Quebec isn’t the only player in the Conservative constitutional controversy

The Conservatives may be biting off more than they can chew. In the most recent controversy involving Quebec, voices from within the Conservative caucus have given credence to the possibility of the Harper government opening up the Constitution to enshrine new clauses for Quebec, providing that the Conservatives win a majority in the next election.

But is this just a way for the Conservatives to reach majority seats in Quebec, as they did in the heyday of the 1988 Progressive Conservative government, or is this a genuine approach to appease the province that once sought secession from Canada? Word from within the party caucus has described the party debate as incredibly heated. Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn has said that there is a definite possibility of his government opening up the Constitution for Quebec’s gain. Blackburn also raised ideas of winning 30 to 40 seats in the province purely as a result of this promise. Emphasizing the need for a focused goal, Blackburn ruled out Liberal gains in the province. This, he said, has sent a message to Quebeckers that “people will choose between the Bloc Quebecois and us.”

The issue of extending powers to Quebec through the opening of the constitution can go in two directions. Canada stands by the democratic principles of federalism, whereby exclusive powers are given to each province that separates each one from the government. But there’s a limit to how far these powers should extend. It is beneficial for Canada to willingly recognize Quebec as a prominent province, however this recognition needs to be limited. Certainly giving more powers to Quebec would bind the referendum-happy province with Canada, but what about the other provinces?

The government should be concerned how the remaining provinces in Canada would react if an exclusive agreement was granted to Quebec. There should be a mutual relationship between the provinces and an assurance that the provinces outside of Quebec will receive equal consideration for their own unique identities, instead of focusing federal attention on Quebec.

It is still premature to predict the outcome of granting extended powers to Quebec—though the Conservative government has since denied these ambitions—but it’s likely that the rest of Canada would have mixed feelings.

Provisions should be taken to appease all provinces, preventing Quebec from abusing these powers. Quebec would certainly have a stronger sense of federalism if they had more autonomy within the country, since it would make calls of separation somewhat moot. However, too much power may anger other provincial leaders. Opening up the Constitution shows weakness on the part of the federal government—they’d be seen as being subservient to the province and may hurt Conservative numbers come election time.

Conservative have lofty ambitions for a majority government, and a key to this is gaining more seats in Quebec. The federal government’s desire to triumph in future elections may or may not bring Quebec closer to Canada, but giving Quebec special treatment is far too likely to raise concerns from other provinces.

For now the Conservative government has declared the issue closed, but that’s likely to change when it’s election season once again.

It takes a sit-in to make U of T listen

Students are against fee hikes. In campus-wide plebiscite in 2005, 98 per cent of U of T students voted against fee increases. And it’s not just students: according to a 2007 poll by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, 80 per cent of Canadians support lowering or freezing fees. Despite all this, the Governing Council votes every year to increase our fees. In fact, the university’s administration has vocally advocated deregulating fees entirely (calling it “self-regulation”). Yes, the federal and provincial governments are responsible, but when the university’s administration advocates increasing fees, it enables governments to continue with policies of inadequate funding. In a society where inequality is deepening, it also means complicity in perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Targeting the university’s administration is a focal point of many in the struggle for accessible education.

The administration continuously chooses to ignore student demands. They say hundreds of students are involved in decision-making, but how many are positioned to make decisive change? The Governing Council—U of T’s highest decision-making body—has eight student seats out of 50. Only four of these eight seats are for full-time undergraduates (including professional programs) over all three campuses. The other four are for part-time students and graduate students. Despite composing 10 per cent of the student population, international students are not permitted to participate. Elected student representatives, such as those on UTSU, which represents over 40,000 students, are regularly denied positions on Governing Council bodies. More blatantly, the university has always ignored decisions and recommendations of those governing bodies that are composed of a student majority, such as the Council on Student Services. CoSS has consistently voted down ancillary fee increases, but these decisions have been overridden by—you guessed it—the Governing Council, making CoSS’s efforts an exercise in futility.

