What are we paying for?

As I take a look at my 2010-11 fees, something just seems wrong. When I was accepted to U of T two years ago, the last thing on my mind was ancillary fees. My course fees add up to around $6200. There are certain extras I’m more than willing to pay for, such as use of the libraries and publication of The Varsity. Thus, we can add around $230. This makes our total $6430. ROSI tells me I’m currently owing $6940.78. This leaves around $500 dollars unaccounted for.

For example, this year, we pay $136.05 per semester for Athletics. This is $272.10 for the entire year. To me this says that I will have paid around $1000 by the end of four years. And what will I have paid for?

Before the fervour of health nuts and athletics students sets in, let me explain myself. I should be able to opt out of paying, just like I opt out of paying for medical and dental because I’m already covered. What about those of us, myself not included, who already belong to gyms? Should they have to pay for athletics as well? Is it possible to have a system wherein a student goes to a U of T gym, has his or her T-Card swiped or Student Number entered into a computer, which displays whether or not he or she has paid for a gym membership?
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U of T charges us for student services, health services, athletics, Hart House, and Constituent College fees. It also charges us on behalf of student organizations, for student society fees, social and cultural services (Hart House excluded) and other fees levied by student organizations to cover the costs of operating the organizations or services provided by them. To quote the policy: “The University may act as a collection agent for [any] student organization.”

So let’s take a look at ROSI and break this down. We pay around $140 dollars a year to Hart House. Hart House has plenty of contributors, and easily makes its money back in ticket sales, so why should we have to pay all this money for it? Especially those of us who aren’t in Arts or Theatre and couldn’t care less? This is on top of fees we pay to our colleges (as a Vic student, between VUSAC and student services, I end up paying $150 a year as well as UTSU and ASSU fees. This is a slight exaggeration, but since part of this money is going to something that is basically useless to me (Athletics), I see it as a waste.

Could some of the money we pool our facilities, which are some of the most expensive in Canada, instead be diverted to the Arts and Sciences undergraduate programs which have suffered major budget cuts this year? I would be more than happy to know that my extra money could contribute to the saving of the Centre for Ethics, the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies, and the Centre for Comparative Literature?

It is, however, my choice to do what I want with my life. It should thus be my choice to pay $1000 in fees to Athletic centre or not. This should not be forced upon me, nor should it be forced upon any U of T student, especially those on restricted budgets.

Going Constitutional

Unless his political fortunes take a sudden turn, it may be years before our current prime minister moves out of 24 Sussex Drive. Despite autumn election rumours, the result is far more likely to be a Conservative rump minority than a Liberal government of any sort. But in the past four years, Stephen Harper has already sown the seeds of his constitutional legacy and the harvest is set to be poor at best. Harper has done more to change Canada’s constitutional order than any of his recent predecessors and he has done so with extraordinary cunning and skill.

Worries that Canada’s government is gradually becoming parliamentary and more “prime ministerial” or even presidential, are not new. This accusation has been leveled against Conservatives and Liberals alike since William Lyon Mackenzie King was prime minister, and especially vociferously since Pierre Trudeau held Canada’s top job. No prime minister is more deserving of this accusation than Harper. The details of Harper’s first prorogation of parliament in late 2008 are well known: facing a coalition of the three opposition parties who were committed to defeating his government, Harper simply asked the Governor General to end the session.

Harper’s request itself was not problematic, since prorogation is usually an uncontroversial procedure used to take a break once the government has completed the bulk of its legislative business for the session. However, Harper used it to avoid a vote of confidence which he would surely have lost. In doing so, he made it clear that he felt that his right to remain in office was not tied to the will of parliament. If so, then what could it be tied to but his own will? His second prorogation a year later was likewise objectionable, though less so because it enjoyed greater support of precedent.

What was concerning about Harper’s second prorogation, however, was that he did so to shut down the hearings of a special committee on the handling of detainees by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. When Parliament returned, the prime minister argued that the government could not release the classified documents requested by a Parliamentary committee, in clear violation of the parliamentary privilege to compel any and all papers and testimony it requests. The opposition asked the speaker of the House of Commons to rule on the question. His decision struck a difficult compromise and is currently being implemented.

