York U TA’s vote to strike

(updates below)

York University teaching assistants are set to strike if a settlement between CUPE Local 3903 and the York administration cannot be reached by Nov. 6.

A strike mandate vote held last week garnered 85 per cent support from the union’s 1,192 members, including teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and contract faculty. As a result the union’s position has gained strength at the bargaining table.

The union’s demands include wage increases that account for inflation, an annual adjustment reflecting the cost of living, elimination of tuition fees for union members, and increased job security for contract faculty.

Faculty of Arts dean Robert Drummond is negotiating on behalf of the administration and has stressed the importance of reaching a compromise.

“Nobody gets everything that they want in a deal, but we want to find out what things they think are most critical,” he told the Excalibur, a York U campus newspaper. “In some cases we will be able to find a resolution, and in other cases it may be more difficult.”

Christine Rosseau, chair of the CUPE Local 3903 spoke to Excalibur, criticizing the administration’s lack of urgency in reaching a resolution.

“It’s been the administration who has been delaying things. We’ve been bargaining since June, and we’ve been met with nothing.”

Both sides maintain they are hoping to find a resolution without the need to disrupt classes. However, neither remains very optimistic.

York Federation of Students will be endorsing CUPE Local 3903 and supporting their actions to reach a fair collective agreement.

“YFS is supporting CUPE 3903, who are primarily students,” said Hamid Osman, president of York Federation of Students. “Teaching assistants and graduate assistants want a fair deal, and it is up to the administration to come to the table and propose that.”

While many York students support the union, but many fourth year students are concerned about how a strike would affect their commencement.

Keshini Budhoo, a fourth year psychology student, said, “The TA’s are an important part of classes and they do work hard. I think they are entitled to a pay raise but it is unfair to students who are looking to go to graduate school and are in their last year. They will be put at a disadvantage if the semester has to be extended.”

It remains unlikely that a resolution will be reached before the strike deadline. However, talks between the two sides are set to increase in frequency as the date draws closer.

Update November 7

By the Nov. 6 deadline the administration and CUPE 3903 were yet to reach a settlement, and York University’s contract faculty, teaching and graduate assistants, went on strike. All classes are cancelled, with picket lines at every university entrance.

“York University says their hands are tied. We’re earning a wage we can’t live on. We can’t afford to go on strike, but the long-term benefits tell us we can’t afford not to strike,” says Punan Khosla, a York University teaching assistant.

The strike could potentially be debilitating for undergraduate students. “Some people are saying that [the strike] is causing an inconvenience for so many students, but it’s the administration who is causing the inconvenience because they’re not willing to compromise,” says York student Deena Dadachanji.

In 2000, CUPE 3903 held the longest strike in Canadian university history, lasting 76 days.

The administration has not returned the Varsity’s repeated phone calls. The union has said they will continue the strike until the administration agrees to go back to the bargaining table.

–Saron Ghebressellassie

Much more than heavy metal

The Wallberg building on the north side of College Street extends all the way from King’s College Circle to St. George. As the sizeable stronghold of U of T’s vast engineering empire, it exudes a sense of scientific prowess. Upon entering this unknown territory, I am met with questioning looks. “I’m looking for students in metallurgy,” I say. But the students seem just as confused as I am.

I can’t say I blame them—after all, what exactly is metallurgy? Visions of swords and tempered steel come to mind, accompanied by the sound of hammers pounding iron. It sounds like some mysterious medieval craft, a U of T secret involving fully-armoured scientists mixing metals in the basement.

In my unremitting quest to solve this mystery, I am eventually directed to a series of administrative offices in the easternmost division of Wallberg. This is the home of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering—MSE for short. I have found my answer.

Part of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, MSE is the discipline that studies relationships between the structure, properties, performance, and processing of materials. Until 1998, it was known as the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science, until a decision to update the department’s image was made to attract more students to the field. According to departmental chair Professor Doug Perovic, the department is an important one. “There are a lot of personal and emotional attachments to metallurgy. It’s a long-standing important part of what we do, and it’s a big part of what Canada does,” he says. “Although we do a lot with metals, we wanted to get the message out that this department does a whole lot more.”

MSE encompasses the more traditional study of metallurgy, as well as newer fields like nanotechnology, ceramics, polymers, and biomaterials. From the atomic level, to large scale production and extraction of materials, undergraduate and graduate students are exposed to a wide range of options.

“This department has a lot of interdisciplinary connections, and a lot of cross-appointments between faculty,” says Varuna Prakash, a MSE graduate now pursuing a Masters in clinical biomechanical engineering. “It’s very diverse.”

