Courts to students: Not our problem

For Dan Roffey it began as a question without an answer. No one in the George Brown administration would tell him why the college, where he was pursuing a degree in early childhood education, was charging him hundreds of dollars in extra fees for computers, libraries, and labs, on top of tuition. When he learned these fees were, in fact, in violation of a government policy prohibiting colleges from charging extra fees to cover academic services, his simple question led to a $200-million class action law suit.

Roffey joined with another representative plaintiff, Amanda Hassum of Conestoga College, in suing 24 Ontario colleges for the return of fees, which Hassum and Roffey claimed had been illegally charged, in direct violation of a government directive forbidding ancillary tuition-related fees.

The Ontario Superior Court, however, put an end to their legal challenge when it ruled on March 28 that Roffey and Hassum had no legal claim against the colleges. Forcing colleges to stop charging ancillary fees was, the court held, a political matter and not one in which the courts can interfere.

The Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario branch has long lobbied to convince Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities to enforce the ancillary fee ban, but CFS-O chairperson Jen Hassum said that the ministry still does not always enforce the law.

The institutions argue, however, that such a ban ignores the will of students and hurts valuable student services. “This case is about local democracy and autonomy,” said Freya Kristjanson, a lawyer and spokesperson for the colleges in the suit, “these fees vary from campus to campus. They still have to be approved by local student government.”

The colleges also noted that fees go to support valuable student services, like libraries and computer labs, which may be severely hurt by this loss of revenue.

Jen Hassum offered a different perspective. She said CFS-O wants “a publicly funded college and university system, which would not rely on piecemeal funding from students who are already economically disadvantaged.” CFS is also advocating for a $50-million increase in the funding colleges receive from the government, which would help replace the revenue that would be lost if the ancillary fee ban succeeded.

For the moment, CFS is hopeful that the lawsuit may have drawn enough attention to the issue to elicit a meaningful political response. CFS is meeting with the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, John Milloy, later this week about ancillary fees, and hopes that students will show their support by emailing their student government, member of parliament, and the minister himself.

The question for Roffey and Hassum is still whether to appeal the March 28 ruling. They are undecided, but Roffey said that if the case has inspired students to ask more questions like he did about how colleges fund the services they provide, he considers it a victory. “Get students involved,” he said of how to progress. “Now that it’s not a legal matter, it’s a political matter, and we need to get students involved in politics.”

Taking money for granted

When Saroop Bharwani and Shachin Ghelani started looking for grad school funding, they came across an unexpected problem. It wasn’t that grants were hard to come by—it was that many poorly-advertised privately funded scholarships were going completely overlooked.

“Millions of dollars worth of bursaries and grants go unclaimed every year,” said Ghelani. She blamed Ontario’s grant application processes for the issue. “As we dug deeper, we found that students were frustrated with the current ways of applying.”

She and Bharwani found the typical application process increasingly frustrating. “The both of us are a bit more creative, a bit more visually expressive and we found that there were no real programs out there that catered to our needs,” Ghelani said.

The two began discussing the concept of using videos or images as grant applications, instead of the familiar forms and micro-essays. They liked the idea so much they decided to quit their jobs and abandon grad school plans in order to launch their own granting service. Established in September 2006, the online funding agency Ogrant gets financial backing from corporate sponsorships.

Bethany Horne was the first student to ever get money from Ogrant. “I applied because I, like many students, am poor,” said Horne. She noticed that fewer than 40 people had applied for a thousand-dollar grant, decided to give it a try, and won. “It was a huge relief,” she added.

GPA is not considered on an Ogrant application. Neither is household income or estimated annual expenses. To apply for an award from Ogrant, a student creates a video or image explaining why he or she deserves the money. Then other students vote for their favourite submissions, and these are passed on to the sponsors for the final selection. Many winning applications get only a few hundred votes.

Applying for an Ogrant sounds like a no-brainer. But is it fair to award education grants to students based on the outcome of what amounts to a popularity contest?

“I think the popular voting system could be improved upon by a higher membership to the site,” said Horne. “As it stands, it is very easy to get your 300 Facebook friends to vote for you, and win, because you have more friends than someone else. That is not fair.” [The recent voting round had way more turnout than my application did: because more people are getting into it.]

