UTSU announces Student Commons levy referendum

Time has not been kind to the plan for the St. George campus Student Commons. The project to build a student-controlled downtown campus hub, perennially in the discussion phases, has been kicked around for nearly six decades. After being held back by competing visions and funding shortfalls for well over half a century, the centre is fast approaching what may be its final obstacle: your wallet.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union announced on Sunday that it will ask students to pay about $20 million to fund the $30 million Student Commons. Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, the union will conduct a referendum asking students if they agree to shoulder two-thirds of a 23-year mortgage to fund the Student Commons. The union is seeking a $5 levy per semester from each full-time undergrad on St. George campus, until the Commons opens. Once the centre opens its doors to students, the levy will rise to $14.25 for the remainder of the 23-year term.

The university has agreed to contribute 50 cents to the Commons for levy every dollar students pay. The cost of operating the centre, however, will fall to students.

Campaigns for a student hub on campus have existed since the late 1940s, when a campus community recovering from the hardships of World War II pushed for a leisure facility all students could share (with rare exceptions, Hart House did not allow women inside until 1973).

In 1965, UTSU, then called the Students’ Administrative Council, secured bank loans, contracted an architect, and set into motion a plan to build a student centre at the corner of St. George and Russell streets. That scheme cost $211,000, took five years, and ultimately failed due to disagreements over how the centre should be funded and what facilities it should contain.

This time around, Andréa Armborst, president of UTSU, is talking big. According to her, the Student Commons will sport a 600-person auditorium. Students lounging in its spacious lobby, or using free space in any of its small and medium meeting and A/V rooms, will have their choice of three restaurants, possibly including a long-awaited halal/kosher/vegan outlet. Its front desk will sell metropasses all month long.

“We have high hopes,” said Armborst. “But we’ve seen a great commitment [from university administrators] to the project.”

If built, the Commons will occupy the north side of “Site 12,” a plot on Devonshire Road just south of Bloor, across from the new Varsity Centre field. This does not sit well, however, with some of the current occupants of the site.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, housed in the Margaret Fletcher building on Site 12, are facing eviction to make room for construction of the Student Commons and a proposed Centre for High Performance Sport. The part-time students union has been relocated against their will twice in the past two years and has said they will fight any attempt to remove them from their current home.

Ilona Molnar, APUS’s executive secretary, vehemently opposed the Student Commons proposal, saying it represents a culture of corporatization in public education.

“Student levies are forms of privatization and downloading of the cost of higher education on students […] And, every time we approve a levy we take away from the possibility of putting pressure on the government and the university,” said Molnar.

She added that she thought government agencies and the university administration should finance the Commons’ construction and operation.

3 Toronto women honoured as very important persons

Three Toronto women are being honoured on October 18, the seventy- eighth anniversary of Canadian women being recognized as persons.

The women were chosen by a selection committee, due to their “efforts in improving equitable treatment for women.”

June Larken, the undergraduate coordinator for the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the U of T, was chosen for her leadership in equity and women’s studies; Helen Liu for advocacy on behalf of marginalized workers; and Beverley Wybrow, the Executive Director of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, was chosen for leadership and advocacy within the volunteer sector, according to a news release from the City.

“The annual commemoration of Persons Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the progress made for women’s equality, to re-affirm our commitment towards the equality of treatment for women,” said Mayor David Miller.

The winners will receive the Constance E. Hamilton Award on December 10, when the City holds its annual Human Rights Program.

Students get revenge for all those Ds

Canadian students have turned the tables on their GPA overlords, in an outpouring of exasperation—and in some cases, contentment—with their university experience. U of T got a B for “overall satisfaction,” according to the Globe & Mail’s sixth annual University Report Card.

Not bad—although the average marks for 53 universities ranged from B- to A+.

U of T is one of 11 schools in the report card feature that declined to ask their students to participate. For these schools, said Simon Beck, the Globe’s URC editor, students were invited to complete the questionnaire on studentawards. com, a scholarship and financial aid web site.

Small and medium-sized universities earned better marks in general. “Larger universities like U of T, McGill, UBC, and York have similar problems. The thing that’s lacking is campus spirit, a sense of belonging,” said Beck, adding that grades for certain areas, such as quality of life, are slowly improving.

The biggest issue for U of T, said Beck, is large classes. “That clearly is something that hurts the overall education quality for a lot of students, and they don’t feel they can get interaction with their professor,” he said.

Carried out by the Strategic Counsel, an independent research company, the URC surveyed over 43,000 students. According to SC founding partner Tim Woolstencroft, the organization surveyed 500 students from each of the 11 schools that opted out.

