Chia: More than just a growing fad

Recently U of T researchers discovered that eating a certain variety of grains similar to the variety found in Chia Pets significantly reduces the risk of heart disease in individuals with Type 2 diabetes.

In a research study by U of T nutritional science professor Vladimir Vuksan, he discovered while working with researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital that the inclusion of the whole-wheat grain chia in diets helped lower blood pressure. The white seed variant, trademarked under the name Salba, also proved useful in reducing the formation of blood clots and minor inflammation throughout the body.

All the individuals involved in the study were being treated for Type 2 diabetes as these patients are at higher risk for heart disease.

Vuksan sees this whole grain addressing the link between these two conditions: “Salba seems to possess important cardio-protective properties in Type 2 diabetes [patients] by reducing conventional and emerging heart disease risk factors that are associated with diabetes,” he told the U of T Bulletin. Vuksan further described the findings as good news to those advocating an increase of whole grain consumption as part of a healthy diet.

Vuksan’s study, the results of which are to be published in the November issue of Diabetes Care, was one of the first clinical trials looking at the benefits of whole grains in their ability to protect individuals at high risk of getting heart disease.

Whole grain food products have long been found to be an important aspect in preventing diseases such as diabetes and various heart conditions. However, a majority of grains eaten today are heavily refined and therefore lack much needed omega-3 fatty acids and insoluble fibre. Since chia seeds are unrefined, they have important nutrients along with calcium, iron, and a high level of anti-oxidants. Omega-3 has been cited as especially helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease and improving circulation. This medical claim was even given “qualified” status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004 following much convincing research.

Chia Salba (Salvia hispanica) is actually an ancient grain. Its cultivation originated in Central America, a staple food of the Aztec culture. In the 16th century, Jesuits noted how corn and beans were the only food other than chia considered more critical to Aztec culture. In fact, nobility and the priesthood were often paid tribute with the gift of chia seeds.

In terms of food applications, chia can be ground into flour and used in the same way as wheat flour to make baked goods. Chia sprouts can be eaten in salad in the same way as bean sprouts.

While the white-seed variety called Salba is currently grown in Peru, a country with ideal climatic conditions for the crop, the grain’s status in pop culture has long since existed.

The seed is actually the key component behind Chia Pets, the iconic clay figures that sprout when watered. Popular in the ’80s and ‘90s they were developed by Joseph Enterprises Inc. in San Francisco, California and quickly became a fad, helped along by a memorable if somewhat annoying advertising jingle (ch-chchia!). The variety of shapes even include characters like Shrek, Mr. T and Homer Simpson.

It should be noted that the species of seeds used in Chia Pets (Salvia columbariae) is slightly different from the edible version used in Vuksan’s study (salvia hispanica). The seed’s name actually comes from “chian” the Aztec word for “oily” – which would explain for the grain’s high amount of omega-3.

So, while chia is great for your health, it doesn’t mean you should start chomping your Chia Pet now in the hopes of avoiding coronary disease. Adding more whole grain foods to your diet is probably a better— and tastier—solution. Buying salba futures might not be a bad idea, either.

Don’t worry, it’s only temporary

It may come as a shock, but once you graduate from university you will be required to start paying for things yourself. Of course those exempt from this annoyance are the offspring of financially successful families and students in graduate school. Being neither rich nor academic, I was forced to get a job. I enjoy my part-time job at Book City, but it doesn’t bring in enough dough to pay the rent. Being lazy and not confident in my own abilities, I recently became a temp.

I found a company online and applied to a few postings. Two days later they called me to make an appointment to take a skills test. I showed up at the agency’s offices located above a hair salon in Yorkville. I completed a spelling, typing, and Excel test (man, my pie chart was pristine) and then chatted with a woman named Felicia about the job I would be looking for. “An office job,” I said. “I think I’d be good in an office environment.”

“You seem shy,” she said. “Are you shy?”

“No, I don’t think I’m shy . . . Maybe it’s just that you have to get to know me before I open up.”

“I hope it’s not the interview. I hate it when people tense up because of the interview.”

“I don’t mind being interviewed. Honestly, my friends would not describe me as a shy person.”

“How would your friends describe you?” I blanked. There was a long silence.

“ . . . A nice guy, I guess.”

