Headlines on trial: The diluted truth

We live in a society that embraces things for being “alternative.” And that’s fantastic. If that wasn’t the case, American Idol would be the only show on TV, and Radiohead’s new album (or the seven before it) would hardly be the talk of the town. In other words, the world would be a far less interesting place.

But the alternative route becomes a problem when an idea gains merit simply for being unorthodox — when going against the status quo is sufficient to garner credibility. The field of homeopathy has been riding this wave for more than 200 years.

In the popular understanding, homeopathy is readily lumped in with all things alternative and “natural.” Yet, rather than being a hazy branch of complementary medicine, it is actually a field with a unique history and a wealth of literature to boot. Its skeptics are fierce, and its proponents still fiercer. Welcome to Homeopathy 101.

When the 18th century drew to a close, the German physician Samuel Hahnemann came up with a rather outlandish notion: that the best way to treat a disease was to use a substance that induces its symptoms in a healthy individual. Considering that his peers were busy bloodletting and prescribing leech therapy, this idea may not have seemed too far from the norm.

The theory was inspired by Hahnemann’s reaction to cinchona bark, a common treatment for malaria at the time. Since ingesting cinchona made him feel “languid and drowsy,” symptoms which he felt were similar to those of malaria, Hahnemann concluded that this property must be essential to its medicinal effects. Thus, the field of homeopathy was born.

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But there was a problem here. People were probably not too fond of taking medicines which had been specifically chosen to induce the symptoms they were already suffering from. To get around this inconvenient hurdle, Hahnemann added a further innovation to his recipe. He decided that the more you dilute a substance, the more you can “potentize” its healing abilities.

Any old dilution wouldn’t do the trick. In order to be effective, this procedure had to be carried out by administering ten hard strikes against an elastic object (a process referred to as “succussion”). Only then would you be able to activate the “spirit-like essence” of the substance being diluted.

What’s more, it’s remarkable how much diluting it takes to release the genie in the homeopathic bottle. We’re not talking about a splash of water in our whisky here. Homeopaths measure dilution on a centesimal (or C) scale, which involves diluting a substance by one part in 100 at every step. Given that your typical homeopathic treatment comes at a dilution of 30C, that equates to a dilution factor of 10 to the power of 60.

To put this in perspective, skeptics have noted that a dilution of 12C is the equivalent of adding a pinch of salt to the Atlantic Ocean. Quite some splash of water.

It’s convenient, then, that central to the current homeopathic philosophy is the idea that the elaborate process of succussion leaves an imprint of the diluted substance on water, or a “water memory.” The fact that this notion is widely refuted by physicists, chemists, and common sense alike is apparently of little concern to the homeopath.

Today, the concepts of “like curing like,” potentization, and extreme dilution persist largely unchanged within the homeopathy industry. In fact, they form the basis of a huge number of “remedies” in the homeopathic arsenal.

Whether or not you find these ideas credible is a matter of individual judgment. Personally, I like to have at least 12 molecules of active ingredient in any medicine I take. But that’s me. The seeming impossibility of the method should not be the sole reason for dismissing homeopathy. After all, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

What really matters is the clinical evidence for homeopathy. Specifically, how does it measure up under the inspection of a controlled clinical trial?

When it comes to this pivotal question, there is a huge amount of evidence out there — enough to give ammunition to both sides of the debate. Even for the hardened observer, the prospect of trying to unravel the key message from this tangled web of data can be rather daunting.

To help resolve this issue, it’s time to introduce another key concept of clinical science: the meta-analysis. Don’t be put off by the scary terminology. A meta-analysis essentially involves combining all the data from multiple, small trials into a single coherent analysis, then seeing which way the weight of evidence leans. It’s a pretty logical concept, and it might not be too unfamiliar. Rotten Tomatoes has been doing exactly the same thing for film reviews for years.

Crucially, a meta-analysis can reveal a significant clinical effect for a particular intervention when each individual trial had failed to recognize it. Alternatively, this method can dispel the apparent virtues of a treatment when some of the smaller trials might suggest otherwise. This makes it the perfect tool for examining the clinical evidence on homeopathy.

