Books, by hook or by crook

With the winter term of classes only a week old, students at U of T, as across North America, are flocking to bookstores in search of required reading. As an inevitable result, students’ budgets are busting at the seams. On average, undergraduate students spend approximately $1,000 per year on textbooks. When all is said and done, the price of textbooks represents five to six per cent of the cost of education.

Textbooks are more expensive than novels, non-fiction, and other published material for a variety of reasons. Expensive binding and paper can drive up costs, as can detailed colour graphics and the so-called supplemental materials packaged alongside, which are often used to justify price hikes. Demand for textbooks is much lower than for mainstream books, further increasing their price as publishers must charge a high premium on the limited- run books in order to make their desired profit.

Third- and fourth-year textbooks are often much cheaper than for first year courses. This is in part due to the fact that first-year instructors are often not tenured faculty members. CD-ROMS, instructor packs and other supplementary materials are very handy tools for such instructors, but unfortunately it is students who pay for such materials.

U of T’s campus bookstore gets about 22 per cent of each book’s sale price as profit, compared to publishers’ 64 per cent.

Nevertheless, the cost of textbooks at campus bookstores has students seeking more affordable options. Many are using websites such as Ebay and Amazon.ca more than ever before. The benefits of shopping online vary on a case-by-case basis, however. Some textbooks are significantly less expensive, but others are priced exactly the same or higher than those on campus.

Students have also taken it upon themselves to provide each other with textbooks. Founded in 1998, the Toronto University Book Exchange provides students across the GTA a place to buy and sell textbooks. Its website, tusbe.com, is run by students, and has grown at a tremendous rate in the past few years, climbing from 10,000 book sale posts in 2002 to over 75,000 in 2007.

David Mazza, a fourth-year biology major, has used TUSBE for two years and said he loves it. “I can find all the books I need at a fraction of the price at the university bookstore,” he enthused.

High prices have even spawned an underground textbook market. Enterprising students of shaky ethics have found a profitable industry in selling illegally photocopied textbooks. Photocopied textbooks show up on TUSBE, too, sometimes as cheap as $25—still a large profit for their manufacturers.

In December, Canadian students, bookstores, and university administrators took part in the National Roundtable on Academic Materials. The first of its kind, the conference addressed concerns over the costs of textbooks, and found that students, who can be counted on to buy the textbooks, are only a minor factor in publishers’ calculations.

David Simmonds, VP university affairs for the University Students’ Council at UWO told the Gazette “One of the things that came out of the conference […] was that students have never been acknowledged in the textbook industry as the primary consumer of textbooks.”

With prices growing almost as fast as alternative options and piracy, it remains to be seen who will get the last word in the textbook industry.

Why is studying climate change important?

In order to understand why science is necessary, one needs to understand the history of humanity and the universe we inhabit.

In the beginning, dust clouds existed in a vast cosmic ocean. This dust occasionally condensed and formed stars and planets. After millions and millions of years, some exploded. They died, but not wastefully: atoms fundamental to life were formed in these high-energy explosions, including carbon, oxygen, and sulfur. The clouds resulting from millions of similar explosions all over the universe condensed again, forming other stars and planets. The sun was created out of this material along with our little blue planet, Earth.

If we wanted to fit all of these events in a calendar year with Jan. 1 representing the first dust cloud appearing in the cosmos and 11:59:59 p.m., Dec. 31 representing the present, the formation of the earth would occur in mid-August. Life soon emerged, its origins unknown. At the beginning of November, the first multi-cellular organisms appeared. On Dec. 17, the first vertebrates emerged, and the first dinosaurs appeared on Dec. 24, just in time for Christmas. They lived for six days of our hypothetical calendar. The first humans arrived on December 31 at 9:24 p.m. In the grand scheme of things, the ancient Egyptians built their great pyramids at 11:59:50 p.m., ten seconds ago. Columbus discovered America only one second ago.