“Okay . . . Well, Keith, we’ll be in touch, and hopefully we’ll find you something.”

Two days later I accepted a position at a truck insurance company in the financial district. The office was on the fourteenth floor of a nondescript building. I was a claims administrator, which basically meant I was a glorified secretary. I delivered mail, sorted faxes, and filed, filed, filed. Required to deliver faxes to cubicles at least six or seven times a day, I got a pretty good feel for the environment in no time.

Most employees were bored and desperate for conversation, especially in the afternoon. Talk came in starts and spurts, inquiries about kids’ soccer games and cross-border shopping, whispers of scandalous loss claims. People wanted to distract themselves. While productivity requirements forced workers to push paper most of the time, the office was eerily quiet except for my periodic awkward chime of “Hello, I have a fax for you.”

The office was constantly monitored like Bentham’s Panopticon. The advent of the cubicle has created a privacy-free space, as anything above a whisper can be heard, the office walls so short that a supervisor can poke their head over and spy you shopping for Hello Kitty merchandise online. Not that this stopped anyone from procrastinating. Many times I dropped off mail to people playing “guess the TV sitcom character” or reviewing the Leafs highlights. But paranoia ran rampant. A lack of privacy combined with little job security for most employees (it seemed that no one had been with the company for more than three years) led to a high level of anxiety carried on the shoulders of claims adjustors. No wonder Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club was so stressed out.

Ultimately I was fired before my two-month term was up. Perhaps because I was a young male in a cubicle full of three gossipy women that everyone referred to as “the girls.” The day before I was fired, I saw Paula, the 35-year-old, 270-pound woman who still lived with her parents, complaining to my supervisor in the conference room. The die was cast.

The next day I came in, put down my bag, and opened my e-mail.

Just to let everyone know, Keith has been replaced with a new temp.

Wow, I thought, what cowardly assholes.

My supervisor was surprised to see me. She ushered me into the conference room. “Oh, I’m really sorry. The temp agency was supposed to let you know last night.”

“Well they didn’t.”

The official reason was that I was too slow on the uptake. I had been ten minutes late in the morning twice, and that I was “socializing too much.”

“With who?” I enquired, shocked. Did Bill, the kind old man who asked me how I was liking the job, rat on me for talking to him about soccer for too long? “I don’t know,” she said, “that’s just what my supervisors said.”

“Okay, fine. Whatever. Can you just sign my pay stub please,” I held out the form I had prepared with my working hours the moment I read the e-mail.

“Sure. Of course.”

As I was leaving, I looked over the cubicles and saw a new, young, short, blonde, fresh-faced girl standing by the fax machine. In my mind I wished her luck.

Side-stepping the great stem cell debate

Once or twice a year, a major scientific breakthrough appears on the front page of the major newspapers. Not coincidentally, this story is usually controversial. Travelling through the messy intersection of science and society is hazardous— collisions between moralizers and proponents of progress are common, the wreckage likely to be ugly.

For once, the tidings from the world of science are refreshingly distinct from the norm. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin- Madison announced that they genetically modified regular skin cells to closely resemble embryonic stem cells. The incredible part is that they did so without destroying an embryo or using egg human cells. In one swift move, the entire stem cell debate may have become a moot point.

Heat from the religious right in the United States—led by their uncharismatic mega-leader George Bush— has increased since the end of the Clinton years. Numerous vetoes on bills for federal funding for stem cell research and increasing money for private stem cell research have fueled the slow-burn ethical debate. Bush repeatedly denied researchers the permission to destroy already made human embryos from fertility clinics. In one corner of the ring, pro-life groups backed by the supposed word of God. In the other, scientists pursuing what could very well be the most important breakthrough in medicine: harnessing the power of stem cells to cure diseases.

This new discovery may lead to a cancellation of the bout. With embryos no longer being destroyed, the Catholic Church and other faiths will have no reason to oppose stem cell research. Where there is no body, there is no crime.

Before this latest breakthrough, a technique called “therapeutic cloning” was used to create specialized stem cells from normal cells. The process requires that the cells be grown inside an embryo, which is destroyed after the stem cells are retrieved. The destruction of that potential life irked religious groups and led to religions (including the politically potent Catholic Church) adopting anti-stem cell research stances.