So what do the meta-analyses (and there have been several) have to say on the matter?

Perhaps the most comprehensive of these studies, examining 110 independent trials on homeopathy, was published by Professor Matthias Egger in The Lancet in 2005. In each trial, the therapeutic effect of a homeopathic treatment was measured (basically, did the intervention do anything?). But perhaps more importantly, the quality of each study was scrutinized. For instance, how big was it? Was it randomized? And was it blinded? All important stuff, which can drastically influence the outcome of a clinical investigation.

Here’s what it boiled down to (cue drum roll): while small, low quality trials often reveal a therapeutic effect for homeopathy, the better the study, the smaller this effect tends to be. And if you look exclusively at the largest, most scrupulous trials, homeopathy performs no better than placebo.

When it comes to issues of public health, we deserve the undiluted truth. If a remedy does not contain a single molecule of active ingredient, and cannot weather the scrutiny of a controlled clinical trial, it probably shouldn’t form the basis of a multi-billion dollar global industry.

Conventional medicine is far from flawless. It is built, however, on a system of constant re-evaluation, in which obsolete and ineffective practices are cast aside. Somehow, homeopathy has escaped the scrapheap.

Read Headlines on trial: The power of evidence

The healthiest breakfast

When it comes to breakfast foods, there are many great healthy choices. As a result, it’s hard to say which choice is the absolute best. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose what suits you. Considering that the average person should consume approximately 2000 calories, and less than 2300mg of sodium daily, it’s up to you to find the best breakfast out there — so why not get started, bright and early?

OATMEAL

100 calories, 2.6g of fiber per 3/4 cup with 1% milk (110 calories per cup)

You’re probably not worried about your blood cholesterol levels yet, but oatmeal is renowned for its cholesterol-lowering effects. But that’s not its only benefits. Since oatmeal is high in fiber, it will keep you full for hours — trust me.

Though steel-cut oats are better than large-flake oats, the latter holds the advantage of being quickly cooked in the microwave. If you’re not a fan of oatmeal’s texture, keep in mind that the length of time and amount of water you add will determine the consistency. If you prefer your oatmeal thicker, opt for less water and a longer cooking time. On the other hand, if you prefer it more “soupy,” try adding more water, and cook it for less time.

Oatmeal can be made even more nutritious by adding fruit, seeds, and cinnamon. If you need to sweeten your oatmeal, try coconut shavings instead of sugar.

COMMERCIAL CEREAL

92-245 calories, 1-17g of sugar, 0-12g of fiber per half cup

Sugar is the main problem with commercial cereals. When it comes to gauging how much sugar is in your cereal, just remember that one standard sugar cube (measuring approximately one centimeter by one centimeter) is approximately 4 grams of sugar. Though eating a large amount of sugar might sound like it would give you lots of energy, the mid-morning crash that ensues can be avoided by choosing cereals with more fiber and protein.

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EGGS

Hard boiled egg: 80 calories, 6g protein, 5g fat

Fried eggs: 173 calories, 12g protein, 14g fat

Eggs make a great breakfast because of their high protein content. But of course, depending on how you cook it, they can contain quite a range of calories.

PEANUT BUTTER

160 calories per 2 tablespoons on Whole-Wheat Toast (86 calories 2.4g of fiber) or a Bagel (195 calories)

Peanut butter or alternative nut butters are by far the best thing you can spread on your bread. Though butter, cream cheese, and peanut butter may contain comparable amounts of calories and fat, the crucial difference lies in the type of fat. Both butter and cream cheese contain saturated fat — and the latter can contain trans fats too. Peanut butter, on the other hand, contains healthy unsaturated fats and lots of protein to keep you full. When it comes to your choice of bread, always opt for a whole grain choice.

LESS DESIRABLE CHOICES

Examples of less desirable breakfast options include croissants (231 calories, 12g of fat), muffins (350 calories, up to16g of sugar and 22g of fat), bacon (3 slices contain 130 calories and 554mg of sodium) and things like frozen waffles and pancakes (they’re void of any nutritional benefits and loaded with sugar).

