Matus named student kingpin

Effective July 1, 2008, Jill Matus, English professor and current viceprincipal of University College, will become U of T’s new vice-provost of students, a step up the administrative ladder that Governing Council approved this past week. She has been with the University of Toronto’s English department for over 25 years.

Matus will succeed U of T’s fi rst vice-provost of students, Jonathan Freedman, who held the job for seven months as an interim appointment while the university searched for a permanent replacement. During Matus’s upcoming fi ve-year tenure, she will be responsible for policies affecting the students and student organizations of all three U of T campuses.

In particular, she will oversee the operation and administration of student programs and services on St. George campus. Matus broke down her priorities for the downtown campus: “It would be things like the International Student Centre, First Nations health, student housing, and Hart House,” she said.

Other tasks Matus is expected to shepherd include supervising student recruitment operations, overseeing admissions and awards, and handling international student exchange programs. She will also supervise the assistant vice-president of student life, a newly created position, as yet unfilled.

After earning her PhD at the university in 1981, Matus worked as a part-time lecturer and an assistant professor at UTSC before joining the St. George English department as a full professor in 1997.

Three years ago, she began a term as vice-principal of University College, also taking on the role as acting principal of the college from July to December of 2007.

Announcing Matus’s new appointment, U of T vice-president and provost Vivek Goel said Matus embodies the essential characteristics needed for the position. Goel cited her “direct experience in undergraduate education, an understanding of the role of college life in the student experience, and a tri-campus orientation.”

“She has been engaged in activities that bridge curricular and co-curricular to ensure that our students have a well-rounded experience,” he said.

The outgoing Freedman expressed similar views of Matus, supporting her appointment, while bidding farewell to the post he has held since July 2007.

“She will be a wonderful addition to this office, and I look forward to having her take over the job,” said Freedman.

Matus was enthused about the appointment, but said she hopes it will not take her away from the classroom completely.

“I love teaching. It’s a wonderful way to maintain contact with students, particularly in my own department,” she said.

Apart from her administrative and academic experiences at U of T, Matus is also a distinguished humanities scholar and researcher, specializing in Victorian literature and culture. She has published writings on authors such as Dickens, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters—to name but a few.

Why is studying climate change important?

In order to understand why science is necessary, one needs to understand the history of humanity and the universe we inhabit.

In the beginning, dust clouds existed in a vast cosmic ocean. This dust occasionally condensed and formed stars and planets. After millions and millions of years, some exploded. They died, but not wastefully: atoms fundamental to life were formed in these high-energy explosions, including carbon, oxygen, and sulfur. The clouds resulting from millions of similar explosions all over the universe condensed again, forming other stars and planets. The sun was created out of this material along with our little blue planet, Earth.

If we wanted to fit all of these events in a calendar year with Jan. 1 representing the first dust cloud appearing in the cosmos and 11:59:59 p.m., Dec. 31 representing the present, the formation of the earth would occur in mid-August. Life soon emerged, its origins unknown. At the beginning of November, the first multi-cellular organisms appeared. On Dec. 17, the first vertebrates emerged, and the first dinosaurs appeared on Dec. 24, just in time for Christmas. They lived for six days of our hypothetical calendar. The first humans arrived on December 31 at 9:24 p.m. In the grand scheme of things, the ancient Egyptians built their great pyramids at 11:59:50 p.m., ten seconds ago. Columbus discovered America only one second ago.

Everything we know about humanity—every civilization, war, and historical event—makes up just the last 15 seconds of this condensed calendar. Dinosaurs lived on earth for six full days, yet we’ve been living here for only 15 seconds. However, there is a critical difference between us and the dinosaurs—as agents of change, we are way more powerful than any other species that ever existed on this planet. We have the power to conceivably destroy all life on earth within hours by using atomic weapons. We have the ability to change the climate of this planet within milliseconds on this calendar. This stems from our ability to think, reason, and figure things out. We discovered that the Earth is not flat, that the sun does not rotate around the Earth, and that the natural forces that exist on this planet are universal—gravity exists throughout the universe. In light of these revelations came a startling realization: we are not unique in the eye of the cosmos. Our mighty sun is a tiny grain of sand in a vast cosmic beach.

With time came a tool that helped humanity describe the natural world. This tool allowed us to understand life systematically, and draw conclusions based on evidence and observations. This tool is the scientific method.

