U of T canned Palestinian solidarity group’s plans: activist

The U of T administration stands accused of silencing pro-Palestine views after denying a Students Against Israeli Apartheid space request.

Last Wednesday, Liisa Schofield posted a provocative commentary on the alternative news website rabble.ca, accusing U of T’s senior administration of “repression, stifling of dissent and bureaucratic harassment.”

Schofield is the volunteering and programming coordinator at the Toronto chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, a collection of semi-independent social justice student groups including SAIA.

SAIA was planning a cross-Ontario conference, where business included Israeli Apartheid Week, for the first weekend of October. The event was to take place at OISE; when the request was denied, it happened just off-campus at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church.

Schofield obtained documents proving that U of T admin decided to cancel the event before the space request was made, after being alerted by a pro-Israeli group.

She claimed that U of T was pressured by lobbyists to cancel the conference and that the stated reasons for denying the space request were fabricated.

Although the denial letter said the booking was not made five days prior to the weekend event, the document was faxed the Sunday before.

“This whole thing has been taken out of context. It seems they’re orchestrating outlash,” said U of T president David Naylor. “We’ve followed proper procedure.”

The documents, released under the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, consist of 250 pages of emails among U of T admin during the week before the space denial was issued.

Schofield requested through FIPPA any communication pertaining to the conference, suspecting admin of being unfair.

“I have seen a consistent pattern of any space requests that are submitted for events pertaining to the issue … being singled out by the bureaucracy,” said Schofield, who claimed that such requests can take twice as long to process.

Jim Delaney, director of the office of the Vice-Provost, stresses it was a matter of procedure.

“They gave us incorrect information about the event,” said Delaney. “There aren’t many reasons for denying booking requests, unless a group doesn’t follow procedure.”

Naylor agreed.

“The group is not following standard procedure. A few weeks ago, an event at OISE was supposed to be open to the public when it was not.”

Naylor was referring to an OISE event in February last year for high school students opposing the Israeli government, where only students with a high school ID card were admitted. Accusations of brainwashing students were raised in national newspapers. The event was not organized by OPIRG.

Schofield questioned why senior admin was involved in the bookings.

“When we hear of any controversial event that’s high profile, we must be prudent in how we respond,” said Naylor, citing abortion protests as another controversy. “Administration getting involved is simple, given the profile of the issue.”

Talitha Kozak, president of U of T Students for Life, said she was unaware of any admin involvement in her club’s activities, and that her group has had no problems with space bookings for the past two years.

SAIA has previously butted heads with U of T admin. In Nov. 2007, the group successfully contested a bill for undercover police officers’ presence at an International Apartheid Week event featuring high-profile speakers. Campus Police regularly check booked spaces on campus and send officers, at the expense of event operators, if they deem it necessary.

Naylor has described IAW as “the consistently worst week of a president’s life.” The event draws international media attention each year, mainly due to its name.

Schofield alleged that admin is siding with Israel after forming partnerships with Israeli universities.

“I don’t think we have a bias. Our interest is forging relationships with research-intensive universities, and there is massive growth in Israel. We try to avoid the politicization of academic issues, although it seems others don’t,” said Naylor, citing minimal criticism for ties to China despite its human rights record.

Pre-Raphaelites star at the AGO

Sin and Salvation: Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision, the latest exhibit at the newly renovated AGO, opened to a packed house on Valentine’s Day. The display, which runs until May 10, showcases some of legendary British artist William Holman Hunt’s most recognized canvases, along with items from his everyday life and the works of other notable Pre-Raphaelites, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais.

The exhibit provides insight not only into Hunt’s artistic work, but the most pressing issues of his day. Nineteenth-century England struggled with social and political concerns, such as the role of women in society, gender relations, and a loss of faith. Curator Dr. Katharine Lochnan added that the main concerns of the Pre-Raphaelites have yet to be solved, saying, “The issues he addresses are as relevant today as they were in his own day.”

