Editorial: Down but not out

At the end of the year, it is customary practice for The Varsity’s outgoing Editor In Chief to write an editorial, dictating the hope and promise for future generations to come (who will stumble across this 2008/2009 bound volume en route to hooking up with a first-year copy editor in the archive room). If The Varsity is truly a record, the thoughts and aspirations of a generation in becoming, this editorial holds weight. So what can I say?

We’re fucked.

We’re the generation that’s fucked. We’re Tara-Reid-on-Quaaludes, three-sheets-to-the-wind-fucked. We’re Osama Bin Laden, caught-in-a-cave fucked. We’re “I’ve-got-an-exam-in-two-hours-and-I-can’t-even-remember-the-fucking-course-code” fucked.

Welcome to Generation Recession. Now skip off to grad school to delay your quarter-life crisis by an extra dime.

I’m writing this in Robarts right now, amongst the natives. The Commerce student beside me is asleep at his desk with his headphones on. He looks like a drooling angel. Aside from the fluorescent triangles and strains of hip hop from laptop speakers on too loud, this is a certain vision of utopia. The knowledge economy, doing what they do best. A quick walk-around survey of laptop screens belies Facebook chat and Wikipedia crib notes—but how can I judge? I’m currently YouTubing the last episode of America’s Next Top Model with a paper a week overdue. I’m fucked, but at least I acknowledge it.

What’s not okay is that our university administration is trying to cope with the recession through the just-passed Flat Fees program, a terrifying initiative on the way to a creepier, privatized regime, making us the Harvard of the North Korea. Forcing students to pay for courses they’re not even taking is not a way to sort out U of T’s finances, David Naylor. Some of us have to work while we’re in school. Some of us have to pay our own rent. And some of us live in basement apartments, surviving on ramen noodles, where we regularly find ourselves trying to write a philosophy paper after an eight hour shift, overhearing our roommates have especially vigorous sex with their boyfriends from North Bay. (I’m speaking entirely hypothetically here.)

My point is that while students consider it a privilege to go to U of T, U of T should consider it a privilege to have us. No one is more ambitious and less satisfied than a U of T student. We have less sex, more stress, and higher tuition than the students at Guelph, and are enjoying ourselves the least out of any school in Canada, according to Maclean’s anyway. What are we fighting for? Why suffer through lower marks, bigger classes, and more competition if the future’s hopeless anyway?

Shouldn’t I have gone to Trent?

U of T students might be down, but they’re not out. We’re resilient and smart enough to make our education work for us, even if the administration couldn’t care less. And that starts with following your passion, and trying to do some good for your community, no matter what the consequences are.

Throughout my five years of school and 100 issues editing The Varsity, I’ve thought long and hard about what it means to be a university student, and in particular, a student journalist. It’s an experience adults tell us we’ll never have again—the opportunity to study what we want, how we want to study it, and what’s more, our future is completely in our hands. Coming from a teeny surburban high school where I was lucky to have gym class, I wanted to be a cultural critic but didn’t know how. Luckily I found the (weird, hella incestuous) community of U of T journalism—first writing about music for the Innis Herald, working my way through The Strand, The Gargoyle to finally editing The Varsity—an experience that allowed me to pursue a career writing about the arts for SPIN, EYE Weekly, and the Village Voice. Could I have done it if I was plagued with student loans well into the thousands, with a full-time course load? Hell, I’m barely passing with my credit and a half.

My point is that your education doesn’t have to be what you learn in class. It can be many things—staying up all hours of the night to put out a magazine highlighting Toronto’s 25 artists 25 and under, fighting with your co-workers about whether to italicize an obscure scientific report, and working on something you really care about with the people you care about. (Thanks to the extremely dedicated and talented Varsity staff. I am lucky to call you both comrades and colleagues.)

When your dream dies, zombify that shit. Like Gene Simmons says, “Life is too short not to have delusional notions about yourself.” Here’s hoping yours can live on even in a time of economic disparity, Generation Recession. We’re rooting for everything we know you can achieve.