These three events demonstrate the prime minister’s will to alter the relationship between his office and the most important institutions of our constitutional order, the Governor General and parliament, to suit his political purposes. The prime minister has given every indication that he will continue to do so. There is an important sign otherwise that we cannot afford to ignore. Amid the speculation that the prime minister might appoint a partisan to replace Michaëlle Jean as Governor General, the government implemented a new selection process to guarantee that the choice would be non-partisan.

The process centered around a secret committee of eminent Canadians which quietly consulted far and wide to find a non-partisan candidate. They settled on David Lloyd Johnston, then president of the University of Waterloo and former University of Toronto law professor. The choice was widely lauded and rightly so: Johnston is an excellent nominee. What deserves more praise though is the way in which Johnston was chosen. Non-partisanship was placed above even bilingualism as the key characteristic of the nominee. Expertise in constitutional law was also a criteria, which shows that the government expects that the Governor General’s judgment may come into question if the prime minister makes another controversial request for the exercise of a reserve power.

Unlike past governors general who seemed to be chosen mostly on the basis of loyalty, the process organized by the prime minister’s office which eventually selected Johnston ensured that the nominee would be beyond reproach. It is doubtless that this was the result of political pressures on the prime minister, but it nevertheless presents an important opportunity to solidify the constitutional role of the Governor General. Doing so would transform Stephen Harper’s constitutional legacy for the better and would protect the Governor General’s crucial role in the Canadian system of government. He should begin by entrenching the selection process and using the reform as an opportunity to launch a broader conversation on the role of the Governor General. Instead of slowly changing the balance of power, he might create an opportunity for Canadians themselves to shape it.

Art, Hipsters, Bikes, Oh My!

Spinning along on my white roadster, I slowed my pace and approached the main gate of Trinity Bellwoods Park on West Queen West, and was greeted by a flock of artsy-types with bikes. There were shaved heads, big glasses, and a woman doing an impromptu performance-piece consisting of falling to the grassy ground.

I assumed that I was in the right place for Art Spin, a free monthly art crawl, in which participants ride in a team of bicycles to get to each gallery, guided each month by a guest curator or artist.

Participants met at Trinity Bellwoods at 6:30 p.m. This month’s leaders were Michael Paré, the president and founder of Queer West, a week-long series celebrating queer arts, and Rui Pimenta who is the founder, coordinator, curator, and leader of the crawl. The two explained that participants of the art crawl are led to a variety of galleries in the city, where they are greeted by the curators and forced to interact with a group of art-enthusiast strangers.

At just past 7 p.m., approximately 20 wanna-be art connoisseurs pedaled into the sunset. The group was made up of an eclectic mix of individuals: largely students, couples, professionals, and amateurs. Following the leader, we did a lap of the park before hitting our first gallery, Lausberg Contemporary. One of two global locations, Lausberg is unique in Toronto, featuring local artists alongside international artists. Their idea is to foster our own scene while keeping in touch with the global. Greeted by Pimenta’s explanation of the space’s mandate — and some well-appreciated refreshments (no free booze, sadly) — we were encouraged to explore the summer exhibition, a collection of sleek, non-representational pieces by various artists. Although fairly subdued and undemanding (read: boring), it was like wading into a kiddy pool of the toured galleries.

Our second stop was InterAccess, a space focusing on new media works. As Pimenta, the fearless leader of the gaggle of cycling art enthusiasts, explained, this space is an important creative hub for digital art, featuring a gallery on the second floor and workshop on the first. Their latest exhibition, Kunstkammer/Wunderkammer, seeks to mimic a cabinet of curiosities, a European practice in which oddities and artifacts are collected and displayed. In this exhibit, however, antique oddities have been replaced with eclectic new media pieces – a banana plant which emits noise when petted, jellyfish-like constructions which gyrate when exposed to sound, a small canvas painting with moving gears – which are displayed in the dim lighting of the second floor. Several of the pieces demand engagement, assigning the viewer an active role. Sometimes you are required to do more than stare at art, tilt your head, step back and sigh. This exhibit was my favorite of the evening: visual enough to catch my attention, sinister enough to make me ask, weird enough to keep me — like a shadowy playground.

