‘Hey Jim!’

A U of T student was among seven protestors arrested Monday for a day long sit-in at finance minister Jim Flaherty’s Whitby constituency office.

“We got the message that [Flaherty] was too busy to speak to us. We negotiated to speak to the chief of staff and he was not interested in having any kind of discussion,” said Indra Noyes, the fourth-year psychology student who was among the seven.

Last Saturday marked the third such protest in recent weeks by the group People for Climate Change, which formed to pressure the government to take stronger action on climate change as world leaders gather for negotiations in Copenhagen. Demonstrators have also occupied the offices of environmental minister Jim Prentice and labour minister Rona Ambrose.

The group wants Canada to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 25 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. On Monday, they delivered a letter to Flaherty, calling on him to make commitments that include passing the Climate Change Accountability Act and signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. “Climate change is a human rights issue, and First Nations in Canada are feeling climate change worst and first,” the letter reads.

Protestors crashed the office at 9:30 a.m. and chained themselves together, while others picketed outside. Police arrived shortly after but let them stay until 4:30 p.m., when the office closed. Two protestors had to be carried out.

During the day, demonstrators sung, chanted, tweeted, and spoke to media. Their rendition of “Hey Jim”—a take on “Hey Jude”—failed to net a meeting with the minister.

Flaherty’s office could not be reached for comment. Press secretary Chisholm Pothier told CTV that occupying the office was “the absolutely worst way to get a meeting with the minister.” Pothier said the group did not make a formal request to meet Flaherty before the protest.

All seven were charged with criminal mischief, trespass, and loitering, according to Noyes. They also had to sign an agreement of non-association until their Jan. 14 court date, with exemptions for those who work together.

Noyes sits on the board of the U of T Environmental Resource Network, and is involved with Rainforest Action Network Toronto and Community Solidarity Response Team, an activist group that works with communities affected by Canadian mining companies. The companies have long denied allegations of human rights abuses from at least 30 countries.

Despite what she called an incredibly disappointing response from Flaherty’s office, Noyes said there are more sit-ins planned, though she did not know specifics.

“Non-violent direct action has been a part of every single struggle of social change,” said Noyes. “If our government doesn’t lead, then the people will lead and the government will have to follow.”

A little bird told me

“The revolution will not be televised, but it will be tweeted.” Such sentiments were expressed frequently during the turmoil over last summer’s Iranian elections. When foreign press was barred from attending demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Twitter became the easiest way for dissidents in the country to make their voices heard.

The phrase could also apply to last week’s annual general meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students. The controversial Motion 6 passed, making it harder for member unions to defederate. (Thirteen campuses across Canada have defederation campaigns underway; 11 have already submitted petitions. A spokesperson said the changes will not affect petitions filed before the national executive meeting in January.) A massive reform package, aimed at making the CFS more transparent and accountable to its members, was mostly rejected.

The CFS allowed one journalist accreditation to cover the AGM: Emma Godmere, Ottawa bureau chief of the Canadian University Press. But journalists from the McGill Daily and the Concordian came as members of their student union, and proceeded to use Twitter to cover the event at #cfs09. Godmere also used Twitter to live-blog the event.

The CFS stopped the unaccredited McGill Daily and Concordian reporters from posting under their papers’ banners; they continued tweeting under their own names. The reporters from the Quebec student papers posted tweets like “…no francophone media at all will be allowed in. Shame.” Godmere, with tweets such as “Motion referral carries with amendment,” was allowed to continue posting as a CUP reporter.

“I was approached by a CFS staff member who casually mentioned that if the other two papers kept tweeting, the official media credentials for CUP could be retracted in the near future,” said Godmere.

Twitter opened a floodgate of opinion and debate from people who would not otherwise have had a say, either because they did not attend the AGM or because CFS policy forbids reporters from interviewing delegates until after the closing plenary.

Twitter accounts covering the event came in four categories. Pro-CFS posts came mostly from CFS staffers or supporters, while anti-CFS posts were mostly made by student politicians and reform supporters. Live blogs had journalists and others giving play-by-plays. Lastly, joke accounts were designed to disrupt, add humour, or embarrass members on either side.

It wasn’t always easy to follow the action. Both the pro- and anti-CFS factions would endlessly re-tweet the same sentence, occasionally leading to a wall of identical text.

There were also accounts with minute differences in their names, making it difficult to distinguish legitimate accounts from saboteurs. For @cfsQuebec, an account from frustrated Quebecois students, there was @cfs_Quebec, posting, “I need some gum to cover my beer breath.”

