South Asian Studies moves to Munk

Due to dwindling enrolment, the South Asian Studies undergrad program is moving in with its graduate counterpart at the Munk Centre’s Asian Institute. Longer-term plans include eliminating SAS majors and specialists.

Starting September, the course-code prefix NEW for South Asian Studies courses offered from New College will be replaced by SAS. The change comes with a shift in the program’s priorities.

“This is a good time to rethink what we want the program to do,” said Chelva Kanaganayakam, program director of Munk’s grad program. “We feel the program should make [students] more competitive in the workplace.” He said the program should take the market into account.

“Undergrads who take this program are not necessarily going to do South Asian Studies as a career. They aren’t going to do an MA and a PhD in SAS and become professors. They might join an NGO, or a bank. What do they need?”

Kanaganayakam’s answer: a program that is “smaller and more robust.” With limited resources, some courses will have to go. Introductory Sanskrit will be axed next year. Intro to Bengali is on the chopping block after next year, pending community funding.

“Given our resources, do we put that money into languages, or do we offer more broad-based courses on certain topics that will lead to a coherent program?” asked Kanaganayakam.

“It has now become increasingly clear that South Asia is an important player in global economics […] I wonder, if students were given courses that dealt with current economic, political, and social concerns, would they respond to those courses more favourably?”

Kanaganayakam expressed hopes that better-attended courses will convince the community to come forward with funding for more courses. But for now, a draft of the centre’s four-year plan states that the major and specialist programs will be eliminated between 2011 and 2014. Such a move will require approval from the Faculty of Arts & Science Council.

The Peace and Conflict Studies program is also moving to Munk, though its offices will stay at University College for now.

Migration to the Munk Centre won’t solve SAS’s basic problem of not having its own department. The 25 South Asianists on campus are paid by various departments, whose priorities they have to consider ahead of the SAS centre.

SAS offers few courses itself, its major and specialist requirements comprising mostly courses from outside departments. Equity Studies, African Studies, and Caribbean Studies, which are among the programs that will remain at New College, face the same restrictions.

Alissa Trotz, director of Caribbean Studies, said that these programs all lack recognition from the Faculty of Arts & Science as “theory-producing” areas.

“Shoestring funding exists for programs like ours that are at odds with the demand for courses, which could be greater if we had more resources,” said Trotz.

“With the current financial climate, I don’t think we can go to the university and ask for more resources,” Kanaganayakam said. “It would be futile to even attempt something like that.”

For now, the rest of the New College programs are staying put. “We work well with our colleagues at the Munk,” said Trotz. “But Caribbean Studies is quite happy in New College at the moment. The kind of social justice and equity concerns that are at the heart of the New College intellectual mandate are also central to the Caribbean Studies program.”

Complicating community ecology

Assistant professor Karl Cottenie of the University of Guelph has a bone to pick with the way some ecologists calculate an ecological community’s complexity.

Complexity is a measure of how many species can be found in a habitat and how these species interact with one another. A general rule is that complexity decreases as distance from the equator increases. For example, compare the ecological density of a tropical rainforest to that of the arctic tundra.

To understand how complex a habitat is, one can take a reductionist approach and look at a single food-chain stratus, also known as a trophic level. Alternatively, a larger local guild—all the organisms sharing a common resource or niche—can be analyzed. The challenge for ecologists is to combine trophism and local guilds to evaluate the complexity of an entire community.

This is necessary because community ecologists are interested in understanding which community-shaping factors can be linked to variations in complexity. For instance, how does the depth of a pool influence the complexity of the community living within it? This requires the ability to assess complexity under different conditions.

Many researchers in this field use the calculated value “species richness”—a number calculated from a variety of factors, including the number of species found, the area of the habitat, and other factors influencing complexity—to describe the complexity of a community. Dr. Cottenie disagrees with this approach. His work disputes the validity of the species richness term in an effort to “formalize a rant [he’s] had for the last decade.”

Cottenie explains that he can’t see the advantage of reducing a complex web of species interactions to a single number. He believes that the species richness formula ignores a great deal of information about community dynamics that is critical to a comprehensive understanding of community ecology.

