Living Arts: Hart House Theatre Audition

ANNE RUCCHETTO musters up some courage and tries to snag a role in a production of Romeo and Juliet

Living Arts: Hart House Theatre Audition

As a former student in  ENG220, a.k.a. Intro to Shakespeare,  I considered it a natural extension of what I learned during that course to audition for Hart House Theatre’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. The opportunity seemed worthwhile, if only because it would provide interesting material for an article. But, I must admit, I briefly pondered the doors that might open if I actually snagged a role. I had, after all, played a driven defence attorney in a grade-school production of The Trial of Goldilocks. Besides, I had an entirely theoretical knowledge of Shakespeare, thanks to ENG220.

The week before the audition, I primed myself with a few quick readings of the speech I had decided to deliver when my time came to enter the spotlight: Viola’s passion-filled monologue about disguises and gender-bending from Twelfth Night.

The Thursday afternoon of my audition, I strode with purpose to Hart House with a half hour to spare, propelled by the small rushes of adrenaline warming my chest. I hurried up to the third floor and walked towards the small waiting space just outside the South Sitting Room, and my sense of purpose bubbled as I sat among the other hopeful actors.

But as I began to take in my surroundings, the warmth of adrenaline I had been enjoying dispersed and immediately thereafter seemed to drain directly from my armpits. As I looked at the faces of my competitors, I could feel their intensity. Some held practice sheets in their laps, reading silently but studiously. A Juliet-type paced the floor with her hands clasped behind her back, wearing a floor-length dress that screamed “Elizabethan maiden.” Another sat on the floor with her arms huddled around her legs, muttering in panicked tones.

As I glanced at the professional headshots that many of the actors had with them, I realized that the Facebook profile picture I had submitted to the judges paled in comparison. It seemed a good moment to review the advice professor Philippa Sheppard, an experienced Shakespeare scholar here at U of T , had given me the evening before.

“For amateur actors, often the toughest aspect of an audition is what to do with the body,” Sheppard had told me. “Stiff arms by your sides is to be avoided, but so is semaphore. The auditioning actor needs to think carefully about how to punctuate the monologue with just enough movement, facial expression, and gesture to keep it exciting, but also natural, and to show the director that you know how to fill ‘the empty space.’

“Variety of pacing, volume and tone is important. Having said that, clear diction and good projection of the voice is a must.”

Although I tried to focus on coming up with ways to fill “the empty space” of the audition area, it was impossible to block out the other auditions that were going on inside the South Sitting Room. I heard a variety of exciting, loud and confident deliveries, which made me feel even more anxious. The muffled footsteps that I heard coming from the audition room were even more disconcerting, since I had only practiced Viola’s speech from the comfort of a chair.

“Well, she could be delivering those lines from a chair,” I thought to myself, as I began to fret over how to combine a coherent reading with fluid physical expressions.

The audition schedule was running a bit behind, and the extra time spent considering how to best present the speech boosted my morale slightly. When Carter, a bright-faced member of the judging panel, finally stepped out to call my name, I responded with a jaunty smile and stepped into the room, shoulders back, and chin held high. I tried my best to look like a dignified Viola.

I was warmly received by the judging panel — Lucy, Jeremy, and Carter — who asked a few administrative questions.

“So, have you acted in any productions before?” inquired Jeremy, the play’s artistic director, with a friendly smile.

“Ah. No,” I replied after deciding not to tell the judges that The Trial of Goldilocks was the pinnacle of my acting experience. I tried to flash a charming smile, dripping with confidence, but thanks to the tension in my lower cheeks and jaw, I probably produced more of a threatening grimace.

The realization that I could hardly sustain a real life conversation, let alone a convincing Shakespearean monologue, completely  threw me, and my audition pretty much unraveled from there.

Contrary to my plans, I fumbled with my playbook and stammered frequently through a speech often recognized for its daring analysis of gender norms. About halfway through, I added a stiff flap of my wrists, hoping to incorporate some dynamism. After croaking, “It is too hard a knot for me t’untie,” I reluctantly looked up from the stained spot of wood on the floor, to which my eyes had been glued. To my shock I was met with easy smiles on all three judges’ faces.