This futility is evident in the process by which New College’s 20 per cent residence fee hike was approved. New College students and student representatives made numerous attempts through meetings and negotiations to stress their opposition. Jason Marin, president of the New College Student Council (NCSC), condemned the increase through a press release, and the treasurer of the New College Residence Council (NCRC) made it clear to the Governing Council’s University Affairs Board that NCRC did not support the 20 per cent increase. Rick Halpern, principal of New College, continued to assert that students were consulted before the decision was made. One can very well claim to consult sheep before leading them to slaughter.

Needless to say, we are not sheep. We are students and we will resist these formal avenues that have been designed to suppress—not facilitate— true student participation. As long as these structures continue to ignore the voices of students, we have no option but to escalate our expression of dissent. On Thursday, March 20, over 40 students staged a sit-in at Simcoe Hall—many of whom have been lobbying the administration for years. The students’ main demand was to speak with president David Naylor in person or by telephone. Students also asked for the proposed fee increases to be removed from the March 25 University Affairs Board meeting agenda and to be given 15 minutes at the meeting for a presentation and discussion of broader issues regarding the accessibility of education. Ultimately, the peaceful sit-in was met with physical aggression by campus police on the orders of senior administrators. Having consistently ignored student voices for years, the administration once more swept student concerns aside.

Students, workers, and community members will be meeting for an Open Forum on Monday, April 7 at William Doo Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the inaccessibility of post-secondary education and the notion that education is a universal right for all. There will also be a rally outside of Simcoe Hall on Thursday, April 10 at 4 p.m., when Governing Council meets to vote on increasing fees. We have to come together and discuss these issues in depth.

Faraz Shahidi and Ryan Hayes are ASSU Executive Members

Working for the weekend

For hundreds of artists, photographers, musicians, and filmmakers, this old adage is particularly relevant. All pursuing interests that are not as marketable as say, investment banking, most artsy twenty-somethings have to slag away their 9 to 5 at a job that will pay at least some of the bills.

But how does one balance a day job, and still find time to make art in the extra hours? According to actor and dancer Clayton Labbe, a Starbucks employee (a frequent day job for the creative kind) for six years, it’s not easy. “I try to go out and audition as much as I can,” he says, but is aware that he would have to get a great acting gig to pursue it full time.

With so many artistic individuals trying to supplement their income with a day job, it is important to find the best one. Known for overworking and underpaying their employees, most entry-level jobs will try hard to stiff you. Many swear by Starbucks, which has an above average starting wage of $9.50, and offers health benefits and stock options, as well as artistic grants. “Starbucks is one of the few places with the flexibility and scheduling that allows for rehearsals and auditions,” Labbe says. While he likes the job, he does tire of it. “No, I don’t think I would be happy making lattes for the rest of my life—I think I would kill myself,” he jokes.

Still, some jobs are more fun than others. Erin Fauteux, a saxophonist in U of T’s music faculty, clocks in regularly at the adult-oriented Misbehav’n on Queen St. W. When asked what drew her to the position, she quips, “I like sex!” But that’s not all. “I thought this would be an interesting experience, and it would really allow me to get more educated, and to help others achieve pleasure in their lives.” With an eclectic clientele to pass the hours she can’t spend on music, Fateux relates: “I often end up mediating couples in which one of them is really shy, or the other feels threatened by the size of our, ahem, products.”

But working at a sex shop isn’t all fun and dildos. While Fauteux would like to be a full time musician in the future, she doesn’t see much hope. Music jobs pay well, she says, but there aren’t enough of them. “If I had an eight-hour gig, I wouldn’t have to work [at Misbehav’n] for a week! But they are just a few hours in length.”

And difficult to find. Cellist and singer Hilary Gibson-Wood, who plays with the altrock band The Urban Symphony, also fills a full-time job in order to play music at night. Two years of day jobs, however, have earned her a pretty nice one: a position as a health researcher at the Center for Research of Inner City Health at Saint Michael’s Hospital. While Gibson-Wood reveals that unlike Labbe and Fauteux, she is paid well, she doesn’t see music as a viable option. “I don’t think I ever seriously considered a career as a musician on its own,” she admits.