Hunt’s vibrant application of colour, curious incorporation of figures, and fascinating use of symbolism sheds light on the moments of insight and revelation that changed the course of individual lives. His preoccupation with piety and salvation is especially evident in The Light of the World, Isabella and the Pot of Basil, and The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple.

The ROM has also donated textiles worn by Hunt in his studio. These peculiar fashion choices are reminiscent of the prints and patterns used in his artwork, showing that Hunt incorporated his artistic visions into many different aspects of his life, including his wardrobe. Also on display are the artist’s palette and pigments, which provide a reminder of the old school techniques once used by painters.

The highlight of the exhibit is Hunt’s most famous piece, The Awakening Conscience. A young woman leaps from her lover’s embrace, intrigued by an unseen subject through the window. The glass-covered clock, a bird held captive by a cat, and the woman’s noticeably ring-less left hand all suggest she is a kept woman—a mistress. The light coming through the open window illuminates her face, depicting her realization of the errors of her luxurious life, and her turn toward salvation. The painting’s usage of realism and suggestion of spiritual enlightenment were central to the Pre-Raphaelite vision. The Awakening Conscience is the focal point of the room, and should not be missed.

UTSU directors talk election business

Questions around upcoming UTSU elections dominated last Thursday’s UTSU board of directors meeting. David Berliner, representing Victoria College, opened the discussion, asking executives to justify the “rushed” ratification of Lydia Treadwell as Chief Returning Officer.

The board was presented with Treadwell as the only choice for CRO at the board meeting two days after nominations had already opened, two weeks after election notices had appeared on the UTSU website and The Varsity. By then, it was too late for her to approve election notices or dates.

The notices advertise incorrect numbers of board members for Woodsworth College, New College, and the engineering faculty, which do not correspond with the size of the constituencies. UTSU will go ahead with the numbers as they are. This matter did not come up at the meeting.

“A number of the [Election and Referenda Committee] members have been extremely difficult with scheduling meetings,” said VP external Dave Scrivener. “As you can see in this room, a lot of people have gotten used to proxying and calling in their positions.” Scrivener said the ERC found it difficult to schedule meetings, but that he and committee members would come up with a system for future elections.

Scrivener said that the ERC picked Treadwell from several candidates because she is not a student, not involved with any club or college, and has never been elected to any position at U of T or any other university, and is therefore a neutral third party to the election. Three UTSU directors and three execs sit on the ERC, according to the bylaws.

Berliner later moved to create a working group to promote the election, in an effort towards inclusion and transparency. “The UTSU needs to make a better effort to reach out to students,” said Berliner.

His motion was met with varying degrees of dissent from other board members, specifically those on the UTSU executive. VP university affairs Adam Awad said the proposed group would be a “shadow ERC,” and echoed Scrivener’s earlier concerns that people just wouldn’t show up to its meetings. Awad, Scrivener, the chairperson (who was allowed to speak because of informal discussion), and others said that the functions of the proposed group would be better performed by the ERC herself with oversight from the board of executives.

Berliner withdrew the motion before a vote.

Collective energy, collective funds

Sunday, February 22nd marked the third annual Power of Movement, the world’s largest yoga fundraiser in support of the Arthritis & Autoimmunity Research Centre (AARC). Organized into “mega sessions” across the country, do-gooders and yoga aficionados came together nationwide to practice yoga, raise awareness, fundraise, and breathe. The Toronto mega session was held at the Wellesley Community Centre, providing two time slots to work out your karma.

Power of Movement appeals to the au courant who live and breathe spirituality, organics, and social consciousness. The environment at the Toronto mega session was bright and blissful on a beautiful Sunday morning. Toronto’s hottest yoga butts were in attendance, clad in a sea of Lululemon apparel. Whole Foods provided delectable organic treats and goody bags.

The woman behind the mega sessions is Erin Moraghan, who was dually impassioned to create this event as both a Moksha yoga instructor and the senior development officer at the AARC.

Moraghan is sensitive and passionate about her cause. She revealed that she was initially drawn to yoga for its restorative purposes, to de-stress and address the pain of arthritis that came about as a result of a joint injury.