“I’m a writer for The Varsity!” I confessed, hoping to justify the monstrosity that had just occurred.

“I knew that” said Jeremy kindly.

Taking the opportunity to pick their brains, I asked what sort of audition was most likely to earn hopefuls a lead role.

“Something different and refreshing,” explained Lucy, the publicity coordinator.

“We are sitting here for hours, so anything that stands out is a good thing,” Carter added.

The judges went on to assure me that it is not necessary to have acting experience in order to secure a role in Hart House’s productions, and that their choice depends almost entirely on audition performance. And, while they may have been sitting in the audition room for quite some time, the judges were in good humour, happily answering my questions and never betraying a hint of any of the harsh criticism that I had come to expect from my theatrically-inclined friends’ audition horror-stories.

Chatting with the judges helped ease my embarrassment. I am still more than happy to revel in Shakespeare’s noble craft, but I’m evidently best suited to be a humble spectator. Or perhaps my moment of dramatic glory will come behind the scenes of the production. I think I’d make a pretty good stagehand.

U of T and the Dunlap Observatory: “A breach of public trust”?

The Varsity investigates the struggle to preserve a Canadian scientific landmark.

U of T and the Dunlap Observatory: “A breach of public trust”?

In 2008, decades after it was entrusted to the university by the Dunlap family, 79 hectares of land in Richmond Hill were sold to a private developer for $70 million dollars. The deal, which ran afoul of the original terms of the endowment, was signed over objections from astronomers within the university, community activists in Richmond Hill, and a Dunlap heiress, who put up a 20-year fight to preserve her grandfather’s legacy. 


In 1922 David Dunlap, an amateur astronomer and wealthy mining magnate, attended a lecture given by professor Clarence Chant, founder of the University of Toronto’s astronomy department. The lecture marked the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership, and over the next decade, Chant and Dunlap worked together to bring a world-class observatory to the university.

In 1927, the Dunlap family gifted the university 79 hectares of land, including a farmhouse that predated Canadian Confederation. After Dunlap’s death in 1924, his wife, Jessie Dunlap, continued to work with Chant and on May 31 1935, Jessie Dunlap cut the ribbon on the David Dunlap Observatory. The observatory’s telescope was, and remains to this day, the largest in Canada, ensconced within an 80-tonne copper dome.

“The observatory when it was first constructed was a world leading instrument, there’s no question of that,” says Pekka Sinervo, who was dean of Arts & Science in 2007 in the lead-up to the eventual sale of the property.

In the nearly 70 years of the university’s ownership, the observatory was the site of historic accomplishments in astronomy: the first discovery of a black hole, the discovery of several solar systems, and the most comprehensive globular cluster catalogue assembled at the time.

But in 2008, after a protracted legal battle with the Dunlap family, the University of Toronto’s Governing Council voted overwhelmingly to declare the David Dunlap Observatory lands “surplus.” The university proceeded to sell the land to private developer Corsica (Metrus) Development.


When the land was originally gifted to the university, the deed, a copy of which was obtained by The Varsity, stated that if the university were to “use the land for purposes other than research,” it would revert to Dunlap’s heirs.

To circumvent this clause and proceed with the sale, the university first courted Dunlap’s descendants, and then reportedly engaged in a protracted legal war of attrition. The three Dunlap heirs, David Dunlap III, J. Moffat Dunlap, and Donalda Robarts, grandchildren of David and Jessie Dunlap, would have jointly held the title for the land if the university had proceeded without their permission. David and Moffat Dunlap capitulated to an alteration of the bequest after a few months, but Robarts held out.

According to an account given to the National Post in 2008, Donalda and her husband, Richard Robarts (cousin of John P. Robarts, the Ontario premier after whom the central library at U of T is named) were courted during dinners at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and were offered one million dollars for each of the Robarts’ seven children. Donalda Robarts was not available for a comment at press time.

“It took four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars before she capitulated,” says Karen Cilevitz, chair of the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders. “She was in her 70s. It was exhausting.”

The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2007 and the records of the case are sealed.

