Redefining success

An op-ed rebuttal on the Varsity sport’s reorganization proposals

The University of Toronto is one of the best universities in the world, containing some of the most intelligent and talented student athletes in Canada — leaders in both academics and sports. As a worldwide leader the University of Toronto should be promoting all OUA sports and CIS sports.  Unfortunately, the reality is that the more teams offered by the university, the less funding each team will receive. With less funding, it is more challenging to be successful at every sport; however to remove Varsity status from small teams in order to budget more money for larger teams is not a solution.

Funding is still an important issue, which means student athletes as a team or an entire body need to take initiative to solve this problem. Current programs such as fundraising or Adopt-A-Blue are helping, but new ideas are needed about how to increase team’s funding. The University of Toronto and their Varsity athletes need to take the initiative in developing new ideas and methods to increase funding and the competiveness of their teams. Simply cutting the number of Varsity teams to increase funding for the remaining ones, a proposal Kevin Deagle supported in his op-ed in the December 3 issue of The Varsity, is not a good solution because it assumes that small increases in funding for teams with large budgets will ultimately lead to those teams winning more often.

Though we have not been as successful as our Guelph counterparts, who have won 13 OUA and 8 CIS titles in the past four years, the situation needs to be approached with a positive attitude. The University of Western Ontario fields 35 athletic teams that have won 25 OUA banners in the past four years, demonstrating that it is possible to win while offering many different teams. Furthermore, many  of our teams are improving every year, and these improvements from previous records should be recognized.

One way to improve our teams without new funding is by pushing student athletes, regardless of sport, to be leaders inside and outside of the classroom. This could include being involved in volunteer organizations, volunteer coaching in the community, or excelling academically and becoming leaders in their academic fields. Student athletes who excel in all areas can provide inspiration not only to our current students, but also to parents, and to middle and high school students who play the same sport. This will help to promote U of T’s athletic programs. Realistically, most of our athletes will not be able to pursue careers solely within their sport; the focus should be on creating successful student athletes, not just winning teams.

Focus on wining should be a twofold approach — if participation in sport is creating successful alumni who can give back to their former programs, then why should we reduce these opportunities?  Participation in Varsity sports leads to success. Som Seif,  founder of Claymore investments, an engineering graduate who played Varsity water polo and then came back to coach the Varsity team for numerous years, and Taryn Grieder, a Varsity lacrosse player recently awarded her Ph.D in Neuroscience are examples of this.  If the phrase “once a Varsity Blue always a Varsity Blue” holds true, then creating successful alumni will not only increase funding through donations but improve Varsity athletics by making U of T better known for developing successful student leaders within its athletics programs.

To determine what makes an economically ‘successful’ U of T Varsity team, the returns on funding over past years should be reviewed. Our understanding of returns should include cost per win, cost per OUA title, and cost per CIS title where applicable. Additionally, returns should include graduation rates per team. If the university is investing money on student athletes, they should be providing some value to the University of Toronto and surrounding community.  Successful alumni, either within their sport or in other careers, as well as those who come back to coach our teams — some of whom are volunteers — should also be a factor when considering if a Varsity team has been successful.

Offering many Varsity sports is also valuable as athletes come from all over the world, convinced to attend U of T because their sport is offered here. As these athletes return to their communities around the world, they act as role models and inspirations promoting both their sport and U of T.

Though winning is important in university sports, we need to see the bigger picture; that the existence of numerous Varsity sports has many indirect benefits that are difficult to quantify. To evaluate success solely on the basis of winning is extremely short-sighted and we should also consider the indirect effects and benefits.

Funding is an important issue but reducing the number of Varsity teams is not a solution. The success of our athletic programs should not be solely defined by winning, but also by their role in creating successful student athletes. We are all U of T students, we are all “boundless,” and together we all need to rise to meet this challenge.

Luke Spooner is a pharmaceutical chemistry student who plays on the Varsity Blues men’s water polo team.

The Year in News

Knightstone Residence

On August 24, Toronto City Council voted unanimously to reject a proposal to construct a privately owned and operated condo-style student residence at 245 College St. The proposed building, which would have been built on land owned by the university, attracted significant opposition from local residents’ associations and the Ward 20 city councilor, Adam Vaughan. Opponents argued that the development was a poor fit for the neighborhood.

Knightstone Capital Management Inc., a Toronto-based developer who would have owned and operated the residence, proposed the building. In 2010, the Governing Council approved Knightstone’s request, leasing the relevant land. The original proposal was to construct a 42-storey building. In response to negative feedback from the community, Knightstone’s final proposal was for a 24-storey building.