As the smallest undergraduate engineering department at U of T, MSE students benefit from small class sizes and the chance to really get to know their professors. They also get hands-on experience in research labs and within the industry. Although it may be small, the MSE department at the University of Toronto happens to be the largest in North America, and is ranked first in Canada.

“It’s one of the smaller disciplines of engineering, but it’s crucial,” says Perovic. “Just look around—everything is made of materials, and whether it’s aerospace or automotive, cell phones, or hip implants and heart valves: we do all that. That’s on the product end. But on the primary end, this stuff has to be taken out of the ground. That’s the metallurgy process side: refining, smelting, [producing it] cost-effectively with less environmental damage. That’s what we continue to advance in our research.”

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering may be demanding, but it is highly applicable to a broad range of disciplines. “Engineers turn up everywhere,” says MSE undergraduate and graduate counsellor Maria Fryman. In fact, graduates of the University of Toronto’s MSE program have gone on to study medicine and business, with some working in the metallurgy industry, or pursuing PhD degrees in materials.

So why study materials science? According to one professor, MSE allows us to bridge different areas of technology, and fuse the traditional disciplines of science to gain a deeper understanding of nature. New streams of research like nanotech and biomaterials are based on the traditional basis of metallurgy. There are many socio-economic issues attached to the extraction and processing of metals. While one third of Canada’s economy is related to mining and materials, these numbers aren’t seen in the workforce.

Material scientists and engineers are crucial in the production of all the things we use on a day-to-day basis—from clothes and electronics to buildings and bridges. So as it turns out, there’s more to metallurgy than mixing metals in a basement after all.

Saskatchewan gives $1M for FNUC’s sake

After numerous financial setbacks, the First Nations University Canada is getting a helping hand from the province of Saskatchewan with a one-time bailout of $2 million.
“This agreement is meant to ensure that the university can move forward,” said Rob Norris, Saskatchewan’s minister of advanced education, employment, and labour, in an Oct 7 statement..
Norris, who put forward the short-term solution after hearing about FNUC’s financial woes in July, said the money would enable the university to provide students with the best education possible.
FNUC president Charles Pratt said the university has had a history of problems, with part of its $1 million deficit stemming from federal cutbacks.

The university has also dealt with allegations of mismanagement. Two former faculty members are currently facing fraud charges.

As planned, over a million dollars will go towards bringing FNU’s faculty wages up to provincial standards. The remaining $500,000 will be allotted once FNU successfully completes a $400,000 financial review.
As for the long-term solution, FNUC’s board of governors has just over 3 months to come up with a financial strategy.

Researchers find rare fossil

This past summer, University of Toronto researchers were the first to uncover a unique male Anapithecus fossil.

Members of the genus Anapithecus , a side branch in the tree of primate evolution, lived 10 million years ago in the Miocene epoch, about 55 million years after the dinosaurs died out. This fossil find is the first complete male Anapithecus maxilla to be discovered. Located in the roof of the mouth, the maxilla forms the upper jaw. It is comprised of two bones—one for each side of the skull—that join at the midline, or centre, of the face. Both sides of the fossil have the canines, the premolars, and the molars in place. The large size of the canines enabled researchers to identify the fossil as male. Having such a complete set of teeth in a single maxilla allows researchers to compare isolated molar fossils to determine whether they are male or female.

The excavation was carried out by the Rudabanya Hominid Origins Project, a research project run by Dr. David Begun of the University of Toronto and Dr. Laszlo Kordos of the Geological Institute of Hungary. The fossil was found by Dr. Begun’s graduate students during an excavation at Rudabanya, a town in the northern region of Hungary. Other fossils found at the site include a female Anapithecus mandible, a rhino innominate (or hip bone), an entire hipparion forelimb, and several Anapithecus teeth.

The Rudabanya Hominid Origins Project has gone to the Rudabanya site every summer for many years to investigate the genus Rudapithecus, a human ancestor. Anapithecus , previously known as Dryopithecus, inhabited Rudabanya 10 million years ago, and was likely a very early great ape. Great apes today include gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. Learning about ape evolution is key to understanding how we evolved.

Once a subtropical swamp on the edge of an inland sea, Rudabanya was home to a variety of species, including amphibians, beavers, mastodons, and the hipparion, a three-toed ancestor of the horse. The sea has since dried up, but a large number of fossils remain. These bones bear markings that give researchers clues about the animal’s life. This method of studying fossils is called “functional anatomy,” and is a key component of Dr. Begun’s research. Good indicators of lifestyle are the phalanges, or finger bones. Strongly curved phalanges indicate strong muscles for grasping, as these muscles exert stress on the bone itself, curving it during the animal’s lifetime. The elbow joint is another clue, and can show if an animal swung from branches, like a gibbon, or walked on their hands, like a gorilla. Anapithecus and Rudapithecus fossils suggest they lived in trees, prompting researchers to speculate Rudabanya was previously a forested swamp.