An alarming 4.5 million Canadians are living with some form of arthritis, and many of the afflicted are young men and women. It’s a common misconception that arthritis and autoimmunity conditions are a plight of the elderly. In fact, the charitable event was created to honour the struggle of Dorna Chee, a young mother who used yoga to ease her pain. Exercise became the vehicle that brought her comfort and strength. Moraghan adds, “People feel empowered taking control of chronic pain. Johns Hopkins has done studies on the positive effects of yoga for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors are starting to sit up and take notice.”

Teaming up with Moksha Yoga created perfect harmony for Moraghan and the AARC. Moksha’s website describes themselves as “a group of independent hot yoga studios committed to ethical, compassionate, and environmentally conscious living. We strive to collectively communicate that the benefits of yoga are limitless and accessible to all.”

Accessibility was an important theme at Power of Movement—not only was the event free, but those unable to attend a mega session for distance or health reasons were encouraged to practice at home via sponsor myyogaonline.com, or at yoga studios nationwide that joined in on the challenge. For those confined to their homes due to arthritic pain or any affliction, this was a way to connect. Moraghan comments, “It’s a gentle practice—it welcomes everyone to it.”

When asked about the overwhelming success of the Power of Movement, Moraghan credits her colleagues at Moksha. “Moksha supports forward thinking and was committed to trying to bring the message through a unique approach. Power of Movement went national and happened so fast because of the Moksha community. They really understand.”

Last year’s event boasted 250 participants, raising over $50,000 in Toronto alone. This year, the Power of Movement mega sessions went national, featuring locations in 10 major Canadian cities. POM 2009 received unprecedented media and sponsorship attention, with the fundraising meter on powerofmovement.ca sitting above $200,000.

All told, the event featured 1,000 people across Canada at mega sessions and yoga studios, practicing yoga and creating an outpouring of good will. POM volunteer and U of T alum Lillian Lourenco summed up the spirit of the event: “Imagine that every time you are exercising for your own health, you are saving the lives of others.”

POM attendee Ann Marie Deboran agreed. “It’s an excellent cause that draws the community and the country together in a way that benefits everyone involved. The participants benefit from the incredible workout and the positive environment, and the charity receives attention and generous donations. The word yoga means union, and that’s what I think Power of Movement is—a union between yourself and those in need.”

To check out the initiative or to donate online, visit powerofmovement.ca.

For Vic, new digs don’t come cheap

Students at Victoria College will see a dramatic increase in student fees once construction begins for the Goldring Student Centre, a $21-million project set to replace the Wymilwood building.

The new centre will triple the amount of student space, offer new facilities, and be more environmentally friendly. Unlike Wymilwood, it will be wheelchair accessible.

“For everybody who will be able to use the centre at some point, they’ll pay an increase of $100 [per year] until the centre is complete,” said James Janeiro, president of Victoria University Student Administrative Council. “Once the centre is complete, people start paying $200 [per year in additional fees] until the mortgage is paid off, which is approximately 15 years.”

Construction is expected to begin next winter, and admin hope to have the centre open by 2011.

Currently, Vic students pay $1,074 in ancillary student fees. With the proposed increase, Vic will pass St. Michael’s College, almost matching Trinity College as the most expensive college at U of T.

In 2006, VUSAC passed a motion that promised to help fund the project. Vic admin and alumni will each contribute $7 million dollars to the project, and students will pick up the remaining $7 million. VUSAC has negotiated the specifics of the budget with admin since September.

Unlike the Student Commons, a centre for all St. George students, Vic students will not be able to approve or reject the proposed increase in fees with a referendum. Instead, the decision to ratify the hike in student fees will be made solely by VUSAC when members of the council vote on decision on Feb. 5.

“We thought it would be a lot more efficient to get it done like this,” said Janeiro. “We feel that we are a very good organization at getting student feedback. Rather than having to waste time and money mounting a ‘Yes’ campaign and then getting a ‘No’ campaign started and then having to set up polling stations or [go] online or anything like that, we decided that the best way to do it would be to use ourselves as a representative body of students.”