The Globe’s URC graded the three U of T campuses as an aggregate. “We have in the past made a distinction between different campuses, but given the sample from U of T, it wouldn’t be statistically accurate,” Woolstencroft said.

Are U of T campuses one and the same?

Beck said he sees the smaller-happier correlation at U of T: “Satellite campuses in Scarborough and Mississauga—students there seem to be happier, more content—but that’s probably not surprising, given that they are smaller campuses with people who live nearby.”

Misak, who served as dean of UTM from 2003-06 and vice-president and principal in the 2006-07 school year, said she has not seen that association.

“The St. George campus is very complex. Some people are thrilled with their colleges, and others aren’t,” she said. “It could be interesting to see if the NSSE data does show a trend there.”

Each school was given a letter grade in around 80 categories. Numerical rankings were scrapped after the first two years. “The statistical difference between a number one and number eight can be tiny. So when the universities complained, there was some truth to it,” Beck said.

Concerns about aggregate rankings and other aspects of research methodology prompted U of T and 10 other schools pull out of Maclean’s annual university rankings in 2006.

According to deputy provost Cheryl Misak, U of T is sticking with the National Survey of Student Engagement. “U of T is fully committed to NSSE,” she said. “We’re collecting data and we don’t participate in third-party initiatives like the Globe initiative.

The Indiana-based NSSE, first administered at U of T in 2005, began in 1999. The survey is conducted in the U.S. and Canada, and samples first- and fourthyear students.

Misak acknowledged that U of T’s size presents challenges and said that some large classes—lectures by profs like Atom Egoyan, for example—aren’t necessarily negative experiences.

“But you want to make sure students get a mix of small seminars and large classes,” she added. “Next week, the Faculty of Arts & Science is reporting on its initiatives to reduce class sizes. So we are working away at it.”

Beneath all the mania over university report cards, how useful are they?

“That would require another survey [to answer],” said Misak.

Remedial study: The 500 students surveyed by the Strategic Counsel for the Globe & Mail’s report found U of T well below the curve in a few areas, and were quick to dish out a heap of embarrassing marks:

Ds

  • Bursaries and scholarships (need-based and merit-based)
  • Food services (quality, healthiness, variety, organic, value)

Cs

  • Class scheduling (convenience, space)
  • Work opportunities (on-campus employment, co-op/internships, assistance for findingpart-
  • time jobs) and career placement services

  • Quality of academic advising and usefulness of feedback from faculty
  • School spirit and sense of community
  • Overall commitment to environmental sustainability
  • On-campus pubs/bars
  • Off-campus housing (quality and affordability)
  • Services for international students

Taxing the system

Some people consider Torontonians snobs, but snobbery often belies a sad history: bad parenting, low selfesteem, a tendency toward self-destructive behaviour. Toronto is no different: despite our national reputation, behind the cosmopolitan air we put on, we’re a mess. Apparently, years of neglect on the part of senior levels of government have led us to internalize the message that our city isn’t worth a damn. How else could you explain our reluctance to carry a few extra costs—a land transfer tax of up to two per cent, and a $60 personal vehicle registration fee—to help save a city that, just this year, openly fretted about bankruptcy?

This past election, Ontario remembered Mike Harris and the damage his government inflicted on provincial health care, education, and social services. What we seemed to forget was the devastation the Harris government wrought on the province’s largest municipality. In 1998, provincial downloading left our city with a huge financial burden that has only gotten worse: right now we’re facing a $413 million shortfall for next year’s budget. Though we crossed our fingers in the hopes that the GTA—which contains almost half of the province’s population—would become an election issue, in the long run we were hardly a priority. Dalton McGuinty has promised funding for transit and infrastructure, and to upload $38 million worth of provincial programs, but even if he delivers, it won’t be enough to bail us out.

Meanwhile, our reluctant guardians in Ottawa enjoy a $13.8 billion surplus, not much of which they are obliged to share. The constitution stipulates that Canadian cities are a provincial responsibility—a notion that dates back to 1867, when cities accounted for 20 per cent of the country’s population. As of 2001, that figure has risen to 64 per cent. Toronto’s economy makes up 11 per cent of Canada’s GDP; it is a major world city (recognized by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network), and the fifth largest city in North America. Stephen Harper venerates the United States, and hopes to expand Canada’s role on the global stage, but international leaders need international cities to represent them: Toronto would be a wise investment for an ambitious Prime Minister. Perhaps we’re too busy infighting to draft an effective pitch.

