God now optional for U Alberta grads

A reference to God in the University of Alberta’s convocation address has been modified. On Monday, the U Alberta General Faculties Council voted in favour of a revision to the convocation charge commanding students to use their degrees “for the glory of God.” Instead, the chancellor will now read “for all who believe, to serve your God.”

In November, the council established a sub-committee to draft an alternative to the command after the U of A Atheists and Agnostics Society, a student group, petitioned the university to remove it.

“It’s something we can all live with,” Ian Bushfield, president of the student group, told the Calgary Herald. The revised address will be read for the first time at the University of Alberta’s June convocation ceremonies.

Home sweet home

There’s no place like home for the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team. The Blues remain undefeated at the AC Sports Gym in the regular season. Their latest home wins came on Jan. 23 and 24 against the Laurentian Voyageurs and the York Lions, respectively.

The Blues’ 84-63 victory against the Voyageurs was fueled by a stellar third quarter where the team outscored Laurentian 20-5. “I thought we defended much better in the second half,” said head coach Mike Katz. “Laurentian played a solid first half, but in the third quarter we just dominated defensively and that was the difference […] I’m very happy with the effort of the whole team.”

The Blues put forth another great effort in their following game against the York Lions, defeating their cross-town rivals 78-66. Five Blues tallied double figures, led by guard Rob Paris with a game-high 18 points. Forward Pat Sewell had 14 points and 10 rebounds, while centre Andrew Wasik added 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

The team returns home next weekend to battle the two best teams in the nation, the Carleton Ravens and the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Power to the People

Social networking meets academia with University of the People, a nonprofit, tuition-free Internet university set to launch this fall. Available to any English speaker with an Internet connection, this venture is the first of its kind, though universities have long offered web-based classes and lecture materials.

Founder Shai Refesh, an Israeli entrepreneur, plans to build enrolment to 10,000 over five years. “With these new social networks, where young people now like to spend their lives, we can bring college degrees to students all over the world, [including] third-world students who would be unable to study otherwise,” he said.

Critics question the school’s ability to find quality instructors, administer tests, and meet the needs of students from non-English speaking countries.

Although the university is essentially free, students will have to pay small fees for enrolment and exams, which are on a sliding scale according to their country of origin.

We aren’t the champions

During Toronto winters, you don’t need short days, snow, and the freezing cold to get depressed. Turning on the T.V., radio, or Internet to any professional Toronto sports team will do the trick.

Yes Toronto, your teams blow—big time. And this story isn’t the first to report it. The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair recently broke down Toronto’s perennial sports futility in terms of combined winning percentage for the 14 cities in North America with professional teams in each of continent’s four major sports: hockey, baseball, basketball, and football (this of course assumes that the Argos, not the Bills, are Toronto’s football team).

The percentages may have changed slightly since Blair’s article, but at the time, Toronto was sitting second-last with Washington, D.C., the only city with a worse combined percentage. However, being a Washington sports fan right now wouldn’t be such a bad thing. True, the Wizards are destined for the worst record in the NBA, and the Nationals are just plain bad. But Washington does boast one of the most exciting athletes in sports today, Alex Ovechkin, who single-handedly made being seen at the Verizon Centre during a hockey game cool again. Plus, fans don’t have to worry about him skipping town any time soon having signed that massive 13-year, $124-million contract extension last year. And let’s not forgot Washington’s most recent acquisition of Barack Obama.

Unlike Toronto, Washington has its own NFL team. No home games are shared or given away to other cities—they get them all! Even that dud of an overhyped first-ever NFL regular season game in Canada just stunk of that losing Toronto karma. Hell, even the Canadian national anthem singer, Kreesha Turner, choked.

The party line now for Toronto sport teams is the long term plan. The Leafs are destined to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. General Manager Brian Burke tells the fans to stay patient as the team’s going to be lousy for a little while longer. Blue Jays GM J.P Ricciardi has changed the makeup of the Jays so many times during his seven-plus years that he’s a shoo-in to be hired by Maybelline if this baseball thing doesn’t work out. True, he’s in the toughest and highest spending division in baseball, but that excuse terminated when the Tampa Bay Rays reached the World Series last year.

Blair also mentioned the plethora of personnel changes: every head coach (or manager) fired in only seven months; horrible contracts and trades handcuffing incoming GMs like Burke and Brian Coangelo; internal strife in Argoland at the executive level dominating the headlines and airwaves after the Grey Cup in Montreal last year.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Considering things have gotten so bad for teams like the Leafs and Blue Jays to the point where winning a championship isn’t even talked about, Toronto fans will be stumbling around in the darkness like a scene from a zombie movie. The only solution appears to be three- and four-year plans that eventually evolve into brand new three- and four-year plans.

But at least some people are taking advantage of the crappy hands they’ve been dealt. Take Leafs head coach Ron Wilson. Has there ever been a coach that so enjoyed calling out his players game after game? Remember the good old days when head coaches, team captains, and general managers took turns going on the record saying that they believed their team had a legitimate shot at going all the way, probably thinking at the same time they had no shot?

Ironically, the hardest part of handling all of this is remembering the back-to-back championships by the Blue Jays in ’92 and ’93. Those too young to have experienced those championships can never fully appreciate how great it would be to be one of those lucky fans who poured onto Yonge Street with tens of thousands of others or honk your car’s horn into oblivion while high-fiving strangers on the street. It gave a taste of the sweet, sweet nectar only a major sports championship can give. Even the Leafs were pretty good and the Argos were also winning championships of their own. The early ’90s weren’t a bad time to be a Toronto sports fan.

