Student suspended for working on gay pornography

Grove City College, Pennsylvania suspended a student for one year after school officials learned about his involvement in online gay pornography. Grove City’s student handbook outlines that possessing pornographic material and having premarital sex (homosexual or heterosexual) could be penalized by suspension. The student, John Gechter, told The Herald that he had been working in pornography for two years to pay his tuition. Critics have questioned the degree of control schools exercise in the lives of students following Gechter’s suspension. The college, a Christian institution with strict rules of conduct, found out about Gechter’s involvement after a student browsing the Internet forwarded a few images to others in the college via email.

You reap what you row

It seems that every year, I have one housemate who sneaks out of the house at 4 a.m. to join the rowing team for their notoriously early morning practices. It’s always left me wondering why anyone would put themselves through such a grueling schedule, and so I found myself signing up for the Varsity rowing team’s Intro to Rowing course this first weekend of May to discover what all the fuss is about.

The U of T Varsity team rows out of Hanlan Boat Club. Unreachable by TTC, the bike ride from U of T takes you through the heart of downtown, past an industrial patch where freight ships dock at the port lands canal, and finally to the quiet waterfront nearby the Leslie Street Spit.

The Hanlan Boat Club consists of two corrugated steel hangars and is named after Ned Hanlan, who invented the sliding seats found in all racing shells and who was the first head coach of the U of T Rowing Club in 1897.

“Hanlan was a legend back in the late 1800s,” states men’s captain Mike Braithwaite as the course begins.

A dozen students gather around four ancient rowing machines behind the hangar and look on as the experienced Varsity rowers show us the catch, drive, recovery, and finish of the rowing cycle. Their strides kick up dry dirt as the machine flywheels hum with power. We try our hand at the rowing machines next; dead birch leaves lazily blow around the new green grass as we feebly prepare for the water.

Once the novices get the hang of the rowing technique, Lauren Brown, the women’s captain, leads the group into a hangar. The boathouse’s mossy skylights cast a mottled light on the neatly stacked oars and shells. Commands are issued and we lift the $50,000 carbon fiberglass shells above our heads and out of the hangar, cautiously maneuvering our way to the dock. Head coach Rob Watering touches on the challenges of the aging state of their gear. “Our major expense is the equipment, which wears out over time,” he says.

U of T shares the Hanlan Boat Club with Havergal and UCC, and as we head to the dock, the private schools are christening a new purchase with champagne—a shell that raced at the Beijing Olympics. There’s a faint buzz as onlookers engage in polite conversation and the occasional cheering. Dogs jump off the dock to fetch deadwood branches.

Two shells are gingerly lowered, still intact, into the water. We push away from the dock and those 4 a.m. wake-ups suddenly become so clear.

“I row for the romance of it,” Caro Kronlachner says, looking out across the water.

We heave and we ho through the coruscating water. Our muscles burn. It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly it is about the water that moves us so greatly, but Walt Whitman touched on it when he wrote

To leave this steady unendurable land

To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks and the houses

To leave you O you solid motionless land, and entering a ship

To sail and sail and sail!

Surrounded by water, the faint cry of seagulls wheeling high above the lake, you begin to feel like Whitman’s sailor “bound for all ports.” Rowing west of the Leslie Street Spit, the Toronto skyline comes into view—a sudden, breathtaking juxtaposition.

The afternoon of the second day ends with a race between two boats of novices. The thrill of the close race, where the power of every stroke counts, leaves me with a strong desire to pursue the sport, as well as a strong sense of the depth of teamwork it takes to succeed here. “Typically if a rower learns that they must pull harder for their crewmates than they pull for themselves, they will be successful,” explains head coach Robert Watering.

Summer is the perfect time to think about joining the rowing team. Hanlan Boat Club offers a Learn to Row course in June—a good way to ease into the novice program.

“Unlike a lot of sports, rowing is late entry: you can come in at university without a long history of athletics, work hard and you’ll find that you can progress fast,” Kronlachner explains. “I can’t think of another sport where the amount of effort you put in correlates as directly with positive results.”

The rowing team has been preparing for this upcoming season throughout the winter, and there is a unanimous sense that this year looks promising. “The team has put in a lot of work over the winter, and I think other schools should be looking out for what U of T will be bringing up to the starting gates in the fall,” says captain Lauren Brown. Kronlachner adds, “it seems ill-fated to predict the future, like the Scottish play, best not to refer to victories yet to be won, but we’re still a team to watch.”

