No Bluff’s

UTSC’s student union-owned restaurant is set to close Feb. 6. Bluff’s, located in the Student Centre basement, has been used for dining, social events, and pub nights.

On Monday, Scarborough Campus Student Union president Zuhair Syed sent an e-mail to all UTSC students announcing the closure “due to severe financial difficulties.”

Since opening in 2004, an annual $140,000 has been given to Bluff’s by the Council on Student Services. But this year the annual sum dried up in five months, as did a $30,000 emergency bailout from the SCSU.

“In light of the financial situation, everything’s getting cut back,” said Hamze Khan, a student representative on the CoSS. “This isn’t great, but perhaps we can change Bluff’s into something more worthwhile.”

Food and beverage manager Zalia Conde was fired on Monday, and all other employees were told they would be made redundant as of the Feb. 6 closing.

“It’s very, very depressing for everyone here,” said one manager at Bluff’s, who only agreed to speak anonymously.

“I believe it’s a problem with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union who’s giving themselves pay raises instead of helping Bluff’s out to keep us open.”

The manager was referring to raises in executive salaries approved last year, which totalled $63,000. In the union’s defence, Syed said that the executive was one of the lowest paid in Canada at the time.

Bluff’s, which facilitates 150 people and can be opened to a hall and performing stage, was subject to a heated debate over Halal food options in 2007 which made national headlines. The restaurant generates approximately $1,400 daily and employs around fifteen people, thirteen of them students.

SCSU denied The Varsity access to Bluff’s financial records.

“I think [the closure] was a means of retaliation by the SCSU. The staff at Bluff’s had brought forth a Ministry of Labour claim against them for not paying us wages. Our staff had to go approximately the whole month of December without getting paid,” said Shanique Edwards, a UTSC student and manager at Bluff’s for two years.

“They investigated, then the SCSU then decided to close down Bluff’s. I think it was a cover-up by the SCSU because of funds that were missing from Bluff’s.”

“Nothing had to do with the Ministry of Labour issue,” said Syed. “That was a completely detached issue which was dealt with separately.”

Syed said the ministry has acknowledged that the case is closed.

As of 2009, Bluff’s had been trying to raise profit by expanding hours and catering. They also cut inventory and made more from scratch.

“We tried to lower the cost of renting space so we could get more events. Many more were booked for the upcoming year,” said Edwards.

Prior to public announcement, all staff were asked to work for the last two weeks for a severance payment based on typical earnings.

“We were given hush money,” said Edwards. “Between $50-$100 for us not to say anything to anybody about what they’re doing. Only two or three took it, the ones that actually had families… We didn’t get anything.”

“I was very shook by the fact that I had to lay off staff that have families,” said Syed, who insisted that everything took place under Ministry of Labour guidelines and legal counsel. “Unfortunately, because of the nature of the business operations and the fact that we had no money left, we had no choice.”

Syed confirmed that students who re-apply for a future SCSU restaurant role will be given special consideration.

Edwards questioned the legality of the decisions, and said the Board of Directors was not notified, thus violating the SCSU constitution.

Syed said the Board was notified in January of Bluff’s possibly closing and that he was given authority to make the decision with the help of several key executives. The Board meets tomorrow to “assess the actions taken and move forward with the decision.”

“It really is a power trip. If you look at the dynamics of how that office has been working, they’ve been firing people and putting in their friends,” said Edwards. “You’ll see it more often in the coming months.”

Syed noted that another $140,000 is available from the CSS for next year and said he is optimistic for an improved student-run restaurant, hopefully before the semester concludes.

With files from Karen K. Ho

Waking up the lurkers

Imagine a lecture hall of 400 students. There are the students at the front of the classroom who are ready to learn and eager for the lecture that is about to begin. Then there are the others who prefer to retain their right to daydream or sleep in the back rows without being seen.

These students at the back of the room are the “silent lurkers” that University of Toronto at Mississauga professor Dr. Judith Poe wants to awaken.

As a distinguished lecturer in the department of Chemical & Physical Sciences at UTM, as well as a recent recipient of the President’s Teaching Award, Dr. Poe was invited to speak at the “Ates Tanin” lecture on alternative methods of teaching chemistry at the university level.

According to Dr. Poe, the traditional method of lecturing really only works for the front row students. In order to actively engage students in the learning process, course material should be presented in an appealing manner along with practical application, so that students are not left wondering “Why would I ever need to use this in real life?”