Last year, David and Moffat Dunlap received honourary degrees from the university for “contributions to astronomy.”

Donalda Robarts received no such honour. “She was the one who held out for four years,” Cilevitz points out.

A spokesperson for the university refused to confirm or deny any details about the lawsuit, saying only that, “the university proceeded with the sale of the property with the full agreement of the Dunlap Family.”

Six members of the astronomy department at the Obsevatory in 1962. JACK MARSHALL & CO.


A 2007 article in the Toronto Star quoted an unnamed university official as saying the land was worth $100 million. Ultimately, the university sold the property to Corsica for a price tag of $70 million.

“I would be interested to know why we settled for $30 million less,” said PC Choo, a Governing Council member representing administrative staff, in an interview with The Varsity. Choo was one of two governors to vote against the sale.

Choo’s objections were twofold: he believed there was still valuable research to be done at the site, and he was concerned that a number of his colleagues would lose their jobs. Ultimately, one administrative staff member retired and two were laid off as a result of the observatory’s closure.

Asked about the discrepancy between the unnamed official’s first statement and the eventual price, university spokesperson Laurie Stephens said “the university is confident it got the best possible price.”


Two radically different perspectives have emerged about the scientific rationale for the sale.

The university contends that light pollution from the GTA means the telescope can no longer be used for research, as the Dunlap family had specified in the bequest.

Dr. Ian Shelton is vice-chair of the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders. He passionately disagrees with the university’s rationale. “Its basically a smear campaign to make everybody feel that it was the right thing to do to close the observatory,” said Shelton. “To say that it was for financial reasons wouldn’t have flown.”

The observatory was used primarily for spectroscopy. Light is taken from only the smallest part of the sky possible, according to Shelton so light pollution is far less important than in other kinds of astronomical research. Richmond Hill has had a bylaw for decades that limits light pollution surrounding the observatory.

“The argument that there was no research value is absurd,” says Shelton.

“The telescope cost $800,000 annually to operate; it was no longer cost effective” said professor Peter Martin, who was chair of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Department at the time.

Martin explains that the money used to operate the observatory, as well as the $70 million from the sale, have now been funneled into the Dunlap Institute, “whose sole goal is to carry on the legacy [of David Dunlap].”


The land donated by the Dunlap family is located in Richmond Hill. As the growing town encroached upon, and then surrounded the observatory’s acreage, its value increased.

“The town did want to engage in a discussion with the university, and the university had already made a decision,” said Anna Bassios, commissioner of planning and regulatory services for Richmond Hill. “The university’s sole interest was getting the greatest amount of financial return.”

Bassios’ sentiments are echoed by many of those following the sale. Cilevitz argues that the university decided to sell the land well before formally putting it up for surplus, but instead of engaging in conversations with the community “they began a process of attrition, they wouldn’t repair or replace things, or professors; by the time they closed the doors there were only a handful of professors left.”

According to testimony by Dr. Tom Bolton, a professor emeritus in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics whose work at the observatory led to the discovery of Cygnus X-1, the first black hole identified, testified at an August hearing before the Ontario Municipal Board that it “cannot be understated” that the decision taken by the U of T was a “business decision, not an academic one.”

Bolton noted the U of T did “not consult with the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics” and that they were simply “told” by the university that a decision had been made to sell the site.

“It is viewed by us, by Donalda, by anybody who knows this story as a breach of public trust,” concludes Cilevitz.

Students, staff critique provincial plan at emergency town hall

Discussion proceeds in spite of minister Glen Murray’s surprise absence

Students, staff critique provincial plan at emergency town hall

UPDATED: Bolded sections of this article added Monday, October 5 to reflect new comments from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) hosted an emergency town hall on education Tuesday in the McLeod Auditorium. UTSU president Shaun Shepherd, U of T provost Cheryl Misak, and University of Toronto Faculty of Association (UTFA) president Scott Prudham led the discussion, with UTSU vice president-university affairs Munib Sajjad moderating.