As an educated society, dedicated to passing knowledge on to our young, we have this great tool firmly in hand. Not only can we make new discoveries about our awesome universe, but we can sustain our environment and the myriad life forms it contains. Looking at our calendar, one thing is clear: we have no time to waste. The rate of destruction of our planet is way more rapid than any species, including us, can adapt to. Within decades we are destroying this unique planet that has flourished with life for over billions of years.

We can still change the fate of our planet, and hope to experience a second year on our cosmic calendar. We can use the power of science to fix our mess. It is a job of special concern to current science students that will become future scientists—but only if we believe that it is up to us to change our fate by applying our accumulated knowledge. Society must not allow a minority of corporations to distract us from this mission. It may require investing in a plan that takes thousands of years to restore things as they once were—affected ecosystems need evolutionary timescales to regenerate themselves. The principle concern is that we have to foresee the benefit of doing this for the next generations, rather than continuing the shortsighted path humanity has been on up until now. We are running out of time to make things right.

Cops on the prowl for peeping Tom

Residents of the area around St. George St. and Bloor West have been warned by Toronto police to keep vigilant after reports came in of a man peeping into women’s homes during the evening and early morning hours. Police sent out a safety alert last week, asking for the public’s assistance identifying the man, described as 5’6” to 5’10” with a thin build, wearing a dark bomber jacket and toque.

It is not clear whether any of the peeping Tom incidents took place on U of T’s downtown campus, but Justin Fisher, assistant to the dean of Woodsworth College—whose new residence tower sits at the intersection highlighted by police— said he could not recall any similar incidents in the six months since he took on his position.

“The measures that we have in place, we’re very confident in those, and in the policies we have in place too,” said Fisher. He cited such security measures as a 24-hour front desk, guest sign-in policy, and nightly rounds made by staff.

“I just think being in downtown Toronto and how we have an such open campus where anyone from public or students are able to access our buildings, that’s why it’s important that we take security seriously and that we’re always on top of it.” In September, two female students at York university were sexually assaulted by men who snuck into their dorm. GTA universities condemned the assault and responded by reaffirming their commitment to student security. Later that month, two editors of Ryerson’s newspaper the Eyeopener tested the security at two of the university’s dorms and found they could sneak in easily. No such incidents have been reported at U of T.

Inventing the aqualung

Scuba diving generates millions of dollars in revenue each year. The word “scuba” is an acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus,” created by the U.S. Navy as a way to describe the equipment used by military divers. It is fitting that the modern name for the popular underwater breathing equipment finds its origins with the military. For centuries before scuba gear was used for recreation or research, the ability to remain underwater for long periods of time was most desired for military purposes. Renaissance strategists fantasized about the ability to work on the underside of submerged vessels for long periods of time or, more importantly, being able to ambush enemies completely undetected.

Some early inventors, like 16th century Italian mathematician Niccolo Tartaglia, envisioned a waterproof bell or hourglass inside which a person could stay underwater for as long as the air encased remained breathable. Others envisioned air tubes that connected the diver to the surface. Even Leonardo da Vinci had a working model: in the 15th century, he sketched a diving suit that afforded the wearer the ability to descend or ascend by deflating or inflating a “wine skin to be used to contain the breath.” While many of these inventions never made it past the drawing board, they are quite impressive considering the lack of dependable scientific knowledge at the time.

A commercially viable diving suit was not produced until the 19th century. French engineers Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze teamed up to produce the “Aerophore,” a suit that incorporated a reservoir of compressed air for emergencies. The reservoir gave the diver freedom to move around, for a small amount of time, unfettered underwater. The success of Rouqauyrol and Denayrouze’s compressed air reservoir inspired others to try and improve on the design. In 1878, Henry Fleuss designed the first self-contained oxygen apparatus. In his invention, oxygen was contained in a small copper cylinder that could be rebreathed, as the system used a chemical to absorb exhaled carbon dioxide. Furthermore, Fleuss’ apparatus did not produce air bubbles, making it ideal for military frogmen, as they would not be given away at the surface while using it.

As technology advanced, cylinders that could hold very high pressures were finally produced. This innovation, along with an observation made by French navy Commandant Yves Le Prieur, combined to create the first incarnation of modern scuba diving equipment.