At UTM, Dr. Poe has tried an approach called Problem-Based Learning (PBL), which strives to promote active learning and critical thinking. Rather than giving a lecture and subsequently assigning practice problems from the course textbook, PBL initiates the learning process through an initial problem. Starting with this problem, students must identify the question being asked, the information that has been provided, and the facts they are missing. Unlike the straightforward problems in a textbook, this initial PBL problem requires students to use other resources, like the Internet or the library, to come to a conclusion that may not have a clear-cut solution. Perhaps the definition of the problem itself may change as more information is gathered.

For those in academia, this method of refining knowledge in light of new information may sound strikingly similar to the research process, which is also one of the many skills students are exposed to through PBL.

South of the border, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Polytechnic State University have applied an approach called “studio-learning,” in which students conduct lectures, tutorials, and practicals in the same room. Students are split into smaller groups, and each one acquires a table, laptop, and any other necessary materials to complete assigned work or related activities.

While this method of learning is able to actively engage students, problems inevitably arise in each group, especially when the workload is not shared evenly. In order to avoid this problem, Dr. Poe has created virtual PBL projects, where students who would like to actively participate and engage in discussions with others may do so on an online discussion board. Those who would rather not actively participate can read the contents of the discussion board and still be included in the dialogue.

Preliminary results over the past few terms have shown that the number of visits to the discussion boards far exceed the number of postings, suggesting that Dr. Poe is indeed reaching out to the “silent lurkers.” Students may even improve their writing capabilities through continuous postings and emailed communication. According to Dr. Poe, PBL students have shown the same aptitude on standardized tests as non-PBL students, while non-PBL students perform less optimally on PBL-based tests.

Critics of Poe’s web-based approach say that online methods lack face-to-face communication. However, this may simply be due to personal preference. They suggest that PBL is not able to cover as much material as the traditional method of lecturing, though it does seem to instill invaluable problem-solving skills. Students may also not use reliable resources for their information, in which case it may be up to the university to teach these students early on how to access journals and other reputable publications.

As for the amount of work required to set up PBL-based lesson plans, it requires more preparation than the traditional lecture to devise suitable problems and possible solutions. When asked about the number of hours she spends answering questions regarding PBL problems from her students, Dr. Poe laughs and admits that it is a six-day job, but if no one answers their questions, then students may lose their interest and momentum. Despite her workload, the professor is not ready to let them revert back to their silent lurking.

UNB student group evicts Lockheed Martin

In a turbulent time for job-hunters, it’s hard to believe that a student group would actively seek to prevent a company from hiring from their university. Nonetheless the Strax group at the University of New Brunswick last week invited students to protest a recruitment event planned by Lockheed Martin, a major developer of aerospace and military technologies. It worked–the company announced that it would cancel the event and “reschedule the visit [for] a time when it makes sense to everyone.”

UNB notes that a motion to oppose Lockheed’s campus presence was previously defeated, and maintains that it had, until now, maintained a cordial relationship with the company.

Lockheed Martin has not stopped hiring UNB students, but its recruitment events will be postponed indefinitely.

Hoops for the new year

The head coach of the women’s Varsity Blues basketball team was delighted that her team made a New Year’s resolution to remain undefeated in 2009.

“That would be a beautiful gift,” laughed long-time head coach Michele Belanger. “I hope it happens, certainly at home. Our goal is to get back to [the] Nationals. How we get there, we’ll take any route we have to.”

The team has held true to their intentions. They swept the Laurentian Voyageurs and the York Lions in their weekend’s series at the Athletic Centre Sports Gym, maintaining their perfect record in 2009. With the talents and leadership of veteran guard Alaine Hutton and power forward Nicki Schultz, the Blues improved to an 8-1 home record and an 11-5 overall record to maintain the top spot in the Eastern Conference OUA standings.

Laurentian posted a 12-4 lead in the first quarter Friday night, forcing the Blues to make tough shots early on the strength of their court defence. But the Blues used their fast transition game to force the aggressive Lady Vees into committing fouls, frequently sending the Blues to the free-throw line where the team had plenty of success, sinking 83 per cent of their free-throw attempts.

“I thought Laurentian played a solid game and really tried hard to move us off the blocks and push and shove us,” acknowledged Belanger. “Laurentian was really difficult for us. They have some really nice shooters who can make the big shots when they needed to, but we got ourselves to the foul line and that’s what we needed to do.”

The Blues opened the second quarter with the lead and a 9-0 run, but the Voyageurs refused to go away, pulling within a point of the Blues. But with less than two minutes left in the game, the Voyageurs fouled Schultz who sunk both her free-throw attempts to seal the eventual 69-60 victory for the Blues. Schultz had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the double-double, while Hutton scored a game-high 28 points with a perfect 12-12 from the floor en route to being named the Blues player of the game.