The “emergency” at hand: the Ontario government’s 24-page discussion paper, “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation, and Knowledge.” Released in June by Minister for Training, Colleges and Universities Glen Murray, the paper suggests changes to post-secondary education in the province “the likes of which haven’t been seen in over 60 years,” according to a UTSU pamphlet advertising the town hall.

The discussion paper proposes three-year degrees, year-round classes with three full semesters per year, standardized first- and second-year courses across Ontario, and the movement of up to 60 per cent of undergraduate courses online. The paper closely resembles another proposal known as the “3-cubed” discussion paper leaked in 2011.

The UTSU will synthesize the opinions expressed during the town hall into an official written submission to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The ministry is accepting institutional and individual input on the discussion paper until September 30.

In an email to The Varsity, Alvin Tedjo, senior communications advisor at the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, said that the government would “develop options on how best to proceed” once the final reports were submitted. 

Tedjo said the next round of analysis would include assessments of affordability, student competencies, content and critical thinking skills upon graduation, and “support for more self-directed and online learning.”


Murray initially planned to attend the event, but reversed that decision after his office was informed by the UTSU that he would not be permitted to speak. Murray’s office had not responded to a request for comment as of The Varsity’s press time. During his opening remarks, Shepherd said that Murray had been in contact with the UTSU about the town hall since July, but because he was the last potential speaker to confirm his attendance he was only invited as a “guest.”

Tejdo said that Glen Murray was invited to the event on September 10th and accepted the invitation ten days later, on the 20th. According to Tedjo, the UTSU withdrew the invitation for Murray to speak on September 22nd and Murray said he would not attend on the 24th, the day before the event. 

Murray spent that Tuesday night at a government caucus, and met with eight other university officials.  

There were unconfirmed reports that the minister would instead be meeting with college and campus leaders of the St. George Roundtable (SGRT) within the next two weeks.

No date has been set, although Jonathan Scott, president of the U of T Liberals and an organizer of the future meeting said Saturday that the Arts & Science Student Union (ASSU) and Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) would be invited to join the SGRT at the meeting. “The UTSU is more than welcome to come,” said Scott “so long as they leave the bullhorns and belligerence at home.”

During his opening remarks, Shepherd said he did not want the panelists to take up speaking time intended for students to express their opinions about the paper. Despite concerns about speaking time, the meeting began with a satirical trivia game.

Panelists and speakers were broadly critical of the discussion paper. “This paper contains some pretty bad proposals for undergraduate education,” said provost Cheryl Misak, “but in each of these proposals, there is a good side.

“My task is to bring out the good side of the government’s proposals and make our students better off, without imperilling the integrity of their degrees and their futures,” added Misak.

While the provost criticized the proposal for three-year undergraduate degrees, she alluded to an optional program in which students could do their degrees in five years, divided between a three-year bachelor’s degree and a two-year masters. These so-called “fast track” degrees are already in development.

Misak also previewed an agreement — announced later the same week ­— that makes it easier to transfer credits between a consortium of seven Ontario universities.


In an email to The Varsity, Misak confirmed that the university was preparing its own submission letter to the Ministry. The letter would not be made public “out of courtesy for the process the Minister put in place.”

“We will respond to the discussion paper, as requested,” Misak confirmed. “We have many avenues for dialogue with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities including regular meetings through COU [Council of Ontario Universities] and other discussions with the Ministry.”

Faculty association president Scott Prudham criticized the proposal’s apparent lack of concern for research, as well as the absence of any mention of academic freedom. Prudham was skeptical of the paper’s call for greater “productivity” in the post-secondary sector, which, Prudham and other speakers explained, has already been forced to do more with less. Prudham also slammed the paper for adopting a view of universities as factory-like institutions for training future workers.

“It’s good news that the minister has asked for input,” Prudham said, “but bad news, because he really needs it.”

Gathered students and staff, numbering around 100, were given an hour and a half to comment on the proposal. Topics of discussion ranged from transfer credits to summer employment, to class sizes and physical and mental health at Ontario universities.

Most of the students at the event were generally critical of at least some proposals in the discussion paper, though there was a range of opinions expressed.