In 1912, Le Prieur watched as Maurice Fernez remained underwater through the aid of a surface pump. Inspired by Fernez’s display, Le Prieur wanted to find a way to do the same thing underwater. Fourteen years later, the two men teamed up and produced the lightweight breathing apparatus that Jacques Cousteau would later refine and popularize. By attaching a mouthpiece to the kind of metal cylinder used to inflate pneumatic tires, Le Prieur was able to create a selfcontained breathing apparatus that was light and easy to use. However, the air flowed continuously out of the cylinders, giving the diver a mere 12 minutes underwater.

In 1943, Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagan co-invented the first open-circuit scuba diving equipment, which they called the “aqualung.” It solved the problem of continuous airflow with the “demand valve,” which releases air only upon inhalation. Their invention was soon in widespread use. Cousteau is credited with popularizing modern diving and pioneering underwater filming, neither of which would have been possible without his invention. Though modern scuba diving equipment is fairly similar to the aqualung, it has undergone some changes. One of the most notable is Ted Eldred’s invention of a single-hose open-circuit scuba set, as opposed to the twin-hose design of Cousteau and Gagan. Scientists, vacationers, and militaries now use scuba equipment, assisting divers in a much broader range of functions than those originally conceived by Renaissance thinkers.

Strike and lockout tensions stew at STU

Picketing continues at Fredericton’s St. Thomas’ University, where administrators and faculty are negotiating amidst a simultaneous strike and lockout. In an unprecedented move, the liberal arts university locked out its faculty in anticipation of a strike two weeks ago, a move they said was an effort to reduce the negative impact of a strike on students. The undergraduate school’s 2,800 students have seen the start of their term indefinitely postponed. Faculty will meet Monday to decide whether or not to continue their protest.

On Friday, the St. Thomas’ University Students’ Union held a march through campus to protest the delays. They included a detour off campus so that faculty, barred from entry to the university itself, could participate.

“Students are the ones who are directly affected,” said Alicia Del Frate, STUSU’s VP administration. “[But] we don’t really have an avenue to speak. [The march] shows that students are united.”

Throughout the labour dispute, many students have declared their support for the administration, who they said are more conscious of the burden an ever-changing calendar puts on students.

“As president of St. Thomas’, it would be irresponsible of me to allow delays in reaching an agreement that would penalize our students and compromise future accessibility,” said STU president Michael Higgins in an open letter.

The Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas’ accused the administration of using distorting fi- nancial projections to exaggerate the cost of FAUST’s demands and scare students away from supporting them. Dawn Morgan, a professor and FAUST representative, went as far as saying the administration had deliberately misled and manipulated students to weaken FAUST’s bargaining position.

Del Frate highlighted the difficulties surrounding the uncertain start date for this term. Students living nearby have gone home to wait for classes to start, but those from out-of-province or outside the country have had to repeatedly reschedule travel plans. The first day of classes was rescheduled twice before being postponed indefinitely.

Though they decide when the semester begins, neither the administration nor faculty are affected in the same way as students, according to Del Frate.

Morgan pushed for solidarity between students and FAUST. “Faculty and students are natural allies. The university is the universe in which students and faculty come together, that’s the whole purpose,” she said.

The administration and FAUST are negotiating salary and workspace issues for part-time, full-time, and temporary faculty. The latter group is of special concern.

Morgan explained that temporary faculty, many of whom have just left graduate school, tend to get excessive workloads. Temporary faculty often teach four classes a semester, while full-time professors only teach two or three. “It is absolutely overwhelming,” said Morgan. “We just don’t think that’s equitable.”

FAUST has won some concessions from the administration, and will decide tomorrow whether or not to continue picketing. Morgan said she was particularly happy about gains for part-time faculty, including health benefits and more office space. “That’s a really good agreement and we’re very happy with that,” she said.

Paying for our eco-sins: the story behind carbon offsets

“Marge, I agree with you—in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory,” said Homer Simpson in response to his wife’s concerns over owning an elephant. Replacing the word “communism” with “carbon offsets” might be appropriate considering a recent turn of events.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating green marketing and advertising claims in a series of hearings. One of the topics under review is carbon offsets, a $54-million (USD) business in the United States alone last year.

As part of a growing “green trend,” many companies are featuring environmental incentives for consumers who choose their brand. One doesn’t have to search hard to find examples of this practice. Air Canada started a carbon offset program last May, in conjunction with a non-profit group called Zerofootprint. After typing in your destination and point of origin, the Zerofootprint website calculates the money you owe in order to cover the carbon dioxide emissions you are responsible for creating by flying. Other large corporations, such as Dell, Volkswagen, and General Electric offer optional environmental programs that range from investing in tree planting to reward points that earn the customer carbon offsets.