The City of Toronto Act, proclaimed on January 1 this year, allowed us our own charter and new powers of taxation. Sadly, we don’t seem to be able to handle our newfound autonomy. This July, when the time finally came to tackle our own problems, City Council voted 23 to 22 to defer the responsibility until after the provincial election. Mayor David Miller made it clear that massive service cuts were the alternative to the relatively benign taxes he had suggested, but when these cuts were implemented, there was a massive uproar. Councillors who opposed the taxes opposed the service cuts with equal ardour; perhaps they simply preferred complaining to carrying their weight. Granted, these cuts—including daylong closures of community centres and libraries, and delaying ice rink openings until after Christmas—have all been reversed, they might have been better received had Miller’s staff made the symbolic gesture of cutting back within City Hall before slicing institutions at the heart of the city community (Councillor Peter Milczyn has suggested as much). But the money has to come from somewhere, and nobody—aside from Kevin Stanton of MasterCard Canada, who donated $160,000 to open ice rinks during December—will be handing it to us. Given that City Hall suffers from what Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume calls an “overwhelmingly suburban mentality,” maybe a city-wide bake sale is in order.

Toronto is a proud city, but an insecure one. We also have serious identity issues: despite our best efforts, we’ll never be New York. Sophisticated as we might be, we belong to a country with a culture still associated with Bob and Doug McKenzie. Still, we are the cultural and financial centre of this country; we have much to be proud of and plenty to work towards. On October 22, City Council will finally vote on the proposed taxes; hopefully they’ll choose in favour of our city’s future, and hopefully the city itself will bear its growing pains with dignity. If we refuse to make personal sacrifices for our collective improvement, we lose the opportunity to distinguish ourselves as a world-class city in more than name alone.

Below the threshold

In my first year, everyone was heading somewhere. Living off by-the-slice pizza and skipping psych lectures was just a temporary plan. We knew we were going to travel, write a novel, get a job with a conscience. Three years later, plans have changed.

Some of my classmates are still applying for that unpaid summer internship at the United Nations, but most know that come spring, they will be living with their parents and working overtime to pay off student loans. It’s tough to watch, because I know there is another way. I also know that the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is fighting against it.

Income-contingent loan repayment (ICR) is a bit of a mouthful, and it can mean a lot of different things. Here’s the gist: as a student, you borrow money from the government to cover tuition and living costs. Instead of starting payments on your loans shortly after you graduate, you begin to pay once your income rises above a specified threshold.

Ideally, the threshold is set high enough so that you don’t have to pay for your education until you receive its financial benefits. If you never receive those benefits, you never start repayments, and your loans are eventually forgiven. This reduces the financial risk of attending university, making it more accessible to low-income students. ICR is already used in the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere, and it was recommended by the Rae Review on higher education reform.

The CFS has some good points about the weaknesses of ICR—for instance, interest rates mean that students who pay their loans back slowly often end up paying more than rich students who can pay up immediately, though everyone seems to forget that the same thing happens under the current system. Instead of suggesting refinements to address this problem, the CFS opposes ICR completely.

Our student unions are fighting yesterday’s battle. They argue that the cost of post-secondary education should be borne by society as a whole, not by individual students. They would criticize any loan-based system. But loans are here to stay, and with OSAP consolidation dates bearing down on them and interest piling up on pricey bank loans, today’s students need a system that can cope with the ever-increasing tuition that we can’t get rid of.

Governments love ICR, though not necessarily for the right reasons: it provides an excuse to raise tuition and cut funding. That’s why we desperately need a student movement that will fight for the things we can actually get: interest subsidies, loan forgiveness, reasonable income thresholds, controlled tuition, and grant programs.

With the right ICR system, this year’s graduating class would have more cash and more prospects. They could save up and travel, or save up and take that internship, instead of saving up to write another cheque. When they are ready to settle down, the lucky ones with good incomes would start to pay for the education that gave them all of these opportunities to begin with. In the end, we would all be richer for it.

Schizophrenia: of sanity and split minds

One of the most disabling mental disorders has the unfortunate circumstance of being one of the least understood. Schizophrenia is a mental illness defined by its symptoms, as genetic or environmental causes have not yet been conclusively found. For this reason, there is a maddening debate over a literally maddening disease: what causes schizophrenia?

Symptoms mirroring those seen in schizophrenics have been documented in literature as far back as 2000 BC, but no definite description of the disease was made until 1893. German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin made the first step by highlighting the difference between what he called early dementia and manic depression. He believed these early dementias to be diseases of the brain, in contrast to dementias that strike later in life, such as Alzheimer’s.