Yours truly,

Chandler Levack
Editor In Chief
The Varsity Newspaper

Hot Jocks

Alex Mclaren – Rugby

This fourth-year rugby star puts it simply: “I’m a 10. That’s what it comes down to.” But perhaps Mclaren should consider describing his appeal in letters, explaining that his entire team is “an interesting combination of all that good stuff: they’re really fit and muscular and then really smart because they all have A averages and get a bunch of academic awards.” When Mclaren isn’t playing rugby or acing his commerce courses, he runs his own record store, plays guitar, and dreams of putting his brains to good use by becoming a professor of economics.

Matthew Morris – Football

Morris was a key part of the Blues team that snapped the 49-game losing streak and was U of T’s sole representative at this year’s CFL Evaluation Camp. But this star defensive back and fourth-year history major actually started out playing baseball. “I always wanted to play football as a kid, but my parents didn’t want me to play […] they were scared of the violent nature of the game,” he says. Ever since Morris made the transition to football, he’s had the swagger, the confidence, the body, and the talent to be a hot jock and to pursue his dream of playing in the CFL.

Suzannah Moore – Rowing

This second year sociology student describes a hot jock as someone who is “determined, dedicated to the sport, and to their team members” which makes her the perfect candidate. She explains that rowing “is a team sport […] there’s a connection that you build with your teammates that I don’t think any other sport allows.” Moore shows her commitment by waking up at the “ungodly hour” of 4:30 a.m. for practice—a feat she’s accomplished ever since she began rowing in Grade 10 in her hometown of Peterborough. When she isn’t rowing, Moore dedicates herself to dance as a member of the Vic Dance team.

Erin McNeely – Basketball

Only a third-year physical education student, McNeely has already accomplished so much. Perhaps this is because she got a head start by skipping the second grade. McNeely’s played soccer, and has participated in dance and gymnastics, but it was basketball that stuck. “My dad played and really loves the game so that kind of egged me on,” she says. Lucky for us, McNeely was part of the Blues team that went to the CIS Nationals last year. While she dreams of returning to the nationals and opening her own physiotherapy practice, for now, NcNeely says, “I’m comfortable with myself. I like who I am. I like being an athlete, and I just kind of go with it.”

Nick Magalas – Basketball

Magalas, a fourth-year religion specialist, must have received his abdominals from a higher power. Magalas started playing basketball, his “one love” at five years old,

which he suggests might have been the work of “divine intervention.” This Burlington native attributes his choice of U of T to aggressive recruitment, and credits the University with “making a player out of him.” Magalas began the season with a 36-point performance against Ryerson, giving him the confidence to be “the man.” Born October 7th, Magalas is extremely balanced, on and off the court.

Viv Chan – Volleyball

Perhaps the best way to describe Chan is versatile. Chan excels at both indoor and beach volleyball, and is very committed to her sport. She plays as a libero, a defensive specialist that wears a different coloured jersey, and dubs herself “the backcourt general.” Trained as a setter and a left side hitter, Chan was summoned off the bench in a crucial match against Queen’s, leading her team to victory. A Sagittarius that aims high, this “tomboy with funk and style” wants to become a chemistry teacher.

The spoils of war

As my mom and I discussed our short but successful shopping spree on the way back, an older man stepped onto the train and sat opposite my mom. We continued to talk, oblivious to our surroundings, until the man, seeing our headscarves, exclaimed “Assalamualaikum” (Peace be upon you), the Islamic greeting of well being. We muttered replies under our breaths, wishing him peace but not wanting to communicate with a stranger.

I could see his reflection clearly in the glass window next to me. He stared at the empty seat beside him and began to talk. “You are all my brothers and sisters. I am Iraqi, I am the son of Baghdad.” His voice rose with patriotism and his tone became passionate. “I am the son of Baghdad! Baghdad was a city of scientists and geniuses, now look what it has become. I love Baghdad, but I am here. You are all my sisters.” And then, a realization dawned upon him. “I am 58 and I am about to die,” he said in a soft voice, “and I haven’t seen my sister in 27 years.” He repeated this last sentence painfully, over and over, reminiscing about the last time he had seen her. And then, with his voice filled with anger and hatred, “Bush is the enemy of God and humanity. Harper…”

“Excuse me sir, we understand you. Now please take a seat or leave the train, yalla,” the driver intervened in a soft voice, practicing the little Arabic he knew. The man quieted down and stood in a corner, offering his spot to a woman who had entered the train with a stroller. I could see in the reflection how sad he looked. His gaze was glued to the floor, a bereaved expression on his face.