The FTC’s guidelines for environmental advertising haven’t been updated since 1998. Coupled with worries over where the money put into these programs actually goes, it is easy to see why some people are concerned.

On top of all this, the effectiveness of some carbon fighting strategies has been called into question. The number- one reason planting trees has been advocated as a tool for fighting climate change is the fact that they act as carbon sinks. Through photosynthesis, trees are able to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and use it to create leaves, branches, and other structures. Conceivably, extra trees will absorb the excess carbon dioxide that human activity puts into the atmosphere, provided they live long enough. A typical tree in the tropics is estimated to be able to absorb 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year. However, trees in slower growing temperate forests absorb much less.

Compared to other carbon reduction strategies, planting trees is extremely cost effective. The International Panel on Climate Change notes that the price for this strategy can be as low as $0.10 to $20 USD per metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered. In contrast to the usually steep costs of developing alternative energy sources, planting carbon sinks is an attractive and easily implemented solution. Whether or not it is an effective one remains to be seen.

Ken Caldeira, a researcher with the Carnegie Institution, denounces this “feel-good” practice of purchasing offsets, recommending that more effective strategies be pursued, such as stopping ecosystem destruction and changing the way we use energy.

English environmentalist George Monbiot famously compared the carbon offset system to that of buying indulgences in the Middle Ages. For a certain fee, Catholics could buy forgiveness for sins, easing their guilty consciences through monetary donations to the church. Rather than changing consumption habits, everyday consumers can use carbon offsets in much the same way.

Admittedly, it is difficult to gauge how effective climate change strategies are, and here is where the problem lies. Aware of the potential for abusing the system, many organizations that deal with carbon offsets are beginning to use independent groups to monitor their efforts. A formal certification system is needed and hopefully the FTC can get the ball rolling on this initiative.

Carbon offsets are a positive step towards fighting climate change, and the speed with which consumers and corporations have adopted the practice is encouraging. But accountability is needed to make sure carbon offsets are not money thrown out the window. The theory behind carbon offsets is a good one. Let’s hope the experiment proves they are effective.

Students push York to dump Burma stocks

York students are lobbying their university to let its money speak for democracy in Burma. The student-led York Coalition for Responsible Investment is urging the university to review its Burma-related investments. In support of the boycott of the Burmese military regime, YCRI has launched a petition calling on the school to divest itself of these stocks.

The group’s petition, available online, cites human rights abuses reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and includes a pro-boycott statement from the All-Burmese Monks’ Alliance. Last September, Burma’s military dictators weathered a storm of public and official condemnation of their regime and its violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

“The campaign is really just beginning, consisting mainly of the petition and investment research at the moment,” said Simon Granovsky-Larsen, a student organizer of YCRI. “But we plan to eventually bring motions to the York Board of Governors addressing some or all of the companies active in Burma.”

YCRI found York University investments totaling over $1 billion in companies active in Burma, including Total, Chevron, Petrochina, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Hyundai, LG, and Samsung.

Their petition is a part of the ongoing effort to reform the ways universities invest. YCRI wants ethical standards, decision-making structure, voting methods, and the role of students in investment processes to be made explicit.

This isn’t the first time the students have criticized the university for involvement with Burma: York students led a five-year boycott of Pepsi products in the mid ’90s, following the soft drink maker’s opening of a plant in Burma.

MP Larry Bagnell, the chairman of the group Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Burma, just returned from the Thai-Burmese border. In a public letter, he reported on his experience with various groups, including deserters from the regime’s army, monks, and ex-political prisoners:

“I learned that, though it may appear to the international community that the worst of the violence is over in Burma, atrocities in the ethnic states including rape, forced displacement, forced labour and extrajudicial killings are going on daily,” he wrote. “The people I met expressed support for Canada’s humanitarian aid to Burma and increased economic sanctions against the regime.”

McGill set a precedent with a similar campaign in 2006. In response to that program, the Montreal school’s Board of Governors adopted an ethical investment proposal.
The petition can be viewed online at: petition.html.

