Code of Conduct wars

After 13 U of T students were charged for violating the Code of Student Conduct this the summer, much criticism has surrounded the policy.

The Code of Conduct addresses non-academic conduct on matters involving university property, including unauthorized entry or presence on campus and the use of university facilities, equipment or services. When addressing safety, discrimination and sexual assault, the policy borrows some terms from the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code.

While U of T officials maintain the Code is an essential document for the safety of the university community, student leaders claim the Code undermines academic freedoms and can be abused to silence dissent.

Students at universities across Ontario have taken issue with their school’s behaviour codes. This semester Ryerson officially adopted their behaviour code, Policy 61, much of which mirrors the content of U of T’s code. Student unions led a campaign against the code, and their leaders frequently cite the summer arrests at U of T as reasons to be particularly worried. Meanwhile, students at the U of Ottawa ran a successful campaign against an administration-authored student code. A committee is now underway to draw up a document with student input.

Critics say the Code doesn’t list in clear terms the rights that students are entitled to. Oriel Varga, an administrative assistant at the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, cited graduate student protests of January 2000 outside Hart House and the 2002 protests against the Code itself when it was invoked.

Varga was one of 14 protesters arrested on charges of forcefully detaining administrators during a March 20 sit-in protest at Simcoe Hall. U of T then pressed Code of Conduct charges on those of the 14 who were students. “The Code is often used to silence student activists,” said Varga, who called them “bogus charges.” Six months after charges were laid, the protesters have yet to receive full disclosure of evidence against them.

UTSU president Sandy Hudson is among four students threatened with Code of Conduct investigations for disrupting a meeting where GC voted to increase tuition fees. “Students are subject to different rules than the faculty and administration,” said Hudson. “The university acts as though they are our parents and we their children. Students are adults and not in need of a paternalistic administration.”

Graduate Students’ Union VP external Sara Suliman echoed Hudson’s sentiments. “The code is redundant with existing criminal codes and in fact places much higher emphasis on paternalistic and hypocritical policing of student behaviour, rather than protecting the students,” she said.

Jim Delaney, director of the office of the Vice-Provost, responded that a separate set of laws benefits the university by allowing an internal procedure of dealing with offences. External bodies aren’t brought in unless absolutely necessary, he said.

U of T was quick to refer students involved in a March 20 sit-in case to Toronto police, in addition to pressing Code of Conduct charges. Gabriela Rodriguez, one of the arrested, points out that simultaneous charges are prohibited under the Code. The university eventually suspended the charges.

“The Code, like in any university, gets interpreted in different ways,” said Delaney. He pointed to Section B.2 of the Code, which states no person can do anything that “obstructs any activity organized by the University of Toronto or by any of its divisions.”

“What that’s really saying is to help protect other people’s rights,” he said. “It also addresses obstructing and disrupting university activities, but also helps protect individuals with their own rights.”

Hudson does not feel protected by the Code. “When students voiced their opposition against the rising cost of education and the rising fees of the New College residence, the code was aggressively used to silence them.”

No on-campus voting at Scarborough campus

For students at U of T’s Scarborough campus, voting just got a little more complicated. This year, there are no polling stations on campus at UTSC.

Joseph Birungi, returning officer for the Pickering-Scarborough East riding, contends that there are enough polling stations close by for on-campus stations to be a non-issue. Birungi named an “across the street” voting location at 1400 Military Trail, more than half a kilometre away.

Though buses are available to transport students from residences to polling stations, interim president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union Zuhair Syed, said the extra trouble is still likely to discourage student turnout on election day. “We’re in the middle of our mid-term exams,” he said. “They’re not really willing to go out of their way and vote. It should be accessible at all times.”

Scarborough campus had a polling station in the last federal election in 2006, and is the only campus without one this year. The St. George campus had its voting stations cancelled in 2006, when the Liberal candidate for Trinity-Spadina, Tony Ianno, challenged the legality of special campus ballot stations. After outcry from student leaders, Elections Canada restored the three voting booths.

Talking Heads

Christine Innes, Liberal Party

The Varsity: What do you think students’ priorities are this election?

Christine Innes: I think first and foremost it is about the access and accessibility. We do need to clearly make it [post secondary education] much more affordable. We’re talking about direct scholarships; direct bursaries; we’re talking about a guarantee of $5000 dollars student loan regardless of family income. I think the other issue also relates to the opportunities that we’re hopefully creating as students graduate.

TV: You have promised more funding for expansion of public transit. Are there specific plans within the TTC and Toronto that you support?