Using a mix of four different genes, the two research teams involved in the work, from the U.S. and Japan, forced regular skin cells to show characteristics similar to embryonic stem cells. Termed pluripotent stem cells, embryo-derived stem cells have the unique ability to specialize and transform into any of the over 200 cells types present in the human body. The first initial divisions of an embryo are these cells: they have to be adaptable to create the multitude of complex structures in the human body.

An analogy made by Dr. Robert Lanza is particularly apt. He describes the research as figuring out how to make gold from lead. For modern- day alchemists toiling in cellular research labs across the world, this discovery is the Holy Grail.

With groundbreaking research, there are always caveats. In this case, the research is by no means certain in its conclusions. It is a baby step in the long road to potentially using stem cells to fight the variety of diseases that plague the Earth. The two teams needed to use a retrovirus to transport genes to their proper locations. Manipulating a cell’s DNA this way could lead to the development of cancer—a case of one step forward and two steps back. So while these cells are not yet used to treat disease, they represent a monumental step forward in the realm of science, perhaps comparable to something like Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Perhaps most incredible is how simple it is to replicate this new research. James Thomson, a stem cell research pioneer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, put the idea in certain terms: “Thousands of labs in the United States can do this, basically tomorrow.”

The study from Kyoto University headed by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka appears in Cell magazine. The American research, led by Junying Yu, is published in Science magazine. The replication of similar results by both teams is an extremely positive sign that research is headed in the right direction.

The typical hyperbole of major newspaperss claims that we are on the cusp of a great new age for medicine can be forgiven. Results of this magnitude and importance are heralding an important fact: scientific research is clearing the moral and ethical hurdles in its path and uncovering new ground at a breakneck pace. Scientists are raising their beakers the world over. There is much joy in this birth announcement—these new findings will make stem cell research an infinitely easier pursuit and we are all the better for it.

Theatre Interview: Bloody Caesar

Julius Caesar: not the most uplifting play within the Shakespearean Folio, but one that bears a story ripe with intrigue, politics, and, of course, lots of blood. Hot on the heels of Hart House’s season opener, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, Shakespeare’s great historical tragedy is centralized through the complex figure of Brutus and the effect of Caesar’s assassination.

Director Anthony Furey, making his Hart House debut, is a rising force within the Toronto Theatre community as both a director and producer. His creation (at the tender age of 16) of the Paprika Festival, now in its seventh season, has provided valuable theatrical experience to youth across the city by offering a platform for their work, as well as mentorship by professional artists. Since then, he has directed for the New Ideas Festival, and the Toronto Fringe, as well as writing, directing, and producing a number of short films, all while finishing up his degree.

Now, Furey has moved on to darker material, taking on the grand task of Shakespeare with a steely dedication that seems appropriate in relation to the grittiness of the play itself. When asked about his reaction to the material, his response is spontaneous but has obvious consideration behind it.

“It is a play about people, who, for different reasons resolve to do one of the most startling acts of assassination in world history, and they do so because they’re passionate about their country.” Furey describes how he spent a good chunk of the summer months absorbing as much information as he could find—theory, criticism, even a biography of Shakespeare— as a means of further inhabiting Caesar. “I learned that it’s really a lifetime pursuit,” he said, smiling. Furey’s not the sort to pretend that he’s learned everything there is to know about the Shakespearean canon over the summer holidays, but he’s obviously picked a few things up.

“You can observe who different political minds over different eras have considered to be the protagonist of Julius Caesar. It is debatable—not exactly a ‘choose your own adventure’ play, but rather, it testifies to the depth and introspection of all Shakespearean leads. Julius Caesar is extravagant, spectacular—and I have to say—swashbuckling. I often call it unrelenting because there is no other play of Shakespeare’s that moves forward with such relentless ferocity. Julius Caesar has no gentle moment; everything has this foreboding darkness riding behind it. The research informed my vision of the play by making me feel like I’ve actually lived it. By attacking it from so many angles, it gets in your blood.”

Furey goes on to describe the components of the production’s design— lighting and sound in particular—and why he opted for stylization of its image and tone when he is such an unapologetic advocator of naturalism on the stage.