These are the real spoils of war. From what I gathered, he only witnessed it secondhand, but it affected him deeply. If the impact on a secondary victim of exaggerated political egos and unreasonable drives to power is so great, I do not want to imagine the mental state of the innocent children exposed to the inhumane conditions of war.

I wondered if the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still bore hatred deep within their hearts. And then I thought closer to home. Every few days, a fallen Canadian is brought back from Afghanistan from a war that is not ours to fight. We salute the soldier for his bravery and move on. But what of the thousands of men still fighting an endless and meaningless battle, and what about their hopeful families’ mental and emotional states? Those of the poor families living in war-torn districts? Children who must accept gunfire as their morning alarm and rocket launchers as fireworks, who have learned to live with missing family members and amputated limbs? Sadly, this isn’t unique to Afghanistan. What about Darfur? Zimbabwe? Northwestern Pakistan?

As I sat there and wondered how many more deaths and how many more familial and proprietal expropriations it would take to quench the political greed of a select few, I could do no more than share the dismal expression on the stranger’s face.

U of T marks Rwanda Week

Tuesday night saw the launch of Rwanda Week, a series of events to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, which runs until Saturday. All events are at 45 Willcocks Street, in the William Doo Auditorium.
The week’s events focus on recovery and healing in post-genocidal Rwanda.

“It is only through memories that we can establish anything peaceful,” said event organizer and genocide survivor Sharangabo Ntare. He added that raising awareness and listening to survivors’ stories is the only way genocide prevention is possible.

At the opening ceremony Tuesday, representatives to Toronto mayor David Miller proclaimed April 7 as the Day of Reflection on the Rwanda Genocide.

Doctors Without Borders founder James Orbinski will speak tonight. Friday evening will feature survivor testimonies and a televised interview with scholar Gerry Caplan, author of Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide. Saturday’s closing ceremonies will see poetry readings, musical guests and a candlelit healing procession, as well as a talk by Rwanda’s former justice minister.
All events are free and open to members of the public. For more information, head to www.newcollege.utoronto.ca/aboutnew/news.htm

Dirt on the mining industry

Few Canadians know that the majority of the world’s industrial mining companies are located in Canada. Many of those companies are responsible for violating human rights abroad through practices condemned by Amnesty International, NGOs, and human rights and church groups. In the Porgera mine of Papua New Guinea, villagers are routinely shot by mine guards, and there are numerous reports of rapes, detentions, and beatings by local militia and guards. Graham Russell of Rights Action, an advocacy group in Honduras and Guatemala, has recorded hundreds of instances of murder, torture, and beatings by mining companies. He notes that these cases are typical of abuses by Canadian mining companies operating abroad.

Environmentally, water depletion and water contamination are problems. Mines produce massive amounts of toxic waste that cause acid mine drainage and heavy metal contamination. Gold mining and metal processing uses vast amounts of water, often in drought stricken areas of the world such as Australia. It also utilizes dangerous chemicals such as cyanide in its leaching processes, posing a threat to local water systems, and releases deadly arsenic into ecosystems. Cyanide has caused havoc in water systems across the world with over 30 spills in the last five years.

An estimated 50 per cent of mining operations occur on native lands. For many indigenous people, who often rely on their environments for food and necessities, mining threatens not only their livelihood, but also their traditional way of life. Their lands tend to be vulnerable to encroachment because of their lack of power within their country’s political system; their land and water rights are often ignored and their environments destroyed. Examples include the Pueblo Diaguita, an indigenous group in Chile, trying to stop the Pascua Lama mine from destroying traditional lands, the Wiradjuri of Australia, the Western Shoshone of Nevada, and, closer to home, the Ardoch Algonquin.

Despite these problems, there are currently no laws to regulate what Canadian companies do abroad and no way to hold them accountable. According to the Canada’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, “Canada does not yet have laws to ensure that the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries conform to human rights standards, including the rights of workers and of indigenous peoples.”