Reactions to the passing of Motion 6 elicited such responses as “Motion six defeated, 1/3rd of delegates question top-down authoritarianism, BUT chair fails to recognize result” from @CFSQuebec.

“Thousands of students across the country getting ready to revolt against the CFS if motion 6 passes…” from @TBYS_.

And from @csuconcordia, “CSU and other schools walk out of CFS meeting!”

On the lighter side, an account claiming to be the “Cdn Fed of Goats” said, “but i wanted bleat on motion 6!!!” “Concerned delegates cannot find hot dog cart. Can an insider please confirm where the hot dog cart is located,” chimed in @foodsolidarity, while @cfspalin contributed such tweets as “All the mavericks in the house put your hands up.”

Joey Coleman, a blogger for Globecampus who was following #cfs09, told The Varsity the social network “broke the wall.” Coleman, referencing the CFS’s reluctance to allow media coverage, added, “Twitter is impossible for the CFS to stop, short of installing cell-phone jammers.”

Coleman has followed past CFS AGMs, and said Twitter made this one different. “[Previously] we didn’t really find out about what was going on behind the scenes—you heard whispers.”

Godmere, at the closing plenary session when all the motions were voted on, used Twitter to provide up-to-the-minute coverage. She said she enjoyed the discussion the site facilitated, but worried about the “negative voices involved in that dialogue.”

Godmere said that some of the joke accounts added humour to the proceedings, but others only added further divisions. “You had no idea if it was someone inside or outside [the AGM] tweeting,” she said, adding that some delegates voiced concerns of privacy violations.

For more coverage, see “Double or nothing,” also in this issue. Follow The Varsity on Twitter here.

A moving feast

Last Sunday, the Muslim Students’ Association and the Muslim Association of Canada gave away food and held a dinner for over 200 families at the Scadding Court Community Centre. Community members gathered to commemorate Eid-Al-Ada, the Feast of Sacrifice, which occurs the day after pilgrims performing the Hajj in Saudi Arabia descend from Mount Arafat.

“It’s a celebration of devotion to God and occurs at the end of the major pilgrimage,” said Anton Kurtanik, the MSA’s community affairs coordinator. “To symbolize the sacrifice of Abraham, they [Muslims] sacrifice an animal.”

Traditionally, Muslims will sacrifice an animal for Eid-Al-Ada, keeping a third of the meat for their family, giving a third to their friends, and the final third to the less fortunate.

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Volunteers distributed over 1,800 pounds of halal meat, the equivalent of of 60 lambs and one cow, to over 750 people. “Considering it was the weekend before exams, it was amazing to see so many volunteers come out,” Kuratnik said. MSA members numbered 30 among the hundred or so volunteers. After the meat was distributed, families dined on chicken curry, salad, potatoes, and rice. A children’s table provided face-painting and crafts.

The MSA can be reached at uoftmsa.com and communications@uoftmsa.com

Words Action Thoughts Community Heart, a U of T based group with over 400 members, works with children and youth in the Regent Park community. WATCH sends volunteer tutors to Lord Dufferin Public School to work with students aged five to 18.

On Dec. 16, the group will host its 11th annual holiday dinner. Volunteers will deck out Hart House’s Great Hall with a Christmas tree in preparation for an evening of music, games, food, and presents from Santa. WATCH is aiming for over 170 children to attend, and hope to have 60 to 70 volunteers.

“We really aim to give the children a nice Christmas, because many of the families we help can’t have a big dinner or give the kids nice presents,” William Sanh said, the group’s sponsorship coordinator. Most of the toys have been donated through six toy drives they held this year.

“The classrooms are overcrowded and the teacher cannot help them one-on-one,” said William Sanh, the group’s sponsorship coordinator. WATCH also runs an after-school program called Girls and Boys K Club, where student volunteers run an arts and crafts room and help kids with homework, as well as supervising kids whose parents work late.

“All of our volunteers find it great because they get to a build a close relationship with the kids,” Sanh said.

WATCH holds a blood drive each semester, and members also volunteer at a soup kitchen at the Church of the Redeemer at 162 Bloor St. W.

To get involved with WATCH, check out their Facebook page or email uoftwatchcommunity@gmail.com

Countdown to Copenhagen: kids our hope for the climate crisis

Kids truly say the darndest things. Earlier this week, I found myself tearing down Rosehill Ave. near Yonge and St. Clair, on my way to give a talk to the environment group at an all-girl’s middle school. One of the teachers had heard about the delegation from the University of Toronto that will be attending the Copenhagen climate summit from December 7 to 18, and had inquired whether a delegate would speak at the school.