For Labbe, Fauteux and Gibson-Wood, a career in the arts seems to be an increasing impossibility. If you do have the fortuity to find a job that pays the bills, it is unlikely that you can make a living. In 2001, Statistics Canada found that musicians and painters earn half the salary of the average Canadian worker, while actors make ten grand less than the annual average income of $31,000. And these are the supposed success stories.

A day job can offer temporary relief but can’t solve the problem of artist unemployment. The low wages frequently provided often leave workers without a solution. “If I am still working at Misbehav’n after graduation, I would have absolutely no chance of paying off the $40,000 I will owe the government for my student loans,” Fauteux says. And for Labbe, full time at Starbucks has left him “barely above the poverty level.”

The solution appears far off. While the arts remain under funded and the jobs are few and far between, day jobs seem the only answer. But there are ways improve the lifestyle of the aspiring artiste. “If there is anything I have learned in my many years of minimum wage service jobs, it is that appreciation is the greatest thing a boss can give to his or her employees, and it brings the greatest rewards,” says Fauteux.

And while all three remain busy, they still fight to find time for their artistic expression, says Gibson-Wood. “I’ve always hoped to keep music and creative endeavors in my life, whether it turns out to be a source of income or not.”

Leatherheads goes long… too long

Oh, how the 1920s always look so beautiful in Hollywood period pieces. The films are lighted with rich amber hues and scored to the music of Al Jolson. Everyone wears fedoras and tailored suits, the speakeasies have great jazz singers and fistfights that don’t look too painful, and the cars are shiny and the streets are always clean. The 1920s set the scene for George Clooney’s third directorial effort, Leatherheads. And while the movie is long and only fitfully amusing, boy…it sure looks great.

Clooney is Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly, the captain of the not-very-talented Bulldogs football team. On the verge of a collapse, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), a decorated war hero, emerges as the most popular figure in college football. Dodge convinces his superiors to recruit Carter, who brings in thousands of fans to the bleachers. But there’s trouble beyond the gridiron: an ambitious sports reporter (Renée Zellweger) has heard that Carter may not be the war hero he’s cracked up to be. Of course, a love triangle ensues.

Clooney, who has appeared in several of the Coen brothers’ comedies, seems to be channeling the Coens’ comic sensibility. He fills Leatherheads with a lot of broad, cartoon-like characters, and self-conscious references to past films, particularly the screwball comedies of the 1930s and ’40s starring Hepburn and Tracy. The humour shifts between aggressively quirky visual gags (one of the football team members is a 300-pound highschooler, ho ho) and witty dialogue, as Clooney and Zellweger trade rapid-fire comic banter. While Clooney is always an enjoyable actor with decent comic timing, Renée Zellweger is miscast. Her role calls for a ballsy, Rosalind Russell type, and low-key Zellweger isn’t up to the task. John Krasinski, from The Office, is pure vanilla in a very vanilla role.

Leatherheads runs an ungainly 114 minutes, at least 20 minutes longer than the average screwball. The climactic football scene feels drawnout, particularly following the logical ending. When a story has so little substance, is it too much to ask that it wrap up after 90 minutes?

Leatherheads wants to bring back memories of the storied ’30s screwball, but where those films felt spontaneous, this work is posturing. It’s as if Clooney wanted to emulate the tradition by constantly winking at the camera. The insincerity of Leatherheads becomes quite alienating. Yet it’s hard to hate it entirely. There is something about Clooney’s screen presence that’s kind of seductive, even if it doesn’t quite gel. There’s also something intriguing about the film’s hyperfetishized time capsule. Even the mud on the football field looks beautiful. A lot of skilled technicians have done a very good job creating this cinematic wax museum.