Saturday saw another well-fought battle against their cross-town rival. A strong third quarter had the Blues lead by as much as 19 points, overcoming yet another slow first half for the Blues. The York Lions managed to chip away at the lead during the fourth-quarter, but fifth-year Blues Tara Kinnear stepped up and ran with the game in the final two minutes, nailing three huge buckets to help secure the 74-67 win.

“[Tara Kinnear] plays really hard,” said Belanger. “She bangs it pretty hard, and Tara got some really key baskets and really key boards.”

Schultz earned Saturday’s player of the game honours, as well as being named the OUA female player of the week after dropping a team-high 23 points and 17 rebounds for her second double-double in as many games for a total of 47 points and 31 rebounds this weekend. Hutton chipped in with 18 points on Saturday, while spearheading the Blues offensively by contributing crucial plays, including a beautiful pick-and-roll with Kinnear that spearheaded the victory.

“They played really, really well,” said Belanger on her two star players this weekend. “Nicki [Schultz] went to the floor several times and still keeps getting up and working hard at it. Both of them are vital parts in our offence. Both of them are quality players—they are all star players. They can score basically at will. And they work very hard.”

What have you done for me lately?

In 1852, Robert Sutherland became the first black man to graduate from a Canadian university. Now a group of students at Sutherland’s alma mater, Queen’s University, are attempting to rename their Policy Studies building in his honor.

Sutherland left his estate to Queen’s upon his death in 1878, rescuing it from financial crisis. Admin are hesitant to put his name on a building, though, when that honour can go to recent or future donors.

Discussions continue on how best to commemorate Sutherland, with possibilities including a statue.

Super Bowl XLIII Preview

Why the Pittsburgh Steelers Will Win

Coaching

Due to previous experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers, many would give Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt an edge in the competition. While there’s no doubt this will prepare the Cardinals for the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s boss Mike Tomlin is no slouch either.

After entering the league in 2001 at 28, Tomlin has worked under the likes of Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, and Jon Gruden. No defence Tomlin has been a part of has ever been ranked lower than eighth overall.

Tomlin brought youthful energy to the Steelers in the 07-08 season, combined with hard work, dedication, and perhaps his greatest attribute of all: the ability to work with the talent on the field. Under Tomlin, the Steelers have won their division twice. This year, Tomlin has become the youngest head coach ever to lead a team to the Super Bowl.

Yet Tomlin and the Steelers will have their hands full on Sunday as Whisenhunt and staff have got their team rolling. Whisenhunt’s best work has erased a losing culture in the Valley of the Sun—helped by veteran leaders like quarterback Kurt Warner, safety Adrian Wilson, and running back Edgerrin James. Whisenhunt’s game planning, particularly on offense, is strong, and, like Tomlin, he delegates well. This game will play like a chess match on the field, with one wrong move costing the game.

Offence

Arizona will have to contain Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker as the Steelers establish the running game by pounding the ball. But unlike the run-it-down-your-throat Steelers in the 1970’s, this team is more versatile, especially with the development of signal caller Ben Roethlisburger. In this year’s AFC championship game, when Parker couldn’t find much room against Baltimore, the 6’5, 241 lb “Big Ben” took control. If Big Ben can buy enough time to air the ball out, the Steelers’ receiving corp will have fire power. The Cardinals must watch out for playmaker Santonio Holmes whose 65-yard catch and run TD was the major offensive play in the AFC title game. Holmes’ contributions will be even more vital with fellow wide-out and ’06 Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward limited by a knee injury.

Steelers tight end Heath Miller has been a clutch performer. Look for him to be the go-to guy should Roethlisberger start to scramble.

Defence

Although the Cardinals’ running game has been revived by Edgerrin James and rookie Tim Hightower, if Kurt Warner does not have time in the pocket, they are done. The number one ranked Steelers’ defence, lead by defensive player of the year James Woodson, will give Arizona a run for their money.

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has already set a single post-season record with 419 receiving yards, looks uncoverable. Receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston who both had a 1000+ yard season, could also be lethal. Therefore, cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend will need plenty of support from hard hitting Ryan Clark and All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.

Special Teams

Pittsburgh always gets a huge play from Santonio Holmes, whose punt return for a score got the Steelers back into their divisional round win over San Diego. However, Holmes can be hit or miss, as he is prone to bad decisions.

Cardinals’ kicker Neil Rackers has provided a solid kicking game, hitting 25 of 28 field goals. But Steelers’ Jeff Reed is the superior place-kicker and one of the best clutch kickers in the game.

