Mastering the court

The Tennis Masters Cup wrapped up last week in Shanghai, with number three seed Novak Djokovic winning the prestigious title. The last tournament in the ATP season, the Tennis Masters Cup featured a unique round-robin format not employed in any other tournament. The top eight seeded players are invited with the top two seeds placed in opposite groups. Roger Federer, the top seed in the tournament, was placed in the red group, whereas Novak Djokovic, the tournament’s second seed, was placed in the gold group. The remaining six players are randomly assigned to one of the two groups. The top two players from each group qualify for the semi-finals, and the subsequent winners play for the title.

The tournament featured new young talent with Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, and the gifted French player Gilles Simon—all of whom made their first appearance at the Tennis Masters Cup.

Roger Federer left the tournament in the round-robin matches with a 1-2 record. After losing to Gilles Simon, Federer had to defeat Andy Murray in his final match to qualify for the elimination round. Hampered by fatigue and a back injury, Federer lost to Murray.

Federer’s early exit marks the first time he’s failed to qualify for the tournament’s semi-finals, adding to a disappointing year compared to his previous results. Despite his poor results this season with only one grand slam win, Federer appeared pleased in his post-match press conference.

“It was a good season. I was happy I could win the U.S. Open for the fifth straight [time],” Federer said. “I’m looking forward to next year, to go for six. It was an incredible match at Wimbledon. [I had] very emotional victories in Basel, my hometown […] and winning the Olympic gold for Switzerland was a big moment for me. [It was] tough to start off with [and] tough to end.”

Gilles Simon, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Nikolay Davydenko qualified for the semi-finals. Djokovic defeated Simon in a tight three-set match 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, and Davydenko upset Murray 7-5, 6-2.

Last Sunday’s final was one-sided as Djokovic rolled past Davydenko 6-1, 7-5. Djokovic outplayed his opponent in every aspect, having converted more break points, winning the majority of the points with more winners and fewer unforced errors.

“I would put [the Tennis Masters Cup] in the same league as a Grand Slam because the best eight players in the world are participating here,” said Djokovic. “I feel very happy. Ended the season the way I started it, with a win in a big event. So it’s a great boost up for the upcoming season.”

Gracious in defeat, Davydenko acknowledged Djokovic’s fine play. “Against Djokovic you need to be perfect, you must also play very fast, and be very good. That’s what he did, and I didn’t.”

Ironically, the last tournament of the year had no effect on the rankings. Rafael Nadal, having secured the number one ranking prior to the tournament, subsequently withdrew from the competition, citing fatigue and a nagging knee injury. Despite his poor results, Federer remained at the number two spot, and Djokovic remained at number three.

In the doubles tournament, Canada’s Daniel Nestor and his partner Nenad Zimonjic won a dramatic winner-take-all final to overtake the number one ranking from Mike and Bob Bryan.

Minorities targeted for academic misconduct charges: report

The colour of a student’s skin may increase their chances of academic misconduct charges, according to a recent report by the University of Ottawa’s Student Appeals Centre. The student-run centre provides consultation and support to students who have been accused of misconduct such as plagiarism.

According to the report, minorities made up 45 per cent of the 388 students who sought consultation in the past year. Of the 48 students who sought help regarding academic fraud (for violations like plagiarism), 71 per cent were visible minorities.

The centre’s report casts much of U of O’s appeals process into question, arguing that a student’s intent is not considered in determining their guilt, and that leeway is rarely given for honest mistakes.

In one case study, a student known as “Wendi” got a zero on an exam because she left her notes under her desk while writing it. Wendi claims she never looked at her notes and only the blank side of the paper was visible. Neither the testimony of the student sitting next to her nor that of the TA who accused her were considered in determining her guilt. “At the U of O, whether or not a student has fraudulent intentions is irrelevant in determining if there is academic fraud,” reads the report.

