach is used, short of cordoning off Con Hall after each 100-series class and forcing chit-chat amongst the students there. We can get more out of it, though, by shifting the emphasis of frosh week from spirit to enjoyment.

Even if the cost of these changes is that not all first-years are able to sing their school songs from memory, it’s worth it. More likely, happy, befriended students will make for a spirited community that is enthusiastic about university life and eager to participate in it. And that is exactly what frosh week is meant to be about.

Hart House squeezes budget in effort to eliminate deficit by end of year

Clubs and committees to lose surplus as funds diverted to maintenance

Hart House squeezes budget in effort to eliminate deficit by end of year

Hart House will attempt to close a deficit of nearly half a million dollars this year, through a series of belt-tightening measures that will eliminate wasteful spending and prioritize maintenance of the historical building.

Student-run clubs and committees at Hart House will bear the brunt of the changes.

Along with an 18 per cent decrease in programming funds, amounting to around $67,000, student groups will also have limited access to the Marketing and Communications department. The department had previously helped student groups with promotional efforts such as poster design.

Bruce Kidd, the warden of Hart House, explains that the cuts are not as “savage” as they may initially appear.

When Hart House was running a deficit last year, clubs were allocated around $70,000 dollars more than they spent. “Those programs are such an important part of what we do in the house,” says Kidd.

Hart House also announced plans to reserve the West Wing, which includes the Music Room, Board Room, and North and South Sitting Rooms for bookings by non-Hart House groups.

The cuts to program funding and in-house resources come largely in response to the pressure from the Hart House Finance Committee, which has diverted funds towards building maintenance as a long-term financial priority.

The budget document claims that while Hart House previously “subsidized student programs by cutting back on maintenance,” the Finance Committee “insisted that [Hart House] increase the deferred and major reserve to a minimum of $600,000.” In addition, engineering consultants to the nearly 100-year-old building recommended $2,000,000 in annual spending to stay on top of major repairs.

“It’s been a public sector problem,” Kidd explained in a phone conversation. “When people are primarily interested in programming, they deal first with that and look to ongoing maintenance next.”

By “planning [the] use of space more carefully,” being “extremely cost-conscious,” and making “new efforts to generate more revenue,” Kidd hopes to close a deficit of $502,000 in one year.

Though the budget promises that the new revenue-focused Hart House will not limit student accessibility to the House in any significant way, some clubs and committees members remain unconvinced.

“I’m most concerned about having access to the West Wing rooms,” says Aaina Grover, a member of the Hart House Debate Club. “When we host tournaments, our club relies on some of those rooms. As students who pay tuition, we should have booking priority.”

“It’s an experiment, and we’re trying to measure the results of this experiment,” said Kidd. “Our hope is that it will increase outside business, because outside groups like to book a long time in advance, but that it won’t affect student groups, because student groups generally don’t book that far in advance.”

Despite some challenges, Kidd is confident that his somewhat experimental financial plan compliments his vision for Hart House.

“This is one of the most precious, favoured places in the city and we just face enormous demand,” he says. “This is a way of both dealing with our financial challenges and also using our space in an effective and productive.”

Ignatieff signs five year contract

Plans announced to split time between U of T, Harvard

Ignatieff signs five year contract

Former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff will join the Munk School of Global Affairs with a half-time appointment as a professor this September. He will also assume a half-time appointment at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government starting in January.

Janice Stein, director of the Munk School, announced Friday that Ignatieff would assume his professorship immediately. Stein welcomed Ignatieff’s appointment as a boon to students.

“He brings a deeply global perspective to our biggest policy challenges and will work with our students to give them the analytic skills they need in today’s connected world,” she said.

Ignatieff’s appointment marks a homecoming for the former academic-turned-politician.

Ignatieff studied history as an undergraduate student at U of T’s Trinity College, graduating in 1969. Following doctoral work at Harvard he taught at Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard universities before entering Canadian politics in 2006.

Ignatieff led the Liberal Party between 2009 and 2011. He resigned from Pariliament following the party’s 2011 electoral defeat, when the party fell to third place for the first time in Canada’s history.

Ignatieff was then appointed Senior Resident at Massey College, and appeared to readily embrace a return to his former academic life, teaching a course in the Department of Political Science on “Renewing Canadian Democracy” in the 2012 winter semester.

In an interview  with U of T Magazine earlier this year, Ignatieff discussed his return to academia and the lessons he learned from his time in politics.

“Practical political experience has a double effect: it makes you more aware of how difficult it is to get anything done but also how important it is to get things done,” he said .