FINAL THOUGHT

The Cardinals have been the lovable underdogs throughout the post-season, but their fairytale won’t have a happy ending. The Steelers will establish a solid running game early on, and the Cardinals will have a tough time cracking the Steel Curtain. Coach Tomlin will become the youngest coach ever to hoist the Holy Grail, and Pittsburgh will bring home a record sixth title back to the Steel City.

—GEORGE LIANG

WHY THE ARIZONA CARDINALS WILL WIN

Coaching

Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt was part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff from 2001 to 2006, first as the coach for the tight ends and then as the offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt’s in-depth knowledge of Pittsburgh’s players’ individual skill sets will help the Cardinals defence. For instance, there isn’t much Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisburger is going to do that Whisenhunt hasn’t seen before. Arizona’s defence has played well in the post-season, so it would seem that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and staff have cured whatever ailed their defenders at the end of the regular season.

Offence

It’s no secret that the Arizona Cardinals’ offence is the reason they win games. With veteran QB Kurt Warner at the helm, and superstar wide-outs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin on the field, they’re almost a reincarnation of the Greatest Show on Turf. Whether he’s wide open or in triple coverage, Fitzgerald is able to catch the ball no matter where Warner puts it. Getting the passing game going is vital for Arizona. Not only has it been the key to their playoff victories, it will open up the running game, which they’ve had a lot of success with in the post-season.

During the NFC championship game, the Cardinals went three-and-out whenever the Philadelphia Eagles successfully pressured Warner. Unfortunately for Arizona, the Steelers’ defence also loves to bring the blitz and put non-stop pressure on the quarterback. But their strategy isn’t impenetrable. During the AFC championship game, the Baltimore Ravens took advantage of some downfield plays when QB Joe Flacco received protection. Though Baltimore’s run of the mill passing offence missed out on several opportunities to get the ball downfield, Arizona won’t make the same mistake. Warner was able to beat most of the Eagles’ blitzes with quick passes. His plethora of NFL experience enables him to make quick passes, good decisions, and big plays, even when he’s under pressure. Between Fitzgerald, Boldin, Steve Breaston, and Stephen Spach, Warner always has an open receiver. Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough players to blitz while simultaneously covering every wide-out on the field.

The Cardinals have one of the most proficient passing offences in the league. If the offensive line can maintain the pocket like they did in their last three games, the Cardinals will take advantage of any opening the Steelers afford them.

Defence

Pittsburgh is a run-first team, and lately Arizona’s defence has done a great job stopping the run. By getting upfield quickly, they can force the running back to the outside, surround him, and make a gang tackle. If they can continue that, they’ll have success against the Steelers.

The Arizona defence will need to pressure Big Ben and make him run outside the pocket. They’ll also need to force Pittsburgh into a passing situation by getting the score up early, making the Steelers’ offense one-dimensional. Roethlisburger likes to hold onto the ball in an attempt to keep the play alive. Against most defences, this tactic usually works, as the Steelers’ receivers are good at making plays downfield. However, there isn’t a Pittsburgh offensive player that’s faster than the defensive backs on Arizona. When the Steelers are up against that kind of defence, Big Ben throws interceptions, gets sacked, and makes mistakes, and Arizona’s defence—specifically CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—are able to capitalize on poor throws under pressure. Just ask Jake Delhomme.

Special Teams

Arizona’s been reliable on kick return by not turning it over and consistently setting up the offense with fairly good field position. Steelers WR Santonio Holmes excels on the return game, so the Cardinals will have to be extra aware on kick off and punt coverage. Arizona can’t afford to have K Neil Rackers kick the ball out of bounds, like he did against Philadelphia. And he’ll have to make every field goal, because in this game they’re really going to count. Against a good defence, field goals win games.

Final Thought

Arizona will be victorious against Pittsburgh because the Cardinals have played the best football of any team in this year’s playoffs. The lethal combination of Warner, Fitzgerald, and Boldin will run the score up early, leaving the Steelers scrambling to catch up. The Cardinals have beaten the odds all season. On Sunday they’ll do it again.

—ANDREA YEOMANS

A raw deal for York students

As a cash-strapped undergraduate plugging through the last semester of my degree, I feel for the students of York University. Not only did they get cheated out of the education they paid for this year, but it looks as though they’ll have to forfeit the right to secure summer employment and internships in order to compensate for their stolen semester. Students can expect their spring graduation plans to be put on hold.

The CUPE 3903 strike is entering its 12th week. While there have been talks about legislating an end to this ongoing saga within the coming week, the damage—to student psyches, to York’s public image, and to the union’s credibility—has already been done.