Student advocates close to the case cite differences in plagiarism standards between countries (which international students may not be clear on), a lack of awareness among students about what constitutes plagiarism, and plain old racial discrimination as causes of the disproportionate number of minority students facing charges. “It shows that there is systemic racism at the University of Ottawa,” said Seamus Wolfe, VP university at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. The report recommended sensitivity training for university personnel.

The administration has not issued an official response, and is still considering the report’s recommendations. “We’re moving as fast as we can,” U of O spokesperson Andrée Dumulon told the Ottawa Citizen.

At U of T, when a student is under suspicion of academic misconduct, they are allowed to explain their case at a hearing with their professor and a representative of their dean, explained Adam Awad, VP university affairs at the University of Toronto Students’ Union. The student may request their registrar to be present, and registrars often advise students on the appeal process, but they are not always able to attend the hearing. Students may bring their own legal counsel, but they must pay for it themselves.

Downtown Legal Services, provided by the Faculty of Law, is available to advise students on their options. They can also contact their ombudsperson for assistance, though Awad pointed out that most students are unaware of these options when they are accused. There is no office comparable to U of O’s Student Appeals Centre at U of T.

“I think something like that would be very useful at U of T, particularly because it’s so big,” said Awad.

Talking modern art

Glenn Lowry is the former Director of the AGO, and current Director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The Varsity caught up with him during his quick visit to Toronto to deliver a lecture at the ROM.

The Varsity: Your official title is the Director of the Museum of Modern Art. What does that entail?

Glenn Lowry: A lot of travelling. I do a lot of lecturing and talking. I mostly work with the staff and the trustees to work on exhibitions and acquisitions. There is also strategic planning, and overseeing general operations of the museum. The MoMA staffs over 800 employees, and has 2.5 to 2.6 million visitors a year. I am, at least I hope I am, the catalyst in the middle of all this.

TV: Are there any important acquisitions that the MoMA is currently engaged in?

GL: There is always an important acquisition in process. I can’t tell you the specifics for fear of jinxing it, but the MoMA is a major collecting institution, and we are shaped through the modern and contemporary art objects that we acquire.

TV: Is there a need for the museum to balance its base of classic Modernism with constant developments in contemporary art?

GL: This is a central issue we struggle with—how to deal with the immediate past, the present, and the transitional future towards which art is moving. We are, you could almost call it isomorphs, half lives; and this reflects the ongoing tension between the well-known and the defined, which are at the core of our collection, and the progressive, new, and experimental in process of unfolding. The tension between those two animates what we do.

TV: You have been praised, and at times faulted, for bringing a certain entrepreneurial sensibility to the museum. On your watch, the MoMA underwent an $858-million expansion. What has this development meant for the museum?

GL: We did have a capital campaign of $858 million. But only half went to construction of [the actual] architecture. The other half went to endowments, and other programs and initiatives. The amount always gets lumped together, and I am hardly entrepreneurial! I come from an academic background, in the esoteric field of Islamic art, although [I have] always had an abiding interest in contemporary art.

For the last 15 years, I have tried to address the number of architectural issues that have precluded displaying the collections in the way we wanted to. When I was hired, I was not particularly interested in architectural projects. My focus was on generating major acquisitions, holding important exhibitions, and rethinking the way the collection needed to be displayed. So we talked to trustees, curators, friends of the community, and found that a more synthetic and nuanced reading of the modern art was needed.

Part of the intellectual goal of the institution is to be experimental. Once you embark on the [architectural] project, some are exhilarated, others are threatened. Some feel alienated and upset when they do not find their favourite artwork in its place. Others find the new [construction] utterly transfixing. After four years, criticism from those who were not pleased has abated. I welcome any kind of critical discourse. One of the things you learn is that criticism is essential to generating intelligent ideas. Part of our hope is that the MoMA remains a central [venue] for critical discourse.

TV: Art critics frown upon the close relationship certain artists share with auction houses, such as British artist Damien Hirst teaming up with Sotheby’s. What are your thoughts on this intersection of art and commerce?

GL: Art and commerce have been intertwined for hundreds of years. What has happened is that the money that has been thrown into art has increased dramatically. Artists are, in effect, making art for a clientele expecting a certain kind of spectacular object to satisfy their needs. The current economic [crisis] is going to [alter] some of these conditions fairly substantially.