CI: Well, concurrent with our commitment on the funding, there is a panel GTA wide panel, looking at transit solutions. So, the federal government, I don’t believe, should be in there creating another layer of what we do with that, they’re doing the expert consultations, they’re doing the analysis of what are the best ways, the best investments within the system, so we’re talking about stepping up to the plate in a very very meaningful way to support that process in an important way, and what’s support? Funding.

TV: The Carbon Plan is an integral part of the Liberal platform, but you make no mention of it on your website. Do not you support it?

CI: I absolutely support it. It’s simply the fact that we believe as Canadians [we have] an obligation to tax that which is bad for us, that’s pollution, pure and simple. And we should reward behavior that is good for us, it’s employment income, investment income, productivity, job creation, so those should all have lower taxes.

TV: Mayor Miller has advocated that 1 cent of the GST be given to cities. Your party has promised money to cities but would you support Miller’s Demand?

CI: Well here’s the problem: Stephen Harper already took 2 cents from the GST. What Liberals have already done, and will further enhance, is in the last Liberal government we dedicated a substantial percentage of the gas tax to cities.

TV: A lot of students bike to school but there aren’t a lot of bicycle lanes around campus or Toronto. How will you make Toronto and Trinity-Spadina more bicycle friendly?

CI: Let’s remember that bike lanes, technically a municipality determines that they’re there. I would be a strong advocate in our infrastructure funding, that we’re talking about, that as we’re moving ahead we should include funding as we rebuild our city [for] better accommodation for bikes.

Olivia Chow, New Democratic Party

The Varsity: What makes the NDP particularly well-suited to deal with student concerns?

Olivia Chow: Well, the Liberals’ track record has not been very good. They have cut $2-billion during the Paul Martin – Chrétien years in the mid-nineties, so you see the tuition fees tripled through this time. You notice the Liberals did not talk about – or the Conservatives – a Post-Secondary Education Act. The only party that does that is the NDP.

TV: Would you support or encourage provincial tuition freezes?

OC: Oh, absolutely. When Paul Martin needed support [in 2005], Jack Layton said: “Give the students $1-billion to lower tuition fees.” And Paul Martin had to agree with that funding for post-secondary education. Now, Stephen Harper changed it to just grants to universities, and universities are using it for their infrastructure rather than for students. And that’s not the approach we want.

TV: In terms of climate change, the Liberals are proposing a carbon tax while the NDP supports a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Why is the cap-and-trade system better?

OC: The cap-and-trade sets a target. We will then take this money that we get from the polluters and have it work for the solutions and fund the solutions – whether it’s public transit, green technologies, solar panels, all of those important investments. The key difference is the NDP cap-and-trade is proven. It’s worked in Europe. They have met their Kyoto targets.

Secondly, it goes after the polluters only. They should pay and fund the alternative first. If you don’t have an alternative… let’s say you’re driving a car. If there’s no public transit, what are you going to do? Paying more doesn’t do anything, right? So we want to be able to provide the alternative and the solution for ordinary Canadians first before taxing you.

TV: The Harper government introduced a tax credit for transit passes. Did that go far enough?

OC: It’s a little, very, very small thing. But a lot of the people that really need it don’t pay taxes anyway. So, why not just fund public transit? I’d rather see your Metropass prices much lower. Long overdue. I’d rather see that than a tax credit.

TV: The NDP promises more funding for public transit, affordable housing, post-secondary education, etc. How do we pay for this new spending?

OC: The big corporations that are still making huge amounts of money… we’re looking at no longer reducing their taxes anymore, we’re keeping them the way it was when they last filed their income tax returns. So we think that’s adequate – we’re not increasing it, but we’re certainly not reducing it – and that money we want to invest in people and the environment.

Stephen Lafrenie, Green Party

The Varsity: What made you decide to run for public office?

Stephen LaFrenie: I spent ten years doing international volunteer work in Jamaica and Haiti. Watching what the Liberal government did to Haiti, they have to answer for helping the coup d’état to take place and propping up a dictatorship, and I decided I couldn’t be neutral anymore.

TV: The Green Party proposes to provide fifty percent student loan payment relief.

SL: Yes, upon graduation. Gradually the objective is to control tuition fee hikes. We also want to change the way we build society with a fair minimum wage, an affordable national housing plan, which then contribute directly to making it easier to attend post-secondary education.

Essentially, if the government is now telling you that in order for you to survive in the twenty-first century you need at least a BA or some form of Master’s, then like it is incumbent upon us to provide primary education, I believe the government is responsible for supplying post-secondary education.