Popular voting and profile commenting are not the only aspects of evaluation. This is the “community support phase” and constitutes about 30 per cent of overall criteria. Yet, a corporate Ogrant sponsors only reviews the most supported applicants.

Once it’s been posted to the website, other students vote for who they think should win. “We still want to show that some kind of intellectual ability or talent is present.”

According to the Ogrant website, its main purpose is to encourage businesses and wealthy individuals to provide financial aid to students. Alterna Savings is one of the companies taking part in the initiative, providing three Ogrants totaling $6,000. Ghelani declined to comment on Ogrant’s total budget.

Judging by the website’s overall activity, competition is by no means fierce. Only one student to date, Sarah Hyland, has applied for the Alterna grants.

LGBTQ arson sets hearts aflame

Sometimes, all you need is love. On Wednesday, over 60 UTSC students and staff gathered to smile, hug and kiss in the Meeting Place during a love-in. But while the general sentiments were of love and affection, the event was actually held in response to a major act of violence on campus.

At approximately 1 a.m. on Saturday the bulletin board for UTSC’s Positive Space and LGBTQ student group was set on fire. Representatives from the Emergency Medicine Response Group were soon on the scene and alerted Campus Police, who quickly put out the fire.

It didn’t take long for students and the surrounding community to respond to the news. Within hours of the incident details began circulating among students through Facebook and other online communities. LGBTQ coordinator David Leaman created a Facebook group called “Stop Homophobia at UTSC,” which at press time had over 650 members.

Letters of support also came from UTSC principal Franco Vaccarino, Council on Student Services chair Jenna Hossack, SCSU president Rob Wulkan and CFS-Ontario chairperson Jen Hassum. Outreach representative Andrew Brett of CFS-O, UTSC equity advisor Aysan Sev’er, and VP human resources and equity special advisor Connie Guberman were also in attendance during Wednesday’s love-in event.

Lovers and friends, both straight and queer, left the gathering with smiles. And a large posted explanation on the damaged bulletin board has generated publicity for the LGBTQ group. Leaman said the arson highlighted the continued need for public awareness and outreach about the gay community. But there are still long-term concerns regarding safety.

Leaman and other students say they feel threatened and vulnerable as a result of the arson. “I’ve been having these horrible thoughts that someone is going to come up to the lounge in the middle of the night, pour gasoline under the door and light it,” said Leaman. “I mean, why wouldn’t they, if they’re setting fire to stuff. We can’t just say, that’s fine we’ll put up another board, we have to come to terms that we’re physically threatened here.”

It’s a sentiment reflected in recent discussions for new LGBTQ t-shirts. The phrase “I’m queer!” would be on the front, but students at UTSC also joke about placing an additional plea on the back: “Please don’t set me on fire.”

You’re not all that special

The story goes that for every graduating university class, there will be a commencement speaker who waxes poetically about the graduates’ potential and promise. U of T requires no such person. It seems as if students at this school already presume themselves to be the future’s leaders and activists. For example, AlwaysQuestion certainly takes pride in its role as fighters for social justice. But it, like many other activist groups on this campus, suffers from a serious character flaw: the desire for the reward “change” brings, without the agreement to shoulder the costs.

Indeed, such is the mindset that pervades this school—a culture of privilege and entitlement. While not all students feel this way, many do— often those in positions of student leadership. It is exhibited in the countless campaigns year after year “demanding” that the university freeze its tuition fees, with bold assertions that education is a right. This was carried to a new extreme with Always- Question’s protest on March 20 inside Simcoe Hall.Reasonable people can agree or disagree on whether tuition and residence fees are exorbitant for lower income students—but this debate needs to be framed in a way that makes such rhetoric justified. For one, the assertion that education is a right, and that there is a need to make it accessible to everyone, is not followed by any reasoning for why that is so. It seems self-serving for students to paint the services they receive as some kind of intrinsic and inalienable human good. It is unclear why education—a publicly funded good that comes out of taxpayer pockets— ought to be subsidized and discounted for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Under the tenets of social justice, society ought to help the least well-off in achieving the same economic opportunities as the wealthiest. But a tuition freeze is universal, which would mean the public subsidization of the wealthiest students at Canada’s elite universities to perpetuate their legacy of economic privilege. A universal tuition freeze might seem convenient when one takes into consideration that most students who attend university are already by definition privileged, and U of T’s majority are at least middle-class. Whether out of willful ignorance of economics or a blind faith that money grows on trees, student campaigns “demanding” tuition freezes fail to understand the burden placed on the public. They send the message to the rest of society that the aid going to those struggling for a better life should also come with earmarks for the bourgeois.