TV: Is there a special role for art in times of recession?

GL: I don’t think art is shouldered with playing a special role during such times. But cultural institutions like museums and symphonies provide an opportunity to think differently. You are able to slow down, and perhaps for a moment, forget about your problems, and concentrate on thinking about how we express ourselves as a culture. I find that looking at works of art can be both meditative and informative. Seeing artworks that think through difficult situations—because that is what artists do, they pose complicated problems that require deep soul searching, and propose answers—can be helpful.

TV: Do you have a favourite piece at the museum?

GL: Working at the MoMA, you’re surrounded by some of the most important works of art—trying to pick a favourite is like trying to pick your favourite child. But if you have a lot of children, I suppose I do prefer one over the other. I always oscillate between Cezanne’s Bather to [his] Turning Road at Montgroult, to Pollock’s great No. 31, to Warhol’s Thirty-Two Soup Cans, to Kentridge’s films. For me, the greatest pleasure is walking through the galleries, and seeing the work of art that I know we own, not having paid attention to it before, and being pleasantly surprised. In essence, my favourites are changing all the time.

TV: You were the Director of the Art Gallery of Ontario from 1990 to 1995. What are your thoughts on the AGO’s recent renovation?

GL: The AGO was absolutely exhilarating. One of the great things about Toronto is that change is always taking place. What Frank [Gehry] has achieved is a significant clarification of the circulation system. [The AGO] was cut up before, but now the Dundas Strezet facade is utterly wonderful—it brings the street into the museum and the museum onto the street. The timber walkway presents a majestic moment in which one can pause and think about the art and culture of the city. It has really created a nexus of architecture in Toronto. Also, the Walker Court creates this wonderful way of moving around the building that was not there before.

TV: If you could offer one piece of advice for aspiring art historians and curators, what would it be?

GL: Follow your passion. The most interesting people I have met are all driven by deep passion. It does not make rational or logical sense. They feel committed, dependent, [and they have] the desire to learn, to think, to enjoy, and to pursue it, regardless of whether or not it makes rational sense. If you are really determined, ultimately, it leads somewhere. I think the hardest thing to deal with is that we live in a world that demands we matriculate, leave university, go to graduate school, get your first job, whatever, and we are pushed into paths. But actually, the most successful and interesting [people] are those who followed their passion and were brave enough to get off the grid.

U of T marks Transgender Day of Remembrance

Students and community members gathered to commemorate victims of anti-transgender hatred on Thursday, Nov. 20, marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The day of remembrance was first marked in 1999, in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in Boston.

The Centre for Women and Trans People set up at Sidney Smith to discuss trans issues and violence, and afterwards decamped to the Centre’s headquarters on Spadina Avenue for a more intimate gathering.

Captive on film

The famed CBC documentary The U.S. vs. Omar Khadr was screened on Thursday evening to a packed auditorium at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. Organized by The Muslim Students’ Association, the event brought to light the intricacies of Canada’s role in Khadr’s six-year confinement.

Khadr was 15 years old when he was accused of killing an American soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. The evidence used against him is based on a series of confessions Khadr made at the U.S. military base in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. His defense team has argued that these confessions were wheedled out with torture.

The documentary paints a vivid minute-by-minute account of how Khadr ended up in Guantanamo. Included is the prisoner’s first-hand account of the torture and mistreatment he suffered, and the film leaves the audience sympathizing with Khadr by offering evidence that points to his innocence.

The film contends that U.S. forces were using torture as an interrogative method. This is later confirmed by one of Khadr’s interrogators and various cellmates. Outrageously, one of Khadr’s interrogators, Sergeant Joshua Claus, was convicted of the murder of a detainee in U.S. custody.