TV: You promote a $50 per tonne carbon tax immediately. Do you feel this can really be done without destabilizing the economy, as Harper warns would happen?

SL: Yeah, it’s categorically false what Mr. Harper is saying because Sweden and other jurisdictions have proven it to be completely false. They have very strong economies and they introduced a $150 a tonne carbon tax back in 1991. We can make a shift to a green economy without a collapse, but it’s not going to be easy. The other parties are only going halfway because they’re afraid, they’re afraid to actually tell Canadians the truth.

TV: What would you say to someone who might feel that a vote for the Green Party is a waste of a vote, because Trinity-Spadina traditionally goes to the NDP or Liberals?

SL: There’s no such thing as a wasted vote, but there is wasted opportunity. Over 600,000 people voted for the Greens in the last election and that propelled us onto the national stage.

You’ve got to stop the Liberal-Conservative alliance, you’ve got to stop that coalition from governing. [The NDP] can’t talk to you unless they can frame you as a victim of something, and then pose themselves as the rescuer. The Green Party doesn’t believe that you’re a victim, we believe that the system is broken and that there’s legitimate ways of collectively repairing it.

On beauty

Umberto Eco, the novelist, medievalist and semiotics professor whose books include The Name of The Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, gave a talk at UTM on Wednesday night. Eco spoke about the changing meanings of beauty and ugliness in Western culture. Having devoted a book to each of these subjects, he had plenty to say. Before the lecture The Varsity sat down with Eco to talk about politics, the role of universities, what beauty means right now, and whether Robarts is secretly inspirational.

The Varsity: Marcel Danesi says you wrote Name of the Rose partially in Robarts Library. Is that true?

Umberto Eco: But yes, I was thinking of Robarts too.

TV: Do you think there’s a message in mass culture that young people are more concerned with superficial things than being critical?

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UE: You cannot be beautiful and critical at the same time? I don’t know, if you want to become a model for Christian Dior, it is probably better to be beautiful than critical. I never think about that. I am very beautiful and very critical.

It’s a typical idea in media and in education, but I think there is always the same percentage of people involved in serious problems and of people involved in superficial things. The superficial people are now more visible because the population has increased in size.

TV: You’re primarily a semiotician, and U of T has one of North America’s few semiotics departments. Is there a future for the field, and in what role?

UE: I have always said that semiotics is not the name of a discipline, but the name of a department. It’s hard to answer, because semiotics is not a definite science. You can ask “what’s physics?” but semiotics is a field of different interests and different methods.

I always distinguish applied semiotics—semiotics of advertising, semiotics of cinema—from the general semiotics (what I’m doing) which is a more philosophical approach.

Depending on the school and even on the country there are many different approaches. Like medicine: what is medicine? In medicine you have dietetics, surgery, anatomy–very, very, very different approaches and methods with a vague common aim: the health of the human body. Okay, that unifies all aspects of medicine, but a dietician has very little to do with a surgeon. And semiotics is a little like that, so those who pretend that there is one semiotics, one science, one discipline are fundamentalists, like the Taliban.

TV: How do you find the academic culture at U of T?

UE: Ah! I have many contacts with the University of Toronto. I’ve been here as a researcher and professor, and I think it’s going pretty well. It’s a good university, and I like also the campus life.

Next year I will receive an honorary degree from the Pontifical Institute, and since

My doctoral dissertation was on medieval aesthetics and the Pontifical Institute of Toronto—it’s considered one of the most important study centres on the Middle Ages, so I’m very, very happy for the recognition.

TV: What do you think of the idea that it’s a “European-style” campus?

UE: The expression “European campus” is wrong. There is no European campus. Except in Great Britain. That’s why Great Britain is not Europe.

The main feature of the European university—Spain, France Germany—it’s the university was born in the centre of the city. And it is still there in certain cities like Bologna, my university. The university campus is the real historical centre of the city. You have in the same place the offices of the Rector Magnificus and the Mayoral Palace.

And that makes another important difference [in North America]: the history, the life of the university in Europe has always been strictly linked to the political life of the city. That’s why, sometimes, Americans do not understand why a university professor in Italy can at the same time be in Parliament, or write political articles. In America it happens only with Chomsky, while in Europe it’s natural.

[Suburban campuses] are pseudo-campuses. Even in the smaller cities there is the fight between “town and gown.”

There has always been that separation between the academic power and the political power [in North America]. In Europe it’s totally different, which changes the life of the students.

Take a big city like Roma or Milan. The students go to follow the class, and then go home. In a city like Bologna, on the contrary, a city that’s smaller, all made of arcades so you can stay outside, pubs are open till 2 or 3 at night and the students live together. In the big cities, there is not the opportunity you get to live the three years of a B.A. all together and in strict contact with the professors.