The proposals of provost Misak received vocal support among a number of speakers. Other suggestions included using money potentially saved from online courses to fund seminar classes.

Some students, like human biology-major Shanice Chen, came undecided, hoping to learn more about the suggested changes. “I’m indecisive at the moment,” said Chen. “I wanted to be more informed about what the proposals are, and what we can do to stop them if we don’t like them.”

The auditorium was filled to about half capacity, and proceedings remained civil for the most part. Sajjad was criticized on social media for his reprimand of Michael Scott, a former UTSU director who was critical of the union’s handling minister Glen Murray’s speaking engagement.

Sajjad interrupted Scott, but allowed him finish his point. Despite Sajjad’s warning to the audience after Scott’s remarks that discussion was to focus solely the discussion paper, Guled Arale, vice president-external for the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, was permitted to speak over his time limit about a previous consultation that Murray had attended.

According to Arale, Murray recently visited a similar town hall event at UTSC. The minister was supposed to address the crowd for five minutes at the end of the presentation, but instead spoke for nearly forty minutes after apparent confusion on the part of his staff.

After Murray was finished speaking, Arale said, there was only time for three students to ask questions. Murray’s office was unavailable for comment on the UTSC town hall.

With files from James Maiangowi.

Be on my side?

Teenage Kicks’ Peter Van Helvoort opens up about moving on after a sudden lineup change

Be on my side?

Peter Van Helvoort, lead singer of Toronto band Teenage Kicks, has had a rough week.

“Do you even feel like talking about the band right now?” I ask.

“I’m always happy to talk about the band, about what I love,” he replies. To be fair, he has had a few days to digest a pretty hefty blow.


During Canadian Music Week earlier this year, Teenage Kicks, who had just released their second EP Be On My Side, garnered attention for their energetic live shows and were hailed as a band to watch. Six months later, in mid-September, Van Helvoort posted this message on the band’s tumblr: “As of yesterday my brother and best friend Jeff [Van Helvoort, bass] decided he needs to leave our band. Today Patrick [Marchent, guitar] decided that he can also no longer continue in the band.”

The group was just days away from signing a record deal and had been getting love from both the blogosphere and music reviewers. So what happened?

“We got all these opportunities and every single one kind of turned into a lie, or faded, or people were just full of shit,” Van Helvoort tells me. “We started doing things to make other people happy and the band stopped being happy in the time in between.

“It got to the point where we realized you can’t ignore [the fact] that the music industry is full of these people.”

Van Helvoort’s harsh words are not reserved exclusively for the music industry. He also critiques himself with a remarkably brutal honesty.

“Jeff quit and I didn’t stop him because I understood why he quit,” he notes. “Sometimes I think it’s weakness that I stay in the band because it’s what I’m used to, it’s what I’m comfortable with and that’s why Jeff left. He’s been doing it for so long and wants to do something different.”

Teenage Kicks, although defined by a sound and mentality that are thoroughly informed by past decades of classic rock, is a band that takes full advantage of modern media. They are active bloggers on wordpress and tumblr, keep their Facebook page updated, and have started the “Teenage Kicks Singles” Club featuring exclusively online mp3 releases. Many bands use these digital platforms to present a carefully crafted image of themselves. But Van Helvoort is strikingly candid about both what he can do as a musician and where his limitations lie.

“I’m not a naturally talented musician or songwriter,” he admits. “It’s clearly something I had to work at and practice, practice, practice.” So Teenage Kicks added guitarist Christian Turner to the band last year.

“I didn’t want to feel like shit anymore because I couldn’t play a show and feel good,” Van Helvoort says. “He’s such a phenomenal guitar player that I think he takes the band to another level.”

It is exactly this mentality that makes Teenage Kicks more classic rock than indie cool: the attitude towards musicianship as a craft and the idea that every band member contributes whatever it is that they do best. It’s an old-school approach to music that harkens back to such names as Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. And as Van Helvoort tells me, his contribution to the band is song-writing.

“When I write a song there’s not a lot of questions,” he says. “It’s not an easy task, but I know how I work. I understand song-writing more than I understand anything else in life, it’s just the one thing I do the best.”