And now, those great Toronto teams of the early ’90s simply teased the young fans. They made them believe that if they were patient, they would one day celebrate a world championship, and they too could enjoy the ecstasy of a city erupting as one.

So enjoy it Boston, enjoy it Philadelphia, and enjoy it Chicago. Your sports teams may rock now, but soon they could be rolling to rock bottom. Unless they simply do the opposite of everything Toronto does.

Gerontology is hot

Canada’s population is aging, and the academic world is taking note. The aging baby boom generation is producing record numbers of people 65 years of age or over, putting greater emphasis on gerontology, the study of aging.

While the recession casts many career paths into precarious positions, gerontology is an industry that doesn’t take a downturn. According to the 2006 census, longer life expectancy and low fertility mean Canadian seniors are living longer, making gerontology an increasingly sought after discipline.

Many universities are developing Master’s and PhD programs in response. As Andrew Wister, chair of the gerontology department at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, put it, “it’s clear that this is a growth area.”

U of T: Utopia U?

The final issue of The Varsity Magazine (out Tuesday, March 17) concerns THE UNIVERSITY WE WANT. So we want to know—what is it you desire?

No really, what do you want? Because we’ve got a pretty good idea what you don’t want—we hear about that all the time. Admittedly, we might be a bit out of practice with this dream-without-compromise stuff. After all, at this school it’s considered acceptable for classrooms to go without proper windows, isn’t it?

Tell us in the comments section below how you’d change U of T for the better. What would a Utopia U look like? We’ll redesign buildings for you. We’ll re-align priorities. We’ll rewrite constitutions and budgets. Just tell us what you want.
Imagine you’re suddenly in charge of this place, and you’ve got the guts to go ahead with what you know it needs—the things you feel like screaming on the street when you’ve had a really bad U of T day, and the things you wish were always the case when you’ve had that rare good one.
Why did you choose to go here in the first place? What would it take to convince you to attend a Blues game? Where are you happiest on campus? What’s the most underfunded program?

This is for the people who believed all the talk about the importance of interdisciplinary research (holla to our friends in “— Studies”), only to discover the number of boundary-driven, protectionist assholes who will never let you into a class in their department.

This is for students who have seen a bird’s-eye-view of our school, and realized U of T has about as much an environmental purpose as a parking lot.
This is for anyone who has searched for good food on campus, given up, and gone home.
And this is for you if you’ve had a really good class discussion once, and came out of it wondering why school can’t be like that all the time. Or if you had to do an extra year to graduate because someone in your registrar’s office gave you the wrong piece of advice.

Please write us a note about how you’d change the system if you’ve ever tried to book a space on campus and were turned down because you’re not part of a campus group, or your campus group isn’t a college group, or you don’t have $300.

We know what you don’t want. Tell us what you do.

There are only two rules. Rule one: dream big. Rule two: no saying what can’t be done. It’s about our shared wants, not our shared what-we-can-gets. No cynicism allowed.

New site reviews internships

You want to get an internship, but you don’t want to spend the summer fetching coffee. A new website called Internshare could help you out. Designed by three U of T engineering students— Michael Novati, Anuj Gupta, and David Wu—the site lets students review their experiences. Here’s hoping you can search your way to a great internship.

The “real world” can wait

If you plan to graduate in the next two years, don’t. Go to grad school, or take a fifth year. That was the message of last Wednesday’s panel discussion on the economic crisis. This recession will get worse before it gets better, and we may not recover until 2011.

Roughly 150 students braved the snowy weather to attend the Economic Students’ Association’s panel discussion about the next two years of gloom and recession. Financial Economics expert Professor John Maheu explained how the crisis started, while Professor Peter Dungan, a specialist in macroeconomics forecasting, predicted what’s in store. Professor James Pesando tied it all together.

Maheu started with a familiar tale of unregulated mortgage markets and securities. In the United States, you would go to the bank to acquire a mortgage. The bank would check your credit rating, and approve or disapprove your mortgage accordingly. The bank would then sell the mortgage to a mortgage broker, relinquishing all responsibility for the mortgage in the process. The broker would package many mortgages into a money-making security, selling slices of it on the market.

What went wrong with this process? For one, the primary mortgage lenders didn’t experience any consequences if the mortgage borrower defaulted. Since they had no reason to make sure individuals were capable of paying their mortgages, they focused on lending, the creation of mortgages being their source of income. As the housing bubble began to burst and home owners began defaulting, the junk stocks were exposed, and the US stock market experienced a serious crash.

Since the US is Canada’s largest importer, the fall of the US economy means the fall of the Canadian one as well. Canada’s economy normally experiences 2.9 per cent growth, but it’s now looking at negative growth of 0.4 per cent. Professor Dungan forecasted sharp rises in unemployment, as Pesando, following his lead, advised anyone graduating in the next two years to stay in school.

Facing a serious recession, economists have used what for the past 10 years has been considered the most powerful tool in their arsenal: monetary policy. But as interests rates lowered, the expected increase in spending did not come. Thus, as Professor Pesando explained, economists have arrived at an unusual consensus: they agree that fiscal policy is needed to pull the economy out of the recession.

Though the panel discussion was aimed at economics students in first and second year, it ought to have been advertised to the general public. The discussion provided a detailed explanation of how we got here and where we are going in terms of the economy, but didn’t go into depth. There were no serious numbers, no detailed explanations. In short, for anyone who had been closely following the economy over the past year, it was nothing they hadn’t heard before.

What can we take from the panel? Don’t try to enter the job market when unemployment is rising. Go to grad school. In short, same old, same old.