Currently, U of T only has the capacity to house a quarter of its student population. The College Street residence was intended to address the lack of available housing on the St. George campus with a specific emphasis on accommodating graduate and international students.

Provincial Post-Secondary Policy

The UTSU held an emergency town hall on education in October in response to the Ontario government’s discussion paper “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge.” The purpose of the paper, released by then Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Glen Murray in June, was to solicit feedback regarding a series of potential reforms to the province’s post-secondary system.

The document’s controversial proposals include the creation of three-year degrees with yearlong courses divided across three semesters, standardized and transferable first- and second-year courses, and a shift towards hosting up to 60 per cent of courses online.

Murray cancelled his plans to attend the meeting after being told by the UTSU that he would not appear on a panel alongside union president Shaun Shepherd, U of T provost Cheryl Misak, and University of Toronto Faculty Association president Scott Prudham. According to Shepherd, Murray was invited as a “guest” rather than a speaker because he was the last potential panelist to confirm his participation. The minister later criticized the town hall on Twitter, calling it a “festival of misinformation.”

AGM Agenda

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s annual general meeting ended abruptly when the proposed agenda was defeated. The agenda included several bylaw amendments and administrative tasks, which may be addressed during the upcoming general meeting as “old business.” (see “Reforms Set for UTSU Agenda,” pg 3)

The rejected agenda did not include a series of proposed amendments that were submitted collaboratively by leaders from Trinity College, University College and the Faculty of Engineering. Amongst the proposed reforms were changes to the union’s electoral policy, and a rule prohibiting proxy voting at union board meetings. The amendments never made it onto the agenda because they weren’t received in time to be vetted by the Policy and Procedures Committee and the Board of Directors.

Sam Greene, co-Head of Trinity College, believes that the union “deliberately attempted to stifle proposals and amendments.” According to Greene, Corey Scott, the UTSU’s VP internal & services, was not “forthcoming” when asked for the proposal submission deadline.

Access Copyright Agreement

In January 2012, the university became one of only two academic institutions in Canada to sign a controversial deal with Access Copyright, a non-profit organization that specializes in licensing and royalty collection and distribution. The agreement replaced the existing $0.10 per page policy for course packs by raising the annual royalty for digital copyrighted material from $3.38 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student to $27.50, an increase of over 700 per cent. Additional provisions within the agreement also include limitations on sending links to copyrighted material within emails, an extension of the definition of “copy” to encompass digital copying, and indemnity provisions meant to protect the university against copyright infringement.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Union, and the University of Toronto Faculty Association have criticized the “cost, process, content, scope, and timing” of the deal. In a joint letter to the Governing Council, they charged the university with hurrying the approval process and failing to conduct adequate community-wide consultations.

30 per cent Tuition Grant

The Ontario government implemented an important campaign promise by announcing a 30 per cent tuition grant for college and university students. In order to qualify for the deduction, students must be enrolled full-time in programs that can be entered directly after high school. They must also have a family income of less than $160,000, and have graduated high school in the past four years.

Based on calculations made by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), only one third of Ontario’s students will meet the grant’s eligibility requirements. The CFS presented Glen Murray, then Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, with a petition consisting of over 40,000 signatures challenging the grant’s narrow eligibility requirements.

The grant was also accompanied by a series of cuts to existing government programs for post secondary students, such as study-abroad scholarships, the Ontario Textbook and Technology Grant, and the Ontario Trust for Student Support.

GSU endorses boycott of investment in Israel

The University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to endorse the campaign known as “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) against the state of Israel at their meeting on December 10.

BDS calls for U of T to refrain from investments in companies, including Lockheed Martin and Hewlett Packard, that are described as profiting from “illegal occupation of Palestinian land” and the “collective punishment of Palestinians.”

One hundred and fifty graduate students were present at the meeting, of which 97 per cent voted in favor of the motion. Some students who opposed the motion said they felt that the GSU violated their bylaws by not advertising the motion prior to the meeting.

Erin Oldynski, external commissioner for the GSU, promised that “a motion such as this is only the beginning of a much longer campaign.” Other Canadian universities have passed similar resolutions, including York University, University of Regina, and Carleton University.

Outgoing provost, president announce transition plans

Provost Cheryl Misak will be re-appointed to her position until September 2013, according to a late December memo released by university president David Naylor.

The committee charged with examining Misak’s reappointment suggested a “multi-year flexible term,” deeming the retention of one of the university’s most senior administrators critically important while the search to replace outgoing U of T president Naylor is underway.