SKIPPING BREAKFAST

The worst choice you can make is to skip breakfast. At the very least, grab a fruit before starting your day.

UTSU staffer challenges incumbents

After a year and a half of working as a casual staff member behind the counter at UTSU, Nathaniel Tang is running against Unite for Action candidate Corey Scott for the position of VP Internal and Services. Scott is currently a member of the UTSU executive, serving as VP Campus Life.

After StudentsFirst dropped out of the election this week, he became both the only independent candidate and the lone executive candidate running against Unite for Action. Tang says his campaign platform is based around five priorities for reform.

“My first priority is fiscal/financial transparency. I would like to propose posting up executive and committee expenses on the web, so students can see expenses on a weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly basis,” said Tang whose second priority centres around information accessibility. “Currently, there are very few documents online. I want to, at every stage that a budget is proposed, post […] that budget online; be it a preliminary one, a finalized one, or a revised one, as well as financial statements from the last five years.”

“My third priority is electoral fairness and reform,” said Tang. “One of the key things I want to do with this priority is force a mandatory registration on campaigners and people campaigning on behalf of the campaigners. That will make things easier for the CRO with managing the election. It also gives candidates reliability on who can speak on their behalf. Candidates can be responsible for something that was said but not authorized by them.”

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Tang says that his fourth and fifth pillars are centred around democratic renewal and health and dental insurance reform. He wants to introduce both ranked election ballots and speed up the insurance refund period.

Tang believes his policies bring fresh new ideas compared to those of Corey Scott and the Unite For Action slate. “I’m bringing new ideas to the table,” said Tang. “I’m not recycling ideas that I’ve constantly presented at every single election every year. [I’m presenting] practical reforms that we can take to improve the internal structure of the student union.”

He says his campaign has not changed despite the recent boycotting of the election by the StudentsFirst slate. “I think it’s unfortunate that they decided to do the boycott. I don’t believe running with a slate of four would have impeded them in any way. That is their prerogative though.”

Tang also wants to improve the relationship between students and UTSU. “There is sort of a disconnect between the students union and the student,” said Tang. “Often, it’s the student union’s fault for not communicating properly to the [students], or not replying with prompt or proper responses.”

He says he has experienced slow email response times from the current union. “I’ve had this experience where I sent an email to an executive, and they hadn’t replied to my email. I would like to receive reassurance emails, to reassure those who have questions, to know their emails have been received.”

Despite not running for a slate, Tang claims he is ready to work in partnership with the United for Action slate. “I’m prepared to work with the slate. If I’m elected, I’m […] excited to work with people who have also been elected.”

GC debate fails to draw crowd

Though only attended by about a dozen spectators, last Monday’s Governing Council debate managed to bring out recent controversies on campus, particularly after the floor was opened to audience questions. The event was held at Sid Smith and sponsored by the U of T French Club and the Muslim Students’ Association.

EFUT alumni chair Antonin Mongeau directed the proceedings, calling on candidates to respond to questions from three moderators: second-term governor representing part-time students Joeita Gupta, ASSU president Gavin Nowlan, and Varsity Associate News Editor Dylan C. Robertson. The candidates debating were (ordered by constituency and division) beginning with full-time undergraduate division 1: Jorge Prieto, Aly Madhavji, Nicholas Gan, and Ron Leung; full-time undergraduate division 2: Cary Ferguson; part-time undergraduate: Brian Kerr, Dustin Hiles, and Maria Pilar Galvez; graduate division 1: Morgan Vanek and Oliver Sorin; and graduate division 2: Chirag Variawa and Mu-Qing Huang.

The first question concerned economic difficulties that the university has been experiencing in the recession, and what the candidates’ ideas were to begin remedying those financial pressures. Prieto, Madhavji, and Vanek said they planned to lobby the government for more funds, with Madhavji commenting that he is “completely against” flat fees. Prieto said that it is important for there to be a review process so that money from donors does not come with strings attached and Vanek similarly expressed her discomfort with corporate donations. Nonetheless, both candidates admitted that the university relies on donations from alumni and others. Madhavji and Kerr both felt that mismanagement of funds was part of the problem, though Kerr added that, as a certified accountant, he’s hesitant to make pronouncements without seeing the books.