In a seminar room filled with students and faculty of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cottenie asked who in the audience had used species richness as a dependent variable in a graph. A few sheepish hands rose amid laughter.

“There are certain aspects of that reduction that [when performed intelligently] make sense,” he said. But throughout his talk, Cottenie tried to convince listeners that a more detailed analysis is required to properly explain community ecology.

Cottenie believes scientists should use a multi-variate approach, breaking communities down into components such as environment, the number of species that can be found around a habitat, and the connectivity to other habitats. Only then can the complexity of a community be analyzed for the diversity contributed by a number of variables. By breaking down species richness into various sub-factors, Cottenie believes that more information can be extracted about a community’s structuring forces than by reducing the set to a single “species richness” calculation.

Cottenie confessed that he is one of the few ecologists who hates field work, so his case studies draw upon work performed by collaborators, including work from the fields of Belgium, the marshlands of Spain, and the wetlands of Southern Ontario. In total, he’s analyzed 156 datasets using both the species richness and the composition approach.

Through this statistical analysis, Cottenie showed that the composition approach was often able to find patterns of variation the species richness approach would miss. He found that the composition approach is better equipped to detect the nuances of influence imparted by each of the contributing variables.

Cottenie admitted that species richness was able to predict some aspects of population variation, but it was ineffective at capturing the effects of spatial variables. Therefore, applying species richness as a dependent variable can prevent researchers from observing important processes.

“My take from this is that species richness is often fiction,” stated Cottenie.

Instead, he believes ecologists need to embrace the complexity they are trying to study, not hide behind the single, catch-all figure of species richness. To understand complexity, it must be studied as a whole.

While this analysis is useful to community ecologists trying to understand existing communities and the forces that shape them, it has practical applications as well. This type of examination is important in planning the expansion of threatened habitats and dealing with the devastating affects of invasive species.

“Community ecology is in an exciting time,” said Cottenie. Describing the discovery of new tools that make variation decomposition easier than ever, Cottenie wants to convince ecologists to banish species richness from their y-axes.

Can Saskatchewan pay you to move there?

Saskatchewan is hungry for grads. This week, its premier, Brad Wall, heads to Toronto this week to promote his province’s offer: up to $20,000 to move to Saskatchewan and stay there for seven years. Wall will hit the National Job Fair and the Grab-a-Grad fair on Tuesday and Wednesday, in his second recruitment drive in seven months.

Saskatchewan’s Graduate Retention Program offers tuition rebates to students from approved universities and programs in the form of tax credits.

“This is a serious situation when our best and brightest could be lost to us forever,” Conservative leader Bob Runciman told the Canadian Press. He added that workers were already leaving Ontario because they could not find jobs. Without government incentives to keep them here, the brain drain would only worsen, Runciman said.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty begged to differ. CP reports that McGuinty said 100,000 jobs in Ontario remain unfilled, despite the loss of 160,000 jobs since October and a higher unemployment rate.

“My competition is not the rest of Canada,” McGuinty said, pointing to states like New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and California.

Wall will attend the job fairs with his delegation, which includes Regina and Saskatoon mayors.

The National Job Fair takes place March 31 and April 1 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The Grab-a-Grad Fair takes place April 1 at Ryerson, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

More information about the Graduate Retention Program can be found at

What are the odds?

It’s “Rrroll Up The Rim To Win” season again, and many Ontarians may be surprised to learn they’re less likely than other residents across the nation to win a car in the contest.

Commencing in February and concluding at the end of May, Tim Horton’s “Roll Up The Rim” promotion has been popular in Canada and the United States for the past 13 years. In 2006, it was revealed that the odds of winning a prize—particularly a Toyota—were skewed in favor of Quebec residents, whose chance of winning a car was reported to be one in four million. Ontario residents had a one in 11 million chance at the grand prize.

The “Roll Up The Rim” website assures everyone that the odds are the same everywhere, by mentioning that the odds in favor of winning any prize in Canada are 1:9. Based on the detailed account of distributed cups and prizes among the eight different regions, U of T mathematics and statistics professor Jeremy Quastel commented, “This makes sense: they just divided the total number of cups distributed by the total number of prizes in order to obtain 1:9 odds.”