In the same interview, Ignatieff spoke briefly of his time on Parliament Hill.

“There’s no question you miss the cause. You go into politics to make life better for Canadians.”

“But I can honestly say I don’t miss the life.”

Introducing: Sarah Jayne King

The new chair of the Ontario’s largest student lobby hopes to ride the crest of Quebec’s student protest movement. Will she succeed?

Introducing: Sarah Jayne King

It’s  lunch hour at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s b Espresso Bar, where I am meeting Sarah Jayne King for her first interview with a campus newspaper since rising to the helm of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario this summer.

With the carre-rouge pinned prominently to her blouse, King is seated at a table in the sunlit atrium. Possessing an air of considerable self-confidence, she shows no outward signs of fatigue from her busy itinerary: a dizzying number of general assemblies, meetings with the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, protests, and, around the time of our meeting, logistical planning for a nine-day whirlwind tour of Ontario campuses featuring talks by leaders of the Quebec student strike.

“In Ontario, we don’t have that history of achieving student strikes to achieve an end. I think that students are inspired and are continuing to take action to ensure that our voices are heard, and a strike is a tactic that could be used.” – Sarah Jayne King, chair, CFS-O

Since King was elected in August, the Ontario wing of the CFS has become increasingly involved in agitating for a Quebec-style student movement here in Ontario. Increasingly, student union leaders such as King can be seen in public wearing the distinctive red felt square in solidarity with the student protesters.

Changes at the top of CFS-O, including King’s election, come at a critical time for the organization. In addition to King’s election as chair, representatives from CFS-affiliated unions also voted to bring Toby Whitfield, previous president of the Ryerson Students’ Union, to executive office.

For years, the CFS-O has tried to rouse Ontario students into action, a task that has proven difficult in spite of the province’s sky-high tuition rates. Behind King’s efforts is a struggle by unions outside Quebec to capitalize on the ongoing strikes and demonstrations of French Canada. In her short time in office, much of King’s efforts to date been focused on this goal.

A multi-year veteran of the University of Ottawa’s student governance, King joins an organization with extensive roots in Toronto.

“I’m excited  to have the opportunity to learn more about what goes on in Toronto, the North, outside of Ottawa, and to connect with other student unions to be able to push issues that affect us differently on different campuses,” she said. “My goal is to make sure that as many students and members of the general public are aware of the issues that we are fighting for and understand them in a broader context of how important postsecondary education is to us, to society in general, as well as understanding that the situation has gotten quite bad in Ontario.”

King first became involved in campus life in early 2007 as a volunteer and eventual board member of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. While at Ottawa, she also led popular sustainable campus food initiatives, including The People’s Republic of Delicious and Simard Hall’s Café Alt.

Her second term in office began under a cloud of controversy, following a decision to overturn the victory by popular vote of her opponent, Tristan Denominee, amidst allegations that he had violated official election policy. The next year, King joined the CFS executive as treasurer.

One of the foremost challenges facing King will be repairing relations with minister Glen Murray’s office.

The CFS-O meets regularly with Murray to consult on provincial policy. Relations soured when the CFS accused the Liberals of reneging on their campaign promise to provide a tuition grant to all students. When details of the grant were handed down in January, both Murray and the CFS became publicly critical of each other.

“The problem I’m having with the CFS, in spite of significant efforts to reach out to them, is this sort of attitude of ‘give it [all to me] and give it to me today,” said Murray in a  February conference call with campus media. “Every time we turn around and do something, the glass is always half-empty for them.”

King, for her part,  “hopes to be able to use [her] role as an opportunity to create new and stronger relationships with all partners, whether that’s within labor or the government.”

That day in the Conservatory, King seemed optimistic, in spite of the challenges she and her organization will face. A blog post by the National Post’s Jonathan Kay ridiculed a recent protest at Glen Murray’s constituency office, suggesting there was only seven people there.

In response, the Ryerson Students’ Union released a cheery, if awkward YouTube video of the protest, featuring a crowd larger than Kay described, singing Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” lyrics adapted to the student cause.

“In Quebec, there is a long history of using strikes as action to effect change, and they have largely been successful,” she explains to me. “In Ontario, we don’t have that history of achieving student strikes to achieve an end. I think that students are inspired and are continuing to take action to ensure that our voices are heard, and a strike is a tactic that could be used.”

I ask King why she thinks students in Ontario seem to react so anemically to CFS calls to action, despite the comparative severity of their tuition fees. She pauses for a moment, and says, “the level to which tuition fees have increased since the 1990s has definitely influenced students ability to get engaged.”