It’s all of this: the camaraderie, the calm morning lake, and the drive to overtake the competing team that brings our rowing team back each morning, once more to the lake.

GC approves fee hikes

With students still reeling from the flat fees proposal, on April 16 U of T’s Governing Council approved fee increases of on average 4.3 per cent for domestic students and 5.7 per cent for international students.

The hikes are expected to bring in $25.1 million of new revenue. U of T VP and provost Cheryl Misak insisted that the increase was necessary for U of T to remain competitive.

According to the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, Ontario tuition fee have increased on average by 13 per cent since the 2006-07 “tuition cap”—substantially higher than the national average of three per cent.

A whole new ballgame

The 41st home opener for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League, held on May 3, was a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The setting was the same, as the Maple Leafs continued the long tradition of playing at Christie Pits, a short walk from U of T’s St. George Campus. Like last year’s home opener, the Maple Leafs battled the Barrie Baycats to kick off the season. Even the starting pitching match-up was the same as last year. For the second straight year, Maple Leafs pitcher Drew Taylor, son of former major leaguer Ron Taylor, faced off against former Blue Jay and former Maple Leaf Paul Spoljaric. On the strength of Dan Gibbons’ grand slam in the first inning, the Maple Leafs went on to beat the Baycats, 8-6.

The Maple Leafs play home games every Sunday afternoon (and some Wednesday nights) until the end of July. The games are free to attend, the setting is idyllic, and the players are eager to interact. Attending a baseball game at Christie Pits may be unfamiliar, but the communal experience quickly becomes welcome and familiar.

The atmosphere however changed dramatically as there was a chill that seemed to remind fans of the events that had transpired in the offseason. Sadly, Maple Leafs co-owner Lynne Dominico passed away in November. Lynne’s husband, Jack Dominico, continued the tradition of bringing in baseball legends for the opening weekend of the season. The lone carryover from last season was a close personal friend of Dominico, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who was thought to throw harder than any pitcher in Major League history. On this May day Feller tossed out the first pitch along with fellow pitching legend Juan Marichal to start the season. Feller’s pitch may not have had as much zip as the ones that he threw for the Cleveland Indians, with whom he played his entire career, but that is understandable. After all, Feller was the first living inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Feller is 90 years old.

For a fellow of his age Feller moves incredibly well, and certainly seemed dogged in his role as an ambassador for baseball. When he spotted the digital recorder, he was initially reluctant to speak. But when he heard that the reporter was representing the University of Toronto, Feller spoke genuinely and sanguinely about why he enjoys attending events such as the Maple Leafs home opener.

“I love Toronto, I love Canada. I like the people here, the baseball fans, all the players, and the people that support this team,” said Feller.

Part of the charm of watching a Toronto Maple Leafs game is the feeling of openness and community. The club hosts a dinner and banquet the night before the game that is open to the public. Before the game, Feller and Marichal, along with some of the coaches, signed autographs for young fans, posed for pictures, and talked baseball.

“I want to come every year. I’ve already been invited back for 2010. If my health holds out, I’ll be back again next year. Seeing all the great fans that come out to the dinner, and the banquet, and the autograph sessions,” said Feller.

Perhaps the greatest part about seeing a Toronto Maple Leafs game up close is the level of fan interaction that is almost inconceivable in a similar setting. During the games, fans can lean over into the bullpen to chat with the players (or if they are feeling especially brave, they can holler at them inside the dugouts). The games at Christie Pits are played in a comfortable and accessible environment, with spectators setting up chairs along the large hills that overlook the diamond. Frequently, there are games and practices taking place in the baseball diamond at the other end of the Pits, and it seems like everywhere in the giant park, there’s a great sense of community.

Feller, a baseball purist, presented an appeal to fans that are sometimes disillusioned by the corporate aspect of professional sports. “They have overdone the hype and sports marketing. It increases the prices of the seats, and the salaries of the players and the club owners are making a lot of money,” lamented Feller.

Feller suggested that attending an Intercounty Baseball League is a return to the splendor of baseball. “The difference between [baseball today and when I used to play] not all that much. The hitting, the pitching, the defence, the strategy, the fundamentals [are similar,]” said Feller. He suggested that an emphasis on money and hype are turning fans away from the game. Without the extravagance of professional ball, Intercounty Baseball at Christie Pits is a treat for a casual or new fan to the sport. Though the games may take place in the Pits, the opportunity to see a team in Toronto called the Maple Leafs, and not have to shell out big bucks is truly the heights of a majestic sporting experience.