The website adds that “Tim Hortons audits the 1:9 odds daily while producing Roll Up The Rim To Win cups. Auditor reports are monitored weekly to ensure odds are always 1:9.”

“How do they audit the cups produced? There are so few winning cups, especially for the Toyota,” commented Quastel. “How do they manufacture these? For the small prizes it’s easy, because so many of these winning cups are manufactured, but how do they produce the cups with the bigger prizes, like the car? And how do they decide which stores will receive the winning cups? How do they get these cups into the store? Someone must sneak in at night and mix these cups with all of the others.”

As well, the 1:9 odds are only based on the sum total; when the numbers are examined individually for each region, it is clear that there are inequalities.

The numbers released by Tim Horton’s showed the odds were in favor of those purchasing cups in the “Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories, and Yukon” (ASNTY) and “Atlantic provinces, Gaspesie, Iles-de-la Madeleine” regional groupings. Participants in these groups are two times more likely to win a Toyota than those in Ontario.

Individual statistics for each region showed the number of cups distributed in each and the odds of winning each of the prizes. In British Columbia, two winning Toyota cups were distributed in 2006 and the odds of winning were one in 7,990,500. In the ASNTY regional grouping, four Toyotas were distributed in 2006 and the odds of winning were one in 6,077,750.

In Ontario, however, the odds were not as good. Eight Toyotas were distributed and the odds of winning were one in 11,353,500. The probability of winning in the Quebec and Labrador regional group were one in 4,037, with four Toyotas distributed.

Looking at the “Rules and Regulations” section of the Tim Horton’s website, not much has changed since 2006. The number of cups distributed to each region has increased and so has the number of prizes. Therefore, the proportion of cups to prizes for each region has remained the same as it was three years ago.

For some consumers, this reality may make “Roll Up The Rim” less exciting, and they may be less inclined to purchase coffee at Tim Horton’s, particularly in Ontario.

Greg Skinner, a spokesperson for Tim Horton’s, told the CBC in 2006, “There are only 30 cars. If it was all equalized, some places, like P.E.I. or New Brunswick, might not get one at all. This is just about trying to create some excitement.”

However, Ontario residents may not see their lesser likelihood of winning as “exciting.”

Court orders Quebec profs to back down

Striking professors at the Université du Québec à Montréal are to tone down their tactics in the last days of the semester, the Quebec Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday. Judge Jean-François de Grandpré granted a 10-day injunction that bans any attempts to intimidate students, staff and faculty, or to block them from entering campus buildings.

UQAM professors are demanding wage increases of 11 per cent over three years and the employment of 300 additional staff. The injunction came after recent one-day strikes and a five-day strike last week, which shut down classes Wednesday and Thursday. Professors have been without contract for nearly two years. Their union, SPUQ, rejected an offer two weeks ago. The offer promised 25 new hires and an immediate four per cent wage hike, according to UQAM.

Last week, online commentators expressed outrage that professors are striking for higher wages during a recession.

“We’re not going to be able to support this [influx of students] so this is the time to invest,” said Carey Nelson, a UQAM language instructor and SPUQ negotiator. Nelson told The Varsity that student enrolment generally increases in difficult economic times, when chances of employment are scarce.

Cries for funding also come in the wake of a 2007 audit that found UQAM on the edge of bankruptcy, due to badly planned real estate undertakings that cost up to $750 million. UQAM professor Beatrix Beisner recently told the CBC that these losses should not have affected professors’ salaries, which she said fall short of their counterparts at other Quebec schools.

“Why should the university suffer as a whole—in terms of its major mandate, which is education—why should that suffer?” Beisner asked.

UQAM has reassured students that classes taught by lecturers, who are represented by a different union and are not striking, will keep running and that the trimester will end as planned. Negotiations between professors and university administration are scheduled to resume after April 6, when professors will return to the university.