Show and Tell Gallery is a quiet but modest space, currently showing two artists — Anthony Lister and Niall McClelland — in a whimsical double-feature exploring such ideas as punishment and reward systems and perpetuated adolescence, with a tongue-in-cheek sass all-too-often absent from recent contemporary art.

PM Gallery boasts the latest works of Keith W. Bentley’s. The gallery owner and curator, a fan of Bentley’s work, explained his somewhat macabre process — due to his unique fascination with Victorian ‘hair art’, Bentley is known for working extensively with hair as a creative material. This latest collection is a series of pieces constructed from found art and horse hair. The pieces aim to immortalize bodies which have since passed, embracing the morbid and calling attention to the unnatural. I found the pieces affected me exactly in the ways the owner had warned: I was simultaneously attracted and repulsed. The black hair against the white walls was visually striking. The idea that these once living creatures had been replaced and used like our earlier ‘readymades’ is conceptually haunting. Looking at one piece, I turned to a viewer on my right and remarked it gave me the creeps -“you know, kind of like when you pull that gross clump of hair from the shower drain?”. But then I realized he was bald, and couldn’t relate.

The evening ended at a quiet bar, locking up our velocipedes and heading for the patio. The group who sat before me, from all walks of life, were incredibly down to earth, affable, keen to listen and eager to tell stories. Nothing breaks the ice between people like hair art.

Art Spin is a monthly art crawl on bicycles. It happens on the last Thursday of the month, and will run until September. Art Spin is a free event, and open to anyone regardless of cycling ability.


Updated (April 26, 2015): Author’s name omitted.

Drew Dudley leaves UTSC

Drew Dudley, Coordinator of the Leadership Development Program at UTSC, has decided to leave the university after seven years of building leadership and community at UTSC.

National Chair of Shinerama, co-founder of Conduct Becoming Canada and first ever chair of “Million Dollar Youth,” Drew attended Mount Allison university in Sackville, New Brunswick. With an aversion to big cities, Toronto was never on the list when Drew began applying for jobs. He doesn’t remember why he applied for a job in Advancement at UTSC. After initial doubts on the part of the hiring committee, they gave Drew a chance and were happy with his interview.

When Drew joined Student Affairs as Coordinator of Student Development he was in charge of campus groups and leadership. Too big to accomplish together, leadership was put on hold while he restructured the way campus groups operated.

In November 2005, Drew was invited to be a part of the Leadership at Allison speaker series, which he had been a part of as a student. It was the first time he gave a leadership talk in front of a large crowd. “It turns out I was good at it,” says Drew. “So when I moved to student life, I [put] all those elements together, and it was so well received, that we knew we had to stay at it.”
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The university then hired staff to take over campus groups, and Drew managed to focus on the leadership development program.

This program focuses on making sure students leave with more than just a degree. Divided into five categories, students attend several talk, workshops, and discussions. The Inside the Leader’s Circle, in which Drew interviews influential personalities like Peter Mansbridge, Adria Vasil, Douglas Coupland and Jeff Rubin, is the most popular series.

Leadership is a significant factor for Drew, who says he always wants to find ways to get better. “It [is] a drive to want to be better, happier, have more of an impact. I always enjoyed being a part of something that makes a difference. With leadership it’s making a difference in your life and hoping that it makes a difference in others.”

Asked where his inspiration comes from, Drew says it’s mostly from the students. “My inspiration comes from the idea that what I’m doing makes a difference to people.” However, he says, it’s a struggle.

“It’s the weirdest balance. I love it when people say I’m an inspiration but I have never been able to wrap my head around the idea that I deserve that. I see myself as such a screw up […] that I get inspired to be what the people in the audience think I am. I will never be better than when I’m speaking. That’s the best Drew there is.”

Drew cites an inspiring reason for leaving UTSC. He tells a story about his friend Alison who dropped out of university several times until she found a place that was right for her.