It wasn’t until 1908 that the term schizophrenia was coined by Eugen Bleuler. He noticed that some patients suffering from the disorder could improve, rather than declining steadily as the case of most dementias. He decided to name the disease after the apparent separation in thinking, personality, memory, and perception. The name comes from Greek roots meaning “split” and “mind,” and has been the source of some confusion.

Schizophrenia is often confused for dissociative identity disorder, better known among the public as split or multiple personalities. A wide range of symptoms and its unpredictable course do not help public recognition and understanding of the disease. Symptoms include auditory hallucinations, disorganized thinking, delusions, catatonic states, and an atypical lack of emotional response to events and people. When asked what schizophrenics might suffer from, a typical response from most people would involve hallucinations or hearing voices telling them to perform certain actions. Frustratingly, not all patients experience these symptoms, and pigeonholing schizophrenia into strict symptomatic categories reflects a poor understanding. How, then, can we describe schizophrenia? Doctor David Braff offered a succinct definition during an interview on the television show, Health Matters:

“Schizophrenia is a fragmentation of consciousness and the inability to navigate effectively in the world and relate to others,” said Braff.

Schizophrenia can be particularly devastating considering that it strikes during adolescence or early adulthood. Patients may not be aware that the symptoms they are experiencing are due to a mental disorder, as one of the hallmarks of the disease, disordered thinking, makes it difficult to function properly. “If you believe there is nothing wrong with you and it’s the outside world, why would you take medication?” Observations from friends or family members regarding strange behaviours, and self-reported symptoms from sufferers often make up the diagnosis. Researchers have not yet found a biological cause for schizophrenia, so tests are run to discount other potential sources of the experienced symptoms before a diagnosis is made.

Having a concrete cause for this debilitating mental disorder would enable researchers to develop targeted treatments. So far, the evidence points towards both genetics and environment as causative agents. This frustrating complication is common with many diseases. Studies between identical twins—useful for determining differences between nature and nurture—have found that a twin has a 50 per cent chance of acquiring schizophrenia if the other twin suffers from it. This perfect middle value suggests that more than just genetics is involved.

A well-known sufferer of the disease—due to the Hollywood movie A Beautiful Mind—is Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash. His story is a vivid depiction of how the disorder can derail one’s life:

“What you saw was the erosion of his reality. Nash is unusual in that he seems to have made some recovery without medications, but that was after a very long and devastating period of his life,” said Braff. “The fundamentals of his deterioration are quite accurate for what happens to many schizophrenia patients.”

Other noteworthy sufferers come from all walks of life. Syd Barrett, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, was a fascinating and, at the same time, depressing case. Early on in the band’s career, he would at times become completely catatonic as the band was performing, simply standing and staring off into space as the rest of the band played. Bandmate Nick Mason described his bizarre behaviour in a past interview:

“Syd went mad on that first American tour in the autumn of 1967. He didn’t know where he was most of the time. I remember he detuned his guitar onstage in Venice, LA, and he just stood there rattling the strings, which was a bit weird, even for us.”

Eventually, his behaviour became so erratic that he had to split from the band, only releasing a few solo albums before becoming a recluse. Other notable schizophrenics include Jack Kerouac, Superbowl-winning football player Lionel Aldridge, and Peter Green, guitarist for Fleetwood Mac.

Politicians and policy makers like to speak in dollar amounts with regard to health problems and their effect on society. Schizophrenia is not a very widespread disorder, affecting about one per cent of people worldwide—so the costs associated with it seem unusually high.

“The total cost to society is probably close to $100 billion. There’s a huge cascading effect on families and other systems. It ranks up there with many cardiovascular diseases or any other serious medical illness,” said Braff.

This bleak portrait is not without hope. Treating schizophrenics with anti-psychotic medications has had moderate success, although prolonged use of these medications can lead to involuntary tics or difficulty with movement, termed dyskinesia. Medications, coupled with cognitive behavioural therapy or psychotherapy, are the recommended course of action for most patients, but there is no magic pill that can stop schizophrenia, and there may never be. Now the focus is on looking at the genetic level for clues on what makes an individual pre-disposed to acquiring the disorder.

“Now we are looking for the genes that are abnormal in schizophrenia and we have found probably between eight and ten major genes and some minor genes that interact to create vulnerability [to schizophrenia],” said Braff.

All things considered, there is still a long way to go. Famous British psychiatrist R.D. Laing can perhaps give us the best understanding of this mysterious and crippling mental disorder:

“Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair.”