From the passion in her voice, it is clear that she cares deeply about the perceived plight of the average Ontario student. Her work is cut out for her. We are, as she says,“drowning in debt, working hard to put food on the own table, stay in school and make ends meet.”

Field hockey 101

Field hockey 101

The Blues have claimed 10 of the past 15 OUA field hockey championships since 1997, including last season’s OUA Title following a 6–0 shutout victory over the Guelph Gryphons. The teamalso won the CIS Championship in both 2010 and 2007. U of T is hosting the CIS field hockey championship this season so it is especially important to support the team in a year where there is great hope that they can reclaim the cross Canada title in front of a home crowd. Varsity Blues field hockey player Heather Haughn explains the basics of her sport.

Organizers: orientation week no place for corporations

As many orientations conclude at U of T, The Varsity investigates how Canadian schools have kept big business out of frosh week

Organizers: orientation week no place for corporations

This month on the campuses of American universities, companies such as American Eagle, Hewlett-Packard, Target and Red Bull will employ an estimated 10,000 college students as “brand ambassadors” in on-campus peer-to-peer marketing schemes.

Companies are increasingly eager to create life long consumers from the ranks of college freshmen, but so far, corporate presence on campus at U of T remains scant.

“The commercialization of everyday college life is a distinctly American approach to student life,” says U of T orientation and transition coordinator Josh Hass.

“Corporate engagement is a huge, huge difference between Canadian and American schools,” agrees New College orientation executive Sam Khon, an American himself.

According to student leaders and Student Life administrators interviewed by The Varsity, a major reason for the lack of corporate involvement in U of T frosh weeks may be the piecemeal approach that comes with having several separate orientation schedules.

While U of T’s St. George campus may boast an incoming class of over 10,000, the division of freshman by college and faculty means that orientation groups are likely to be comprised of hundreds, instead of thousands of students.

“Nothing is so decentralized as U of T,” Khon says. “The different colleges and faculties are just a can of worms.”

The unifying body for orientation teams at the university is the Office of student life. Hass describes his department as a resource for the different orientation executives. Over the course of the summer, the department offered skill development and engagement for orientation coordinators.

Student Life does not offer funding, but gives financial rewards after-the-fact if minimum standards for orientation week are maintained.

The system makes for a stark contrast with American schools, where offices of Student Life partner with corporations to offer frosh week programming. At the University of North Carolina, the incoming class was treated to a late-night shopping excursion to Target, in an arrangement engineered by the vice chancellor of student life.

Representatives at various Ontario universities spoke of a concerted effort to protect allegedly vulnerable freshmen from the manipulation of corporate sponsors.

“There’s always a balance with corporate sponsorship,” says Adam Fearnall, president of the Students’ Council at the University of Western Ontario. “You don’t want to give up your moral independence to secure corporate funds.”

At U of T, the University of Toronto Students Union is determined to maintain ethical business relations with potential sponsors, as a member of the Canadian Federation of Students.

“They’re strict about who they associate with,” says Hass. Union presidents over the past several years have warned of “corporatization by stealth.”

The organic, student-led orientation system that exists at U of T is not universal. Fernall highlighted radically different attitudes towards orientation that he witnessed at universities such as Syracuse, Columbia, Cornell and NYU on a recent American tour.

Cornell’s administration, for instance, ran 170 events in a four-day period, recognizing that it was to their benefit to run their own orientation programs rather than leave it entirely up to student organizers. Most of Cornell’s frosh events were free of charge, while students at U of T paid between $80 to $120 dollars to participate in college or faculty-run orientation weeks.

Corporate sponsorship will represent less than one per cent of New College orientation expenses this year. What’s more, donations that are received are nearly always in-kind: notepads, ink cartridges, or branded pens for frosh orientation kits.

“We were able to get some sponsorship from small businesses,” says Kohn. “But money — actual money — is a very rare donation.”

Faculty-specific orientations have been somewhat more successful in seeking out sponsorship opportunities.

The orientation week for Rotman Commerce has found generous patrons in the past. Some of the sponsors of the Rotman Commerce Student Association this year include accounting firms PriceWaterhouseCoopers and KPMG.

Funding from academic departments normally support U of T’s engineering orientation, which also obtained funding from the National Bank of Canada this year.

While planning orientation events by college may be more desirable, the student-led teams are volunteers with one-year terms may well just be unequipped to secure external funding.