Quebec university bailed out of $600M financial woes

Quebec taxpayers will pick up a $400 million tab for the Université du Québec à Montréal’s costly real estate misadventure.

“We are taking measures as a government to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Education Minister Michelle Courchesne.

The bailout, announced Oct. 8, means the university will not drown in its mismanaged funds and hasty construction deals. It will cover the $180 million bill for the Pierre Dansereau science complex and the $65 million in operating grants which the province of Quebec has withheld since the university’s financial troubles went public in 2005.

This money is in addition to the $200 million the province has given to cover the cost of the Îlot Voyageur site—a building UQAM has realized it will never use.

Over the past year, UQAM has replaced many staff members linked to the financial crisis. It also plans to cut programs to have its finances balanced by 2014.

Meanwhile, Courchesne has promised to revise legislation on university administration and expansion plans. The new guidelines should be released soon.

Did you know that mass extinctions may have been caused by climate change, not plunging asteroids?

Scientists have recently hypothesized that the majority of mass extinction events were the result of climate change, not directly caused by catastrophic events such as an asteroid collision.

There have been five separate mass extinction events identified by scientists. The most recent, known as the K–T extinction event, wiped the dinosaurs off our planet. Previously, it was thought that this mass extinction was caused by a massive asteroid collision, which cooled the climate and increased Earth’s albedo. The other four mass extinctions are thought to be directly caused by climate change.

One source of evidence is the bouquet-like crystals of aragonite formed on the ocean floor during two separate mass extinctions, 250 and 200 million years ago. USC doctoral student Sarah Greene suggests both events experienced similar processes, resulting in the mass killing of ocean coral reef populations.

“The fact that these deposits have only been found at these two specific times associated with mass extinction suggests at the very least, that maybe there’s some shared ocean geochemistry that could be related to the cause of the extinctions,” says Greene.

These are only a few examples of how climate change can affect life forms on Earth. According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, human activities are “very likely” to be the cause of today’s rapid climate change rates. We are gambling with the future of Earth’s species, knowing that climate alterations have resulted in mass extinction events in the past. Yet there is no consensus on how to slow down the rate of climate change.

World-renowned biologist E. O. Wilson emphasizes the devastating loss of biodiversity. “The loss of biodiversity is the most important process of environmental change,” he says. “This is because it is the only process that is wholly irreversible. Its consequences are also the least predictable, because the value of the earth’s biota is largely unstudied and unappreciated.”

Exercising our right not to vote

Last Tuesday’s federal election, which set a record for voter apathy, should have been scheduled closer to Halloween than Thanksgiving. Party leaders served the same old loot bags of tricks and treats to entice the Canadian public to vote for them. The Liberals’ strategy was a familiar one: paint Conservative leader Stephen Harper as a Bogey Man set to destroy Canada’s sacred democratic institutions, while promising environmentally-friendly policies. Meanwhile, Harper dressed up as Mr. Rogers—an affable, sweater-clad chap who isn’t as cold as you think. In the end, the whole masquerade was futile: nobody—neither the politicians nor the voters—got what they wanted. Billed as one of the most important elections in recent history, only 59.1 per cent of Canadians bothered to vote—the lowest turnout since Confederation.

There are three ways of accounting for the low voter turnout. One is a lack of charismatic leaders; none of the candidates possessed the Trudeau-like qualities necessary to galvanize an indifferent electorate. Second, the election was devoid of issues that could inspire people to get out to the polls. Finally, voters who believed their votes wouldn’t count, or who disliked Dion and Harper, stayed home as a form of protest.

The second excuse—lack of issues—doesn’t hold water. Environmental concerns, health care, gun control, the war in Afghanistan, and economic fears provided a menu of choices for party campaigns. Most chose to target the environment, figuring it was easier to be green than to discuss more controversial policies. The issues were there, but leaders chose to play it safe.

Attributing the voter apathy to a lack of inspirational party leaders has more merit. In 2004, when Paul “Mr. Dithers” Martin faced off against the bland Harper, only 60.5 per cent of Canadians bothered to cast a ballot. That was in the midst of the Liberal sponsorship scandal, when the Liberal party’s Quebec branch was investigated for misuse of public funds. Interestingly, Quebec’s voter turnout in 2004 was lower than in the recent election, at 59.0 per cent. This indicates that controversy alone cannot drive people to vote without the presence of magnetic personalities. In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s likeability was reflected in the 75.3 per cent who voted; by 1988, Mulroney’s popularity had soured, and yet the controversial issue of free trade mobilized another 75.3 per cent turnout.