Robertson then asked the candidates’ opinions on the issue of student groups and access to campus space. Galvez and Madhavji both advocated for free space, arguing that students are paying for such space as part of their tuition, with Madhavji saying there should be a free online service for students to reserve space. Ferguson said he would look at the current policy and see why students are charged so much. Gan felt better management was the solution.

Gupta continued by asking if the candidates felt that “strategic disruptions” (i.e. protests) were effective ways for students to voice their concerns to GC and, if not, what they would consider more effective. Gan felt it was ineffective, saying “they should try to at least tell us rather than just chanting songs, which does not help anyone at all.” Galvez said she thinks that the protestors were expressing themselves when they felt they had not been consulted, or when they could not otherwise speak at GC proceedings, but that the protests should be well-timed, pointing out that in February a disruption interrupted a presentation by students.

Once the floor was opened to audience questions the debate became particularly engaging. Matthew Gray, who was a UTSU presidential candidate before his slate, StudentsFirst, decided to boycott the elections last week, had one particularly pointed question for Galvez. He asked why she had deleted comments about his slate’s boycott on the pages of UTSU election-related events on Facebook, something that did not seem in line with the ideals of dialogue and listening to students’ voices.

A debate within a debate began as the moderators tried to decide if the question was relevant — Mongeau thought it went to character, while Nowlan and Gupta thought it was irrelevant to GC debates, and Gupta felt it was inappropriate to single out one candidate. It was decided that Galvez could choose whether to answer, and she explained that the issues raised on the Facebook groups should have been brought to the CRO or the elections and referenda committee at UTSU, of which she is part, not debated on Facebook.

MSA vice president external Ishraq Alim asked the candidates’ thoughts on the UTSU elections after StudentsFirst’s boycott. Gupta said that this question was a potential conflict of interest for several of the candidates, and Nowlan reminded the audience that they were welcome to ask the candidates after the debate was over. Instead Alim asked about corporate donations, alleging that Peter Munk had asked to GC to prevent events on campus in which student groups are critical of Munk and his mining company.

“Donors do have control of what is being said and what’s not being said on our campus, whether we like it or not,” Alim said. “What are you going to do about it?” Mongeau backed up Alim’s allegations, saying, “We know the events surrounding Barrick Gold or Peter Munk specifically. The university will send people out to tear down your posters. They will send security, they will bill you for it.”

Madhavji agreed that it is a problem. “You can’t silence half the student groups, for example, just because you have $50 million,” he said. “I am totally against that.” Kerr said he is for corporate partnerships, but draws the line at sponsorships. “I think [corporations] should have all kinds of input as to what courses are taught […] Sponsorship, not so much. I don’t really want someone to hand me money, there’s always strings [attached].”

James Nugent, a graduate student in geography, asked what the candidates would do if a GC meeting were cancelled and not rescheduled, as happened in September of 2010. Leung responded that he was against such behaviour, and would lobby against those practices. Huang said that, since the question was so hypothetical, it is hard for her to say what she would do but she imagined she would talk to her colleagues on GC to find a solution. Ferguson said it would depend on why the meeting was cancelled, so Nugent provided the hypothetical scenario that the non-student governors were “at their cottages.” “In that case,” Ferguson replied, “I would raise hell,” and mobilize students. Gan also said he would have to know why the meeting was cancelled and what the agenda items at the meeting would have been, and that he would try to meet with the organizations that would have been present.

The new (old) misogyny

On January 24, the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University held a campus safety information session. The session consisted of one campus security guard and two Toronto cops from 31 Division. According to an Osgoode student government representative, one cop, later identified as Constable Michael Sanguinetti, had the following advice for women in danger of sexual assault: “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Constable Sanguinetti later issued an official apology, citing his “embarrassment” over the comment, and apologizing for any “ill feelings” that it may have incited.