They’re back! The Taliban regains control of Afganistan

With the world in a deep recession, some people might be more interested in domestic financial news and less with international affairs. But if thousands of your tax dollars are going to a faraway country, you have good grounds to want to see how that country is doing. News on Afghanistan usually arouses a lot of interest in Canada.

A law recently proposed in Afghanistan for the minority Shiite community would forbid women from refusing to have sex with their husbands, among other laws such as women requiring permission from a male relative to leave the house. The so-called “rape” law became a headline overnight. The Canadian government sounded its concern, president Obama intervened, and finally Afghan President Hamid Karzai apologized and revoked the legislation. Foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon spoke to the Canadian people with a smile, assuring them that “contentious clauses” will be eliminated.

To those who are only slightly aware of the Afghan political climate and balance of forces, this narrative of events seems like a peculiar caricature at best.

It surely fits the picture that we have of a democracy: a law is proposed, people protest, it is then revoked. Done. Afghan women can take a deep breath, and we can be sure again that our army is doing its job: protecting democracy and women’s rights.

It fits because many Canadians believe our military forces, together with other nations under a NATO umbrella, are there to “protect” a democracy that is already in place but struggling. As far as we know, we are there to protect women’s rights and that is what Karzai’s government is doing. After all he got his education not in a Madrassah but at Harvard. He wouldn’t agree to a “rape” law, would he?

I hate to wreck the party, but let me put to you some rather inconvenient facts.

The United States went into Afghanistan less than a month after 9/11 with the stated purpose of capturing bin Laden, destroying Al-Qaeda, and removing the Taliban regime. Canada later joined for the same reason. Six years after, we all know how the first two priorities went: Osama is not captured and Al-Qaeda (thanks to a new, rich training and recruiting ground called post-Saddam Iraq) is even stronger with fresh attacks from Istanbul to Mumbai to Bali. But the third one surely didn’t go that badly. The Taliban regime was quickly removed from government and women put aside those terrible burkas.

Not quite. Not anymore, anyway. The Taliban, initially removed, is back.

The American war effort erased the Taliban as a serious political force for only five years. Since 2006, the Taliban have regained strength. Outside of Kabul, they could claim as much power as the Afghan government and International Security Assistance Force (which includes Canada). Look at the Taliban’s track record in the last couple of years: they attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul killing more than 50 people, freed hundreds of prisoners in the battle of Arghandab, and even made an attempt on Karzai’s life on the anniversary of his government.

That government is not necessarily much better. From day one it has been a corrupt, reactionary force made up of ex-Taliban, Mujahideen, war lords, and drug smugglers. The idea of the Karzai government standing up for women’s rights is a sick joke to many Afghans like Malalai Joya, a female Afghan MP, who declared in 2003 that these are the “most misogynist people in the society.” She has since been banished from parliament.

Obama has recognized the growing power of the Taliban in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) and is more than ready to accommodate some of their wishes so he can have “stability” in the region. Just two months ago, he talked about “making alliances with more moderate Taliban elements.”

Lets face it: Canada didn’t go to Afghanistan to support women’s rights, but to have a military presence as a NATO ally of the United States, and inevitably followed the latter’s policies.

With such priorities as Canada’s, Afghan women will continue to suffer under the draconian, misogynist Sharia law. We should expect nothing else from Karzai or the “moderate” Taliban.

U.S. torture memos: Shame or gain?

As an American expat in Canada, I spent the four years of Bush’s second presidential term attempting to reassure myself and others that, deep down in the far-flung crannies of its proverbial heart, my homeland was pure and true. When my compatriots proceeded to elect the first person of colour to hold executive office in North America—who just so happens to be a gifted, endlessly quotable, and unfailingly photogenic politician to boot—I finally got the “I told you so” I’d secretly worried would never arrive. Gone was the anticipation of impending judgment at revealing my geographic origins; in was the cred, which doubled whenever I mentioned I paid a $50 Fedex fee to absentee vote for Obama. At last, I could start holding my U.S. passport face-up in the Pearson airport check-in queue, no longer guilty by association.

Perhaps it’s this lingering sense of continental elation—or, more accurately on my part, patriotic relief—that makes the declassified Bybee Memo especially difficult to stomach.