It’s troubling to think that voters could be more swayed by fast-talking hucksters than the issues that concern them, but it’s the truth. Canadians consistently vote more than their American counterparts, but that trend could be reversed on November 4th, with Barack Obama poised to become the first black President in U.S. history. Canada doesn’t have Barack Obama. We have Jack Layton. Ironically, a year that saw a record low for voter turnout in Canada could see a record high in the States.

So what will it take to get Canadians to cast a ballot? It’s too simplistic to equate our indifference with disdain for the first-past-the-post system. On the other hand, past experiences tell us that our votes often have little effect. Paradoxically, voter apathy may be a sign of an increasingly educated electorate. Voting is like exercise: we all say we’re going to do it, we know we’ll feel good about doing it, but when the time comes, we have nothing but excuses. It appears we have a lot in common with our politicians—all talk but no action.

The most wonderful time of the year

While the pinstripes may be red, the green monster may be Phanatic, and Manny is being Manny on the golf course, this October promises to be nothing short of classic. After improbable postseason runs, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies meet in the World Series. The Varsity’s baseball experts provide five predictions of who will come out on top.

Ben Fong

The Philadelphia Phillies were carried to the World Series by a strong pitching staff. Lead by ace NLCS MVP Cole Hamels, winning all three of his playoff starts, and a strong bullpen core of Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Brad Lidge, the Phillies held the Brewers and Dodgers to an average of just over three runs a game.

While the Phillies possess a deep line-up that scored the second most runs in the NL, their core of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard have failed to match their regular season production. Rollins is hitting .250 while Utley and Howard, who hit 81 homers combined during the season, have only one homer between them.

The Tampa Bay Rays enter the World Series after nearly blowing the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox. One of the best stories of the season, the young Rays—their core of Evan Longoria, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and B.J. Upton are all 26 years old or younger—were supposed to improve, but no one outside of St. Petersburg expected them to be so good so soon.

During the regular season, the Rays relied on great starting pitching and a stingy bullpen, while their offence scored just enough to win. But their offence has picked up, led by Longoria and Upton who have 13 homers in 11 playoff games.

The bullpen is another story, with late inning specialists Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour allowing nine runs in less than 12 innings. Boston’s eight-run surge in Game 5 of the ALCS is alarming for a unit so efficient during most of the season.

The Rays have the edge in this series, with a deeper starting staff and a balanced offence that always seems to come through with clutch hits. Even with Balfour and Wheeler struggling, rookie David Price could emerge as a lights-out late-inning stopper. The Phillies have a chance if their big three start hitting, but that won’t be easy against Shields, Kazmir, or Garza. Upton, Longoria, and the rest of the Rays bats won’t slow down either.

Prediction: Rays in five
MVP: B.J. Upton


Somewhere, Red Sox manager Terry Francona is standing on the green with a five iron in his hand and a wad of Bazooka gum in his mouth, pontificating about what went wrong during that game. While Tito may have won the 2008 All-Star Game, he’s regretting it now, or at the very least, wishing he brought in the Rays injury-prone pitcher Scott Kazmir earlier than the 15th inning. It’s ironic that Francona’s management skills won his new rivals the Tampa Bay Rays home field advantage in the World Series. Even the comic in his pack of gum isn’t this funny.

While Tampa boasted a 57-24 record at home—the best in the AL—it remains to be seen if they can take full advantage of Tropicana Field. Watch for the Phillies star sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to launch a ball to one of the Trop’s ubiquitous catwalks and have it ruled a home run. For all of Tropicana Field’s idiosyncrasies, it lacks the diehard fans that can make or break ballgames. The Rays’ lackluster ten-year history is not long enough to acquire the type of long-suffering fans that haunt Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. While every fair-weather baseball fan cheers for the “underdog” Rays, the rest of Florida is hitting the beach or the early bird special, going to bed before the games even begin.

The city of Philadelphia has been waiting a quarter-century for a professional championship. In their 126-year existence, the Phillies have one World Series win, a record worse than the perennially disappointing Cubs. The oldest player in baseball, Jamie Moyer—who made his Major League debut when Tampa’s Evan Longoria was still in diapers—will make the first World Series start of his career. The Phillies owe it to their city, their supporters, and themselves to come out victorious. As long as ace Cole Hamels and his 1.88 postseason ERA and closer Brad Lidge and his perfect save record show up, the Phillies will shutdown the red-hot Rays.

This is an improbable match-up. No matter who wins, expect an inspirational sports movie to be written about it. Let the slow clap begin!