“I opted away from the traditional Roman style—we’ve taken it out of space and out of time altogether. It’s set in an Orwellian Dystopia in which the system is down and the sun never rises. [Sound designer] Richard Feren has crafted a soundtrack for the show which underpins, but also sometimes contrasts what we’re feeling when viewing a scene. Everything is very hyper-theatrical. The play is always moving, but there’s a great sense of contrast—slow versus fast, very loud moments and very quiet moments— but there’s never a time when the curtain is pulled down. There are no reflective moments before a soliloquy; there are always other images or characters encroaching in on them.”

Julius Caesar is not only a history play with tragic consequences, but is also a distinctly political play with its depiction of the public and private spheres, leaders, subjects, and rebellion. What does Furey make of this?

“There’s the potential to stage (and see) Julius Caesar as an interpretation of the American government versus a Middle Eastern government—a really heavy contemporary interpretation. I’m more interested in how Brutus commits to doing something, follows through with it quickly, and realizes that life still sucks after doing what you said you always wanted to do. Hamlet is the guy who never went far in life, sitting in some dive bar, saying that he ‘coulda done it’—Brutus is the guy who succeeded—he’s got wealth and fame—and he’s still miserable. That’s more tragic, because he doesn’t have a fail-safe. You realize that even when you get to that end point in life, what you think is your teleological destination—you’re still fucked.”

At this, Furey looks momentarily unsettled, as if this interpretation has struck an inner chord. Then he cracks a grin, a less angst-ridden thought overpowering that last, grim statement.

“We have a great actor starring in the play. Jason Fraser, who has spent time performing off-Broadway, as well as a very accomplished supporting cast rounding things off. It’s a really strong and unique team. The show’s a powerhouse, and there is so much spectacle, in terms of processions and huge fight scenes with twenty shirtless guys all trying to rip limbs off each other.”

When asked about what he hoped the effect of this powerhouse production will be, Furey contemplates for a few moments, attempting to pinpoint what he feels would be the most fruitful response to the work and the underlying message he has been working to generate.

“The play has such an operatic component, the grandness and intensity of convictions is beyond anything we see today. The message in Julius Caesar gives an example of people who care so much about what they’re doing that they’re truly willing to die for this. I liken this play to a Clint Eastwood film: you keep ’em entertained throughout, but at the same time, when they leave, they feel like they’ve been a part of something greater.”

Julius Caesar runs from Nov. 21 until Dec. 8. Student tickets are $12. Visit the website for more info:

Grey Cup preview

This year’s Grey Cup match-up a disappointment for Toronto football fans. The East Division-leading Argonauts bowed out in the East Division final, failing to advance to the first Grey Cup held in the city since 1992. After Argos linebacker Kevin Eiben declared that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would not score more than 10 points against his team, it was the Boatmen who failed to put up a double-digit score as Winnipeg took the game 19-9.

The 2007 CFL season may not finish with the happy ending Torontonians were hoping for, but there’s no shortage of suspense as the East’s Bombers and the West Division champion Saskatchewan Roughriders prepare for Sunday’s kickoff. This will be the two prairie teams’ first Grey Cup meeting, and will end the long championship draught for one of them. Loyal and long-suffering Rider fans have not had a championship team since the 1989 Grey Cup, also held in Toronto’s Sky Dome (now the Rogers Centre), when current head coach Kent Austin was their quarterback. The Bombers have not fared much better, their last victory dating back to 1990. Winnipeg kicker Troy Westwood added some nastiness to the rivalry when he called Saskatchewan fans “a bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds” earlier this season. Although Riders fans seem to have taken the insult in stride, even embraceding their new nickname, they would surely enjoy taking revenge on the field.

The Roughriders’ 12-6-0 regular season record was good for second place in the West and earned them their first home playoff game since 1988, a 26-24 West Semifinal victory over the Calgary Stampeders. The CFL-leading B.C. Lions, who put together a 14-3-1 record—the best in the franchise’s history—were the favourites to win the West Division final, but the Roughriders upset the Lions 26-17 by capitalizing on B.C.’s turnovers.