The Norwegian Pension Fund decided to divest from Barrick Gold earlier this year. The Porgera mine has been a prime target for criticism because of its use of the local river for tailings disposal, a practice banned in almost every country in the world. Green Party deputy leader Adriane Carr has noted that, “It’s got to be bad news for Canada when a foreign government says it’s going to sell its shares in a Canadian company they figure is unethical.” According to Sakura Saunder of ProtestBarrick.net, a site dedicated to tracking the abuses of Barrick Gold, it is time for the rest of the world to catch up with Norway’s example.

In 2006, the government launched a series of national roundtables to find ways to ensure that Canadian mining companies operating abroad adhere to social responsibility standards. The process was recommended by the Commons’ Foreign Affairs committee. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government recently rejected the roundtable recommendations to tie diplomatic and economic support for Canadian extraction companies operating in developing countries to socially responsible conduct abroad. Liberal MP Bernard Patry called the government’s plan a “disgrace,” questioning why it took the government two years to put together what he believed was a worthless response. NGOs are holding the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Barrick Gold—neither of which participated in the roundtables—responsible. They point to letters that the two organizations sent to Canadian officials in the summer of 2007 warning against adopting the recommendations. Liberal MP John McKay has now tabled a private member’s bill looking to codify many of the roundtable recommendations in legislation.

It is well known that the University of Toronto accepted money from Barrick Gold CEO Peter Munk to build the Munk Centre for International Studies. U of T also trains engineers to enter the mining trade, and is financially tied to several Canadian mining companies, as well as to investment in the tar sands expansion. U of T even has a “Mining Building.” A U of T campus club, the Toronto Mining Support, recommend that U of T cut it ties to Barrick Gold, Munk, and the mining industry as a whole, on the grounds that the industry has proven unethical, socially irresponsible, and environmentally destructive. Corporate funding also endangers academic freedoms, as the case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri illustrates.

A conference on mining issues is scheduled at the University of Toronto for April 26. Participants include Protest Barrick, Rights Action, Bob Lovelace and Ardoch Algonquin, the Beehive Collective, presenters from Papau New Guinea, Chile, the Philippines, First Nations affected by the tar sands, Congo, and other affected communities. For more details go to www.underminingsustainability.worldpress.com or visit “A Question of Sustainability” on Facebook.

Editorial: Flat fees will hurt students

Turning points in history usually fly by unnoticed, only to be discovered in retrospect. But we’re pretty sure that 20 years from now, U of T students will look back at this as the week when everything changed.

The Faculty of Arts and Science Council has approved a program of flat fees for full-time undergraduate students. Next, the proposal will go to the Business Board, and eventually Governing Council. If it passes without amendment, by 2011, new students taking three to six courses will have to pay for five.

The proposal is deeply flawed, and it has been rushed through in a mere two weeks without proper deliberation, debate, or scrutiny. The diversity of opposition on campus is revealing. Student unions are, predictably, opposed, as are leftist groups on campus.

But the economics department also voted against the initiative. Several professors criticized it at the meeting. The Program Fees Implementation Committee, which reports to the faculty, had one student, the president of the Arts & Science Student Council. He claims that the only consensus reached by the committee was that September 2009 was too soon to implement the plan, due to lack of research. It’s clear this is not a normal policy change, with a broad coalition behind it. This radical proposal, a taking place at the largest faculty at U of T, will dramatically alter the culture and social makeup of our university.

Much has been written about the impact flat fees will have on student engagement. But there are even more important issues at stake. Flat fees are a tuition increase seemingly targeted at students least able to bear it: those who work long hours, parents, and caregivers.

With the flat fee threshold set at three courses—lower than other universities implementing flat fees, which have set thresholds at four or 4.5 courses—these students will have to pay full tuition or drop to part-time status. As part-time students, they will not receive interest-free OSAP, and will have access to fewer scholarships and bursaries. Even basic benefits like daycare subsidies are tough to obtain without full-time student status.

There has been a lot of arm waving about increased financial aid under the new system, but the fact is that Arts and Science will be in deficit years into the future with or without flat fees. It’s difficult to imagine where new aid would come from. There has also been no discussion of how it would be distributed. Would any be available to part-time students? What about students who don’t qualify for low-income bursary programs but must still finance their education through OSAP and bank loans?

We also note a number of troubling aspects to the Faculty of Arts & Science Committee meeting that passed a revised version of the initial plan on Monday.