A Scientific split

An ongoing feud between scientists lies beneath the surface of scientific discourse. Virtually all scientists have an opinion about it, and there are no easy answers. This far-reaching debate is the everlasting rivalry between the “hard sciences” and the “soft sciences.”

The distinction between hard and soft science is a fluid one. Many sciences don’t fit cleanly into one category or the other. Hard sciences usually refer to the more technical, quantitative disciplines like physics and chemistry, while soft sciences like psychology, ecology or paleontology use qualitative, observational or historical data. There are no official definitions for either term, as the titles are disputed as vigorously as their implications.

Soft sciences are often seen as inferior, their observational methods disparaged as weak and “wishy-washy.” This hierarchy of science is discussed more openly. Recently, doctors Michael Salter and Kathleen Boydell of the Hospital for Sick Children organized an interactive discussion about the respective strengths of the hard and soft sciences. Soft scientists were out in full force, complaining about the lack of respect and funding they receive.

The dominance of hard science isn’t just a perception, and it’s not merely an academic argument. Historically, when a debate about a physical phenomenon is supported by hard science on one side and soft science on the other, the hard scientific evidence has been taken as true. Although hard science is often right, all scientific evidence should be given as unbiased consideration as possible.

Take the example of Lord Kelvin. In 1862, he calculated the age of the Earth by measuring its rate of cooling. Since radioactivity hadn’t been discovered, he didn’t realize that the Earth’s core was continually generating heat. He therefore pegged the Earth’s age at between 20 and 400 million years, far younger than our current estimate of 4.5 billion years.

“He was wrong, but he was honestly wrong,” said Dr. Stephen Morris, a physicist at U of T. “There was a physical effect that was not taken into consideration.” Science, as a self-correcting field, is continually searching for ways to disprove itself. The problem is that Kelvin’s answer ignored the geological evidence, which showed that the Earth must have been much, much older. The mathematical evidence was favoured over the softer, observational evidence.

The problem with the hierarchy of science isn’t just a lack of accolades—the soft sciences also receive less funding. Over the past 10 years, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research awarded $3.4 billion to biomedical research (considered ‘hard’ in the medical field) and only $465 million to social, cultural, environmental, and population health studies.

Some would argue that the hard sciences are more important and therefore deserve more funding. Hard scientific disciplines are vital for continued understanding of the physical world. But is knowing the lifespan of distant stars more important, and more deserving of public money, than figuring out the evolution of species based on the fossil record? Many scientific questions can’t be answered by physical measurements and calculations. Questions about evolution, the environment and human psychology need softer approaches to gain a full understanding.

The soft sciences may be gaining ground, however.

“Soft sciences are becoming harder and harder,” explained Dr. Stephen Morris of U of T’s physics department.

Formerly soft sciences are becoming more technical, with powerful computers that manage data to account for variables in a way that has never been possible, said Dr. Ray Carlberg, also from the department of physics. “Biology, and some areas of psychology, now have a rigorous physical understanding of what’s going on,” he said.

The soft sciences are in some ways able to achieve a level of mathematical rigour equal to that found in the hard sciences.

But is this really a compliment? Many soft scientists don’t feel that a lack of mathematical rigour is the only thing stopping them from gaining the respect enjoyed by the hard sciences. They feel that soft sciences should be appreciated for what they are, and not be forced to use math to be accepted. Their methods and procedures should be given equal value to the statistical methods found on the “hard” side of the fence. Paleontology, for example, gives a unique insight into the process of evolution without any use of mathematics. Stephen Jay Gould, a noted paleontologist, wrote that paleontology “uses a different mode of explanation, rooted in the comparative and observational richness of [the] data.”

Physicist Luis Alvarez once said, “Paleontologists… are really not very good scientists. They’re more like stamp collectors.” Many hard scientists feel that although soft scientists may investigate relevant questions, their work isn’t “real science.” So what is real science? Science is a systematic organization of collected knowledge. It’s an examination of the world around us. For Dr. Morris, science is “whatever can withstand intense skeptical scrutiny.”