Saskatchewan’s success is due in no small part to the West Division nominee for CFL Most Outstanding Player, quarterback Kerry Joseph. Joseph was third in the league in passing yards, touchdown passes, and efficiency rating—4,002, 24 and 97.1, respectively—and his 737 rushing yards led all quarterbacks. The Riders’ QB also rushed for 13 touchdowns, placing him third among all CFL players in total points, and he threw only eight interceptions in 17 regular season games. Wide receivers D.J. Flick and Andy Fantuz, who finished 1-2 on the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, will have to step up to compensate for injuries to wide receiver Matt Dominguez and running back Wes Cates, who was enjoying a career season and finished fourth in league rushing. Rush end Fred Perry, who led the team in sacks, fumble recoveries, and defensive tackles, will need to play a solid game for the Saskatchewan defence. In addition to Fred Perry, the Riders’ defence boasts three other all-stars in linebackers Reggie Hunt, Otis Floyd and Maurice Lloyd and cornerback James Johnson, the only Western all-stars not selected from the Lions.

The Bombers held first place in the East for much of the regular season but struggled near the end, dropping four of six late in the season. The Argos leapfrogged over Winnipeg by defeating the Bombers in the second-last game. In the East Semifinal, Winnipeg beat the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 24-22. The Alouettes lost veteran QB Anthony Calvillo, who left the team to be with his wife after she was diagnosed with cancer. In the East Division final against the hometown Argos, Winnipeg managed to break through the solid Toronto defense—which allowed only 336 points in the regular season and was the major reason for the team’s 10-1 record down the stretch—to win the game 19-9, as Toronto’s offence and once-strong special teams also fell flat.

A Riders-Bombers final was poised to be a match-up of the East and West nominees for Most Outstanding Player, with Joseph taking to the field against Winnipeg QB Kevin Glenn, but instead the Bombers will be forced to go with sophomore backup Ryan Dinwiddie. Eiben fell even further out of favour with Winnipeg fans when he fell on Glenn’s arm and broke it while pouncing on a loose ball during the East Division final. Glenn’s 5,114 passing yards led the league and his 25 TD passes were good for second. Dinwiddie has little CFL experience, but didn’t show it when he replaced Glenn in the fourth quarter of the East final, going 4-4 for 80 yards. In his college days, Dinwiddie set a Boise State record for passing yards, passing efficiency and TDs, and his impressive 168.9 efficiency rating is an NCAA record. Adjusting to a new QB in such an important game will be a challenge, but Dinwiddie could prove to be a pleasant surprise for Bombers fans, and the team will be motivated to win for their injured QB.

The Blue Bombers led the East in CFL all-star selections with 10, 7 on offence and 3 on defence. Running back Charles Roberts and wide receiver Terrence Edwards are key pieces of the Winnipeg offence. Roberts finished second in the league in rushing yards and touchdowns—1379 and 16, respectively— despite missing the final two games of the season with a bruised thigh. His 16 rushing TDs mark the third-highest total in CFL history. Edwards was second in receiving yards with 1280, and caught nine TD passes.

Winnipeg ended the regular season third in the CFL in QB sacks, led by rush end Tom Canada with a team-best 12. Tackle Doug Brown, linebacker Barrin Simpson, and safety Kyries Hebert (who was particularly effective in stopping Toronto’s receivers in the East Division final) are the other cogs in the Winnipeg defence.

This Grey Cup game is of particular importance to Winnipeg slotback Milt Stegall, who would like to add ring to his impressive resume as he is likely to retire at the end of the season. The 13- year veteran broke the CFL touchdown record earlier this season and is second in career receiving yards, but has yet to win the Grey Cup. Saskatchewan and Winnipeg met twice in September, each taking away a victory, although Winnipeg held a 60-46 advantage in scoring. Playing away from home would be an issue for the Bombers, who went 3-5-1 on the road in the regular season, while

Saskatchewan finished 6-3-0 at home and away. The Riders hold a 489 (behind only B.C.) to 415 advantage in regular season points scored, while Winnipeg holds a slight 383-404 edge in points allowed. While both teams finished second in their division, Saskatchewan’s record was better than the East-leading Argos’. Saskatchewan led the league in rushing touchdowns and Winnipeg allowed the fewest, so it should be interesting to see how the two stack up. Most prognosticators seem to be predicting a Saskatchewan victory, but with injuries to key players on both sides and a slight head-tohead advantage for the Bombers, the game is still up for grabs.

The triumph and tragedy of Richard III

The Golden Age was brought back to life last week at the Glen Morris Studio Theatre with a performance of The True Tragedy of Richard III, produced by the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama and Poculi Ludique Societas. Well, kind of.