Everything we know about humanity—every civilization, war, and historical event—makes up just the last 15 seconds of this condensed calendar. Dinosaurs lived on earth for six full days, yet we’ve been living here for only 15 seconds. However, there is a critical difference between us and the dinosaurs—as agents of change, we are way more powerful than any other species that ever existed on this planet. We have the power to conceivably destroy all life on earth within hours by using atomic weapons. We have the ability to change the climate of this planet within milliseconds on this calendar. This stems from our ability to think, reason, and figure things out. We discovered that the Earth is not flat, that the sun does not rotate around the Earth, and that the natural forces that exist on this planet are universal—gravity exists throughout the universe. In light of these revelations came a startling realization: we are not unique in the eye of the cosmos. Our mighty sun is a tiny grain of sand in a vast cosmic beach.

With time came a tool that helped humanity describe the natural world. This tool allowed us to understand life systematically, and draw conclusions based on evidence and observations. This tool is the scientific method.

As an educated society, dedicated to passing knowledge on to our young, we have this great tool firmly in hand. Not only can we make new discoveries about our awesome universe, but we can sustain our environment and the myriad life forms it contains. Looking at our calendar, one thing is clear: we have no time to waste. The rate of destruction of our planet is way more rapid than any species, including us, can adapt to. Within decades we are destroying this unique planet that has flourished with life for over billions of years.

We can still change the fate of our planet, and hope to experience a second year on our cosmic calendar. We can use the power of science to fix our mess. It is a job of special concern to current science students that will become future scientists—but only if we believe that it is up to us to change our fate by applying our accumulated knowledge. Society must not allow a minority of corporations to distract us from this mission. It may require investing in a plan that takes thousands of years to restore things as they once were—affected ecosystems need evolutionary timescales to regenerate themselves. The principle concern is that we have to foresee the benefit of doing this for the next generations, rather than continuing the shortsighted path humanity has been on up until now. We are running out of time to make things right.

Katz’s crew catch Gee Gees

With RMC and Queen’s set to visit the Athletic Centre this weekend, the Blues will be looking to build on momentum from an impressive 71-65 victory over the Ottawa Gee Gees. RMC and Queen’s are two teams going in opposite directions. While RMC currently sits last in the OUA East with an 0-12 record, Queen’s (8-4) is in the upper tier of the division, and challenging Toronto (9-3) for third.

“We played both of them last weekend.” said Blues centre Nick Snow. “This year RMC hasn’t been that strong as in the past, but Queen’s is a pretty good team, they’re right behind us, so we expect another good game.”

The Blues hope there is no letdown following tough weekend match ups against the Carleton Raven’s (ranked number one in Canada) and the Ottawa Gee-Gees, second in the OUA East division. Against the Carleton Ravens, the Blues lost 86-70 in a game that was dominated by poor officiating. The Ravens were allowed to go to the free throw line an astonishing 42 times, compared to only 24 for the Blues. It was a disappointing game, but there was no shame in losing to the number one team in all of Canada. Nick Magalas lead the Blues with 28 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s early foul trouble. Starters Nick Snow, Paul Sergautis, and Mike DeGiorgio fouled out of the game with more than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Blues were also badly out-rebounded in this game 38-16.

In Saturday’s match against Ottawa, Toronto faired much better. Ottawa (10-2) is currently second in the OUA East division, just ahead of Toronto (9-3). The who’s who of Canadian basketball were in attendance for this meeting of division rivals. Members of Toronto Raptors brass, including head coach Sam Mitchell and assistant Jay Triano, took in Saturday’s game on a rare night off for the pro-team.

“I think you’re seeing two of the better teams in Canada right now,” said Triano the former coach of the Canadian national team. “It’s a hard fought battle and both teams play very good defense, they run good sets, both very well coached.” Triano, who worked with Blues head coach Mike Katz on the Canadian team, was duly impressed by the talented home grown players from both squads: “There are a lot of guys that could play on the national team. If they keep working hard, they have a chance” said Triano.