As the film poses central questions regarding the Canadian government’s role in prolonging Khadr’s confinement, viewers are introduced to Dennis Edney, Khadr’s Canadian lawyer who lambasts the nation and calls the notorious detention facility a “sham.” We learn that it is probable that the government knew Khadr was tortured in American custody since 2002 and remained apathetic to his condition. We witness what the young man will endure should he stand trial in a U.S. military tribunal—an institution allowed to pick the lawyers, jury, and the judge. They may even remove the judge if rulings are deemed unsatisfactory.

A number of filmgoers expressed alarm that they had remained uninformed of Omar Khadr’s case over the years.

“I was surprised at how much I didn’t know about Omar Khadr,” says Sarah Giles, a first-year student at the University of Toronto, “given that it seems to be such an important case for Canada. You would expect it to make headlines.”

Those like Saida Afroage, a fourth-year student, who have been avidly following the case, expressed their frustrations. “Part of the problem is the law itself. International laws provide protection for someone like Omar Khadr, but the U.S. military tribunals have their own laws and their own definitions of what they want certain things to mean. Like the definition of torture, central to Khadr’s case, is defined in vague terms distinct from the Geneva Conventions.”

“After working on this documentary and coming to know Omar Khadr, I am comfortable using the T-word,” said co-producer and CBC journalist Nazim Baksh, referring to the contention surrounding the role of torture in the Khadr case. “Journalists usually get quizzical and don’t want to get in trouble, but I feel comfortable saying he was tortured.”

Baksh expressed his concerns: “We need to do what people do in democracies, we need to approach our MPs and say we believe what is happening to Omar Khadr is not fair. I believe the aggressive foreign policy that governs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is wrong.”

Spearheaded by the MSA, the screening was supported by the student faction of a growing coalition to bring the Guantanamo detainee home. Jessica Hedges-Chou, a member of the undergraduate support group, hoped to spike a growing awareness. “Our goals for this event were really twofold. I already knew that it would raise awareness, so I wasn’t worried about that. For me, I wanted to broaden our support base and include a strong student group to join our coalition.”

“We are really at the beginning stages,” she adds, “but I was really happy with the event. After people saw the documentary, there were a lot of questions and emotions. People wanted to know how to get involved.”

How has public perception of Khadr’s case changed since the documentary aired?

According to CBC polls, subsequent to the premiere of The U.S. vs. Omar Khadr, 42 per cent of Canadians believe Khadr should be brought back home, while 20 percent of Canadians are undecided. Given previous polls, it seems the tides are changing in favour of repatriating the young prisoner.

U Waterloo expands to Dubai

The University of Waterloo got one step closer to a Dubai campus, when its Senate voted Monday to “endorse [the plan] in principle.” U of W will operate “2+2 programs”: students will study in Dubai for two years and finish off their degrees in Waterloo. The United Arab Emirates campus’ initial programs will be chemical and civil engineering, starting in 2009. In 2010, IT management and finance will be added.

The university community raised questions about legal and cultural differences between Canada and the United Arab Emirates, including the UAE’s law against homosexuality and differences in women’s rights.

If U of W meets its enrolment targets, the Dubai programs would generate $22 million a year. The money would fund new math and engineering faculty positions, as well as construction projects for the Waterloo campus.

New collaboration stems from Toronto to Kyoto

Researchers from the University of Toronto and Kyoto University recently met in Japan to forge a revolutionary partnership on stem cell research. The collaboration has Toronto researchers joining forces with the world-renowned stem cell researcher Dr. Shinya Yamanaka.

For many years, scientists have studied embryonic stem cells (ES cells) due to their potential to differentiate into virtually any cell of the body. In 2007, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and his team made a revolutionary discovery. Using normal human skin cells, Dr. Yamanaka reprogrammed them to an embryonic-like form. These new cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) and are believed to have the same properties as ES cells.

“Together, we’ll share reagents, ideas and protocols to accelerate research and translate the research into clinical outcomes,” says Dr. Bill Stanford, associate director at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and co-scientific director of the Ontario iPS Cell Facility. “This is quite important because this research has significant clinical potential, which is not 20 years down the line but, at least for some therapeutics, maybe 10 years.”