On February 23, in Manitoba, Justice Robert Dewar of Queen’s Bench Court sentenced Kenneth Rhodes, who was convicted of sexual assault in an incident that occurred five years ago. Justice Dewar sentenced Rhodes with a two-year conditional sentence that allows him to avoid jail time, justifying the decision with crude remarks that have some calling for his immediate removal. According to Dewar, Rhodes was simply a “clumsy Don Juan,” also citing that the victim wore a tube top without a bra, high heels, and liberal amounts of makeup, in his justification of this instance of rape as “…a case of misunderstood signals and inconsiderate behaviour.” Thus far, no apology has been issued, although his comments are under review by the Canadian Judicial Council.

The underlying attitude of both incidents seems to be that rape victims have the ability to avoid their fate, if only they would desexualize themselves through their dress and self-presentation. This attitude is afflicted with misogyny.

Let’s look at that opinion a little bit more closely: Yes, men sexualize sluts. It is in their nature, and thus, men are not at fault. Therefore, if a girl doesn’t want to have sex with a guy, the solution is simple: do not exude sexuality, do not wear makeup, and do not make yourself traditionally “attractive” or “sexy” in any way. The word “slut” has only ever been used to shame a woman because of her sexuality. It exists to discourage women from expressing a sexual desire that deviates from that which is accepted in society at large. Even more so, it exists to discourage women from indicating that they have more sexual partners than is socially acceptable. The term “slut” is an ambiguous and condemning term that blames and stigmatizes a woman for her derivation from what is considered “acceptable.” The use of this term reinforces a society that hates and stigmatizes its women for their sexuality. This is what is called misogyny and oppression. In this instance, and the instance of the opinion expressed above, a woman is denied simple individual rights on the basis that the power structures of our society will not afford her the right to wear certain clothes, or to behave in a particular way on account of a patriarchal system — unless she gives up the protection of that society and that society’s laws.

By applying — or indeed implying — this term to rape victims, especially after the aggressor has been convicted (as in the case of Kenneth Rhodes), the rape victim has become complicit in the crime committed against them. The victim is at fault for incurring this crime.
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Consider a man who is dressed in an expensive suit with an expensive watch. He is walking home from work, and he is robbed and physically assaulted. The perpetrators are later caught and convicted. Consider a judge reducing the sentence on these perpetrators on the basis that the man was complicit in incurring the crime due to his dress. Consider a cop advising men that wearing expensive suits is the cause of physical assault and robbery. Would this be considered acceptable in a court of law as a justification for a shorter sentence for the perpetrator? Would this crime be considered a “misunderstanding”?

No, the robbery victim would never be considered the cause of the crime, largely because the man’s dress is considered acceptable in our patriarchal society. Further still, all crimes are more complicated than a simple matter of cause and effect. People who are robbed do not have the appearance of being rich. Women who are not dressed in tube tops are still raped. There is no statistical evidence to suggest that what is termed Western “sluttiness” is directly related to the rates of sexual assault.

Crimes are, instead, related to the material and social conditions of the environment in which they are committed, as well as to the psychological makeup of the aggressor. They do not follow the rules of conventional logic. To think otherwise is not only to severely simplify the nature of sexual assault — but also of all crime.

Justice Robert Dewar in Manitoba is comfortable enough to imply that a rape victim is a “slut” on the basis of her attire and makeup. This thereby nullifies the crime that has been committed against her, because of the stigmatization of “slut.” To be a “slut” in our society is, apparently, to be a lower-class citizen. To be a woman with, or with the appearance of, an “inappropriate” sex drive, is to be a person unworthy of the protection of the law.

Is it logical to subvert law on the basis of the victim’s compliance with patriarchal, normative restrictions of female sexuality? Are we intending to set the legal precedent that all victims of crime have incited their aggressors in some way and are, therefore, at fault? Or simply that those victims who have not acted in accordance with the societal norm may be considered to be at fault for any crimes committed against them? This subverts and undermines the very notion of law, and allows it to be dictated by societal whim to the point that it becomes meaningless and absurd. The misogynistic view that rape victims are at fault for the crimes committed against them only serves to reinforce the fear and hatred of female sexuality which already underlies the structure of our society, as well as to over-simplify the nature of crime to the point that perpetrators are no longer responsible for their own actions.