It was an important game for the Blues, not the least because of who was in attendance. Under this scrutiny Toronto struggled early in the game, missing four of their first five shots. After a couple of early foul calls (one of them a debatable blocking foul on Paul Sergautis), coach Mike Katz brought in sub Nick Magalas with four minutes left in the first quarter, providing a spark.

Ottawa’s team was clearly more athletic than the Blues, with a few well-executed windmill dunks during warm up. But the Blues would stick to their game plan throughout, and it eventually paid off. With the first quarter winding down and the Blues trailing 11-4, Rob Paris had a block on Gees Gees forward Jacob Gibson-Bascombe under the basket, then promptly hit a three pointer on offense to cut into Ottawa’s lead, and get the Blues faithful in attendance, back into the game.

Ottawa’s defenders made it difficult for the Blues to get much going inside, so they had to rely on the three pointer early in the first half, hitting 10 of them. Rob Paris had three three-pointers in the first half to keep the team within striking distance, but sat out for most of the second as the team stayed with Nick Magalas at the off guard. The Blues entered the half trailing only 36-33.

In the second half, the Blues shooters got hot and began to pour it on against the Gee Gees. Mike DeGiorgio, who finished the game with 14 points was a major contributor. He hit a three at the seven minute point of the third quarter, to give the Blues a 40-38 lead.

With the score tied at 45, and inbounding the ball from behind the basket, DeGiorgio took a Nick Snow screen and hit a difficult fall-away jumper from the top of the key, giving the Blues the narrow two-point lead once again.

The emotional turning point occurred with three minutes left in the third quarter, when Paul Sergautis got fouled hard, but not before completing a fine three-point play. The Blues took a 50-45 lead, and didn’t look back.

In the fourth quarter, Ahmed Nazmi helped put away the game with a couple of three-pointers down the stretch. Nazmi who finished with a team-high 22 points, hit a three pointer with nine minutes left in the game to give the Blues the 57-44 lead. Our team’s stellar defence held Ottawa, who had been averaging 77 points a game, to only 65 points.

Trailing 68-63 with less than two minutes left to play, the Gee Gees tried to put on the full court pressure, but a Nazmi three pointer brought the score to 70-63. “I think in the second half we came out and really got into them.” said fi rst year forward Andrew Wasik following the win. “We focused on defending them, and just working as hard as we can because we play a similar style of game to them, so rebounding and defense, and will is important.”

It was a great win, and having the Raptors coaches there seemed to provide an emotional lift for the Blues. The usually glib Mike Katz was even more speechless after the game, only managing to comment: “We knew that we had to have a good second half, and I was really happy that we won the game. If Sam Mitchell doesn’t show up today, we don’t win that game.”

Blues rise in East

After a tremendous first half of the season, which saw the team win the first five games and put up a record of 7-3 overall, the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team must have been sad to see 2007 come and pass. The team can take solace that while the Gregorian calendar has already brought us into 2008, in the Chinese lunar calendar, the year of the pig, which officially began on Feb. 18, 2007, will not change until Feb. 6, 2008. So far the year of the pig has been nothing short of a blue-ribbon year for these “Beasts of the East.” Coach Michelle Belanger praised her team’s overall consistency this season, following an 89-48 route of the Ottawa Gee- Gees over the weekend.

“The players should get all the credit for our success this year. They’ve matured a lot, and are finally playing up to their ability. They’re taking things a little more seriously than they have in the past and it shows. They really want to win!”

The Blues have not only been consistent this season, but dominant. In wins they are outscoring their opponents by an average score of 75-58 (17 points per game.) First in the East in overall scoring per game, our team trails only high-powered Laurentian and Western in the OUA.

“We try to run a lot of back-screens, and play a motion offense,” said coach Belanger after Saturday’s blowout against Ottawa. “I think we did a good job today of scoring in transition and taking advantage of our speed. When we play in the half court, we want to move the ball really quickly, set some screens, then look inside to our post players. We did that today.”