“What made Alison so spectacular was that she had the courage to keep making changes until she had the life that she deserved, and I was telling this story to a group of students in Calgary in June and a voice in my head when I said it said you’re a hypocrite. I couldn’t shake it. I realized I wasn’t happy.”

“I was telling people to have the courage to make changes in their lives until they were happy, and I wasn’t doing it [and] I realized I couldn’t go back up on stage again until I did it.”

“There [is] no step forward [at UTSC] and I need to get better. I realized there was happiness out there for me and […] I was too scared to go chase it, and that was inconsistent with what I was telling people.”

Drew’s job is yet to be filled, though Hamza Khan, who has worked with Drew, will take over until the end of September. “I did the best I could on the way out to make sure that my leaving would have as small an impact as possible,” he says.

Since his decision to leave, Drew has set up the company Nuance Leadership, where he hopes to host weekly workshops at several schools. He has also applied to speak at TEDx Toronto, and is waiting to hear back.

Having invested so much into the leadership program, Drew thinks it’s time to accomplish more outside of his work. “Follow your heart, follow your dream, you can do whatever you think you can and when you do so it has a positive impact on others. This is my version of living up to the message I gave for a while. And I’m not saying I didn’t do that but I think I can do it better.”

Turning ideas into businesses

When a U of T invention has commercial potential the Innovations and Partnerships Office (IPO) at U of T gets involved.

“The main objective of IPO is to facilitate the application of knowledge generated at U of T to a world beyond U of T,” said Professor Peter Lewis, IPO’s acting executive director and U of T’s associate vice president, research.

The IPO was previously known as The Innovation Group (TIG) and had as its core role the issue of commercialization. Responsible for receiving and accessing disclosures and developing technology into marketable and sell-able resources, the group altered its name to incorporate its role in making partnerships, specifically business development opportunities for researchers.

“Its function is to help recognize and realize the potential of innovations developed at U of T by building meaningful relationships with members from the private, public and government sectors,” said Lewis.

IPO is funded by the university and has about twenty-five full time staff. The budget is about $3M annually and the main office is located in the MaRS building.

While undergraduate students are not involved in the operations of IPO, many projects supported by the IPO hire undergraduate students as research assistants.

Projects that present commercial promise are handed off to the MaRS Innovation where they receive funding based on their anticipated return on investment.
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The IPO has recently been involved with the work of Professor Aaron Wheeler, the Canada Research Chair of Bioanalytical Chemistry at the University of Toronto. Wheeler’s work focuses on using digital microfluidics to measure hormone levels in tissue as simply and accurately as possible, a technology potentially useful in early breast cancer detection.

IPO and the MaRS Innovation have provided funding to Wheeler Microfluids Labratory, a lab that includes ten graduate students and three postdoctoral fellows. Two recent PhD students are working with Wheeler to commercialize the technology.

“The chip is not yet ready to diagnose breast cancer, but helps show whether estrogen levels are elevated, which can signal a higher risk for the disease,” says Wheeler.

Families underestimate the cost of university

Relying on Mom and Dad to foot the bill of university may not be the best idea.

A TD Canada Trust Education and Finances Survey published August 16 reports that whilw 87 per cent of parents say they plan to pay all or part of the costs of their child’s post-secondary education, 26 per cent say they have yet to start saving and another 15 have no idea how they will finance it.

“With the provincial government having raised the amount that a student is able to receive with OSAP, but also raising the minimum salary needed to receive the student loans, neither students nor parents have planned for the financing of post-secondary educations,” said Barbara Timmins of TD Bank Financial Group. “[There has been] an increase in fees without parents having the ability to be able to plan for the rise in costs. Furthermore, the federal governments saving plan is relatively new.”

Of the 1001 students surveyed, half the respondents are working this summer to help pay for school and 66 per cent will be unable to earn enough money to cover expenses. 44 per cent of students are relying on student loans to aid their payments whereas another 27 per cent are using RESPs. The study was conducted in July.

Despite working all summer to finance his studies, fourth-year student Arun Srinivasan still finds university tuition sometimes overwhelming.

“[…] sometimes paying for tuition along with other costs can still be challenging,” says Srinivasan, suggesting early in high school as a time to start looking at university financing options.