I was soon facing a semi-circle of youthful faces, eagerly waiting the cardinal knowledge I had to share on climate change. Because I had not expected such a young crowd (the youngest was 12), I was not sure where to begin. I briefly introduced myself as a student of political science and environmental studies. I described the diversity of the U of T delegation, and our hopes of not only reporting back on the negotiations, but also playing a part in placing pressure on the Canadian government, thereby holding them accountable for their actions (or inactions). I then introduced the UN Copenhagen climate summit as a self-imposed deadline by the international community, aimed at coming up with a post-2012 climate agreement that will succeed the current one, the ill-fated Kyoto Protocol.

I described, in my most animated disposition, how there were families losing their homestays in sub-Saharan Africa and entire countries being submerged under water in the Pacific. I explained the seemingly monolithic concept of “equality,” and how it plays an important role as we navigate between developed and the developing, rich and the poor, north and the south. I even mentioned—in truth for dramatic effect—the Plan B scenario of shooting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to block sunlight, which would turn the sky yellow, but block further UV rays from warming the Earth.

When I finished, there was a pause. I was utterly terrified that my talk of politics and science had gone over their heads, and that they had been falling asleep with their eyes open. But then, they began peppering me with questions.

Do you think if there were a different government leader, things would be different? What will happen when we use up all the resources on all the continents? How much coal do we have left? How are carbons formed? I heard on the news that they are thinking of kicking Canada out of the Commonwealth. Is this true? How did this all start? Why are the poor countries also the ones most affected? Even if we build more wind turbines, won’t we need energy from coal and oil to build them? How does coal mining work? What is so terrible with the tar sands? And the ever-endearing: Do you think, um, we could, maybe, solve all of this mess someday? Followed by the impossible-to-answer: What can I do to help?

One girl even asked, in all earnestness, whether I thought that the world would end. When I answered no, that I have faith in human ingenuity, she followed up by asking that even if we did save ourselves, whether humans in the future wouldn’t repeat its mistakes all over again.

Regarding the scientific questions, I muttered something about how I never paid attention in Grade 8 science class (“but you all should!”). They patiently listened as I attempted to explain the beginning of it all with the Industrial Revolution, and they watched attentively as I wrestled with big themes such as cross-generational justice.

When it came to the ubiquitous and inevitable question of what one little person can do to help, I was at a loss for words. I am really not sure. The current political situation does not allow for effective direct political engagement, and perhaps it is intentionally designed that way. There are only so many times you can send letters to the editor and strip in a flash mob before that becomes ineffective. There are limits to how many times you can donate to the Suzuki Foundation or Greenpeace.

Not everyone has the privilege to be present in Copenhagen. But that is why students like those in the U of T delegation are Copenhagen-bound this weekend: to be the eyes and ears, and hopefully voices, of those who cannot go.

I remain utterly amazed by how the young environmentalist cubs I spoke to seem to intuitively understand that everything is in fact political. And perhaps this sort of willingness to ponder deeply over an issue is what is needed. Perhaps what we can do is to live deliberately, and this doesn’t need to be accomplished through grand measures.

There is no price tag on engaging with others, and you can ask questions too. We have youth by our side, if not the sheer force of hope.

You can follow our blog at uoftcop15.ca.

Around the world: Turkey’s workers move to offer a fresh solution

Analyzing and understanding contemporary Turkey remains one of the toughest jobs for any international observer. Observers and analysts of international relations are used to complex situations—where one has to read between the lines with regards to what political figures say—but Turkey is an extreme case by any measure.

How should we gauge and evaluate the different political forces in this country? On one side you have the Republican People’s Party (CHP, by its Turkish initials), which has been the party of the Turkish establishment since the founding of modern Turkey in the aftermath of the First World War. The party is defined by its staunch support of secularism, oddly mixed with militarism, statism, and Turkish nationalism. The ideological mix has resulted in heavy oppression of Kurdish minorities, including denying their right to speak their language in public spheres.

Opposing this camp stands the new Justice and Progress Party (AKP), which is unique, and is the subject of numerous studies. The AKP comes from a line of Islamic parties that have repeatedly won elections, but have been suspended by the establishment for their alleged threat to secularism. While the leadership of AKP (especially the current President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul) all have a background in the same Islamic movement and recognize themselves as an “Islamic” party, they have successfully conducted good relations with the West, unlike the previous Islamic parties. It is a pro-EU, pro-NATO party, has a more moderate vision, and denies any closet designs for a more Islamic Turkey.