Of the four declassified “torture memos,” the August 1, 2002 memorandum prepared by circuit court judge Jay Bybee has garnered the most attention since its release to the public in April. The document reads like a gulag narrative: it lays out, in grisly detail, each of the various interrogation methods used to coerce information from suspected Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. The ten chosen tactics, deemed by hip left-wing pundit Rachel Maddow as decidedly “1984-esque,” include such human rights atrocities as “walling,” “sleep deprivation,” “insects placed in a confinement box,” and the notorious waterboard.

Waterboarding first became a hot-button issue in 2007, with the controversy stemming from its description as an interrogation tactic designed to make the suspect “think” he is drowning. “I think that’s completely disingenuous, to a certain extent,” said former U.S. Navy interrogation instructor Malcolm Nance in response to this flimsy claim, in a November 2007 appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. “The person is not ‘thinking’ that they’re drowning. Large quantities of water are entering them. The water can and does get into the lungs and again, it does degrade the respiratory process. If left to its own devices it will result in respiratory arrest and could result in death. So the person does not ‘think’ he is drowning, he is actually going through the process though not completely underwater.”

The other “not torture” tactics described aren’t much better. “Walling” involves forcefully slamming the restrained suspect against a “flexible false wall,” though the document insists the objective of the practice is to startle rather than induce significant injury. As with waterboarding, the memo insists the technique serves to give a convincing but ultimately benign illusion of bodily harm. The reassurance is cavalier: “In part, the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action.” Well la-dee-da.

President Obama outlawed the practice of waterboarding as a method of questioning earlier this year, and the declassification of Bybee’s, as well as other memos, along with recent revelation of the 92 CIA-destroyed interrogation tapes during the Bush period, points to what the world already expected the Obama era would bring to the fore: renewed transparency and reconciliation for eight embarrassing years of American administrative malpractice. A lovely gesture, but is it enough?

Rather than receive penalty, Judge Jay Bybee has been awarded a lifetime appointment to a federal appeals court, which has a jurisdiction exceeded only by the Supreme Court. Here is an opportunity for the Obama administration to take real action, to use the dirty laundry revealed in the first 100 days in office as a launching initiative towards justice in the hundreds of days to follow. Until then, I might hold off on that American flag bikini.

Flat fees sparks student movement

The Faculty of Arts and Science seems desperate to pass the flat fees proposal this summer, and the issue may very well accomplish that elusive goal of angering students enough to do something about it. Faced with what’s been condemned by almost everyone as a bad idea, our famously apathetic population appears to be waking up and demanding an end to this ill-conceived venture. The recent movement among students to get this proposal voted down before it reaches the Governing Council on May 20 has had an energy and single-mindedness long absent on this campus. And for the proponents of this proposal, it’s completely of their doing.

There has long been a struggle between students who advocate for direct action, which is the norm on campuses around the world, and those who would rather engage within the structures provided. As intelligent young people, it’s easy to see the value of engaging in a constructive debate with U of T’s administration about the future of the institution. But the way in which administrators have conducted themselves throughout the process to approve flat fees has shown their unwillingness to allow students a real say in the affairs of our school.

What’s even more shocking is the administration’s apparent refusal to heed the warnings of its own faculty. Lost in the recent debates around lawsuits and protests is the fact that the committee charged with investigating the implementation of this proposal recommended it not be introduced right now. This recommendation was ignored, and committee chair Scott Mayberry, who pushed for flat fees, got a promotion. He was appointed Vice Dean the day after the Faculty Council vote went through.

Regardless of whether this proposal will be good for the U of T’s finances (and the jury is still out on this), no one is denying the proposal is bad for students. What we are left with is an administration pushing through a plan that no one wants and in a way that will almost certainly antagonize students and faculty. If there’s one redeeming virtue of this proposal, it’s that by its existence it will force students to take stock of their place in this university.

Flat fees one vote away

On April 27, a sparsely-attended meeting of U of T’s Business Board approved a highly controversial measure to make all future Arts and Science undergrads pay for five courses even if they take as few as three. The measure must now pass a vote at Governing Council, and survive a lawsuit by students trying to block its implementation.

Anna Okorokov is the sole undergraduate representative among the Business Board’s 23 voting members. She ran for student governor on a promise to represent students in fee-hike votes. Okorokov told The Varsity she regretted not being at the April 27 vote, but that it conflicted with a final exam, which she believed she could not defer because she would be out of the country over the summer.