There are students who go to class once a month, and then they presume to study […] I don’t know, tomes. University’s very different in this sense.

Toronto Centre courts students

“This election wasn’t supposed to happen.”

And yet, regardless of what Toronto Centre MP Bob Rae thinks, it’s happening.

The Liberal incumbent in the upcoming federal election joined his seven opponents for an all-candidates debate Monday night on campus, at Isabel Bader Theatre. Most candidates agreed in principle on the questions raised by audience members. With nearly all candidates situated to the left of the governing Conservatives, the slant was often a progressive one.

Post-secondary education dominated much of the discussion, though the talk was well-attended by students and older voters alike. MP hopefuls proposed a grab bag of solutions to mounting student debt and skyrocketing tuition fees.

Conservative candidate David Gentili opposed tuition fee caps but endorsed dedicated federal funding for universities and colleges. NDP speaker Susan Wallace (candidate El-Farouk Khaki was unable to attend) called for a capping of student debt, while Rae promised a reformed student loans program with guaranteed access and lower interest rates.

Green candidate Ellen Michelson tartly summed up her views on the issue. “Starving student used to be said with a smile,” she said. “It isn’t funny anymore.”

The audience also dealt candidates questions on electoral reform, the environment, funding for cities, factory farms, Darfur, and Sino-Canadian relations. Economic and cultural issues were conspicuously absent.

With each speaker limited to a one-minute statement, the topics were addressed quickly, resulting in little conflict between candidates.

Most of the evening’s few hits were levied against the Harper government, with many contenders suggesting that progress could begin only after the Conservatives were defeated. On several occasions, Rae drew attention to recent charges of plagiarism levied against the Prime Minister, specifically that a major speech on Iraq had been lifted from then-Australian PM John Howard. “Don’t be too hard on the Conservatives for not having a platform,” Rae ribbed. “They’re busy getting it translated from the original Australian.”

Fourth-year student Kevin Philipupillai thought the lesser-known candidates were more impressive. “[There was] definitely more passion from the fringe candidates,” he said. “More willingness to think about the questions.”

Two-horse race in Trinity-Spadina

Six very different people took the stage at Monday night’s All-Candidates Debate for the Trinity-Spadina riding. The auditorium was packed mostly with residents from the area, as students made up roughly a third.

In the 2006 election, Hart House hosted an all-candidates debate on campus. This year, the debate was cancelled when Chow said she wasn’t able to attend. The incumbent defended her absence, saying the debate would have taken place on Rosh Hashanah, and the proposed fallback date would have been on Eid, the last day of Ramadan.

At the Al Green Theatre Monday, Chow was notably confident in her surroundings. “Thank you for your support, neighbours!” she exclaimed in her three-minute introduction, setting a conversational tone.

The Liberal candidate, Christine Innes, was the only direct challenger of Olivia Chow, the NDP incumbent. But with six aspiring MPs in attendance—including a mumbling independent, Carlos Almedia, and awkward Libertarian Chester Brown, a graphic novelist best known for his autobiographical comics—there was plenty of partisan pandering to go around. Rounding out the role call were Stephen LaFrenie of the Green Party and Christine McGirr for the Conservatives.

Questions were varied and pertinent. Canada’s dependence on foreign oil was addressed early on, and immediately differentiated the candidates’ debate strategies. Chow was aggressive, comfortable in her position as advisor and friend to the community. Her desire to renegotiate NAFTA was met with restrained applause, though Chow did not mention how she would carry out such a feat in light of the changing U.S. political landscape.

Innes, who was more composed, offered a succinct breakdown of the Liberal Party’s Green Shift policy. Though she’s a first-time candidate, she spent years as campaign manager to her husband, 13-year MP Tony Ianno.

Every candidate claimed their party plans to increase scholarships and streamline the student loan process, in order to slow the trend of rising tuition costs. Innes, in particular, received huge applause when she argued that a federal Liberal government would work directly with Ontario’s Liberals to increase funding to post-secondary schools. “Students have a right to education!” she repeatedly said.

The evening went badly for the Conservative candidate, Christine McGirr. As she read repeatedly from prepared documents, cries of “Stop reading!” rang from the audience. McGirr did find support when she lambasted Chow for not being more publicly visible during the campaign, drawing cries of “Shame!” directed at Chow.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

The Varsity brings you snippets from last Saturday’s day-long Climate Change Conference, organized by Science for Peace, Students against Climate Change, and UTERN, which supports environmental groups on campus.