“Every orientation is created in some four to eight months. If I go looking for corporate sponsorship, I don’t have any numbers or data from the last 10 years to show,” explains Kohn. “If a big corporation gave any college orientation a big chunk of money, I’d be extremely surprised.”

New College, New Mascot

Hundreds of frosh work to solve week-long murder mystery

New College, New Mascot

In an elaborate exercise of college spirit, frosh week at New College this year was themed as a murder mystery, climaxing in the revelation of a new mascot.

Since the incoming class arrived on Labour Day, there has been one question on everyone’s mind: GNU done it?

Varsity Vignettes: New College Murder Mystery from The Varsity on Vimeo.

The story, played out over the course of orientation week, saw current mascot Goliath III kidnapped and murdered by one of seven suspects. The college’s new mascot, Goliath IV, enlisted the help of the New College community to solve the murder of his predecessor.

The late Goliath III had represented New College for the past decade.

With around 770 new students split into 30 groups, the challenges of superimposing a narrative on a huge student body were clear from the beginning.

Frosh were given a suspect list and alibis, along with a stream of newscast-style videos that provided clues for the investigation. On the list of “suspects” were members of the New College community including the student council president, principal, librarian, and writing coach.

All the suspects, according to New College orientation co-chair Laurel Chester, will prove to be useful resources for students in the future.

“We made it so that the murder mystery theme works on all levels,” explained executive leader Craig Maniscalco. “The clues and information can pertain to all of the frosh students; the very keen ones can try solving the mystery in depth, while others who are not as interested can still be aware of what is going on.”

Frosh students were not the only ones trying to solve the mystery; except for a handful of executives, team leaders, troopers, organizers, and frosh were all kept in the dark about the outcome.

In fact, according to Chester, a choice between three potential endings was not made until the day before the announcement. By the end of the week, the culprit had been revealed as Jeff Newman, the librarian. Newman and his co-conspirator, Debra Knott, had kidnapped Goliath III. When the mascot escaped, Newman murdered him and attempted to pin the blame on Knott and New College principal Yves Roberge.

“It’s cool how the leaders don’t know what’s going on either,” said Julian Dyer, leader of the “Inspector Gnueseau” group. “That way, we are part of the process as well and the more we’re into it, the more likely the frosh students will be as well.”

“So far, its only day two and I’ve already had such a great time. I’ve met so many friendly students and have really enjoyed the murder mystery theme of the orientation,” said Shameer Rahman, a first year political science student.

The orientation team spent most of the summer planning, and the week’s programming has hewed closely to the theme, says Maniscalco. Orientation leaders wanted to create a narrative that was plausible, and created a novella-length body of storyline in advance.

As frosh students clad in bright yellow shirts flooded the courtyard and examined the crime scene of the murdered mascot, it seemed that the team’s careful planning had paid off.

“Everything was very well put together and planned out,” said Max Liu, first year social science student. “I’ve definitely become more familiar with my surroundings and have met a lot of great people along the way.”

Boycott of publishing giant Elsevier gathers pace

Frustrated by what they call an exploitative business model and unreasonable prices, researchers at U of T have joined a growing movement asking: how much must we pay for knowledge?

Boycott of publishing giant Elsevier gathers pace

Over 12,000 academics, including 55 from the University of Toronto, have signed a petition to boycott Elsevier, a leading academic publisher in the scientific, technical and medical realms. The Dutch corporation has come under fire in recent months for its controversial business model, sky-high prices, and lobbying efforts to restrict academic freedom.

“Elsevier is based on a business model in which academics do almost all the work for free,” explains Dr. Rachel Barney, a philosophy professor at U of T.

Academic publishers like Elsevier do not pay the academics and researchers who submit papers for publication, nor those who peer-review the papers to ensure their accuracy. Much of the research in papers published in journals distributed by Elsevier is funded by taxpayer dollars, enabling the company to keep expenses low.

Elsevier sells these journals back to public institutions like the University of Toronto for tens of thousands of dollars, frequently bundling together different journals to justify raising the sticker price.

Under this arrangement, Elsevier reaped profits of approximately $1.2 billion in 2010, a 36 per cent profit margin that is almost unheard of in the publishing industry.

“We’ve been talking about the astronomical journal price increases for quite a long time,” said Caitlin Tillman, head of collection development for the University of Toronto’s library system. “What’s interesting about this Elsevier boycott is that it comes from the faculty, and not the libraries.”

The boycott began with Cambridge professor Timothy Gowers. In a January 2012 blog post, Gowers vowed that he would not publish, peer review, or serve on the editorial boards of any of the over 2,600 journals Elsevier publishes.