From inside, the theatre could easily be mistaken for a well-lit barn. With a stage set-up that looked like a makeshift cardboard cutout with four doorways, a single curtain drew each door entrance shut. The use of these doorways is no more exciting than it sounds, but it’s not for lack of funding or lazy set designers. Rather, it’s an attempt to recreate an Elizabethan theatre production.

Less than 50 people comfortably filled the seating area in the theatre—a platform of uncomfortably upholstered 1980s orange tweed wooden chairs. The attempt at recreating the viewing customs of the Elizabethan era—half of the house was reserved as standing room—was thwarted by the small crowd. The audience appeared to be made up entirely of family and friends of the performers, creating an awkward feeling of attending a recital for someone else’s kid.

The actors’ performances, however, drew attention away from the cheap setup and uncomfortable atmosphere of the theatre. In fact, the intensity of Jason Gray, who played the very convincing Richard of Gloucester, is the only aspect that might warrant a $20 ticket. Despite what arguably may have been a little over-acting in the closing of the performance, Jill Carter played a very entertaining Shore’s Wife, the emotional whore of the dead king. Carrie Hage (as Will Slaughter) and Rob Salerno (as Jack Denton) also drew some laughs with their memorable performances. Despite a couple of botched lines here and there, the overall performance was better than mediocre.

The production, which opened on November 15, follows last year’s Shakespeare and The Queen’s Men theatre experiment, an ongoing scholarly research project aimed at recreating the Elizabethan stage in the manner and techniques of the late 1580s. From rehearsing techniques (or lack thereof— the first performance is the first time the actors are all on stage together) to the limitation of actors receiving only their own lines to memorize, every aspect of Elizabethan theatre has been taken into consideration.

Admittedly, the production was interesting in terms of its historically accurate recreation of Elizabethan theatre techniques. But the performance of the players warrants a modern theatre, a larger audience, and a little less orange tweed.

‘Savage’ police strike students

Last week, over 40,000 students throughout Quebec went on strike to protest the provincial government’s decision to defreeze tuition for the fi rst time in 13 years. Québec’s tuition fees are set to rise by $50 per semester for the next fi ve years.

The Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante called a three-day strike after failing to get support for an extended one. ASSÉ, who since its foundation in 2001 has advocated for free tuition, is considered an extremist organization by some.

Though ASSÉ called the week a success, two alarming incidents left the strongest mark on the minds of many Québecois. On Monday, Nov. 12, police stormed the Hubert-Aquin building at the University du Québec à Montréal to break up a student demonstration. Three students were arrested after political science professor Claude Corbo called police, when 60 students tried to end a lecture he was giving. The three students were released hours later.

“He was breaking our strike,” one protester said, “We just wanted to talk to him.”

The following day, over 350 students staged a bed-in at the CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal. Police, called by school administrators, stormed the building through alternate doors and a broken window. In the resulting chaos, students were tasered and pepper-sprayed, and 105 of them were arrested and face charges including public mischief, assault and battery, and armed assault.

Between the bed-in and police action, the building took over $100,000 worth of damage. “[The events that night] were normal…the kind of activity which happens in every union movement.” Marc-André Faucher, a spokesperson for the school and information secretary for ASSÉ, told Montréal paper the Suburban.

Yves de Repentigny, the secretary general of the schools teacher’s union, Le Syndicat des Professeurs du Cégep du Vieux Montréal, said that the school’s administration handled the situation poorly. “They should let the students do their bed-in. Otherwise you’re in for a mess. That’s exactly what happened” she told the Gazette.

ASSÉ was quick to accuse Montreal riot police of conducting “savage interventions.” ASSÉ official Hubert Gendron-Blais addressed the crowd and said, “Police brutality is no way to treat those who dare to fight for social change.”

McGill, Dawson, and Concordia sent delegations to a downtown demonstration of Thursday, Nov. 15 that was the centerpiece of the week’s events. Over 2,000 students marched through downtown Montreal in the cold rainy weather. The next morning around 100 students, most from UQÀM, protested inside the lobby of the Montreal Stock Exchange Tower. Only about 20 students braved the cold to protest outside of the Bibliothèque National.

Although not officially affiliated with ASSÉ, McGill students showed their support throughout the week. A vote for a strike failed after the Students’ Society of McGill University failed to reach quorum. Of those who did attend, over 70 per cent voted for a “motion of support and solidarity.”