Apart from writing and singing (the latter of which he says he doesn’t care for, and would gladly allow another band member to take over if they sang better), Van Helvoort produced Be On My Side, the follow-up to last year’s Rational Anthems. Just like Rational Anthems, Be On My Side is full of well-tailored rock songs that are unapologetically stadium material.

But the band’s second EP sounds more polished, perhaps “too clean,” in Van Helvoort’s own words. With a lot of material to choose from, Teenage Kicks intentionally went with a more pop sound for Be On My Side, deciding to keep the rougher, darker, deeper pieces for the full length that should have been out by now.

Before the remaining three members of Teenage Kicks (Van Helvoort, Turner and drummer Cameron Brunt) can focus on finishing their debut album, they are going to have to find replacements for Jeff Van Helvoort and Marchant, who will play their last show with Teenage Kicks at Lee’s Palace on October 5.

“Finding people will be tough because we are five very close friends,” Van Helvoort says. “In the last six months we kind of got closer with all the bullshit we dealt with. We had band practice last night and it was the best band practice we had in a long time. We still practice three times a week, we still talk to each other, no one is mad at anyone.

“It’s very strange.”

Fortunately — and unusually for a rock band — Teenage Kicks shows no signs of being brought down by oversized egos. The band named itself after a song by The Undertones. Perhaps now that Teenage Kicks is once again going through a formative period, the remaining band members should once again look to their namesake for guidance; one of The Undertones’ songs is called “It’s Going to Happen.”

Restaurant Review: Weslodge Saloon

Old West meets King West at this new food joint, but scanty portions fail to impress

Restaurant Review: Weslodge Saloon

The new Weslodge Saloon, located at 480 King St. W., features a dark and smoky interior with a Western aesthetic complimented by leather-bound menus and holster-wearing staff. It’s a unique, and trendy concept space, but when I visited the restaurant, the service was less than impressive. As I sat down at the bar, I was told that I would not be served because the bartender had stepped out. While Weslodge’s menu is reasonably priced, the selection is minimal and forces you to choose between a range of slightly peculiar salads, a burger, and some additional “old-timey” dinner dishes that should, quite frankly, stay in the 1920s (venison chops or Ontario lamb shoulder anyone?).

I decided to go for the burger, which, as far as I’m concerned, is usually a safe bet and a pretty good way of judging the quality of the kitchen. The wide-cut and freshly made fries that came with the burger were delicious. The burger was supposed to be medium-well, but was served blue. The portions were also pretty sparse, and I noticed that a minimal amount of food was being delivered to other tables as well.

Weslodge seems to cater to a certain clientele: young people who want King Street dining at a reasonable price, with no plans to eat anything substantial.

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Former CUPE 3902 chief negotiator hired by university

Timing of Mikael Swayze’s departure from union raises doubts about last year’s high-stakes contract negotiations

The Varsity has learned that Mikael Swayze, chief negotiator for CUPE 3902 during contract negotiations with the University of Toronto administration earlier this year, was hired away by the university weeks after concluding high-stakes bargaining that made headlines in this newspaper over the threat of a TA strike.

Swayze was employed by the union from December 1998 until his departure in April 2012, and acted as the chief negotiator for CUPE 3902 Unit 1 during talks last year. CUPE 3902 represents all teaching assistants, writing instructors, and lab demonstrators at the university.

Swayze left the union for a position as a strategic labour consultant within the university’s Department of Human Resources & Equity. University spokesperson Michael Kennedy said the university does not comment on matters involving individual employees.

Sources within CUPE have suggested that as chief negotiator, Swayze had significant strategic weight in shaping the tone and direction of the negotiations. His duties included training the bargaining team and giving strategic counsel. He was also the designated voice of CUPE 3902 Unit 1 during the bargaining process with U of T administration.

When a deal could not initially be reached, 91 per cent of union members voted in favour of a strike last December.

University administrators and students prepared for the worst as negotiations went on into February. The strike was narrowly averted when a last-minute deal was struck at 2 am, two hours after the deadline had passed.