With files from Hilary Barlow

Gastronomy: Natural Laxatives

There is a vast array of bathroom-friendly literature available to North Americans. Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series comprises nearly one hundred books, and begs the question: why are North Americans spending so much time in the bathroom? The “constipation epidemic” is common in developed countries, though many choose not to actively address the issue.

According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, “[It’s] estimated that constipation affects nearly 15 per cent of the North American population, or 42 million persons in the United States alone.” Poor diet is generally the cause, evidenced by the wide range of laxative products on the market today. There are numerous adverse side effects to laxative use, such as electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and altered nutrient absorption. Many natural dietary alternatives provide the same benefit while posing no health risk.

Throughout history, some common cures have included aloe vera, buckthorn, basil leaves, dandelion, chamomile, flowering spurge, cinnamon, peppermint, wild indigo, and tamarind. Many of these plants are still used today, commonly incorporated into teas, cooking, and supplements.

Prune juice is one of the most well known and, similar to figs and dates, their laxative effect can be attributed to high fibre content. Bananas, prunes, walnuts, and seaweed are all examples of foods that lubricate the intestines. Papaya, sweet potato, and figs promote bowel movements. Flaxseed and psyllium seed are examples of demulcent herbs that reduce bowel irritation. Fennel, bran, senna leaf, ginger, and cayenne pepper also promote digestive health. In general, a high-fibre diet, fresh juices, and plenty of water act as natural colon cleansers. Foods to avoid include fatty, fried, and processed foods—all of which have come to play a huge role in modern diets.

“Natural laxatives help stimulate peristaltic effect on the large intestine to get rid of the digested residue,” says family physician Dr. Meenaz M. “Regular cleansing not only helps improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also raises your energy levels.”

Paying better attention to gastrointestinal health can prevent a myriad of illnesses. Laxative abuse can result in a wide range of complications, such as gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, liver problems, and bowel ulcerations. Some of these digestive diseases are virtually unheard of in developing nations such as Africa, where intake of fruits and vegetables is high. Embrace some of these foods into your daily diet—your colon will be thankful.

Grad assistants vote on strike mandate

Graduate assistants could go on strike, if they vote to approve a strike mandate today. A positive vote gives the CUPE local 3907, the union representing 310 graduate assistants at OISE and U of T, the right to strike if negotiators are unsatisfied with admin’s offered terms of contract.

The strike would interrupt, and possibly halt, professors’ research projects.

“Essentially the university’s taken a hard line, claiming financial difficulties as a result of the recession,” said Ajamu Nangwaya, the union’s chair external.

The union has been in negotiations with U of T admin since November. After a period of unsuccessful negotiations, conciliation meetings are ordered.

“The university met with the union on Friday and several dates, towards the end of April, have been set aside to continue the negotiations,” Angela Hildyard, VP of human resources and equity, said in an email to The Varsity.

Nangwaya said admin is taking away seniority rights, reducing working hours necessary for GA status and increasing the number of half-year contracts over eight-month ones. He also said U of T is offering an annual salary increase of roughly 1.75 per cent in comparison to the three percent other CUPE locals receive.

Earlier this year, teaching assistants in CUPE local 3902 reached a settlement with U of T after months of negotiations and an approved a strike mandate.

U of T grad assistants vote today at 1 p.m., in OISE room 214.

Hub of the university

Renowned faculty and alumni. World-class facilities. Top-notch programs that offer limitless discovery. Yes, the University of Toronto clearly has its spot among the most highly regarded universities on the planet.

There just seems to be one thing left for the school to hang its hat on: a vibrant university sports scene.

It’s hardly the Blues’ fault. Just walk through the Athletic Centre on any spring day and try not to notice all the OUA Championship banners Varsity Blues teams have raked in this past year hanging in the main lobby. Clearly, there’s a lot worth cheering for.

It’s possible the shadows of the old Varsity Stadium still linger, bringing to mind memories of an ugly, crumbling mass, desperately in need of repair. The same could describe the university’s most ridiculed, and unfortunately, most publicized sports program, the men’s football team.

So maybe that’s why, in the summer of 2002, bulldozers mercifully demolished the stadium, in an attempt to take out some of the stink from the armpit of the campus.