Soft sciences do fit within that definition. The theory of evolution, for example, is based mainly on soft science, and it has withstood all scientific (if not religious) scrutiny to date. Scientific pursuits should use the best methods available for answering their questions, whether hard or soft.

Because of the historical dominance of the hard sciences, it is less necessary to argue for their continued support. The lines between different types of science are blurred as they interact and complement each other: many scientists believe the distinction between “hard” and “soft” should and will slowly fade. “Most scientists have respect for other scientists,” said Dr Carlberg, adding, “In the end we’re all interested in ideas, which are neither hard nor soft.” This mutual respect will be necessary for the success of science in its ultimate goal, the search for knowledge.

Alls well at Alchemy

All’s Well is one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” and as such, is seldom produced or studied in undergrad curricula. Alchemy Theatre made a bold move in choosing to produce it, which as it turns out, has paid off. Although long—three full hours—the production was engaging and energetic, not an easy feat for such a long show.

The central story focuses on the unrequited love that commoner Helen (Jennifer McNaughton) has for Bertram (Michael Rode), who has just inherited his father’s title as Count of Rossillion. Though she is a close confidant of Bertram’s mother, the Countess (Kat Lanteign), Bertram does not share her affection for the young woman.

When Bertram goes to the court of France, Helen follows him and cures the ailing King (Simon Michellepis) of his melancholy. As a reward, he delivers her in marriage to the lessthan- thrilled Bertram. From here, pandemonium ensues.

Bertram, under the influence of a knavish fellow named Parolles (Robert Rainville), decides to defect to the camp of the Duke of Florence (Denny Roy), who is at war with France. Helen follows him only to find that her beloved has been wooing a local Florentine woman, Diana (Amber Mills). Not to worry because the clever trick she pulls ensures that the King and Bertram are reunited, and that she ends up pregnant with his child!

Such a straightforward plot from the Bard is part of why the play is considered a “problem” in the canon. Still it provided ample opportunity for excellent performances.

Rode and McNaughton displayed an excellent lack of chemistry between the two. Rainville proved a goodly knave, particularly during the torture scene. Michellepis and Lanteign stole the show for the Shakespearean purists—one fully expected that they would break out in verse if one met them on the street. Lanteign, who trained at the Bristol Old Vic in the U.K., played up the proto-feminist themes that run throughout the show. A full cast of talented lords, ladies, and soldiers each complimented the ensemble performance.

As usual, Alchemy made excellent use of an unusual performance space, though the blocking was occasionally clumsy, keeping the performers onstage at all times proved an excellent idea from director Hume Baugh. The dance scenes could have been cut entirely without losing any sense of the mood of the show.

A word of caution: if you are not a Shakespeare purist, you will find this show TOO long, and TOO pure. Baugh did not cut so much as a single scene from the performance, the staging was classically influenced, and the costumes were period. Indeed, some inventiveness to accommodate the unusual performance space would have been interesting, but everything worked fine as it is. However, for those of us who enjoy seeing the bard unfiltered and uncut, this is an excellent show to see from Toronto’s urban Shakespeare company, and truly did end well.

All’s Well That Ends Well runs at Alchemy Theatre, 133 Tecumseth Street, until April 13. Discounted tickets for the underemployed (like you!)

A tale of two fellowships

Two researchers from the department of chemical engineering and applied chemistry were the recent recipients of The Canada Council for the Arts Killam Fellowship. Professors Elizabeth Edwards and Molly Shoichet were selected from a nationwide list of nominees, honoured for their outstanding research. This prestigious award, valued at $70,000 per year for a two-year period, will allow both professors to continue their work. Following this amazing win, AISHA GREENE sat down to speak with each professor about their careers, research, and how they aim to take science from the lab to your doorstep

Molly Shoichet

Upon entering the office of Professor Molly Shoichet, you immediately notice a picture of the last Rick Hansen’s Wheels in Motion community fundraiser, featuring Shoichet and the graduate students within her lab that took part. This event began with Rick Hansen, a Canadian paraplegic athlete and activist for people with spinal cord injuries. It has been important to the Shoichet lab over the last few years—for them, this event connects them to people afflicted with injuries and diseases the lab attempts to understand and find novel therapies for. Shoichet acknowledges that for her lab it has given them a “broader sense to their research,” where they can learn and interact with the general public.