Against the Ottawa Gee Gees, quick ball movement resulted in excellent shooting percentages and mismatches down low. Toronto finished the night shooting 46.4 per cent from the field, while going to the line 29 times compared to just 14 attempts for their opponents. Four Toronto players scored in double figures on Saturday: forward Laila Bellony had ten points and seven rebounds for the Blues, while Christine Cho and Allaine Hutton had 13 apiece. Any of these players could have easily grabbed Player of the Night honors, which eventually went to second-year guard Jessica Hiew who scored a season-high 16 points. Asked why this edition of the Blues has been so successful thus far, Hiew said, “I think it comes with playing a lot together. We’re starting to get to know each other’s games, what everyone can do, and that has helped a lot.”

The Blues haven’t only gotten familiar with their teammates in the New Year, but will be renewing hostilities with old foes the RMC Paladins and Queen’s Golden Gaels. The teams will be squaring off this Friday and Saturday at the Athletic Centre. Toronto opened 2008 with two victories on the road against them, and Hiew expects a dog fight this time around: “RMC and Queen’s are probably looking for revenge ’cause we beat them just last weekend. Especially Queen’s, because that was quite a close game. RMC we beat by quite a lot, but they’ll be looking to improve this time around as well.”

With another pair of victories, the Blues could creep closer to the top of the standings. Their current record, following a sweep of Ottawa and Carleton, stands at 11-3, good for second overall in the East behind the York Lions. The Blues are on pace statistically to win 17 games this season, their best total since 2003 when the team went 18-4. All coach Belanger wants to see is a hard-working team that learns from their past successes and failures.

“I just hope that we get better after every game we play, and I think that we have improved a lot in some areas. The goal is to put it all together by February so that we’ll have the total package.” The year of the pig isn’t quite over yet, and neither is the Varsity Blues season, so it’s possible that the 2007/2008 campaign will indeed be their year.

Strike and lockout tensions stew at STU

Picketing continues at Fredericton’s St. Thomas’ University, where administrators and faculty are negotiating amidst a simultaneous strike and lockout. In an unprecedented move, the liberal arts university locked out its faculty in anticipation of a strike two weeks ago, a move they said was an effort to reduce the negative impact of a strike on students. The undergraduate school’s 2,800 students have seen the start of their term indefinitely postponed. Faculty will meet Monday to decide whether or not to continue their protest.

On Friday, the St. Thomas’ University Students’ Union held a march through campus to protest the delays. They included a detour off campus so that faculty, barred from entry to the university itself, could participate.

“Students are the ones who are directly affected,” said Alicia Del Frate, STUSU’s VP administration. “[But] we don’t really have an avenue to speak. [The march] shows that students are united.”

Throughout the labour dispute, many students have declared their support for the administration, who they said are more conscious of the burden an ever-changing calendar puts on students.

“As president of St. Thomas’, it would be irresponsible of me to allow delays in reaching an agreement that would penalize our students and compromise future accessibility,” said STU president Michael Higgins in an open letter.

The Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas’ accused the administration of using distorting fi- nancial projections to exaggerate the cost of FAUST’s demands and scare students away from supporting them. Dawn Morgan, a professor and FAUST representative, went as far as saying the administration had deliberately misled and manipulated students to weaken FAUST’s bargaining position.

Del Frate highlighted the difficulties surrounding the uncertain start date for this term. Students living nearby have gone home to wait for classes to start, but those from out-of-province or outside the country have had to repeatedly reschedule travel plans. The first day of classes was rescheduled twice before being postponed indefinitely.

Though they decide when the semester begins, neither the administration nor faculty are affected in the same way as students, according to Del Frate.

Morgan pushed for solidarity between students and FAUST. “Faculty and students are natural allies. The university is the universe in which students and faculty come together, that’s the whole purpose,” she said.

The administration and FAUST are negotiating salary and workspace issues for part-time, full-time, and temporary faculty. The latter group is of special concern.

Morgan explained that temporary faculty, many of whom have just left graduate school, tend to get excessive workloads. Temporary faculty often teach four classes a semester, while full-time professors only teach two or three. “It is absolutely overwhelming,” said Morgan. “We just don’t think that’s equitable.”