In an official statement released in response to the boycott, Elsevier explains that they do not force libraries to purchase their journals. But librarians say that the journals are so prohibitively priced when purchased individually that they have no choice but to buy in bundles.

“They’ll bundle five or 10 together so that if you want one, you need to buy the whole set,” said Julie Hannaford, Associate Librarian for the Social Sciences and Humanities at U of T.

Journal prices have been rising for over 25 years, says Tillman, adding, “I would say the average price increase was four to five per cent.”

U of T’s libraries receive a yearly two per cent funding increase to cover inflation costs. But the price of journal subscriptions, particularly in science, technology and medicine, have outpaced this allowance, rising by around seven to nine per cent every year explains Tillman.

As a result, journals eat up more of libraries’ budgets, both at U of T and abroad. One survey found that in Britain, school libraries were spending an average of 65 per cent on subscriptions alone.

Last year, the University of Toronto cut all of its print subscriptions to journals that offered digital subscriptions. Tillman warns that “sooner rather then later” the library will have to make cuts that effect content.

Some suggest that part of the problem is the broader structure of academia. In some fields, a publish-or-die mentality has allowed publishers such as Elsevier to entrench their position. Publication credits in certain reputable journals are a key metric for hiring and promoting professors, and it increasingly serves in admissions processes to competitive research programs. Elsevier publishes some of the largest and most well-known journals including The Lancet series of journals.

“This has very little to do with academic publishing,” says James Romanow, co-chair of Access Copyright “All they’ve got to do is stop subscribing and stop using [journal articles] as a metric for hiring and promotion.”

Elsevier is one of the three large commercial publishers in the industry, which together account for approximately 42 per cent of the academic journals printed worldwide. By limiting their boycott to Elsevier, academics can register their objections, while retaining the opportunity to publish their work elsewhere.

“Pretty much across the board Elsevier is the most expensive” says Tillman. She stresses that large academic publishers strictly enforce confidentially agreements, so it is difficult to know for sure.

 

COPYRIGHT LOBBYING CEMENTS FRUSTRATION

A growing sense of frustration with Elsevier was further cemented when the company last year announced its support for controversial American copyright laws including the Stop Online Piracy Act, the Personal Information Protection Act and the Research Works Act.

Elsevier lobbied heavily in favour of the Research Works Act, which would have restricted open access for federally funded academic research in the United States.

If the bill had become law, academics would no longer have been allowed to share their own work publicly on personal websites or in an email to friends or colleagues. Publishers would have been granted complete control over anything printed in their publications. Elsevier withdrew its support for the measure in February of this year.

Steve Easterbrook, a computer science professor at U of T and a signatory on the petition, says he joined the boycott because of rising costs and bundling practices, but “above all [because of] their attempts to restrict open access journals.”

“When I publish something, it’s because I believe it’s worth sharing. I want anyone who wants to read my work to be able to read my work,” says Easterbrook. Easterbrook now publishes his work on his own website under a creative commons license, as well as through traditional print publications.

 

A CHANGE IS COMING 

Open access efforts such as Easterbrook’s are on the rise worldwide. At U of T, a self-archiving system called T-space allows academics to make their work available online.

Others have taken matters into their own hands, creating not-for-profit journals that anyone can access and read.

In 2006, the entire editorial board of Topology, an Elsevier-owned mathematics journal, resigned in protest. The next day, the same board members formed a not-for- profit journal called Journal of Topology, which continues to publish today.

Cases like the Topology resignation are rare, but for many, they represent some hope for the future. Still, these open access journals are not a perfect solution. “Some of these journals have no status, because they’re putting up unreferreed work,” cautions Romanow.

The open access movement is also beginning to receive some legislative support. The European Commission announced this summer that all research published from 2014 through 2020 that is funded by the Commission’s more than $100 billion in grants must be made freely and openly accessible.

The commission’s decision followed on the heels of an announcement in the UK, committing to making publicly funded research freely available by 2014.

Despite advancements in open access, the problem of cost remains. In April, the Library Advisory Committee of Harvard University, the most affluent post-secondary institution in the world, published a report calling the rising price of journals “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive.” According to the report, Harvard spends $3.5 million annually on subscriptions to corporate publishers like Elsevier.

Elsevier claims their business model makes it possible for researchers “to have their work efficiently reviewed, enhanced, validated, recognized, discovered and made highly accessible.” But as library budgets tighten and the boycott gathers steam, Elsevier’s grip on the world of academic publishing grows looser each day.