At this point, we’ve mostly forgotten the union’s reasons for striking, which amount to higher wages for TAs and longer contracts for sessional professors. Improving working conditions are reasonable grounds for action, but enough is enough, and even these reasonable factors don’t seem relevant anymore. What began as a strike to improve labour conditions has devolved into a war of attrition, an endless conflict sustained by pride. At the end of the day—or months, more like—the undergraduates are the ones who suffer, abandoned by the teachers and administrators who were trusted with their educational advancement.

I don’t mean to dismiss CUPE’s cause. Being a graduate student is undeniably a highly demanding full-time job, especially with the addition of teaching responsibilities. Yes, many graduate students also have families to support, and, yes, it would be ideal for universities to provide their graduate teaching staffs with, at the very least, a living wage. It’s also true that year-long contracts for lecturers are doubly disadvantageous, both in terms of practicality and diminished job security. But surely there must be a way to work this out without having to burden 50,000 students in the process.

Who will emerge the winner in this situation? Not York University, whose enrollment has dropped considerably. It won’t be CUPE 3903, either: though they will likely receive marginal upgrades through some process of forced arbitration, fewer students mean fewer teaching positions. And it will most definitely not be York’s undergraduates, although it appears they were never really considered in the first place.

At the very least, the end is near. On Tuesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that he intends to resume legislation to end the union’s strike, marking the first government-mandated strike cessation in the history of Canada’s university sector. A beacon of hope for beleaguered students, perhaps, but the return to class will probably not restore faith in the integrity of York University’s administration, or the union’s professed commitment to the provision of higher education.

Backwards budget benefits few

Tuesday’s budget was surprising enough to make a Torontonian trip over an uprooted TTC floor tile.

What Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty proposed is backwards on so many levels. It was counter-intuitive to Conservatives, to designating funds, and to our future. We are lucky that Ignatieff has recognized this backwardness and has called Canada to work together.

The first degree of reversal is in Conservative policy. Luckily for Canada, Harper has released his most Liberal-style budget. Although he insists he still values conservative financial policies such as small government, lower taxes and less intervention, he has pushed these aside in proposing bailouts, larger legislation, and interventionist policies.

Prior to the budget, mayors from across Canada urged Flaherty for more funding to look after their pre-planned, pre-budgeted, shovel-ready infrastructure projects. Instead, the budget proposes funding that must be designated along administrative lines set by the federal government.

Plans must be re-made and cities must designate certain percentages of their allotted sums to projects in order to receive funding. The potential delays could very well mean that these projects will never see the light of day.

Some of these shovel-ready projects include improvements to crumbling TTC stations (think uprooted floor tiles) and money for new transit options.

But what’s most surprising to the average Torontonian is that Harper is investing in cities—yes, the despised, non-oil producing, left-leaning metropolises. This is obviously an effort to break new ground in the next election, and yet these measures seem in opposition to Harper’s policies.

There are plenty of decent proposals in this budget if you live in the ever-growing suburbs, including funding for extracurricular activities. Although there are no childcare improvements, a $2,000 per-child tax credit, extending RRSPs, and allowing more money for RESPs have been proposed. In addition, $2 billion has been budgeted for repair and maintenance projects at post-secondary institutions, 70 per cent of which is for universities.

But not much is left for those outside infrastructure-boosted cities and suburban zones. Those who live in poverty, in addition to those who have been recently laid-off, have very little to gain from this budget.

Another backwards move by the Conservatives is proposing specific objectives to a malleable economy. Flaherty seems to predict some sort of magical boost to the Canadian economy next year, and an end to the recession in Canada within five years. Because of this arbitrary prediction, our budget is not suited to withstand the possibility of a deeper recession.

Another concern is the environment. Although one billion dollars are to be slated for environmental development programs, this is merely a fraction of the potentially hundreds of thousands of green jobs resource-rich Canada could be developing.

These concerns for the future have called Canada’s role in the world into question. Where will we be as a nation in five years? A decade? Twenty years? The changing economy, forthcoming Olympics and new presidential dynasty are all setting the stage for a new Canada. Harper should have seized this opportunity to define which direction Canada should head in.

Ignatieff came forward yesterday with an amendment to the budget that will benefit Canadians. He wants quarterly updates on the cost and results programs proposed by parliament. Each of these would be proposed as confidence motions, meaning change that does not satisfy Canadians may result in an election. This will help ensure that propositions, especially infrastructure projects, see results. It will also certainly put the Conservatives in their place and allow time for the Liberals to reorganize.

Ignatieff seems to be the voice of reason. The Conservatives have broken ground with a revolutionary budget, and the Liberals want to see the results while taking them to task. Although he wasn’t keen on last year’s coalition proposal, Ignatieff said yesterday that it “has shown that we can work together. Canadians need to get used to the idea that we can work together.”

Amen.