FAUST has won some concessions from the administration, and will decide tomorrow whether or not to continue picketing. Morgan said she was particularly happy about gains for part-time faculty, including health benefits and more office space. “That’s a really good agreement and we’re very happy with that,” she said.

Matus named student kingpin

Effective July 1, 2008, Jill Matus, English professor and current viceprincipal of University College, will become U of T’s new vice-provost of students, a step up the administrative ladder that Governing Council approved this past week. She has been with the University of Toronto’s English department for over 25 years.

Matus will succeed U of T’s fi rst vice-provost of students, Jonathan Freedman, who held the job for seven months as an interim appointment while the university searched for a permanent replacement. During Matus’s upcoming fi ve-year tenure, she will be responsible for policies affecting the students and student organizations of all three U of T campuses.

In particular, she will oversee the operation and administration of student programs and services on St. George campus. Matus broke down her priorities for the downtown campus: “It would be things like the International Student Centre, First Nations health, student housing, and Hart House,” she said.

Other tasks Matus is expected to shepherd include supervising student recruitment operations, overseeing admissions and awards, and handling international student exchange programs. She will also supervise the assistant vice-president of student life, a newly created position, as yet unfilled.

After earning her PhD at the university in 1981, Matus worked as a part-time lecturer and an assistant professor at UTSC before joining the St. George English department as a full professor in 1997.

Three years ago, she began a term as vice-principal of University College, also taking on the role as acting principal of the college from July to December of 2007.

Announcing Matus’s new appointment, U of T vice-president and provost Vivek Goel said Matus embodies the essential characteristics needed for the position. Goel cited her “direct experience in undergraduate education, an understanding of the role of college life in the student experience, and a tri-campus orientation.”

“She has been engaged in activities that bridge curricular and co-curricular to ensure that our students have a well-rounded experience,” he said.

The outgoing Freedman expressed similar views of Matus, supporting her appointment, while bidding farewell to the post he has held since July 2007.

“She will be a wonderful addition to this office, and I look forward to having her take over the job,” said Freedman.

Matus was enthused about the appointment, but said she hopes it will not take her away from the classroom completely.

“I love teaching. It’s a wonderful way to maintain contact with students, particularly in my own department,” she said.

Apart from her administrative and academic experiences at U of T, Matus is also a distinguished humanities scholar and researcher, specializing in Victorian literature and culture. She has published writings on authors such as Dickens, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters—to name but a few.

Perspectives from Persepolis

Fearing social suicide, I very seldom use the word “nifty.” Yet when faced with the task of describing the animation style of Persepolis, it seems like the only word that will do. The characters are drawn in a stylishly minimal black-and-white and move in a herky-jerky way that is defiantly 2-D in a Pixar-dominated animation marketplace. When characters move, they often look like paper puppets— one part of the body will be flailing while the rest remains absolutely stationary. In the rare instances when 3-D is used, it is employed in a way that simulates a pop-up book. It looks like one of those Robert Smigel cartoons from Saturday Night Live filtered through German Expressionism.

Persepolis is based on two graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi about her own adolescence in a war-torn and increasingly oppressive Iran, and her subsequent tumultuous, soul-searching journey through Europe. The books and the film are also a pretty effective history lesson, summarizing years of Iranian war and revolution. Despite the difficult subject matter, both the graphic novels and the film are surprisingly whimsical and occasionally touching, and they have the same sort of irreverent humour one might find a comic written by a kid during class.

Unlike most literary adaptations, the Persepolis movie is co-written and codirected by the original author. “I never wanted to make a movie, and I always thought that was a very bad idea to make a movie out of the comics,” said Satrapi in a phone interview. “I had the possibility to make exactly the movie I wanted without making any compromise, and as an artist it doesn’t happen every day when people tell you, ‘Oh you can do whatever you want’—it was really an intellectual and artistic challenge for me.”