Though researchers today are gaining a better understanding of the complex mechanisms which control the central nervous system, Shoichet is leading the way in devising novel regeneration strategies to treat spinal cord injuries.

Professor Shoichet—who holds the Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering and is also a member of the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto—began her undergraduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As an undergraduate student in the department of chemistry, Shoichet recalls the intensive hands on research opportunities she took part in which ignited her interest in scientific research.

Following graduation, Shoichet applied and was accepted to both medical school and the graduate program in polymer science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Initially, Shoichet deferred her acceptance to medical school so that she could explore the option of medical-based research at UMass. Ultimately, it was her thirst for curiosity and a desire to devise answers to questions surrounding human health and disease that motivated her to remain in research.

“In a sense, it was like discovering the future of medicine, while ultimately advancing our knowledge about disease,” said Shoichet.

Even today, she is at the forefront of emerging medical technologies: Shoichet’s Killam project, entitled Three Dimensional Presentation of Immobilized Growth Factors to Guide and Control Cell Differentiation, will utilize tissue engineering to build three-dimensional scaffolds upon which stem cells can grow.

To Shoichet, the acceptance of this Killam fellowship has deeper meaning, since the nomination of this award was made by her peers. It not only acknowledges the significance of her work, it also highlights the support of her colleagues and graduate students whom have made her work possible.

Though Dr. Shoichet acknowledges that they are years away from understanding and implementing these techniques within humans, one can only marvel at the possibilities behind this current research.

“[Our work] will bring together the fields of biology and engineering as a means to guide where cells grow and influence how they decide their ultimate fate.”

Elizabeth Edwards

For Professor Elizabeth Edwards, academia was in the blood. With two professor parents, that drive for curiosity was bound to rub off. After gaining a Master’s degree in science from McGill University, a chance occurrence while employed at Seagram’s (makers of wines and spirits) helped to solidify her research focus. At the time, a neighbouring plant in Waterloo closed down for having large amounts of trichloroethene (TCE)—an industrial pollutant linked to dry-cleaning solvents within their well water. This incident prompted Edwards to consider studying environmental engineering, where she could combine her microbiology experience from working at Seagram’s with the idea of bioremediation (the use of naturally occurring microorganisms in the soil or water to break down pollutants) to combat environmental toxins.

However, following a PhD at Stanford University, Edwards began to notice a shift in the research community.

“We have always known that microorganisms exist within our soil and water…but what had become clearer over the years [was] that there was a ‘natural attenuation’ of contaminated sites,” said Edwards.

Nature’s ability to repair itself, and the fate of pollutants within the environment began to impact Edwards’ research. Novel organisms that specifically degrade chlorinated solvents and monoaromatics (such as the compounds benzene and toluene) under anaerobic (non-oxygenated) conditions were identified and sequenced. Edwards’ lab was one of the first to show that as a mixed microbial culture, the metabolism of one type of these dechlorinators was highly specific for degrading TCE, yet its activity was dependent upon the dynamics of a complex community setting.

During the Killam fellowship endowment period, one question that Edwards hopes to answer is why this community as a whole is so effective at breaking down chlorinated solvents. Her project, Bioremediation in the 21st Century: Contaminant-Degrading Processes Revealed through Metagenomic Analysis of Microbial Consortia, will look at the DNA of microorganisms within this community.

“If we can understand this community dynamic, we may be able to ‘tweak’ the overall metabolic rate of some of these organisms,” said Edwards.