Instead of a multi-year term, though, the stopgap measure agreed upon by Naylor and Misak will install the provost in her position for eight more months. Subsequently, an interim provost will be appointed, and once the search for the next president is completed, he or she will hire a long-term replacement. This arrangement, said Naylor in a statement, will allow him “to work closely with the Interim Provost throughout this period and especially in the fall of 2013 as ‘the Misak safety net’ falls away.”

After serving out the remainder of her term, Misak is expected to accept posts at New York University and Cambridge University, where she will work on a major philosophical text.

U of T students develop voice translation technology

University of Toronto graduate students George Dahl and Abdel-rahman Mohamed have helped develop a new translation algorithm that could enable technology that translates what you say into another language — in your own voice.

Dahl and Mohamed, both Ph.D students in computer science, first developed the acoustic modelling algorithm in 2009. After it set new benchmarks in computerized translation, Microsoft came calling and offered them internships to work on the technology.

“It gets rid of the communication barrier that exists,” said Mohamed. “I could learn English and not have to go to school to do it.”

Uniquely, for such a groundbreaking advance, Dahl and Mohamed opted against patenting the new technology, allowing companies like Google and IBM to apply it to their own speech-to-text programs.

Dahl said he expected the algorithm to find future use in computer vision, computer-aided drug discovery, and natural language processing.

With files from the Toronto Star.

Kathleen Wynne unveils post-secondary education platform

Kathleen Wynne unveils post-secondary education platform

Kathleen Wynne, one of seven candidates in the race for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal party, released her platform for post-secondary education in the province last Thursday.

Wynne’s plan includes the creation of a youth advisory council and the retention of the 30 per cent tuition grant, and pledges to try to “bridge the gap” between the labour market and the labour force, and create more flexibility and mobility between post-secondary institutions.

“Together with our partners, we’ve made significant strides in improving the quality of and access to post-secondary education in Ontario. We now have the highest overall participation rate in universities in the world,” said Wynne.

In an exclusive interview with The Varsity, Wynne said that a major component of her plan includes the creation of the Premier’s Youth Advisory Council. The council — which would include students from both universities and colleges, as well as young people who are not enrolled in post-secondary education but are involved in youth activities — would meet with the premier on a regular basis to discuss important youth issues.

“I want to get young people from a variety of backgrounds. Not just students who are in post-secondary,” said Wynne, “but young people who are trying to find their way and have something to offer.”

Wynne said that maintaining “ongoing conversations with people who are front-line or involved in youth activities and staying in touch with what youth are feeling is really very important.”

“I want to foster that discussion directly between the premier and the students,” she said.

She described the council as being a dynamic group of people who could inform policy. “It’s not a decision making body. It’s an opportunity for the premier to have an ongoing conversation with young people that is necessary for informed decision making.”

Jonathan Scott, president of the University of Toronto Liberals, also emphasized the benefits of the proposed council. “This will bring a formal consultative and consistent channel for students to have the ear of the premier. It will help ensure that student ideas can be shared without the need to resort to acrimony.”

Wynne’s plan also affirms her intention to keep the 30 per cent tuition grant in place, which she described as “a big commitment in a time of restraint.” In order to qualify for the grant, which was introduced in February 2012 by former minister Glen Murray (now one of Wynne’s competitors in the leadership race), students must be enrolled full-time in programs that can be entered directly after high school. They must also have a family income of less than $160,000 and have graduated high school in the past four years.

“I know that some of organizations have expressed some concerns and I’m quite prepared to sit down with them,” Wynne acknowledges. “I’m very interested in an ongoing dialogue and that’s part of the reason I want to set up the advisory council.”

In response to some of the concerns raised by lobby groups such as the Canadian Federation of Students, Wynne indicated that while she is not prepared to commit to specific changes to the program at this point, she is interested in making sure that it is working in the way that it was intended to and providing the access that was promised.

Another part of Wynne’s plan for post-secondary education is creating more flexibility and mobility within the system, a goal that was also featured prominently in the province’s contentious discussion paper released last summer.

“I think we need to have more portability, more flexibility within the system so we ensure that if a young person, or someone who is coming back into school, gets on a track and they take a certain number or credits that if they change their mind they are able to take the next step to do the next thing they want to do,” said Wynne.

Wynne also expressed concern about a perceived skills gap, referring to the disparity between what university graduates have studied and qualifications and backgrounds sought by prospective employers. “I believe that right now we have a labour market and labour force that don’t necessarily match,” said Wynne. “I want to make sure that we have enough opportunities for young people, either when they graduate from high school or when they graduate from their first degree or diploma from university or college.”

Wynne says she wants to ensure that students have an opportunity to experience different career paths and that they can “find an internship, or a co-op placement, or something that will allow them to experience a particular career path and decide if that’s what they want to do, or even decide that it’s not what they want to do.”