With the emergence of the Varsity Centre out of its stale ashes, the Faculty of Physical Education and Health looks to the future in hopes of building a strong, stable university sports scene, bringing the Varsity Blues back to its glory days.

The first step involved hiring Diamond & Schmitt, an internationally recognized architecture firm and no stranger to the St. George campus (their portfolio includes the Bahen Centre for Information Technology and the Davenport Wing of the Lash Miller chemistry building), to design and execute the new Varsity Stadium.

Duncan Higgins, the project manager for the first phase, said that Bruce Kidd, the Dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, came to Diamond & Schmitt’s design team with a clear vision for the new stadium. Instead of one closed to campus by high brick walls, Kidd wanted a stadium that was welcoming and inclusive to the community as a whole.

“That was defined as the goal by the dean and […] we had to work very hard with the city to maintain that and make sure that happened,” said Higgins.

This resulted in an open fence along the perimeter of the stadium giving passersby a clear view of the field. The fence also provides places for groups of people to gather, like the front entrance to Varsity Centre on Bloor Street and the corner of Devonshire Place. Today, a raised plaza allows anyone to sit comfortably and watch the action inside.

More than that, the new stadium features first-class facilities, such as the field turf and the track circling the field. Both have the highest possible rating by their respective international bodies. This summer, the stadium will host a world-class track and field meet on June 11 featuring Olympic triple gold medalist and world record holder Usain Bolt.

“[The new Varsity Stadium] will give a real new focus and a sense of pride to people that are involved in the athletics departments at the university,” said Higgins. “There will no longer be the embarrassment.”

Revitalizing the sports culture at U of T clearly is not an overnight project, even with a brand new $92-million state-of-the-art Varsity Centre. It will require years of successful planning and execution on the part of alumni, faculty, athletes, and students.

Masha Sidorova, an ex-Varsity Blues athlete and recent grad of the U of T’s Physical Education program currently completing her Sports and Event Marketing degree from George Brown, was a member of the Varsity Centre’s implementation committee as the co-chair of the Council of Athletics and Recreation from 2006 to 2008.

Sidorova said the Council started to target first year students in 2007. By informing frosh leaders about Varsity sports and educating them on important resources, such as websites for Varsity team schedules and how to book a section at Varsity Stadium, they encourage colleges and faculty to get in the game.

“That helps you set the ground and build that tradition right from the get-go,” said Sidorova. “[First years] can learn from their leaders and peers that this is what we do at U of T, or this is something cool to participate in.”

Sidorova believes students can decide for themselves during their first few weeks at school whether supporting U of T sports teams will be something they participate in.

“Not when they’re almost done university […] and thinking ‘Wow! I didn’t know we had a swim team and we hold national championships,’” says Sidorva. “[They need to know] that we have a tennis team and rugby team involved in great competitions and [they] have the ability to watch them.”

Judging by the much-increased support for the football team’s home games, the hard work is paying off. For example, on Sept 3, 2007, over 3,000 fans showed up for their first-ever game played at the new stadium. Last year, decent crowds turned out to watch the team dramatically snap their 49-game losing streak on a last-second field goal, and witness a second victory at home with a blowout win over rival York.

Sidorova believes the university can get the word out by making more students aware of the Athletic Centre. Game events are posted inside the building and on U of T’s main home page daily.

One idea that was kicked around involved high-definition monitors, which are found at or near the front entrances to most buildings throughout the campus, to post Varsity game times and locations. Yet colleges and facilities that host these monitors have the right to display whatever content they want. One could logically assume Hart House would want to use their monitors to inform people about an upcoming show performed at their theatre, or that the Medical Science Building would want to tell others about their seminars.

A possible solution could involve cross-promotion. For example, the Medical Science Building could agree to promote men and women’s basketball games and in return the Athletic Centre would promote graduate programs that may interest some Physical Education undergrads.

As for now, supporters are using a wait-and-see approach to see if the seeds planted in first-year students will begin to grow, blossom, and spread to others.

“I think sports are extremely important and […] it’s a memory that you can take away and bring home,” said Sidorova. “Obviously, winning helps too.”