But entitlement isn’t just limited to one dimension of university costs. After all, there are solutions, such as means-tested education subsidies and interest-free loans to lower-income students, that aren’t as ineffectual as universal tuition freezes. These programs exist, but we can make the case for their expansion. AlwaysQuestion, UTSU, and ASSU say that we must “fight the power.” We are told that we must fight for our “rights,” demand “justice” and “equity,” and resist authority. Such rhetoric paints university students as marginalized, alienated, and oppressed, when most of us are actually quite privileged. It equates the inconvenience of paying student fees with the plight of the landless Native Americans or the police-brutalized African Americans, when in reality such moral equivalence is an insult to the truly marginalized. Even international students, who indeed pay substantially more for than Canadian students, are often members of the elite in their home countries. Far from the proletariat who require solidarity, they are privileged enough to attend high-quality schools and belong to educated families. University students acquiesce to this kind of rhetoric because it is self-congratulating. It whispers sweet nothings to our ego, giving us the meaning that our bourgeois education lacks. It not only panders to our interests of paying cheaper fees, but to our fantasies of being more exceptional than we really are. To be oppressed means we can take part in the exciting adventure of revolutionary activism against oppression.

This entitled mindset delivers a singular message: we owe it to ourselves to fight for what is owed. We are owed by a greedy university president (who lives in a university-funded mansion in Rosedale, no less), our culturally insensitive professors, and soul-crushing school administrators. Most of all, we are owed by society, for it is the working families and struggling small business owners who must foot the bill for the reduced fees we are “entitled” to.

Editorial: Student activism gone wrong

By now, everyone on campus has seen the embarrassing video of AlwaysQuestion’s sit-in at Simcoe Hall that took place on March 20. It’s a real—excuse the word—shame that student activism has sunk to these depths. Originally meant to be a legitimate protest against the 20 per cent increase in New College residence fees, a grievance initially supported by the New College Student Council, the cause was debased when seized by radicals with divergent interests.

In 1968, Europe came to a standstill with student/worker protests demanding socially progressive policies. Time and again, each riot eventually floundered due to an inability to agree about their fundamental goals. The same thing happened on campus, as a vocal minority of U of T students hijacked the sit-in with ludicrous demands ranging from the end of the Iraq War, to Israel granting freedom to Palestinians. In effect, AlwaysQuestion decided to protest everything, ignoring the nuances of their cause in an immature quest to get their way, which is to them, the only way.

Successful agitations for change— such as the Civil Rights movement— not only have clear goals, but are also well-coordinated. Chanting profanity like a group of overtired frosh certainly isn’t a way to enforce change. Reports, petitions, facts, figures, and suggestions for improvement will persuade the administration. It may not get as much attention from our admittedly apathetic student population, but it’s far more productive than simply shouting an end goal without suggesting any intermediary process. It’s unfortunate that AlwaysQuestion and their ilk refuses to think of measured solutions, instead choosing to use blunt scare tactics in hopes of getting some attention.

AlwaysQuestion’s continuing actions— deeming the gentle tactics of the police officers at Simcoe Hall “police brutality,” continually insulting the police, scapegoating David Naylor for all their problems, and staging protests to protest what happened at other protests—only discredit the left. President Naylor commented that such cries of police brutality are nothing but “historical revisionism.” Mocking calls of “Shaaaaame” have become a joke all over campus, as more students have laughed at their video, or felt embarassed by the organization than felt united by the cause. It’s upsetting, because student activism has a history of being just and effective, not silly and ridiculous.

Our predecessors brought a lot of progress to this school, from gaining women access to Hart House, to allowing undergraduates into Robarts—iniatives that Always- Question likens itself to. Those same alumni should shake their heads at what student activism has become: petty, reactionary, and ludicrous.