Recip Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s AKP Prime Minister, has successfully maintained cordial relations with the United States, and could even act as a possible mediator in Middle East peace talks. He has offered a vision of the AKP as the party of the “Average Turk.” He hasn’t given any concessions to the Kurdish cause and has thus been able to survive any attempts of a coup d’etat by the army. Even though there have been clashes—on Gul’s presidency and permission to wear a hijab in universities—and even threats by the army, Erdogan has been able to keep AKP in power by maintaining wider regional and western support than his rivals.

Who should we believe when analyzing Turkey’s politics? Should we believe that CHP is a party that promotes secularism that just happens to be less democratic, while AKP is a party that claims to be pro-Western and democratic, but is also leading a closet Islamist movement trying to undermine the secularist foundations of the country? Who should the West support? A pro-Western Islamic democrat AKP member marred by his unimpressive record with the poor and working class, or a nationalist, militarist, and ostensibly secularist CHP with a dark track record of oppressing working class struggles and the rights of Kurdish people?

CHP and AKP can happily agree on one thing: the labour laws that say nearly two million public sector workers can join unions but can’t go on strike. While these laws were put in place by CHP, Recip Tayyip Erdogan of AKP also made sure to warn against any strike.

But the events of last week proved that a strong voice against both parties does exist in Turkey. Thousands of public sector unions broke the law with a massive one-day walkout. Tens of thousands stopped their jobs to remind the country that, without them, there would be no transport, no hospitals, no postal service, and no schools.

Salim Uslu, the leader of the public sector union Hak-Is, called on the government to quickly change the law, which is a remnant of previous military governments that suppressed the workers movement in the 1960s and ’70s.

This begs a solution for the demagogic scene of Turkish politics. The forces of labour, leftists, and progressives have the right to organize within their own ranks. Only they can form a force, inclusive of workers from all regions, who can counter any attempt to dismantle secularism, and efforts to bring about Iran-style Islamic rule in Turkey. At the same time, they can oppose CHP nationalists for their oppression in the name of secularism. The right to self-determination for the Kurdish people should be recognized, and they should be offered the option to live in a inclusive, egalitarian Turkey which guarantees their basic rights, including the right to speak their mother tongue.

Straight from the Horse’s mouth

Given Chicago’s proclivity for putting out punk and rap artists, the Horse’s Ha’s woozy, jazz-tinted orchestral folk is a nice change of pace. Formed by British singer Jim Elkington and Janet Beveridge Bean in 2002 as a way to make money by playing cover songs in expensive restos, they became a genuine article in the last three years. The band released their debut album, Of The Cathmawr Yards, in 2008 and are touring with Yo La Tengo this winter.

The Varsity: I understand the band started as a plan to sing cover songs in wine bars.

Janet Beveridge Bean: Yeah, that was the original intent. Jim and I met each other through music, and he played a show, and I was really taken by his voice. And we enjoyed working together, so we thought, why not do this? Fifty bucks a shot and free wine for the night. It sort of revealed itself that it’s more difficult to remember other people’s lyrics than your own, I found. We had this good idea for making money and we ended up making it a non-money-making venture.

TV: What was the impetus for doing this as a way of making money off of music?

JBB: It just seemed like a much more civilized idea. People were quiet, and you could sit down, and it was low stress, and there wouldn’t be shit on the stage or things that come with playing in rock venues.

TV: So the problem was that you couldn’t play other people’s music?

JBB: We just thought it would be a fun side project. Nothing profound, it’s just the natural progression of musicians to want to write your own songs, even in the face of a lucrative idea.

TV: Listening to the music, it does sound like the collection of two sensibilities. How did you find the process of trying to work together?

JBB: I don’t think the sensibilities are that far removed from each other. Jim’s previous band, The Zincs, was a great pop band, and I love great pop music. And he had been a fan of Chicago music for a long time, and I had been playing there for a while. We have a similar place where our tastes meet. He’s a big fan of folk music from England, and I like folk music as well, but from a different place. That in-between spot is where we meet. Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, I guess.

TV: As an outsider and a Canadian, there’s something that seems distinctly Chicagoan about the project, something very improvisational on the record.

JBB: If you’re from Chicago, you’re incredibly lucky. We have this incredible improvisational jazz scene, and everyone loves playing with each other. That’s pretty distinct to the city.