From the beginning, the final terms of the agreement appeared to be contentious. The bargaining committee was divided 4–3 on whether to recommend the offer for ratification. James Nugent and Ashleigh Ingle, two members of the bargaining committee opposed to the final terms, resigned in protest.

The terms of the agreement were unenthusiastically adopted by the membership in a later vote. Sixty-seven per cent (1197 members) voted in favour of the agreement, while 600 voted against. CUPE’s 2009 ratification vote garnered 97 per cent voter support.

The new terms included establishing a working group to look into ballooning tutorial sizes and replacing the doctoral completion grant with an allotment of $250,000 over two years for unfunded fifth- and sixth-year grad students. The university also agreed to give graduate students two one-time payments totaling $150,000 to compensate for increased workload.

Current CUPE 3902 chair Abouzar Nasirzadeh declined to comment, adding that his current contract forbade him from commenting on staff matters. But some of Swayze’s former colleagues say they feel betrayed.

“The ink was hardly dry on the tentative settlement that Swayze and other bargaining team members signed when Swayze accepted his new post,” says Nugent, who sat on the committee with Swayze and acted as spokesperson during negotiations prior to his protest-resignation.

Swayze stated that he did not start searching for a new job until after the deal was finalized.

“Collective bargaining concluded in February and the contract was ratified at the beginning of March of this year,” he said. “Completing this round was a major project for me in my career. With my major project for the year completed, as someone mid-career, I contemplated my future and commenced a job search.”

Swayze also noted that the job listing for the new labour relations position at U of T was not posted until mid-April, when changes in staffing warranted the creation of a new position.

Nugent says members of the union looked to Swayze at the time “for a certain degree of leadership and guidance as to whether or not the U of T Administration’s final offer was adequate, was indeed their ‘final’ offer, or whether our union should have continued bargaining or taken strike action.”

“My role as staff rep involved being a problem solver,” insisted Swayze. “I had no vote in any decisions made. My only role was to provide my best professional advice.”

“This kind of move — from union to management — is quite common in labour relations at the university and more generally in the industry,” he added. “For instance, Angela Hildyard, vice-president, human resources and  equity was a leader in OPSEU 578 at OISE before moving over to an administrative labour relations role.”

First Muslim chaplain appointed

Student-led drive to create permanent position successful as Tarsin to begin work this week

First Muslim chaplain appointed

Amjad Tarsin has been appointed as the University of Toronto’s full-time Muslim chaplain, the first position of its kind in Canada. Tarsin is scheduled to officially begin work on October 1.

“Volunteers and alumni paved the way for this project,” says Rameez Mahmood, former president of the Muslim Students’ Association. “They showed the community the need for a permanent, full-time position.”


Muslim chaplaincies are becoming more common in universities across the United States and Canada, according to Mahmood. He expects Tarsin’s appointment to be the “next step in Islamic leadership in Canada,” given the student-led drive to create and fill the position.

“I hope that through this project, students can recognize the potential that they have at this time in their life,” says Mahmood. “A 21-year-old can build a full institution that has a global impact.”

Prior to Tarsin’s appointment, the position was filled by volunteer imams, many of whom dedicated substantial amounts of time to student interaction. But the sizable Muslim community on campus sought a more permanent commitment.

In its early stages, the project to hire a chaplain was run by volunteer students and alumni. The team now consists of a part-time managing director, Ruqayyah Ahdab, and the chaplain himself.

Tarsin’s decision to study chaplaincy stems from his own time at university and the challenges it presented.

At the University of Michigan, Tarsin studied Islamic Studies and English Literature. He had learned from prominent Islamic scholars in Canada and the United States, and spent a year abroad in southern Yemen to further explore his faith.

“Coming back to university after living abroad made me reconnect with my childhood friends, who were getting involved with alcohol, drugs and the like,” he says. “I remember sitting down at my kitchen table and having an internal dialogue; it was at that moment that I decided to take my faith more seriously and go down that route instead.”

After spending some time at law school, he switched tracks entirely and entered the Hartford Seminary chaplaincy program, from which he recently graduated.

After a year as chaplain at Fairfield University in Connecticut, he heard about U of T’s chaplaincy program. Tarsin said the application process for the program was intense, but it affirmed his faith in the institution and its vision.