The meeting itself was rushed. Twenty minutes was taken up by Dean Meric Gertler’s initial presentation in favour of the proposal, which left only an hour for discussion. Critics voiced their concern, and Gertler was given the chance to respond. No one else was granted such extensive speaking rights.

The initial proposal would have taken effect in September 2009. Under the revised plan, students with a course load of four credits will be considered full-time in September, and the threshold will be lowered to three credits for September 2011. The revision does not change the nature of the proposal, only lengthens the timeline. This is by no means a concession—it’s an obvious attempt to assuage the harshest critics in the here and now, to the detriment of future students who will be offered no part in the discussion.

This timeline shows that flat fees are a long-term change, though they are being pushed through due to a short-term problem—the suspension of endowment payoutsin the face of the recession, resulting in a $5-7 million forecasted deficit. Once implemented, flat fees are here to stay. Flat fees is a permanent response to a supposedly immediate problem.

At the meeting, Gertler was asked whether an increased course load would affect student life. Gertler stated that there is “no systematic evidence” that an intensified course load adversely affects student life. In fact, there is no evidence either way, because no one has conducted the research.

If systematic evidence is Gertler’s priority, you would think he would have supported a motion put forward by the St. Mike’s registrar, to effectively see how things go in 2009 and wait until later to pass the changes for 2011.

Gertler shot down this proposal on the basis that he wouldn’t ever want to be subject to the complaints he’s heard over the past two weeks again. Apparently, whatever burden flat fees will place on students is nothing compared to how public opinion taxes Meric Gertler.

But for the sake of future students, we hope that Gertler, Governing Council, and President David Naylor think hard about what all of those complaints mean. They mean that Arts & Science students don’t want to be burdened by yet another financial concern. They mean that undergrads are desperately trying cling to their fleeting extra-curricular lives. They mean that the needs of the students, the heart of this university, are being denied once again. If this is the turning point that defines this administration, then they should have turned down the other road.

Are you going to Scarborough? Better leave early

The term “Scarberia” originated in the ’60s and denotes a deserted area seemingly far from Toronto. For me, the word is a way of comparing Scarborough’s transit service to that of an underdeveloped hinterland.

All Torontonians have a love-hate relationship with the TTC, but anyone commuting from Scarborough would agree that we’ve been shafted. Scarborough has three meager subway stops. The Bloor line extends west through Etobicoke, and ends within sight of Mississauga. When you get to the east end of the line, Kennedy station, you can take a number of infrequent buses, or hop on the RT.

The deceptively named Rapid Transit line opened in 1985 after the TTC was charged with finding a way of connecting Toronto to the developing Scarborough Town Centre. Instead of building subways, the city opted for a cheaper solution by installing a rail line for above-ground passenger cars.

Originally, there were hopes that the RT line would reach Malvern and even Pickering. In the mid ’70s, political changes altered plans and budgets numerous times. Today, the RT is an embarrassing six stops long, five of which are barely used. When the car turns, it screeches like nails on a chalkboard. When it snows heavily, passengers are forced to map out alternative bus routes.

Most passengers get off the RT at the Scarborough Town Centre and descend two levels, where buses pull out as soon as passengers arrive. If it’s not rush hour, they’ll be waiting 30 minutes for the next bus to pull in late—if it comes at all. Instead of abundant rail lines, Scarberians have ended up with aging passenger cabins that won’t last another decade, complete with a make do system of connecting buses.

Scarborough residents who can’t afford personal transportation and don’t want to hurt the planet will only face more problems as the area grows substantially. One area of rapid growth is enrollment at Scarborough campus. UTSC has many commuting students, 57 per cent as of 2005. When the student union announces monthly metropass sales, a line extends well beyond 10 metres to the end of the Student Centre for at least two days.

At the campus UPASS referendum last year, students voted against an automatic metropass. The lack of an opt-out option is frequently cited as a reason, but perhaps students are frustrated with an inefficient, outdated system. Having taken courses on both campuses this semester, I have noted only two cases when the ride between Scarborough and St. George took under 60 minutes. People taking this commute are losing time that could be used for assignments, study, or even sleep.

The Ontario government is pushing a plan to extend the RT up to Sheppard Avenue by 2015, but this isn’t enough. The TTC has proposed its Transit City plans to build new light-rail lines around the city that connect and extend subway routes. These would essentially be trams with lanes separated from the streets, extending all the way out to Malvern and (thank God) UTSC by 2014.