What happened to StudentsFirst?

In The Varsity’s February 28 issue it was revealed that StudentsFirst had decided to boycott the UTSU elections after alleged last-minute disqualifications. StudentsFirst presidential candidate Matthew Gray alleged that VP external candidate Rohail Tanoli and board of directors candidates Cloe Bilobe and Suzannah Moore were notified shortly before the all-candidates meeting that they did not receive sufficient nomination signatures to enter the race.

Before announcing the slate’s boycott Gray inquired as to whether the candidates could enter the race if an appeal found that they had the sufficient number of signatures. Both the CRO and the elections and referenda committee refused to provide a definitive answer.

On 3 March 2011 the CRO issued an interim report on the “ineligible nominees for the 2011 UTSU Spring Elections.”

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The report found that Rohail Tanoli — StudentsFirst nominee for Vice-President, External — received 217 nomination signatures, of which only 187 were eligible. Executive candidates are required to submit 200 eligible signatures to enter the elections race. Upon a recount on 2 March 2011, Tanoli’s inelligibility was confirmed.

StudentsFirst candidate for New College Director, Cloe Bilodeau, received a total of 21 nomination signatures. Board of direcors candidates are required to submit 25 signatures to enter the elections race. Victoria College Director Suzannah Moore submitted a total of 26 nomination signatures, of which only 21 were verified to be eligible.

Free association is a fundamental right

Elections plagued by a traditionally high incumbency rate and traditionally low voter turnout seem to be the model of democracy at U of T. Add to that a recent boycott of the upcoming UTSU elections by the only major opposition slate and it seems that student politics at the U of T are doomed to dysfunction. Students feel either apathetic and uninvolved or completely disenfranchised, and many believe the current system is not able to adequately address their concerns. Presented with this reality we are forced to ask the question: why are students required to be part of the union at all?

In 1948, Canada voted for the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1982, we adopted our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In both these documents, freedom of association is listed as a protected right. The UN Declaration stated explicitly that no human being can be “compelled to belong to an association.” This right is absent at U of T. In direct contrast to both these documents, students are compelled not only to be part of the student union, but forced to pay dues whether or not they agree with how their money is being spent.

The current channels by which students can express their concern are criticized as being insufficient and biased towards the status quo. The turnout rate for past elections has rarely exceeded 10 per cent, with the near complete re-election of the incumbent members. When 60 per cent of Canadians turn out to vote, federal elections are lambasted as being unrepresentative. How representative, then, can UTSU be?

It is not surprising that students feel a sense of disenfranchisement, as the only channel available to them to affect policy change seems to be broken. The lack of such democratic accountability has led to the boycott of upcoming UTSU elections by the opposition slate, StudentsFirst.

These problems, however, are not restricted to U of T nor, indeed, to Canada. New Zealand has confronted these concerns by pushing for voluntary student union membership. Sir Roger Douglas, former Minister of Finance and currently an MP for the ACT Party, is championing a bill that would give students the choice to join a union or not. When asked for comment, Douglas stated, “At a fundamental level relationships between individuals and society should be based on consent. […] They should be based on voluntary cooperation.” It was this principal he sought to extend to student union membership. Involvement in UTSU is, of course, anything but voluntary.

If students had the choice to opt out of UTSU, the union would no longer be answerable only to rival slates at election time, but to every student. The Union would be held constantly accountable and would need to provide tangible improvements to student life. Students who felt they were best served by the union would keep their membership, while those who felt their concerns remained unaddressed could, if the democratic channels consistently failed them, opt out. To prevent freeloaders from benefiting from UTSU funds while not paying dues, simple caveats could be introduced. For example, a club wishing to receive UTSU funding might be required to have a majority of dues-paying members to be eligible.