Climate change and society

“Why is nature regulated and degraded under capitalism?” asked York University professor Greg Albo. Politics today is dominated by neo-liberalism, he argued, and environment policy is thus regulated by market mechanisms.The lecture was at times dry and didactic–Albo was much more effective when he stopped reading from notes and just talked to the audience.

—Amanda Kwan

Campus corporatization

From research funding to public space, corporations have been increasingly woven into the physical and social fabric of educational institutions. Corporate involvement in university research and commercial funding of our buildings can negatively affect the type of research conducted, noted one participant: “It’s not a left-wing/right-wing issue. It’s about freedom of thought.”

Speakers Dr. Leslie Jermyn, professor emeritus John Valleau, and Angela Reigner of UTSU, urged students to question their role. They pointed out that corporations have the ability to dictate research topics and can suppress research that negatively affects their image, thwarting open discussion and debate–the purpose of universities.

—A.K.

Environmental racism and climate change

This discussion focused on the pervasive effects of climate change and the ways in which structural inequalities are reproduced at the physical and social level. Professor Cheryl Teelucksing from Ryseron said that discrimination against racialized minorities is manifested in all structural issues, including the environment.

Teelucksing gave the example of low-income areas, such as Regent Park, that are thought as “coloured spaces” have on-going environmental problems, like poor garbage management and bed bugs. Ben Powless, co-founder of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, discussed the ways in which climate change has a disproportionate impact on indigenous peoples and minority groups, who are often seen as hindrances to economic growth.

Climate justice, he said, seeks to promote equitable solutions to climate change by dismantling the roots of environmental racism. The guest speakers were eloquent and knowledgeable, raising important questions about the power relations in our society such as who decides our rights and who can pollute?

—AK

Building complacence

Danny Harvey advises you not to listen to U of T administrators when they say they’ve tried to ensure the buildings on campus are sustainable.

“We’ve had a building binge,” said Harvey, a U of T geography professor. “Every new building is a golden opportunity to do it right, and you only get it once.” Buildings and transport account for a third of carbon dioxide emissions, according to his Handbook on Low-Energy Buildings and District-Energy Systems.

While Harvey acknowledged U of T’s isolated efforts at sustainability, he says it has lacked a systematic and coordinated policy. He gave the example of the

brand new $100-million Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Building. Its south side adorns a double-skin façade, which can facilitate passive ventilation. “But on the west façade, is your regular hermitically sealed glass façade with no shading. It’s going to overheat and require air-conditioning.”

—Naushad Ali Husein

An activist education

In Toxic Trespass, OISE prof Dorothy Goldin-Rosenberg explores how kids are affected by the “chemical soup” civilization lives in.

“Everybody is drinking tritium in their water. Tritium is a carcinogen, a mutagen,” said Rosenberg. Cancers are difficult to trace to their causes, because the effects of radiation are not immediate. But a large portion of the cancer problem is due to involuntary exposures to radiation like tritium,” she said. “We have to stop nuclear expansion in this province.”

Rosenberg’s interest is in education around the solutions and politics of social issues. She introduces her graduate course at OISE, TPS 1837, as an “activist kind of course,” where students not learn about and talk about the issues around them. “I want to hear how are they going to integrate these issues into their research, into their writing, into their communities.”

—NJH

Algonquin protesters injured in clash with Quebec police

Algonquin residents of the Barrière Lake reserve have accused Quebec police of hurting a man and a little girl at a protest on Monday. The 50 community members were blockading highway 117, the only route to Abitibi, a region in northern Quebec.

Police fired tear gas to break up the demonstration, leaving a 3-yr-old girl hurt and a man hospitalized. Protesters claim the man was shot in the chest with a tear-gas canister.

Quebec provincial police spokesperson Melanie Larouche told the CBC that the police only acted when the protesters became violent.

“They took cement blocks and they broke them on the road, and they took the pieces of cement in their hands,” she said.

Michel Thusky, a spokesman for the demonstrators, maintained, speaking to the CBC, that police were not being provoked when they used tear gas.

The First Nations residents are protesting the federal and provincial government’s alleged interference in their internal affairs.

In 1991, the Algonquins signed a sustainable development and resource co-management agreement with the respective governments.

But the federal government ousted the Customary Chief and Council and replaced it with a leadership—rejected by the community—that opposed the agreement.

Protesters are demanding the appointment of an observer to oversee the selection of a new leadership elected by the people.

The highway was eventually opened, but Thusky said the community will continue to use pressure tactics until the provincial government agrees to meet with them.