Dr. Stanford recently returned from a symposium in Kyoto, Japan. The scientist said that Dr. Yamanaka was amazed at the research Ontario scientists are doing. The collaboration will be a two-way partnership. For example, Kyoto researchers could provide new technologies to produce iPS cells and Toronto scientists may offer novel ways of differentiating these cells.

This partnership adds to Canada and Ontario’s growing list of research accomplishments in the field of stem cell biology. Since the 1960s, it was the work done by pioneers James Till and Ernest McCulloch of the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto that sparked the field of stem cell biology. Since then, Canada continues to rank in the top six countries internationally for its ongoing leadership in stem cell research. In a recent industry briefing, it was noted that nearly one third of all stem cell researchers are from Ontario.

Since Till and McCulloch, stem cell research has branched out into many discrete and exciting fields of study. Dr. Stanford and his team work on modelling human diseases with genetically altered mice. “Now, we can model human diseases with actual human sample by generating iPS cell lines from patients and differentiating these cells to the affected cell types,” explains Stanford. The scientists hope to uncover underlying causes of the disease and develop drug screens to discover effective drug treatments.

The two major advantages of iPS cells are due to the way they form. No fetal embryonic tissue is required for the development of iPS cells—all the work is done in the Petri dish. Therefore, the ethical dilemma that was one of the major barriers in stem cell research is no longer a factor. Furthermore, by using reprogrammed cells from the original patient, the chance that the patient will undergo immunological rejection is unlikely.

Although iPS cells can differentiate into any cell type, “initially research will concentrate on treating and understanding paediatric conditions and developmental disorders because they can be easily modelled,” Stanford says. These include conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF) or autism.

“With iPS cells, researchers at Sick Kids are trying to develop a proper protocol to differentiate these cells into lung epithelium cells so they can study Cystic Fibrosis iPS cells and perform drug screens,” says Stanford. This research would greatly help the lives of the one in 3,600 Canadian children that have CF.

In addition to paediatric conditions, iPS cells can be easily differentiated into neurons. Dr. James Ellis, associate professor in the Department of Medical Genetics at U of T and co-scientific director of the Ontario iPS cell facility, studies neurological disorders and will be involved in this research collaboration.

Dr. Ellis and his team study Rett syndrome, a neurodegenerative childhood disease, similar to autism. It affects one out of every 10,000 baby girls. “With iPS technology we can differentiate the cells into neurons and study the disease with quite ease,” says Ellis. He adds that this would normally be very difficult because you cannot extract nerve cells from living individuals’ brains.

This technology also gives scientists the ability to better model neurological diseases like Rett syndrome because mice and humans are not exactly equivalent. “Humans have certain higher cognitive abilities that can’t be translated into mouse models,” says Ellis.

Dr. Ellis will also be involved in the partnership between Toronto and Kyoto. “Since we have so many patients in Ontario, we offer a large diversity of patient samples on which models and treatments can be made from,” explains Ellis. “iPS cells also allow us to test drugs using a Petri dish and not making patients go through the treatments to see what works and what doesn’t.”

Although not in the immediate future, Ellis and Stanford agree that this partnership will spark the possibility of cell based therapy and transplantation. “Imagine a patient who suffers from heart disease, with iPS cells we will be able to repair the heart with the patients’ skin cells,” says Ellis. However, he adds, iPS cells need to be rendered safe before this application can be successful. It would require the use of retroviruses, which could enable cells to proliferate uncontrollably—a characteristic seen in cancer.

“Eventually, cell based therapies will be possible and patient specific iPS cells would be possible and that is one of the exciting things of these cells and this partnership,” says Stanford.

UTSC library never closes

UTSC students can now camp out at the library 24/7. A pilot project has the stacks open 24 hours a day, following students’ suggestions in a survey. Victoria Owen, head librarian, said UTSC will take note of how many people use the service before making the hours permanent. The project has run since October.

At St. George campus, Robarts Library is open 24 hours a day on weekdays, but students can’t access stacks after 11:45 p.m.