U of T math prof awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

The University of Toronto attracts the best and brightest scholars from around the world. Dr. Valentin Blomer is an outstanding example, having recently won a prestigious 2008 Sloan Research Fellowship. Blomer is one of only two Canadian recipients, in the company of scholars at Harvard , Princeton, and MIT. Thirty-five Sloan Fellows have been honoured with a Nobel Prize later in their careers.

Blomer came to U of T from Stuttgart, Germany, as a post-doctoral fellow in mathematics. At the age of 16 he developed an interest in what would become his specialty: analytic number theory, the branch of mathematics that examines arithmetic structures. One example posed by analytic number theorists is what integers can be written as a sum of two squares. The theorist takes all possible sums, examining what integers can be represented this way. Blomer explains that the question is easy to pose, but the solution is difficult, often with machinery involved.

One practical application of analytic number theory is how to hide information, the study of cryptography. Various aspects of bank security, computer passwords, and security of ATM cards depend on arithmetic functions that are easy to “lock,” but have an inverse that are extremely difficult to solve.

Blomer’s research focuses on theory as opposed to practical application. Specifically, he researches quadratic forms and L-functions. His work in this area has garnered significant attention, leading to his nomination by U of T for a Sloan Research Fellowship.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, based in New York, developed their program to support fundamental research by young career scientists. Awards were granted to applicants that demonstrated “the most outstanding promise of making fundamental contributions to new knowledge.” Candidates must hold a PhD in their respective field, but must be no more than six years from completion of that PhD This year, the foundation awarded 118 fellowships to scholars at 64 recognized institutions in the United States and Canada. Fellowships were awarded in seven specified fields of science: chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics, mathematics, neuroscience, and physics.

“[The award] encourages me to continue as I do. It’s a prestigious award and it feels good,” said Blomer.

Each recipient is awarded $50,000 U.S. that must be used over a two-year period. A beneficial aspect of the Sloan Fellowships is their flexibility. Blomer can allocate the funds to any aspect of his research, such as hiring post-doctorates and graduate students, professional travel, and maintenance of an up-to-date library.

This award demonstrates that Blomer is well on his way to making a fundamental contribution to mathematics. When asked if he has any advice for aspiring mathematicians, he offers, “We tend to be good at what we enjoy. Find something that you feel is exciting and pursue it.”

Style Central

While spring may still be making up its mind whether to grace us with its presence, Toronto Fashion Week recently kicked off with a preview of Canada’s top collections for fall 2008. Come hell or high waisted trousers, The Varsity was there to bring you all the juicy details.


Designer Nada Shepherd may have gleaned inspiration from the ‘80s megasoap Dynasty, but the results could have used a little Alexis Carrington- style bravado. Sure, there was a furry magenta tube dress, but too much of Nada’s innovation came in the form of contrasting zippers. Office-style suiting featured boxy silhouettes and a steely palette, with zippers placed in awkward, asymmetrical excess. Unwieldy geometric experimentation rounded out evening wear, which fell short of its potential despite a few standout pieces.


“That’s not how a suit coat should fit,” whispered a fellow attendee as a black pinstripe suit strutted down the runway. Sure enough, it was difficult to tell whether the suit was wearing its beefy model, or the other way around. While it seems as though Bustle designers Shawn Hewson and Rut Promislow are riding the same tailoring wavelength as some other menswear trailblazers of late—New York golden boy Thom Browne comes to mind—there is much to be said for a suit coat that’s snug. Luckily, Hewson and Promislow have the stylistic chops to distract from their blunders, as dandy three-pieces, bib-front shirts and skinny Euro ties harkened to a bygone era of the cigarette-touting debonair, managing to be foppish freshness.

Philip Sparks

Philip Sparks played with stylistic function in his fall menswear collection, throwing in bits and bobs of outerwear, suiting, and a couple of man bags for good measure. V-neck intarsia sweaters were paired with bowtie-adorned oxford shirts, while cabled cardigans topped roomy trousers. Generous fur trims accented the collars of double-breasted peacoats in camel and grey plaid, accessorized with matching fur mitts that are best described as “Wookie-chic.”