TV: On the record there seems to be a lot about nature and the supernatural.

JBB: That’s a pretty good assessment. A lot of what happens on the record happens in dark places. That’s where the most interesting things happen. We’re actually working on a song-cycle now based on a book by Llody Chapman Andrews—he was an explorer; I think that Indiana Jones is based on this guy. He wrote a book for children in the ’50s called Nature’s Own Way and we’re writing the cycle based on the book, about odd animals.

TV: Where does this interest stem from?

JBB: It’s certainly evocative lyrically to sing about elements in nature. It’s ideas that sound beautiful. I can’t say I know why, it wasn’t a choice. When we got together, Tim brought these songs and I brought mine, and I had all of these references to the moon, and bugs and trees. And I thought, “Oh, that’s really funny.” It’s not something we had set out to do, it just kind of emerged.

TV:The moon is pretty notable—it seems to come up at least 10 times in the record.

JBB: Yeah, it really does. I think it’s a good rhyming word. I don’t think it’s left our repertoire for new songs either—the moon isn’t going anywhere.

TV: What do think Jim will write about next?

JBB: Jim is a remarkable songwriter. I’ve always advocated that he write a book of poetry, or even prose. I think he has an incredible gift for evocative imagery, and a way of putting words together that kind of reminds me of Cole Porter. Just very smart lyrics. The new songs we have now reference witches and the desert wanderer. Just iconic imagery that speaks about common experience. It’s all very mysterious.

TV: Do you find it daunting, being referential to grand figures in the western literary canon?

JBB: In regard to the reference to Dylan Thomas in the band name, it’s this very inscrutable short story about this town in Wales set upon by zombies. I wanted to use one of the lines from the story in the record name as well, and I know Jim was hesitant at first because he thought that was pompous or something. I was so worn out trying to explain what the band name was, that it would answer the question to just explain where it’s from a bit more. I don’t think it’s daunting; as he’s just a great writer.

Double or nothing

The Canadian Federation of Students has made it harder for member unions to leave. At the CFS annual general meeting from Nov. 25 to 28, representatives voted to double the number of signatures required to hold a defederation referendum, cap the number of referenda that can occur simultaneously, and increase the mandatory waiting period between successive referenda.

The CFS also rejected the majority of a reform package aimed to make the organization more transparent and accountable to its members.

The CFS is a national lobby group, made up of over 80 student unions and representing roughly 500,000 students, according to its website. Thirteen members have defederation campaigns underway.

Unable to go, unwilling to stay

The controversial Motion 6 passed last week, requiring future defederation campaigns to collect signatures from 20 per cent of the student body, up from 10 per cent.

It stipulates that only two unions can hold defederation referenda in any three-month period. If a defederation referendum does not succeed, universities will have to wait five years to hold another, and colleges will have to wait three years. The motion was raised by Carleton University’s Graduate Students’ Association. Defederation campaigners already complain of a too-small window for referenda: no vote can take place between April and Sept. 15 or between Dec. and Jan. 15, and at least two weeks of campaigning must precede voting.

The changes will go into effect when CFS’s national executive meets in early January, but will not affect petitions that have already been submitted, said CFS national treasurer Dave Molenhuis, the designated spokesperson for defederation matters. The meeting date has not been set.

In August, defederation petitions were circulated at 13 colleges and universities across Canada, including all four CFS member unions in Quebec. Eleven student unions have already formally submitted petitions to the CFS.

Molenhuis confirmed that 11 petitions were delivered but could not provide the names of student unions who submitted them. He said the petitions will be reviewed and verified by the national executive in early January.

“In some cases we need to review the authenticity of the petition,” he said. This process entails checking whether signatories are students of the school in question, whether they belong to the union, and whether there are duplicate signatures. CFS often works closely with school registrars to check student IDs when verifying petitions.

If the petitions are verified and passed by the national executive, the process for referenda outlined in CFS bylaws requires that the CFS and the student union each delegate two representatives to coordinate the logistics of defederation.

An agenda for the AGM, leaked prior to the meeting, lists all motions and the reasons behind them. Among the arguments for Motion 6 is that 10 per cent is too small a number and that 12,000 signatures (or 10 per cent from each of the federation’s smallest unions) could result in 10 referenda; that petitioning underway is “a coordinated plan to destabilize our Federation by a small group of individuals;” that it is “fundamentally anti-democratic” to hold multiple referenda in a small period of time because “the Federation and its members would have no reasonable opportunity to present a case for continued membership.”