He has already attended a few Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) events and meetings, and was inspired by the “incredibly diverse, talented U of T population.”

Tarsin says he aims to get to know students for the people they are and understand fully the challenges that they may be facing, in conjunction with making himself visible, present, and available. An explanatory launch video outlined some problems Muslim students have faced in the past, including professors berating Islam as degrading to women. The growing need for a full-time chaplain to address issues, both spiritual and psychological, for Muslim students on campus prompted the MSA to initiate the program.

Tarsin’s other duties include leading Friday prayers and arranging social and educational programming. He will hold office hours to allow students to approach him with dilemmas. His position serves all members of the university and is not restricted to Muslim students.

As he prepares to begin his new job, Tarsin is focused on creating a strong foundation for the chaplaincy program, fleshing out his role. Focus group discussions led by the MSA found that  students do not regard the chaplain as an imam, but rather a source of help and comfort, according to Mahmood. The intention is to eventually make it “Toronto’s chaplaincy.”

Tarsin’s plans to further this goal are only aided by his impressions of U of T as “a place of self-discovery, exchange of ideas and academic discourse.” He appreciates the unique position university life holds as a formative experience, and wishes to provide “spiritual, ethical, and moral direction” to all students. His ultimate goal is to foster improved understanding; he deems “intelligent civil discourse about religion and bringing it into the public sphere one of the best ways to create understanding.”

“Having a chaplain, a public face of religion on campus, is a proactive and effective way of addressing the challenges Muslim students face,” says Tarsin. “It is the best way to solve misconceptions about Islam on campus.”

Chief librarian promises new safety measures

New equipment, expanded CCTV in stacks among proposed changes

Chief librarian promises new safety measures

Following a series of incidents and arrests in recent months, the University of Toronto library system is implementing a host of new measures to improve security, including improved equipment and expanded CCTV surveillance.

Security guards and a handful of desk staff have been outfitted with new, more powerful radios. “Cellphones don’t work in areas of the building because it was built out of steel and concrete and signals are blocked. This is true of the radios as well,” chief librarian Larry Alford explains. “But we recently bought some more powerful ones so that the guards can have immediate contact with the police, and not have to go somewhere where they can get a signal.”

While Robarts already had numerous cameras positioned throughout the 14-storey building, there remain some portions of the building out-of-view on CCTV coverage. The library is currently in the design stage of a plan to add more cameras, particularly in the stacks.

“We’re actually using campus experts to really look at how can we best place additional surveillance cameras to act as a deterrent,” says Alford, adding that additional cameras could help resolve issues when and if they do occur.

The cameras are expected to be installed by this winter.

Perhaps the most drastic proposal under consideration is a plan to limit access to Robarts to T-Card holders and registered guests.

“I have put together a small task force to make some recommendations on whether we should actually limit access to Robarts Library to people with U of T IDs and registered guests — but guests would actually have to register and get permission to come into the building,” says Alford.

There are significant difficulties with limiting access to the building. Robarts is not only home to the library stacks, but also to academic departments such as the Department of East Asian Studies, to which non-ID holders may need access.

The building also houses the Toronto offices of Statistics Canada. “Legally, we must make government documents available to everybody, not just U of T students,” says Alford. Robarts also has collections that must be made available to the public if there was a tax receipt given for them by the Canadian Export Review Board.

Alford says that the group is considering the practicality of the move: cost, impact on staff and students, and the experiences of other schools such as NYU, which has limited access to the central Bobst Library, broadly the equivalent of Robarts at U of T.

“There would probably be long lines to get into the building, because you would have to check all of the IDs,” Alford acknowledges. “On a heavy day, this building gets used by 18,000 people.”

Before undertaking any measures to introduce new choke points to U of T’s largest library, Alford promises extensive consultations with student groups, the library advisory committee, and any other groups who may be impacted.

“We would talk extensively to the community before we actually did anything,” said Alford. Because it would have an impact on staff and students, both positive and negative, we want to make sure that they are well-aware of anything that we would be doing.”