After the plan was first advertised, UTSC students were buzzing. When it was announced that the 2015 Pan Am Games might take place at UTSC facilities, announcements continually highlighted the pressure it would put on Toronto to finally implement better transit.

I’m not asking for a perfect system, just something that actually works. It’s clear we have a plan that could solve a lot of looming problems, but a worldwide recession and urban-unfriendly federal government threaten these plans. Scarborough faces an inefficient, dying transit network. What governments, the TTC, and citizens need to do is opt for something more expensive that will pay off in the long run. Otherwise, Scarborough will be notorious city-wide for its Soviet-style efficiency.

Arts & Science council passes flat fees proposal

The Faculty of Arts and Science Council passed the flat fees proposal Monday, requiring all incoming students to pay a flat fee irrespective of their course load. Before it can be adopted, the proposal has to be voted on by the Business Board on April 27, and then by Governing Council.

Starting September 2011, all Arts & Science students taking three courses or more would pay for five. Students taking less than three would pay by the course. Currently, the average full-time student takes 4.5 courses.

ASSU president Colum Grove-White circulated a six-point document criticizing the proposal, which he said was fundamentally flawed.

Dean Meric Gertler cited the faculty’s projected $5- to $7-million deficit this year, due to the suspension of endowment payouts during the ongoing recession, and a near-$40 million cumulative deficit. “FAS is actually the last undergraduate division on the St. George campus to adopt a program fee,” said Gertler. “So this is not radical. There are many other universities in Ontario that charge their students on a program fee basis as well.”

Critics fear that the move will hurt low-income students and academia at U of T.

“I was unhappy with the proposal to charge students a flat fee, especially those taking three,” said St. Mike’s registrar Damon Chevrier. “I’ve worked directly with students since 1968. Pay-as-you-go has been a feature of life at Arts & Science since probably 1969 or 1970, and it has been what I would consider one of the strengths of the faculty.”

Gustavo Indart, an economics professor on the council, said it would be more fair to raise tuition than to implement flat fees. “What they’re doing now is penalizing students who are not taking a full load, who are going to be paying for something they’re not receiving. It’s a short-term solution–the solution should come from the main source of funding for universities, which is the government,” Indart said.

Students and professors have said that a threshold of three full courses is much too stringent, and one of the harshest in Ontario. Gertler said he expected that most students will step up to a higher course load, and complete their degrees faster, if they have to pay for five courses anyway.

Biology professor Mounir Abouhaidar said at the council meeting that his students often take a reduced course load to improve their academic performance. Scott Mabury, chair of the Program Fee Implementation Committee, admitted that the committee had done no quantitative analysis to investigate the relationship between higher course loads and GPA.

“The research that we have been able to find indicates that there is no systematic statistical relation between the number of courses a student takes and their GPA,” Gertler later said to The Varsity. “We used three because this is how we define part-time and full-time. It is consistent with how other faculties define full-time,” said Gertler. He said the PFIC had found that at the 10 Ontario universities which have a flat fee, the threshold ranges from three to four courses.

To qualify for OSAP, students have to take a full-time course load—and would have to pay for five courses.

Gertler said the proposal addressed financial concerns in two ways. The faculty will add $1.5 million in grants, and flat fees will be phased in, starting with a threshold of four full credits and dropping down to three in 2011.

Critics say the gradual implementation will only delay the disaster.

ASSU and U of T Student Union leaders at the meeting pointed out that while aid money is directed at the poorest of the students, those ineligible for these grants will fall through the gaps in the system.

“We will keep the PFIC in place for as long as the implementation takes. We will be planning to add more students, more college registrars, more undergraduate coordinators into the committee,” Gertler said.

At the moment, the FPIC is a closed committee with only one student, ASSU president Colum Grove-White, Mabury, who is the only faculty member as chair of chemistry, will begin as vice-provost of academic operation July 1.

The committee will monitor how long students take to complete degrees, enrolment in courses, changes in financial aid applications, class sizes, student engagement ratings, and TA hours and faculty/staff appointments,. They report directly to Arts & Science administration.

Gertler could not say how the student body or the faculty at large might be able to participate in the monitoring process.