The challenge of the Persepolis movie was to take two rambling, tangential graphic novels and turn them into a relatively conventional 95-minute movie while still maintaining their spirit. “When I made the book, the story is linear: it starts at one point, it finishes at one point, and I had all the space to express whatever I wanted. When you a one-and-a-half hour movie of course you cannot put everything, otherwise you’ll find yourself with five movies in one, which is a complete disaster.

“It was really a book that I made to give another point of view to the world. I didn’t want the movie to become a political or a historical or a sociological statement, and I thought to make it universal it would be much better to concentrate on the story of one person, a very individualistic [structure] and humanistic point-of-view. And just to show how it is as a human being when you are in a place and how [cultural norms] become so much bigger than you as an individual and pressed down. And how do you leave? How do you grow up? I thought that was an interesting angle.”

Persepolis has received almost unanimous critical and popular acclaim. It has been selected as France’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, beating out much-hyped candidates like La Vie en Rose and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and at last May’s Cannes Film Festival it won the Jury Prize. “The Cannes festival is like the day of your wedding,” said Satrapi. “Everybody enjoys it except you.”

But the film’s North American release is especially notable for coinciding with an unprecedented level of negative American media coverage about Iran. Considering the increasing tendency to label Iran, rather simplistically, as part of an “Axis of Evil,” Satrapi’s human story is particularly valuable.

“It is important that people don’t forget that the government is one thing, and the people are another,” says Satrapi. “I mean, even me, when I came to America for the first time, I missed [the fact] that American government and American people are not the same until I saw them, and I saw how people were…and American people are often not George Bush, thank God!”

“But most of the time people forget that, because every day 200 people die in Iraq, but nobody cares about it. They talk about it like it’s a dog dying. They have forgotten that those people [Iraqis] are just people like them, they have family and friends and hope and love, but they are reduced to some kind of abstract notion—‘Axis of Evil.’ So it’s very important that we put the human being at the centre of interest. It’s so obvious what I’m saying, but I feel that it can never be repeated enough.”

Students push York to dump Burma stocks

York students are lobbying their university to let its money speak for democracy in Burma. The student-led York Coalition for Responsible Investment is urging the university to review its Burma-related investments. In support of the boycott of the Burmese military regime, YCRI has launched a petition calling on the school to divest itself of these stocks.

The group’s petition, available online, cites human rights abuses reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and includes a pro-boycott statement from the All-Burmese Monks’ Alliance. Last September, Burma’s military dictators weathered a storm of public and official condemnation of their regime and its violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“The campaign is really just beginning, consisting mainly of the petition and investment research at the moment,” said Simon Granovsky-Larsen, a student organizer of YCRI. “But we plan to eventually bring motions to the York Board of Governors addressing some or all of the companies active in Burma.”

YCRI found York University investments totaling over $1 billion in companies active in Burma, including Total, Chevron, Petrochina, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Hyundai, LG, and Samsung.

Their petition is a part of the ongoing effort to reform the ways universities invest. YCRI wants ethical standards, decision-making structure, voting methods, and the role of students in investment processes to be made explicit.

This isn’t the first time the students have criticized the university for involvement with Burma: York students led a five-year boycott of Pepsi products in the mid ’90s, following the soft drink maker’s opening of a plant in Burma.

MP Larry Bagnell, the chairman of the group Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Burma, just returned from the Thai-Burmese border. In a public letter, he reported on his experience with various groups, including deserters from the regime’s army, monks, and ex-political prisoners:

“I learned that, though it may appear to the international community that the worst of the violence is over in Burma, atrocities in the ethnic states including rape, forced displacement, forced labour and extrajudicial killings are going on daily,” he wrote. “The people I met expressed support for Canada’s humanitarian aid to Burma and increased economic sanctions against the regime.”

McGill set a precedent with a similar campaign in 2006. In response to that program, the Montreal school’s Board of Governors adopted an ethical investment proposal.
The petition can be viewed online at: http://www.petitiononline.com/YUburma/ petition.html.