Wynne declined to comment directly on Murray’s proposal to implement a policy of no upfront tuition for post-secondary school.

“We’re all Liberals so we all believe strongly in education. We believe that education is the cornerstone of our democracy and we all believe strongly in post-secondary,” said Wynne. “I think that all of the ideas that are being put forward by the seven candidates need to be looked at. We’re one party and I think that one of the advantages of the leadership is that we can synthesize those ideas.”

Scott said that a majority of the U of T Liberal executive, including himself, are supporting Wynne.

“I’m supporting Kathleen Wynne because of her character and her progressive principles. I’m also supporting her because I know she can win a general election.”

Scott added, “If there’s anyone who can both repair the Ontario Liberals’ relationship with the teachers and bring in the spending restraints the province needs, it’s Kathleen Wynne. Her leadership is calm, conciliatory and consistent.”

Wynne concluded, “I think what positions me uniquely is that I’m really good at bringing people together and I’m really good at helping people sort through ideas and then solving the problems as they present themselves so I’m excited about the opportunity to do that.

“I think that my platform compliments and supplements what the other candidates have put forward so as the premier what I would like to do is draw on all of those ideas and the other candidates will be an important part of that process come January 28.”

The Ontario Liberal Leadership election to replace Dalton McGuinty will take place at Maple Leaf Gardens on January 25, 26, and 27. The winner, in addition to becoming the leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, will also become the Premier of Ontario as the Liberals form the current Ontario government.

Three U of T students win Rhodes

Prestigious scholarship offers eleven Canadians, including three U of T students full ride at Oxford

Three U of T students win Rhodes

On an early afternoon in October, bored but filled with the nervy tension that comes before an important event, Connor Emdin turned to Ayodele Odutayo and mentioned an Australian study he’d read recently.

The study found it was better to have an interview immediately after lunch, Emdin said, because people tend to be more accomodating just after they’ve eaten. It so happened they were the first two interviewees after lunch — fingers crossed, might they find themselves so lucky? Odutayo laughed, and the two struck up a conversation.

“I went in not expecting to win at all,” Emdin said of his grueling, 40 minute-long interview, which covered topics from economic analysis to epidemology to the minutae of a pharmaceutical company’s business activity. “So I went in just trying to have a good time — at least as much of a good time as you can have there and have a good experience.”

Whether it was this confident calm, the post-lunch interview effect, or simply their outstanding academic and extracurricular records, something worked in their favour. In December Emdin and Odutayo, along with Joanne Cave received life-changing phone calls: they had been named Rhodes scholars for 2013.

The Rhodes scholarship is one of the world’s most prestigious academic awards. Established in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a South African mining magnate, the Rhodes is a postgraduate scholarship enabling the recipient to study at Oxford University for up to three years.

This year 83 students from around the world, including 11 from Canada, will travel to Oxford as Rhodes Scholars.

Representing the University of Toronto are Emdin and Cave from the Faculty of Arts and Science, and Oduntayo from the Faculty of Medicine.

For Emdin, who is currently studying biochemistry and who co-founded Salt for Survival, a student fundraising group for salt iodization programs, the Rhodes scholarship offers the opportunity to branch out and explore more of the social-science side of global health. He plans to pursue a MPP or an M.Phil in development studies.

Odutayo, a fourth-year medical student and co-director of the University of Toronto’s International Health Program, also intends to focus on the healthcare sector by pursuing a degree in public health policy.

Cave, a women and gender studies and sociology student, intends to research the non-profit sector at Oxford, building on her experience as founder of Connect the Sector, a networking group for young non-profit professionals.

All three expressed gratitude for the mentorship of their professors at the university as well as the university’s generous academic support and aid programs for assistance over the years.

“I’d applied with the support of a professor at Trinity called Derek Allen, who encouraged me to do it,” Emdin said of his decision to seek the Rhodes scholarship. “He said it would be a good experience even if I didn’t get it — just being able to apply was good, regardless of the outcome.”

Odutayo made special mention of Michelle Hladunewich, who initially took him under her wing in 2007, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Western Ontario.

“Among my mentors, Michelle stands out,” he said in an interview with U of T News. “It is because of her support that I have been able to pursue diverse learning opportunities such as working with the World Health Organization.”

University President David Naylor praised the Rhodes Scholars in a December news release.

“We are very proud of the accomplishments of these three outstanding students,” Naylor said. “They show great promise in their fields of study, and are emerging as leaders and innovators in Canadian society and in the global community.”