VUSAC has sent out representatives to talk with students and the heads of clubs to gather opinions. It has also worked closely with the Strand, Victoria College’s student newspaper, to spread awareness.

“I’m as confident that VUSCAC speaks for everyone at Vic as much as any other government speaks for anyone,” said Jason Hunter, Vic’s dean of students. “I don’t think that we would go ahead and do it without the approval of VUSAC.”

“We have faced some opposition, of course,” said Janeiro, but said students have given mostly positive feedback. “There’s not been a huge protest,” Hunter said.

Janeiro said he hoped VUSAC would ratify the fee hike and avoid any delays. “We want to get the shovel in the ground as soon as possible so that students that are at Vic right now will be able to profit from the centre.”

Here comes the sun

Like today’s food industry, technology is going organic.

Research recently published by Dr. Greg Scholes and Elisabetta Collini of the Department of Chemistry, the Institute for Optical Sciences, and the Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control at the University of Toronto is at the forefront of the organic revolution.

“In general, the theme of our lab is to understand how light interacts with materials at the nanoscale level and how these interactions can help develop future technology,” explains Scholes. Specifically, this new research involves the study and manipulation of unique molecules known as conjugated polymers.

Conjugated polymers are large organic molecules composed of small repeating units. Since the 1950s, it has been known that these conjugated polymers can interact with light to let the molecule emit a unit of light known as a photon. This type of technology is currently used in new models of super thin televisions that contain organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).

“In conjugated polymer systems once we apply a voltage, the plus and minus charges come together at some point in the plastic (polymer) and it is now in an excited state,” says Scholes. What happens after this excited state is the main focus of research involving these polymeric systems. “Once this excited state is achieved the energy can be transferred along the chain throughout the system or it can emit light as is the case for OLEDs,” he adds.

Instead of emitting light, the desired result with organic solar cells is energy transference along the polymer chains. These cells will eventually encounter an interface where the electrical energy is extracted. “Today’s solar cells contain a semiconductor, which releases energy carries after excitation,” says Scholes. “But with organic solar cells, energy transfer [and not carriers] is involved and we need to design it completely differently.”

Like all plastics, polymers contain impurities that can take the excited energy of the polymer, usually dissipating it as unwanted heat. “Since it is very difficult to remove these impurities, another approach is for the energy to travel between different types of materials,” says Scholes. However, a new problem arises out of this method: there is no control over the energy transfer—instead, it “hops” along randomly.

“To control this transfer, we used quantum effects,” explains Scholes. A team of scientists used a powerful short-pulsed laser to alter the conjugated polymers to a new state of coherence. This quantum coherence means it is simultaneously in two different states. In this case, the system is in its normal ground state as well as an excited state, due to the laser pulses.

“We put the system in a purely quantum mechanical state and asked the question: can it move?” says Scholes. “Normally it shouldn’t do anything at all, especially at room temperature where a complex system like this is easily destroyed.” However, the researchers found that “the system can be in this quantum superposition state and actually move—just like energy—even at room temperature.”

Scholes and Collini’s discovered that energy transfer between molecules isn’t random hopping, and that a quantum mechanical reasoning and logic are behind this energy movement. Their research shows that these complex coherent states can actually exist and move at room temperature, not just at sub-zero levels as previously thought.

This research will not only advance the area of solar cells, it could potentially develop the field of quantum computing. Specifically, data storage and processing would be much faster and more efficient than today’s conventional computers.

For now, polymer chemistry needs improvement in order to develop successful organic solar cells. One of the major drawbacks of organic solar cells is their efficiency, which is much lower than modern cells. Dr. Scholes is optimistic about the future. “The next step is to understand what makes one polymer a better semiconductor than another one and then design a plastic that has all these properties.”

Scholes believes that this new research will spark the possibility of better and cheaper future organic technologies. “This research resonates in many areas of quantum physics and we hope it will inspire research worldwide,” says Scholes.