The argument against this practice is, of course, that the union would then be sapped of funds and rendered unable to supply needed services. When confronted by this question, Sir Roger Douglas explained, “Any organization that can deliver services their customers want [���] will have no trouble attracting [membership].” In the case of student unions, if they “really do provide [needed] services […] then they should have nothing to worry about.” Experiences of voluntary student unions — which are the norm in Australia — have found this to be the case. While the budgets of some were depleted, many others actually saw an increase in funds as they focused their efforts on improving student life instead of championing political causes. It should also be noted that voluntary student unions have found sources of income outside of student levies (some being able to eliminate dues altogether) by receiving, for example, funding from local businesses who benefit from student patronage.

Ultimately, however, this issue goes beyond material arguments. The fact is that freedom of association is a Charter and human right. Even if voter turnout were 90 per cent and there was regular turnover in student representation, those individuals who felt UTSU did not reflect their interests should be guaranteed the ability to opt out. It is every student’s right as a human being to do so. As Sir Roger Douglas said on the floor of the New Zealand Parliament, “Associations […] are not truly representative of their members’ convictions if they are forced to join. They are, in fact, meaningless — the mere playthings of those who control them.”

Not enough space

A Governing Council meeting last October had to be briefly adjourned after several student protesters staged a protest inside Council chambers.

The upheaval was caused by the Policy on the Temporary Use of Space — administrative lingo for space booking — a two-page document outlining a new university policy on campus space. The document aimed to put current space bookings practice in print by updating the last policy, which was implemented in 1988 and only applied to the St. George campus.

The policy met controversy over a paragraph stating that “the university may, as a condition of booking, require that authorized security be made available during the use of the space […] at the cost of the user and to be arranged by the university.” In addition, it says that “the university at its discretion may assess additional security requirements and require that campus police be present at any event.”

Clubs lobbied student representatives to vote against the policy while students protested outside Simcoe Hall. The policy passed, accompanied with a set of procedures outlining how it should be implemented, to be determined by a nominated committee.

Student groups alleged that the security cost provision smacked of censorship, allowing the university to financially penalize groups who hold controversial events.

In 2006 and 2007, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group held two on-campus talks related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In both cases, campus police determined the event to be a security risk, sent police officers, and later billed the group hundreds of dollars for security.

“I cannot recall the last time a campus group was, without requesting campus police to be present, forced to pay for the costs of campus police to be at an event,” said Jim Delaney, director of the office of the Vice-Provost Students. He added that unlocking a building after hours is sometimes annotated as a security cost.

Despite student skepticism, the policy stresses that fees should remain a rare occurrence.

“We normally do not charge recognized campus groups and student societies at all, except for reasonable cost recovery for additional services beyond making the space available (such as post-event cleaning),” it reads.

Provost Cheryl Misak told The Varsity that, although student groups could be charged if any event’s security costs were unusually high, the situation would be exceptionally rare.

“We’re working very, very hard to not charge student groups with security costs,” she said.

Established by the provost’s office in January, the Advisory Committee on the Temporary Use of Space is a group of student and administration representatives from all three campuses. They review and make recommendations on the procedures outlined for the newly approved policy, and examine how student activity space should and can be allocated.

The committee is being facilitated by Delaney, and its second meeting is next Monday. Here’s a breakdown of what it will be dealing with.

St. George campus

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The Office of Space Management oversees most room bookings on campus. Almost all OSM spaces are classrooms and seminar rooms, which are booked through its online booking service.

Many spaces on campus don’t fall under the authority of the OSM. While some rooms in the constituent colleges (Innis, New, University, and Woodsworth) are bookable through OSM, others are entirely managed by the colleges that own them. The federated colleges (St. Michael’s, Trinity, and Victoria) as well as the Faculty of Music, and Wycliffe and Knox colleges have wholly separate booking procedures. Colleges often give preferential treatment to their own clubs; some spaces are effectively barred from out-of-college clubs.

The OSM doesn’t charge recognized campus groups for space usage.

“One of the main issues we’re hearing from student groups is that they cannot always get bookings for space in the exact spaces they seek without incurring additional costs because the building needs to be opened up or because there are some additional costs that are connected to using certain types of space (e.g. caretaking costs),” Delaney said. “The question for us to explore is how we can make more desirable space available at a lower cost.”