The end result of such manipulations for the long term would essentially change the current ways in which we treat polluted soil and water.

Though the chemistry behind these mechanisms of de-chlorination— and more specifically benzene metabolism—are still being clarified, commercial entities have already begun the use of mixed microbial communities to treat the lingering affects of industrial waste products.

The future looks very promising in the field of environmental engineering. What continues to motivate Professor Edwards is not only understanding the metabolism of these mixed cultures, but also how she can affect the overall social good of our community. She acknowledges that her work and inspiration would not have been possible without the support of her colleagues and graduate students with whom she says she stands shoulder to shoulder with.

“I learn more from them everyday. This award not only honors me, it acknowledges the great work of my students,” said Edwards.

The game plan

It’s a typical late-November morning, mercury on the thermometer heading south, many of us wishing we could make the same trip. Jessica Hiew is busy lacing up her cross-trainers. She puts her books down beside her to make sure she doesn’t forget them. A crumpled uniform hanging out of an old gym bag the only evidence of the double life she’s been leading.

She doesn’t have much time to think: she’s late for class, or is it practice? Lately it has all blurred into one. Without looking, she picks up her books with one swift movement and is out the door. Suddenly the cold hits her like an opposing point guard, but she fights through, weaving past a throng of slow moving students in front of her. It all seems very familiar; like she’s done it before. Heart pounding, she finally gets to class just as the professor walks in, cursing the weather. A wave of relief runs over her’ she’s made it, all the training has paid off.

For many student athletes, the challenges don’t stop once they step off the field. In the real world there are no timeouts or substitutions, and the game ceases to be five on five, but everyone for themselves. Jessica, a second-year guard on the University of Toronto women’s basketball team knows that when the final buzzer sounds, the real game begins.

Like any other undergrad pursuing a degree, she often finds herself walking a delicate tightrope between school and recreation, but trying to maintain that balance can be even more elusive: “It’s happened several times where I had a test, but I haven’t done much studying, and then you have to drag your butt to practice, and you’re thinking I could be using these extra three hours to study for the exam the next day,” says the physical education student.

Taking one for the team

Being a student athlete at one of Canada’s top academic institutions is a bit like leading a double life. Every athlete is required by the University to maintain full-time status in their programs (usually a minimum of three credits) in order to be eligible to play for a Varsity team. They also commit upwards of 15-20 hours a week to their sport, including two-hour daily practices, team meetings, video sessions, and weekend games, which can adversely affect their scores off the field.

“I remember in first year, my time management was an absolute mess,” recalls Mike Bialy, the captain of the men’s soccer team. “I thought ok: an hour to get to practice, two hours of practice and another hour to get home, and I’ll study after, which clearly never happens because you’re absolutely exhausted from training. By the time you get home there’s nothing you want to do except get some sleep.”

More than a game

For Michael, the dilemma is slightly more complex than a decision to choose school over sports. Getting good grades in University does not always guarantee you the career you want, especially when your dream is to have the best of both worlds: a career in athletics. Unlike Jessica Hiew, who plans to enter medical science or optometry, Michael wants to pursue what he’s known for most of his life: soccer.

“Basically I’m trying to do the whole professional athlete thing,” says the fifth-year political science student. “That’s pretty much going to be taking up most of my summer, then I’ll see where it goes from there.”

Winner of both the Ontario University and Canadian Interuniversity Sport MVP awards for soccer in recent years, Michael has already attracted interest from professional clubs in the United Soccer Leagues, and practiced with the Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Still, most soccer players turn professional at a much younger age than the 23-yearold Bialy. American soccer prodigy Freddy Adu began playing for D.C. United of the MLS in 2004 at the age of 14, the same year Michael began plying his trade for U of T’s Varsity Blues:

“My chances might be hindered a little bit because I’m going so late. I’m 23 right now, and 23 is considered old. If I had gone when I was 18, I would have had better opportunity. Then again, I think I developed a lot playing for the program that U of T has.”