Paradise regained

Paul Stevens’s office is nondescript—largely undecorated, with a plain view. The walls are bare, except for one, which is lined from floor to ceiling with books. This eclectic library is the first clue to the mixed bag of Stevens’s diversity and scope of knowledge.

Professor Stevens, as any of his students can say, is remarkably talented at enriching his lectures with topics that run the gamut from the hellfire sermons of puritan America to the made-for-TV movie he watched last night. Combined with his unpretentious wit and genuine interest in student dialogue, it is no wonder Stevens is one of 10 finalists chosen by TVO as the best lecturers in Canada.

Adam Lee, a student of Stevens, described him as “ultra casual. You would think by the way he includes the students in the class that he was just speaking off-the-cuff, but then he begins to spin an elaborate web of an idea.”

Fellow student Cindy Williams echoed this sentiment. “He was always able to give context to very complex concepts,” she said. “He made 17th century literature come alive, [with] often outrageous and irreverent humour.”

“Milton’s Satan is a presence in our culture,” Stevens told me. “You can actually see how it’s genealogically linked. How someone reading in the late 18th century, reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, then produces a character like the Indian called Magwar, a version of Milton’s Satan.”

“And then somebody else reads that, and produces another version. For example, Byron’s Corsaire, a pirate, who’s just like Milton’s Satan. But where it gets really fascinating is that that seeps into Hollywood. Byron’s Corsaire will become Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and you can run it right up to recent times, where it always seems to me that when I’m looking at the artist formerly known as Prince, it’s a kind of version of a Byronic hero, and that Byronic hero is itself a version of Satan.”

Stevens’s experiences reflect his diversity of knowledge. Rather than following the typical academic path, Stevens said he was “absolutely, totally, infatuated with the army,” and enlisted at 18.

He fought for three years as an ordinary soldier, and then went to university. After earning his Master’s degree, he returned to the army as an officer and performed a wide range of duties, from commanding a rifle platoon in Northern Ireland to guarding Rudolph Hess, a Nazi war criminal who was held in West Berlin. “What fascinated me about it was a sense of joining history, that you were part of that history,” said Stevens on guarding Hess, “which, at that age, was very exciting.”

After two years back in the army, he said he missed the openness of intellectual life and returned.

Stevens uses his wide-ranging knowledge and experience to make literature relevant and vital to his students. In studying Milton, he said he wants the students to discover “the roots of their own culture, or the culture in which they live.”

Chemicals That Changed The World: Botulinum toxin

Imagine a super-toxin thousands of times more potent than dioxin and millions of times more deadly than rattlesnake venom. The botulinum neurotoxin, produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, is one of the most poisonous substances known to science. A mere 0.1 grams of this toxin could kill more people than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. A few grams could wipe out the entire population of Canada.

Not surprisingly, botulinum toxin is widely feared as a biological weapon. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies the substance as a Category A bioterrorism agent. Many organizations have developed recommendations to defend against possible attacks. Fortunately, the toxin is unstable and degrades over time, limiting its utility as a biological weapon.

Botulinum toxin is also a concern in the food industry. Foods contaminated with the bacterium can harbor lethal amounts of the toxin, yet smell and taste completely fresh. Canned foods are especially prone because the bacterium thrives in oxygen-free environments. Luckily for us, the toxin is easily destroyed at temperatures over 60°C—just another reason to cook your food.

Despite its extreme potency, botulinum toxin can sometimes be desirable, even beneficial. Every year, millions of people are injected with the toxin, not as victims of terrorism, but as patients of cosmetic and medicinal treatments. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved Botox—as it is commonly known—for a variety of cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. At minute doses, Botox can reduce facial wrinkles and treat a variety of disorders, including pain, involuntary muscle contractions, and excessive sweating.

Botulinum toxin kills in much the same way it heals—by paralyzing the muscles. At lethal doses, paralysis of the chest muscles responsible for breathing leads to respiratory failure and eventual death. However, at sub-lethal doses, the toxin affects only muscles at the site of injection, allowing it to treat rather than to kill. For example, paralysis of the facial muscles reduces wrinkles, while paralysis of the sweat glands reduces sweating.