“Students would be more open and less angry about a defreeze of tuition fees if it was going to solve the underfunding of our universities,” said Max Silverman, VP external of the Student Society of McGill University.

“Even in five years from now when fees will be $500 more a year than they are now […] the underfunding is estimated at minimum of $350 million,” he said.

Silverman said the Quebec government has the resources to implement a free system of education, but lacks the political will.

ASSÉ is currently working on plans of action for next semester while the Quebec branch of CFS remains paralyzed by a court order. The federation’s provincial chapter was shut down in September over a bitter election dispute.

In the meantime the Quebec government refuses to negotiate with the protesters. “The comment is that there is no comment,” said Stephanie Tremblay, spokesperson for the Québec Ministry of Education

Grad union protests U of T telling students to teach themselves

CUPE 3902, the Union representing all of U of T’s teaching assistants and well as sessional lecturers, has filed three official grievances with the university, challenging what it calls the use of undergraduates as “cheap labour.”

The grievances stemmed from CUPE’s investigation of a complaint last November against UTSC’s “Introduction to Psychology” course, taught by professor Steve Joordens, which used a peer grading program called Peerscholar. While examining the complaint, CUPE came across the University of Toronto Peer Tutoring club and the Economics Study Centre, both of whom promote and coordinate free services by undergraduate peer tutors and mentors.

CUPE called for all students engaged in peer tutoring, grading or mentoring to be professionally trained and paid for their services. But many U of T professors and students encourage undergraduates to tutor each other with little or no compensation, both to supplement funded TA support and promote engaged education

Undergraduate enrolment and class sizes grow every year. Even the recent influx of graduate students available for TA jobs, not enough funding exists to hire them.

“We just want [students] to get the proper help,” said Dr. Iain Martel, CUPE Grievance Officer. “U of T is finding ways of teaching without actually spending any money, which deteriorates the quality of education,” added Martel.

Others have joined CUPE in arguing that relying on peer tutoring and peer grading reduces the quality expected of a U of T education. “We need to regain that quality,” said David Scrivener, the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s VP external.

UTSU came out in support of CUPE’s grievance. The two unions have been strong partners in the past, and both lobby for more government funding of post-secondary education. Both CUPE and UTSU said that U of T needs to correct its funding priorities. The school, they say, needs to stop skimping and focus on increasing the number of tutorials and office hours, and accessibility of TAs.

The tutoring clubs were founded by professors who “clearly recognised that students weren’t getting the help that they needed,” according to Martel. He contended that these clubs should hire students under CUPE guidelines. Instead, he said, students are being “bribed with resume points and letters of recommendation” to voluntarily tutor their peers.

Muhammad Talal Latif, president of UTPT, was not aware of CUPE’s grievance when he spoke with The Varsity. He emphasized that the club’s service was academic support and one-on-one qualified tutoring Each UTPT tutor must officially apply and interview for a tutor position, and is selected by a panel of UTPT executives. Talal said the services provided by his club complement those given by TAs.

Joordens stood by his experience in the Peerscholar program, saying that Peerscholar neither reduces the quality of education nor saves the University money, as many TAs are involved in the grading process and oversee the program.

“CUPE is putting TA reputation ahead of the education of thousands of students,” says Joordens. “if we can’t use Peerscholar we will be punishing students for years to come.” Higher education should not be a “chip” traded by CUPE for something else.

Joordens is currently preparing a research paper, soon to be published, on the reliability and fairness of the Peerscholar marking process, which he has claimed measures up to TA standards. If students feel that their paper was graded unfairly they have the right to ask for it to be remarked by a TA, but fewer than 2 per cent ever do, according to Joordens.

Most TAs, Joorden contended, hate marking work, and Peerscholar is superior to the traditional marking method. Thus, he said, if more TAs are free of the “chore” of marking, they may spend their hours supporting undergraduate students in other ways, such as leading study groups or class discussions.

U of T Professors and undergraduate students, who are in support of clubs such as UTPT and the Economics Study Centre, along with those who are part of the Peerscholar program at PSYA01, are looking for an honest and fair solution to the issue raised by CUPE 3902. “If the issue really is about peer tutoring, there will be a rational solution,” said Joordens.