Okorokov voiced moderate support of the university’s stance on flat fees, repeating administrative arguments about the proposal’s upsides to students. “Program fees have the potential to be beneficial,” she said. “Those that are able to take on five or more credits will find it in their favour.”

Approximately six per cent of undergraduates take more than five courses, according to data compiled by U of T.

David Ford, the graduate student representative on the Business Board, was also absent from the April 27 vote and did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Varsity sent to his Governing Council and U of T email addresses.

The Faculty of Arts and Science Council approved flat fees in a questionable vote that has students and FASC members suing to have it declared illegitimate.

The university’s VP and Provost Cheryl Misak has defended the right of Business Board to overrule any objections that may emerge from the Arts & Science council.

“Faculty councils do not, in fact, engage in the business of setting tuition hikes,” Misak said.

The university’s official position is that flat fees are not a fee hike, but an adjustment in the way fees are calculated. According to data from the university, were the proposal be applied to current U of T students, this change would force half of all full-time students to either change their course load or pay up to 66 per cent more tuition than they currently do.

Opponents of flat fees have also said approving the proposal would be detrimental to the school’s grim financial status.

“I fail to see how the proposal will help,” said George Luste, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association.

“What the proposal clearly does promise is a rather naked, unseemly, and undignified cash grab from a population who should hardly be expected to shoulder the responsibility of bailing us out of our financial troubles,” he added.

U of T’s endowment fund has lost $1.3 billion in the current recession.

Calling the proposal “unethical,” Luste also objected to what he sees as the proposal’s inadequacy in addressing the increased class sizes and teaching workload that would result from the proposal’s projected “intensification” of undergraduate course loads. U of T has forecast a moderate drop in full-time student enrolment and a large increase in the number of course-spots the Faculty of Arts and Science teaches. Luste had argued that this intensification would swell class sizes and faculty workloads.

“The additional enrolment is projected to be in the range of 854 to 1,683 full-time equivalent students,” Luste said. “Student-faculty and student-librarian ratios will continue to rise.”

Misak criticized Luste’s objection, telling the meeting she did not see how it “hangs together.”

She replied that the flat fee proposal aims to hire slightly more faculty to teach fewer students. She did not address the university’s own estimates indicating that the remaining students will fill up to 5,000 more actual classroom spots.

Neither Luste nor White-Grove were permitted to respond.

If the university expects enrolment to drop so steeply that higher course loads and lower enrolment will balance out class sizes, that would require roughly 2,300 to 4,200 students to drop out of full-time studies, leaving the university no added revenue from flat fees. Instead, U of T is projecting $8 million to $14 million more revenue per year.

UTSU VP university affairs Adam Awad remarked on the “astounding lack of detail as to where resources will be allocated.” He was among a group of students who made the case that flat fees will drain university finances through course intensification, rather than improving them.

Awad pointed to Brock University, which implemented flat fees two years ago but is now being forced to slash its budget.

Course intensification will strain not only finances, but quality of education, student representatives warned. “Seventeen faculty members is not going to mitigate a 10 per cent increase in course sizes,” said last year’s ASSU president Colum Grove-White. The university has stated that it will hire up to 34 new faculty to cope with course intensification.

“There’s no research looking at the academic implications intensification will have on students’ lives,” Grove-White added. He cited the widespread practice in Computer Science and Commerce—the two U of T programs that currently charge flat fees—of “course-shopping”: enrolling in six courses and dropping the weakest one before marks are noted on a student’s transcript. Such a “six-to-five special,” governors agreed, would make it even more difficult for students to get a spot in overcrowded courses.

Okorokov noted that the matter is still due to come before Governing Council, where she also has a vote and is scheduled to attend. That meeting, set for May 20, will take place at at UTM.

Meanwhile, roughly a hundred students protested outside the meeting chamber at Simcoe Hall. “We lobbied to get the proposal voted down in FASC. The end result was a meeting which is currently being challenged in the courts due to its undemocratic and potentially illegal nature,” said ASSU president Gavin Nowlan. “We did everything right in terms of convincing staff and the administration that this plan needed to be examined more carefully, yet the administration still conspired to get this plan voted through.

“I don’t hold any reservations that the Governing Council will add its rubber stamp to this flawed proposal. The fact that such a detrimental proposal can be passed speaks to the flawed nature of the Governing Council itself.”

Grant Gonzalez, member of GC and FASC, says he intends to vote against the proposal as he did on Faculty Council. But with only eight students among 50 GC members, flat fees is expected to pass.