Diesel Kids

Co-presented by Fashion Television impresario Jeanne Beker and repugnant doll franchise Bratz, Diesel Kids wisely opted to bribe their potentially snarky runway attendees with an unlimited offering of chocolate coins and Ring Pops, graciously served out of toy treasure chests by adults dressed as pirates. The collection itself was charming, if entirely unfeasible (would anyone actually send their child to school wearing shorts in November, with or without furry boots?). Then again, it’s hard to see a 10-year-old rocking a Diesel leather bomber jacket with genuine swagger and not be moderately impressed.

Andy Thé-Anh

Montreal designer Andy Thé-Anh’s collection was among the highlights of Fashion Week, combining straightforward wearability with the right amount of edgy detail to keep things interesting. A simple, well-cut waistcoat and trouser combination was made stunning by the addition of long, structured armwarmers and a shoulder-skimming cowl piece. A cleanly-tailored suit that seemed everyday business professional came off as a bold eveningwear statement because of an off-the-shoulder jacket. While Thé-Anh’s designs are subtle and streamlined, it is his meticulous attention to the unexpected that sets him apart as one of Canada’s most talented young designers.

David Dixon

Perhaps it was the elaborate runway setup— complete with a snow machine and faux-gaslight installations—but I am not entirely convinced that David Dixon’s fall collection merited a standing ovation. More can be said for the preciseness of Dixon’s figure-conscious tailoring than for his novelty. Jewel-toned shift blouses featured lantern sleeves and flawless construction; raspberry plaid was put to fine use in both a belted trench and trapeze jacket. Balloon sleeves and long, slouchy gloves were everywhere.

Joeffer Caoc

If Joeffer Caoc is a designer whose strengths lie in his sculptural approach to garment construction, then his fall collection was certainly a showcase for his unique ability. Highly structured overcoats commanded attention, but never overbearingly. Perfectly body-hugging jersey sheath dresses in subdued plums and blues appeared precariously draped and folded, yet flawlessly maintained their shape.

Number one with a bullet

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has become a Cinderella story, as low seeded teams go on to unexpected glory, delivering a twist to the phrase “if the shoe fits.” In this year’s tourney, the team to watch was a small school out of Carolina called Davidson. But in the end, the clock struck twelve for the Wildcats as they were beaten 59-57 by the Kansas Jayhawks. For the first time, all four number-one seeded teams have advanced to the Final Four. North Carolina will play Cinderella spoiler Kansas, while UCLA will play Memphis.

(1) North Carolina vs. (1) Kansas

While this doesn’t seem like a surprise, Kansas almost didn’t make it. The Jayhawks survived a last-second three-pointer from Davidson guard Jason Richards to win 59-57. They will go up against a Tar Heels team that has dominated their opponents, winning each of their four games by double digits.

North Carolina is led by Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, who averages a double-double with 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Hansbrough, along with the entire Tar Heels team, seem to have heated up, shooting 53.4 per cent field goals and a stellar 85.6 per cent from the free throw line in their victory against third seed Louisiana. Their ability to hit clutch shots and convert on the line is why they are so hard to defend as East Region Champions.

Skeptics claim that because North Carolina has played its four games in a home state arena, a move out will be tough. But this is a team that went 36-2 this season, with strong shooting percentages as three of the starting five average over 10 points per game. North Carolina will continue their winning ways all the way to the finals.

Pick: North Carolina

(1) UCLA vs. (1) Memphis:

The Memphis Tigers punched their ticket to the Final Four for the first time since 1985 with a 85-67 romp of second seed Texas. The Tigers were led by freshman Derrick Rose, who had 21 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds en route to South Region MVP. The Tigers have shown superiority in the tournament thus far, winning by an average 16 points per game.

They will have their work cut out for them as they face a UCLA Bruins squad that has made the Final Four three consecutive years. The Bruins put up a dominant performance to defeat third seed Xavier 76-57, led by freshman centre Kevin Love with 19 points and 10 rebounds, five of which came in the offensive end. Along with a shooting score of 53.8 per cent from the floor against Xavier, the Bruins proved their 35-3 record, shutting down teams with a strong man-to-man defence. Continuing this legacy will be the key factor in defeating the Tigers and securing their spot in the National Championship.

The Bruins will fall short as Tyler Hansbrough leads the Tar Heels to a National Championship. While there will be no “Cinderella” champion, North Carolina does hold something in common with the Walt Disney character: they both wear blue.

Pick: UCLA