A 2009 TD study revealed that a four-year undergraduate degree costs approximately $80,000 for students living away from home. Financing post-secondary education comes at a time when degrees or training beyond the high-school level is valued more than ever within the job market.

“With a very large portion of University of Toronto students getting OSAP loans, nearly 40 per cent, they often face very severe debts at the end of their education,” said Trinity College Registrar Bruce Bowden. “While students pay for their education through a combination of their own savings and work, scholarships and bursaries, even that may not be enough to completely finance a post-secondary education.”

Meditations in a humanitarian emergency

Each year since 1999, America’s iconic Time Magazine has compiled a list of 100 people its staff deems to be the most influential in the world.

When giving the 2010 edition a cursory glance it’s easy to be distracted by the big names: Obama, Clinton, and Winfrey are all there, and have consistently made the cut multiple times in the past decade.

2010’s edition also includes the popular (Lady GaGa), the newly unpopular (General Stanley McChrystal) and the populist (Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck). The inclusion of these celebrities, powerful media figures, and influential statesmen is essential to the integrity of the list as their images are ingrained in the collective consciousness of the United States and in some cases, the entire world.

Once you examine the list more thoroughly, you’ll encounter some names that are unfamiliar. You may ask how important and influential they can be if they’re not household names like Barack Obama or Sarah Palin.

One does not need to be a public figure to wield an enourmous amount of influence. After reading more about these relative unknowns, you will understand exactly why they are on this list. No matter what their field, discipline, or profession may be, their impact is tremendous.

What is most interesting about this year’s list is the inclusion of a relatively unknown Canadian. What piqued my interest even further is that he is from Toronto, and the organization which he founded in 1998, and has led ever since, deploys to disaster zones around the world.
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Rahul Singh, along with a team of volunteers, operates GlobalMedic, a humanitarian aid organization that specializes in providing relief to victims of natural disasters, out of their headquarters in Etobicoke.

Getting in contact with Singh was the simple part. Finding a suitable time in his packed schedule to conduct an interview was significantly harder.

Luckily, I was able to have a brief conversation with him over the phone as he was racing from one meeting to another; a typically busy day for one of the world’s most influential people.

Singh begins by shedding light on how the idea for the organization was born. His best friend, David McAntony Gibson passed away in February 1998 and Singh felt like creating an aid organization would be the most appropriate tribute to his friend’s life.

“I talked to David’s family and told them I wanted to set up this foundation in his honour to help people in Third World countries by delivering emergency medical services which they would otherwise not have access to,” he explains.

GlobalMedic’s official name is the David McAntony Gibson Foundation.

As their website bio states and Singh reiterates, the foundation’s goal is to be an efficient aid agency that delivers the maximum amount of aid with a minimum operating cost.
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Through large donations, positive coverage in the media, and Singh’s own dedication, he has been able to assemble a team of highly skilled and dedicated volunteers which has led to GlobalMedic’s exponential growth since its founding.

Over the past 12 years, GlobalMedic has deployed in 36 countries spanning four continents. They’ve provided emergency relief to victims of floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and military conflicts.

When responding to natural disasters they’re equipped with water purification systems, inflatable field hospitals, and K-9 units which are all manned by a highly experienced and skilled group of volunteers.

GlobalMedic was responsible for providing safe drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Haitians. It was this mission in Haiti, following the January earthquake, that gained Singh the recognition in Time Magazine.

Though obviously elated when he heard about his placement on the list, Singh is modest about the achievement and quickly reminds me that the honour belongs to all GlobalMedic’s volunteers.

Since its founding, GlobalMedic has expanded its vision and now operates capacity building programs in multiple developing countries. These programs have included water sanitation projects in Cambodia and Gaza (the latter of which is ongoing) and emergency medical training in more than 10 nations.

“We really want to permanently improve conditions in these countries through these capacity building programs,” says Singh.

Singh’s organization is not as inclusive as other non-profit aid agencies. Volunteering with GlobalMedic is not as easy as becoming involved with Habitat for Humanity.