Editor’s Pick: Radiohead – In Rainbows (Independent)

Returning from their longest gap between albums, In Rainbows triumphs as Radiohead’s strongest record since 2000’s Kid A. While 2003’s Hail to the Thief was a strong return to their classic guitar-driven form, In Rainbows builds and mutates into something that sounds distinctly like Radiohead without retracing any steps. Opener “15 Steps” starts off as a jerky drum and vocal intro, then adds a light-hearted guitar riff, which in turn yields to a sinister, rock bass riff backed by the cheers of a children’s chorus. “Bodysnatchers” features some of the best guitar sounds on In Rainbows as the song enters a more melodic mode about halfway through. One of the album’s musical peaks is the downtrodden “All I Need.” Sentimental, dark, and beautiful, Thom York singing “I’m in the middle of your picture, lying in the reeds” makes this song the perfect feel-bad hit of the fall. “Reckoner” receives a more subdued treatment than in live performances, but despite some online outcry, is even better for it. Here, York’s falsetto is one of many delicate hooks (another being Johnny Greenwood’s gentle picking during the chorus of “Nude”) that give In Rainbows its distinct and memorable tenor. The album’s climax is the energetic and unabashedly catchy “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.” This standout track builds to one of York’s best turbo-charged register jumps, making this song requisite “repeat” material. The haunting piano ballad, “Videotape,” closes off In Rainbows with killer lyrics that are as much genius as they are creepy as fuck—think of an updated “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” While attention naturally settles on York, drummer Phil Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood also deserve loads of credit for their air-tight and fabulously unpredictable performances. People keep asking “who will be the Radiohead of the 2000s?” The answer is Radiohead, stupid

Rating VVVVV

Dallaire asks where we draw the line

Amidst all the great academics, politicians, lawyers, officials and students gathered together, it was an elderly Canadian from Montreal and a cynical mother from Rwanda who seemed to catch the most spirit and attention.

That’s what happened last weekend when former UN Lt. General Romeo Dallaire and Rwandan activist Esther Mujawayo appeared in Montreal to take part in the inaugural Global Conference on the Prevention of Genocide.

The event, hosted by McGill University, brought together both local and international representatives for a series of panel discussions on various issues concerning genocide and human rights. Bringing together legislators, activists, journalists, diplomats and students, the conference sought lessons from genocides of the past, and strategies for dealing with them today and preventing them in the future.

Mujawayo is an individual who personifies the topic of genocide consequences. In the opening ceremonies, Mujawayo spoke alongside three other survivors of genocide– Marika Néni of Hungary, Youk Chhang of Cambodia, and Batia Bettman, a survivor of the Holocaust. Mujawayo spoke passionately and angrily about how the world had failed to help her and her family as a result of the idea that she was worth less than other people. “You and me —are we human beings, the same?”

She went on to bitterly relate details of the evacuation of Belgian, French, and American citizens of Rwanda, who took care to also evacuate their pets during the genocide in Rwanda but then painfully ignored Tutsis like herself targeted in the genocide.

“A Belgian dog is better off than my child,” she told the conference.

When Dallaire’s time came to speak, he confronted the crowd with questions highlighting the problems of international intervention. The wellknown humanitarian criticized the lack of guidelines for such action.

“What is the bar determining this need for political intervention?” he questioned. “What is the magic formula that will give politicians the will to intervene?”

The answer may lie in the images that the world wants least to see. In the opening ceremony, evidence of atrocities committed on children was shown to drive home the horror of genocide.

Near the end of a film used to open the conference, the image of a young Rwandan boy was shown with a fiveinch gash across the right part of his head. In a low quiet voice, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka spoke of witnessing such an act of butchery, recounting his experience of seeing a lifeless child on the ground with a machete embedded in his skull.

Such a loss of life was something Mujawayo had personally seen as well. She spoke angrily against the UN and world community, who she said failed to stop the murders of hundreds of her family and friends. And she added that the failure was continuing.

Mujawayo remarked on how, despite the Rwandan genocide having been officially declared to have ended 10 years ago, its effects were still starkly evident in the country’s widespread cases of widows and orphans, many now living with HIV/AIDs.

Despite the painful introductions, the crowd was soon reminded by Mc- Gill’s Professor Payam Akhavan that the purpose of the conference was not to “come here tonight to weep” but rather, to take action against genocide.

He repeated what Mujawayo had said earlier in the conference: “I want to challenge the leaders and academics among you,” she had cried. “Do something about us.”

In part II of this story, The Varsity gets an in-depth look into the critical discussions held on aspects of genocide, the groundbreaking work of the first International Young Leaders Forum following the Global Conference, and work students are doing to fight genocide worldwide.