Molenhuis said that multiple referenda would not provide any serious financial implications for the CFS. “Our budget reflects our current situation and there is allocation for that,” he said. Asked what the CFS expenditures on referenda would be—the unions are responsible for running referenda—Molenhuis said he would have to ask CFS national chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard.

For the most part, student union presidents whose campuses have defederation campaigns have not taken an official stance.

While Rick Telfer, president of Western’s Society of Graduate Students, said that the union has no position on the matter, he made disparaging remarks about defederation campaigners. Telfer was formerly general manager for the U of T Students’ Union.

“Those who are seeking to defederate here at Western are closely aligned with Conservative Party activists,” Telfer wrote in an email to The Varsity. “SOGS is a non-partisan organization and I expect that graduate students at Western will continue to support student unity, instead of an orchestrated and partisan attack on our Federation.”

Western petition organizer Dan Dechene said that his personal reason for dissenting arose from a lack of transparency and accountability to member organizations from CFS, and not due to party politics.

Reforms rejected

The 43 motions that make up the CFS reform package were put forward by the graduate student unions at McGill, Concordia, and the University of Calgary, as well as the University of Regina Students’ Union and the Alberta College of Art and Design Students’ Association. CFS-Quebec endorsed the package and helped draft the proposals after it was given a mandate to do so by members.

Proposed reforms included allowing individual students to opt out of paying CFS fees (Motion 74), disclosing executives’ salaries (Motion 48), allowing the media access to meetings and supporting their right to report without fear of legal reprisal (Motion 20), publishing a list of all legal action taken by CFS-Services (Motion 47), and launching a judicial board to study the implications of CFS legal action, which totaled $225,000 between 2006 and 2008 (Motion 62).

“About 90 per cent of the motions were shot down and none were accepted straight-out for what they were,” said Erik Chevrier, an exec on Concordia’s Graduate Students’ Association and a petition organizer. (Concordia submitted their petition on Nov. 6, with 711 valid signatures recognized by the dean of students.)

Chevrier said two amended motions were passed: to list boycotts online, and to record meetings. The latter was amended to include only the opening and closing plenary, where a designated minute-taker would type up minutes from recordings and make the minutes available to members.

Reform advocates say the proposals would make the CFS more transparent and accountable to members, and could resolve unions’ reasons for wanting to defederate. According to the McGill Daily, proposal authors charge the CFS of being ligitious, authoritarian, bureaucratic, and run by “out-of-touch ex-student politicos,” in the first page of the omnibus motion.

Opponents say the reforms are an attempt to undermine the organization. In a letter to CFS members, Giroux-Bougard called the package “a thinly veiled attempt, by a member, to undermine the progressive work that the Federation undertakes, through a campaign aimed at discrediting the elected national leadership, humiliating the unionized staff, and undermining the organisation and its work.”

For more coverage, see “A little bird told me,” also in this issue.

Poached eggheads

Two U of T professors have been wooed by the University of Michigan, and a petition is underway to ask that U of T match the offer.

Juhn Ahn and Amanda Goodman both teach courses on Buddhism for the religion department; Ahn also teaches for East Asian studies. Ahn said their possible departure is “tangentially related”—the two are married. Megan Wahlberg, president of the Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health Student Union, started the petition to Cheryl Misak, U of T vice-president and provost. The petition calls on Misak to “protect these programs that promote diversity at our university.”

The BPMSU serves an undergraduate minor program with around 100 students and three or four faculty members, according to Wahlberg.

Both the professors and Misak’s office declined to comment, citing confidentiality of ongoing negotiations.

“Right now we’re in the midst of negotiations,” said Ahn. “So a lot of the ink that has been spilled on the table is fresh.”

Speaking hypothetically, Ahn said his departure would “burden two departments as opposed to just one, and both departments are relatively small so their burden would be high.”

Students have criticized U of T for prioritizing more mainstream programs with commercial potential, such as engineering and commerce, arguing they have shortchanged smaller programs like interdisciplinary studies.

At recent town halls, a number of representatives from academic unions for interdisciplinary programs expressed concern over a faculty of arts and sciences review. Speakers were worried their programs would be cut, resulting in what they saw as the potential loss of diversity at U of T.

Ahn expressed no such worries. Neither did John Kloppenborg, chair of the religion department. “The university has a very clearly stated priority to promote interdisciplinarity, diversity, and our department has been […] in the forefront of promoting exactly that,” he said.