Prediction: Phillies in seven
MVP: Cole Hamels


While the ascendancy of the Tampa Bay Rays is a fantastic story, many baseball fairy tales end in disappointment. This series bears similarity to the 2006 World Series, in which the Detroit Tigers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. Managers Jim Leyland and Joe Maddon are cut from the same cloth. Joel Zumaya and David Price are flame-throwing rookie pitchers. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman, meet Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The all-around brilliance (yet inconsistency) of Tigers centrefielder Curtis Granderson is similar to the Rays’ centerfielder B.J. Upton. Oft-injured right fielder Magglio Ordóñez is no different than Rays’ outfielder Rocco Baldelli. It was said that the St. Louis Cardinals would be pushed aside by Detroit’s magical run, but in the end Detroit imploded, foreshadowing what may happen to these 2008 Rays.

The collapse in Game 5 exposed Tampa Bay’s lack of a lights-out closer. David Price may have been right in the ALCS, but Brad Lidge of the Phillies did not blow a save the entire season, and struck out 92 batters in fewer than 70 innings. Tampa Bay’s middle relievers can only get the job done for so long. Their young starters shone against the Red Sox, but the teams faced off 27 times this season. Against an unfamiliar team like the Phillies, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza may be out of their league. The Rays starters will have to contend with the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park, where the powerful bats of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could easily stroke a home run.

The Rays are a lousy road team, hitting below .250 away from Tropicana Field. This may harm their chances of winning in a deafening Citizens Bank Park in Games 3 to 5. Tampa doesn’t hit well with runners in scoring position, so expect to see a lot of Rays’ strikeouts at critical junctures.

What may tip the series in the Phillies’ favour are the fans. The Rays possessed a great home record, but their fans never truly explode. The city of Philadelphia has not won a professional championship since 1983, and their fans are desperate for a win. Ultimately, it will be the “phanatics” in Philly that will finally get another chance to feel the joy of winning the World Series.

Prediction: Phillies in five
MVP: Jayson Werth


Offensively, the Rays and the Phillies mirror each other. They both boast big time sluggers like Carlos Peña, Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. As the Phillies’ players Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino and the Rays’ teammates B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford manufacture runs with excellent baserunning.

Both teams have a comparable pitching staff. While lackluster in the regular season, the Phillies’ starting pitchers have been outstanding this postseason. Unhittable this October, Cole Hamels has shined alongside Joe Blanton. Highlighted by performances by ALCS MVP Matt Garza and James Shields, the Rays’ starting pitching team maintains a great record throughout the postseason. While the Rays have a young and skilled bullpen, without Troy Percival they lack a true closer. The Phillies boast closer Brad Lidge, who has not blown a save this season. Evident in their late-inning collapse against the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS, the Rays have no such talent. Instead, the team’s only saving grace is Rookie David Price, who closed out the Red Sox in Sunday night’s Game 7.

If the Rays use Price as their closer, they will win. Even without Price, the Rays are the better team. They conquered the toughest division in baseball. They took out the 2005 World Champions, the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS, and then defeated the defending champs in a seven-game thriller. Talk of a lack of postseason experience no longer applies to the Rays. This Cinderella is for real, and they will not rest until they can sip champagne from their glass slipper.

Prediction: Rays in six
MVP: B.J. Upton


Back in March, no one would have predicted that the Rays would be in the playoffs, let alone the World Series. After blowing a seven-to-nothing lead in the seventh inning against the Red Sox last week, it looked like the Rays might finally choke, as their critics long predicted. However, these Rays are not the same team that had the worst record in baseball last season. They’re scrappy. After fighting the Yankees in Spring Training, they’ve engaged in brawls with the Red Sox, winning 97 games in the competitive AL East. They even survived Boston’s comeback magic by clinching the AL Pennant Sunday night. The Tampa Bay Rays are the whole package, beating tough teams to get to baseball’s biggest stage. Quick on the basepaths and on defence, the Rays hit for power, and most importantly, they can pitch. The Rays are on a mission to be baseball’s Cinderella team.

The Philadelphia Phillies pale in comparison. They didn’t compete in the toughest division in baseball. Once again, their biggest competition, the Mets, demonstrated their ability to choke in September. Next, the Phillies defeated wild card Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers one-man show of Manny Ramirez. But this team hasn’t overcome the odds to get to the World Series; they have just played good baseball.

But good baseball isn’t enough to contend against the amazing Rays. The National League usually doesn’t stand a chance against the American League in the World Series, and 2008 will be no different. The Phillies will not inhibit the Rays’ mission to go from worst to first.

Prediction: Rays in four
MVP: Evan Longoria