“The office isn’t funded as well as it should be,” said UTSU VP Campus Life Corey Scott, noting that all campus group booking requests go through one OSM staff member. “I just don’t think U of T sees it as a priority, really.”

Groups can make reservations at a maximum of four weeks beforehand — a limit that doesn’t exist for external groups.

“In terms of what club executives are saying when they come to me — trying to find shortcuts or ways to get through a bunch of these policies — is that it’s incredibly frustrating,” said Scott.

The issue isn’t just indoors. Last October, the World Cup of Clubs soccer tournament, a day-long event organized by multiple cultural groups, was denied its request to use the King’s College Circle field for the full day. OSM cited office policy and students’ need to cross the field. Event organizers said the number of participants had to be limited and criticized OSM for what it deemed unwritten rules.

Hart House offers most of its rooms to students for free, with certain exceptions for larger venues.

Satellite campuses

Both UTM and UTSC have student centres, opened in 1999 and 2004 respectively, that serve as hubs of campus life. Both buildings are partially autonomous, with the local student union designating space usage. They contain offices of the campus’ student union, radio station, newspaper, pub, and sexual health centre, and also have multipurpose rooms for club meetings and events.

Although the UTSC student centre has club lockers, it has no office space to offer.

“We’re in a really tight squeeze when it comes to campus space,” said SCSU VP Campus Life Matthew Zajch, who compares the rapidly growing campus to “a kid who’s outgrown his clothes; it’s uncomfortable and you know there’s easy ways to fix it.”

With an athletic centre and a slew of campus buildings expected for the 2015 Pan Am Games, Zajch hopes university administration will offer some newly vacant space to students.

UTSC has a dance group culture, with more than a handful competing in monthly events. But with no designated dance studio and overused athletic facilities, many rehearse after-hours in open spaces across campus.

Booking space outside the student centres also seems easier at the satellite campuses. At UTSC the Campus Life Fund assists recognized groups with university-administered event costs, such as rental and clean-up fees. At UTM, clubs organize audiovisual needs for a fee with the campus’ technology department, but other fees are highly uncommon.

Student commons

St. George campus doesn’t have a student centre. Its closest match, the Sussex Clubhouse, houses over 50 campus groups in only three floors. It has limited rooms for clubs to meet in, although they are free to book, even in the evening. The building itself has finicky plumbing, cracking paint, and multiple asbestos warnings.

Both York and Ryerson universities have student centres, with club offices and multipurpose spaces.

Plans for a similar building for St. George campus have been kicking around for nearly six decades, repeatedly falling victim to competing visions and funding shortfalls.

A 2007 UTSU referendum approved a $20 million levy to pay two-thirds of the cost of a new Student Commons. UTSU collects a five-dollar levy each semester, which will rise to $14.25 when the centre opens. U of T administration will pay the remaining third.

Last November, the UTSU board of directors voted to resituate the project to 230 College St., current site of the Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design building.

“I know the student commons will be a huge asset for clubs that need space on campus but don’t want to go through the hassle of OSM,” said Scott.

The project, still in the planning stage, aims to offer boardrooms, kitchens, office space, multipurpose rooms, and lecture halls, ostensibly by mid-2012.

Who signs it anyway?

One of the biggest points of contention among campus clubs is signing authority. At the moment, each club can use one signing officer. Requiring all events go through one single executive, combined with only being able to book events four weeks ahead, means clubs have a difficult time booking space in a speedy manner. Some groups have cancelled events after finding no compatible time.

A 2006 provost-authored report recommended that “campus groups be permitted to identify up to two contact people who are authorized to reserve space” and references a similar 1999 recommendation.

“At the time, there were some technical issues associated with the recommended change that made it difficult to implement,” said Delaney, adding that he expects a change “in the near future.”

When told that Ulife, U of T’s student life repository, allows upwards of four signing officers on its clubs recognition application, Delaney said it was a database issue.

“If I recall correctly, the issue was specific to the way the campus groups database was designed at the time and how it delivered information,” he said.