There is no tried-and-true path to becoming a professional athlete, no four-year program you can take. Oftentimes it takes as much dumb luck, stumbling into the right situation or opportunity, as it does skill. And so, it’s always important to have a backup plan, and that’s where the student part of the equation comes into play. Michael, who also minors in math and statistics at UTM, is keeping an open mind to career options outside of sports:

“I think I’d be able to [do a desk job], just for the fact that I wouldn’t stop playing soccer at least at the amateur level, for something to look forward to.” He has even considered entering accounting (his mother’s profession) but wants to see where soccer takes him first.

Globe trotters

Sports has taken a couple athletes on a strange and circuitous route. For Jessica Hiew, her love of basketball took her from her native Canberra, New South Wales, to Idaho State University on a basketball scholarship, then finally to the University of Toronto. Hiew was chosen most valuable player three times at Radford Highschool, but she was forced to seek opportunities abroad due to a lack of athletics in Australian universities.

U of T grad Safiya Muharuma, 28, can relate to the trans-national adventure. After completing teachers college at OISE in 2003, the former

defenseman with the Varsity Blues decided she wasn’t prepared to commit herself to that career for the next 30 years: “I wanted to do something closer to athletics than simply being a phys-ed teacher at a school” said the East York native.

Muharuma, who helped lead the 2000-2001 Blues squad to an undefeated 35-0 record, decided to prolong her hockey career by joining a professional women’s hockey team in Switzerland, an experience which she admits broadened her horizons, but also left her in a state of uncertainty: “Your path kind of opens up in forks in different directions. I think that’s what happened with me. If I hadn’t gone to Europe I wouldn’t have second-guessed becoming a teacher. But after I went there for 2 1/2 years I really thought about doing other stuff.”

Her story also shows that a career in professional sports is not always full of the glitz and glamour North Americans have come to associate. Sports doesn’t exactly pay the bills, in fact Muharuma never had a paycheque from her Swiss club, working at U of T sports camps in the summer just to fund her hockey dream. “I didn’t play hockey for the money,” says Muharuma, “I played because I love it,’’

Scoring off the field

In 2007, Canadian Universities, U of T in particular, finally started to step up to the plate to help fund student athletes, many of whom can’t work parttime throughout the year because of their intense training schedules. Last year the Faculty of Physical Education and Health gave out close to $250,000 in athletics-based awards, much of which is donated by alumni and friends of the faculty. There are currently 50 awards for athletics according to the FPEH awards handbook, ranging from basketball and hockey, to rowing, swimming, and fencing. All awards related to participation in Varsity sports fall under OUA and CIS regulations, which sets a limit of $3,500 per student, as roughly half of the 50 awards are for the maximum value (This year the deadline for awards applications is April 11.)

The big picture

Is it worth being a Varsity athlete in the long run? The majority answer in the affirmative, without a second thought.

“My best memories of my university experience will definitely all be basketball related. It’s pretty much been my life here,” says Hiew, who helped the women’s basketball team capture OUA silver this past season.

“Sports has definitely defined my university experience,” says Jessica Fitzgerald, 23, a wrestler who is pursuing a second-entry degree in pharmacy at U of T. “Being an athlete, that’s my label. You know, some people are sorority girls, or whatever, and I’m a student athlete, that’s what I do. I couldn’t imagine not competing while I’m at school.”

Considering the amount of hours most students’ waste procrastinating, , there is something noble in dedicating oneself to an ideal and pursuing it. The important thing for any student is just to find that balance: “It really helps you develop your time management skills [being a student and an athlete] because it forces you to stay on top of things, you can’t just waste time on other things” says Fitzgerald.

“I would say I was a better athlete than a student,” says Muharuma, recalling her experiences. “That’s going to be an honest answer, I was a good student, but I’d probably be a better student if I wasn’t an athlete, but then I wouldn’t have gotten to be an athlete, so it’s a catch 22. It’s worth it in the end.”