“Prior experience as a paramedic is a must before being deployed with us. New recruits also must complete training sessions that deal specifically with providing relief in disaster zones,” he says.

A standard training day consists of three one-and-a-half hour sessions. Each session is further broken down into three stations which encompass disaster-zone safety and instructions on how to properly use equipment like their inflatable hospitals and water purification pumps.

New recruits are not the only ones showing up to the training sessions. GlobalMedic volunteers also attend to hone their skills or get a refresher prior to a deployment.

His organization operates in far-flung regions of the world, and Singh regularly travels to developing nations and disaster zones where GlobalMedic is needed. Through all this he maintains his job as a full-time paramedic.

It is completely ordinary for him to work 12 hour days, five days a week. Perhaps this is why he sounds so modest when he speaks of his humanitarian work. He travels to some of the world’s most dangerous places to save lives, yet at the end of a mission he still returns to Etobicoke to work full-time.
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Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Singh is jovial and good-natured throughout our conversation. While he is explaining the history of GlobalMedic his phone cuts out for at least five minutes. To my surprise, when I finally get him back on the line he’s incredibly apologetic.

“Sorry buddy, I’m in the middle of nowhere and the reception is terrible,” he laughs.

“Let me start from the beginning,” and without skipping a beat, he delves back into the organization’s history.

While speaking to Singh over the phone it is apparent that his confident personality and exuberant yet modest attitude toward his work surely help his team when they encounter circumstances as dire as the situation in Haiti following the earthquake.

Although Singh currently has no plans to expand GlobalMedic’s base of operations, the organization will continue to recruit, solicit donations, and deploy to disaster zones whenever they are needed. But wherever they go, the world will be watching and hoping they succeed.

Two New Degrees Offered at U of T

The University of Toronto will be offering two new masters programs this September. The Master of Global Affairs at the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Master of Science in Applied Computing at the Department of Computer Science come in response to a growing demand for professional and applied postgraduate studies.

The MGA degree at the Munk School seeks to bridge the sectors of government, business and NGO work while addressing the changing landscape of global affairs. The program is directed of Steven Bernstein, previously director of the Master of Arts in International Relations program.

“We purposely called it a Master in Global Affairs instead of International Relations not because states are irrelevant, but because we want people to recognize that this old model is just one way the world is interacting,” says Bernstein. “It grew out of student demand for a degree where they could develop applied skills in addition to knowledge which would launch their careers.”

The program seeks to bridge the sectors of government, business and NGO work and features a mandatory internship component, where overseas placement is stressed.
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“James Orbinski is one of the stories of this degree,” says Bernstein, referencing former president of Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and current cross-appointed faculty at the Munk School. “He told us that when he was in Rwanda as a medical professional, he didn’t understand the political forces leading to the problems.”

In only two months after the program’s inception, applicants have already expressed a high interest. The selective program admits 40 students from among a large pool of applicants. According to Bernstein, most applicants are undergraduates from a social sciences background, but around 10 per cent have been already working overseas, in government or are law, business, and engineering postgraduates.

“We were […] happy to get MBA grads who had terrific skills in management but not necessarily the cultural and political knowledge to act globally,” says Bernstein. “Our vision is that our graduates would be innovators who will take leadership positions in any of the three sectors.”

Across campus the Department of Computer Science has established the Master of Science in Applied Computing, another new professional degree. Known for being highly research-intensive at the postgraduate level, the department also saw a strong student demand for professional experience as opposed to purely research-based projects.

“After doing extensive outreach, we came to a programme that plays to our particular strengths: research in aid of technology transfer to industry,” states M.Sc. of Applied Computing program director Eugene Fiume.

Along with taking the program specific graduate level courses students in the program also take courses in communications and business. The professional M.Sc. of Applied Computing also requires internships specifically in transferring technology to industry and the private sector.

“Students will also do internships in industry on well-defined projects that require the deployment of new research results into industry,” notes Dr. Fiume. “To my knowledge, there is no programme like this anywhere.”

The program proved to be highly selective. Only six students were chosen from one hundred and twenty applicants in the inaugural year. Fiume suggests that expanded enrollment may be a possibility in the future.