The Varsity Book Club

'This Is How You Lose Her' by Junot Diaz

The Varsity Book Club

This month, The Varsity Bookclub  discusses This How You Lose Her a collection of short stories by Junot Diaz. Diaz is a Dominican-American writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2007. In This Is How You Lose Her, the “sucio” Yunior, a peripheral character in Oscar Wao, dominates the majority of the book’s stories with his vibrant tales of loss, love, and infidelity. The Varsity Book Club contemplates the nuanced and complex issues raised in Diaz’s latest offering. The full conversation is available in our Book Club podcast.


Brigit Katz

Yunior is a minor character in Oscar Wao, but he is featured very prominently in This Is How You Lose Her. How did you feel about the development of Yunior’s voice throughout the course of these short stories?

Jakob Tanner

For Junot Diaz, Yunior is like Nathan Zuckerberg for Philip Roth, in the sense that Yunior becomes this vehicle for Diaz to say whatever he wants to say.

Brigit Katz

The characters’ voices certainly get a lot bolder with each of Diaz’s books. Oscar was a very non-stereotypical Dominican male, whereas I think Yunior fits that bill a little more. And I really enjoyed his voice — the blending of Spanish, street talk, and an almost poetic style.

Simon Bromberg

How does “Otravida Otravez” fit in with the other stories? You have eight stories that are almost all about Yunior, and then one in the middle that is told from a woman’s perspective.

Jakob Tanner

When Diaz is not writing from Yunior’s perspective, his voice becomes much more reticent. And I was happy to see Diaz doing something different. “Otravida, Otravez” is about a woman who has recently emigrated from the Dominican Republic to America. She begins having an affair with a man who has also come from the Dominican, and who has a wife back home.

But there is a possible connection with the other stories in This Is How You Lose Her. In the very first story of the collection – “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars” – Yunior is trying to go back to Santa Domingo, where he thinks he’s going to mend a broken relationship. So Santa Domingo takes on this mythic quality, becomes this paradise that Yunior romanticizes. The character in “Otravida, Otravez,” on the other hand, is sort of caught between America and the Dominican Republic, and either place is dangerous for her.

Simon Bromberg

On that note, the character’s job is also relevant. She cleans sheets at a hospital and manages a team of newly immigrated Dominican workers. And just like the sheets that she cleans, some of these young workers are salvageable and some are beyond help.

Brigit Katz

I liked “Otravida, Otravez ” for another reason. In the other stories of This Is How You Lose Her, we get a picture of the relationships that Yunior has, but we don’t really hear the voices of the women that he cheats on his girlfriends with. In most of the stories that we get from Yunior’s perspective, these women are essentially just the “big butt” and the “smart mouth,” as he describes one of his flings in “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars.” And then with “Otravida, Otravez,” we see that there is more to these women than that.

Interestingly, in an interview with The Guardian, Diaz said that with This Is How You Lose Her, he wanted to “capture this sort of cheater’s progress, where this guy eventually discovers for the first time the beginning of an ethical imagination. Which of course involves the ability to imagine women as human.” Do you see that progression with Yunior?

Jakob Tanner 

At the end of the very final story — “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” — Yunior receives a compilation of all the e-mails that his girlfriend found, all his cheater’s love notes. And when he’s contemplating this girl who he’s been mourning over for years because she left him, he says, “You did the right thing, negra. You did the right thing.”

Simon Bromberg

Yeah, Yunior doesn’t really come off as remorseful about his cheating in the other stories. His ex in “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” is the one exception.

Brigit Katz

At the same time, though, I never got the sense that Yunior was unable to see his girlfriends as humans. I think that from page one of this book, we’re dealing with a character who has a problem with his attitude towards cheating, but who loves his girlfriends, even while he cheats on them.

Simon Bromberg

Shifting gears slightly, what did you make of Diaz’s use of second person in some of his short stories?

Jakob Tanner

Even with its gimmicky function, the second person does merge the reader and character into one. In a way, the reader becomes complicit in everything that’s happening in the story.

Simon Bromberg

It is invasive. The second person makes you feel connected to Yunior, and that’s why it’s hard to dislike him.

Jakob Tanner

What the “you” also does so greatly is subvert the notion of the implied reader. The implied reader is no longer the white male of the nineteenth century. Clearly the “you” is Dominican, and so in effect, the reader becomes Dominican.

Brigit Katz

There’s also a lot of Spanish in this book, and whereas Drown –  Diaz’s first book – includes a glossary, there is no glossary in This Is How You Lose Her. You can get the gist of the Spanish, but Diaz is not pandering to a white audience. His characters’ voices are so unique, and I think that’s why people love his books.