Katz’s crew catch Gee Gees

With RMC and Queen’s set to visit the Athletic Centre this weekend, the Blues will be looking to build on momentum from an impressive 71-65 victory over the Ottawa Gee Gees. RMC and Queen’s are two teams going in opposite directions. While RMC currently sits last in the OUA East with an 0-12 record, Queen’s (8-4) is in the upper tier of the division, and challenging Toronto (9-3) for third.

“We played both of them last weekend.” said Blues centre Nick Snow. “This year RMC hasn’t been that strong as in the past, but Queen’s is a pretty good team, they’re right behind us, so we expect another good game.”

The Blues hope there is no letdown following tough weekend match ups against the Carleton Raven’s (ranked number one in Canada) and the Ottawa Gee-Gees, second in the OUA East division. Against the Carleton Ravens, the Blues lost 86-70 in a game that was dominated by poor officiating. The Ravens were allowed to go to the free throw line an astonishing 42 times, compared to only 24 for the Blues. It was a disappointing game, but there was no shame in losing to the number one team in all of Canada. Nick Magalas lead the Blues with 28 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s early foul trouble. Starters Nick Snow, Paul Sergautis, and Mike DeGiorgio fouled out of the game with more than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Blues were also badly out-rebounded in this game 38-16.

In Saturday’s match against Ottawa, Toronto faired much better. Ottawa (10-2) is currently second in the OUA East division, just ahead of Toronto (9-3). The who’s who of Canadian basketball were in attendance for this meeting of division rivals. Members of Toronto Raptors brass, including head coach Sam Mitchell and assistant Jay Triano, took in Saturday’s game on a rare night off for the pro-team.

“I think you’re seeing two of the better teams in Canada right now,” said Triano the former coach of the Canadian national team. “It’s a hard fought battle and both teams play very good defense, they run good sets, both very well coached.” Triano, who worked with Blues head coach Mike Katz on the Canadian team, was duly impressed by the talented home grown players from both squads: “There are a lot of guys that could play on the national team. If they keep working hard, they have a chance” said Triano.

It was an important game for the Blues, not the least because of who was in attendance. Under this scrutiny Toronto struggled early in the game, missing four of their first five shots. After a couple of early foul calls (one of them a debatable blocking foul on Paul Sergautis), coach Mike Katz brought in sub Nick Magalas with four minutes left in the first quarter, providing a spark.

Ottawa’s team was clearly more athletic than the Blues, with a few well-executed windmill dunks during warm up. But the Blues would stick to their game plan throughout, and it eventually paid off. With the first quarter winding down and the Blues trailing 11-4, Rob Paris had a block on Gees Gees forward Jacob Gibson-Bascombe under the basket, then promptly hit a three pointer on offense to cut into Ottawa’s lead, and get the Blues faithful in attendance, back into the game.

Ottawa’s defenders made it difficult for the Blues to get much going inside, so they had to rely on the three pointer early in the first half, hitting 10 of them. Rob Paris had three three-pointers in the first half to keep the team within striking distance, but sat out for most of the second as the team stayed with Nick Magalas at the off guard. The Blues entered the half trailing only 36-33.

In the second half, the Blues shooters got hot and began to pour it on against the Gee Gees. Mike DeGiorgio, who finished the game with 14 points was a major contributor. He hit a three at the seven minute point of the third quarter, to give the Blues a 40-38 lead.

With the score tied at 45, and inbounding the ball from behind the basket, DeGiorgio took a Nick Snow screen and hit a difficult fall-away jumper from the top of the key, giving the Blues the narrow two-point lead once again.

The emotional turning point occurred with three minutes left in the third quarter, when Paul Sergautis got fouled hard, but not before completing a fine three-point play. The Blues took a 50-45 lead, and didn’t look back.

In the fourth quarter, Ahmed Nazmi helped put away the game with a couple of three-pointers down the stretch. Nazmi who finished with a team-high 22 points, hit a three pointer with nine minutes left in the game to give the Blues the 57-44 lead. Our team’s stellar defence held Ottawa, who had been averaging 77 points a game, to only 65 points.

Trailing 68-63 with less than two minutes left to play, the Gee Gees tried to put on the full court pressure, but a Nazmi three pointer brought the score to 70-63. “I think in the second half we came out and really got into them.” said fi rst year forward Andrew Wasik following the win. “We focused on defending them, and just working as hard as we can because we play a similar style of game to them, so rebounding and defense, and will is important.”

It was a great win, and having the Raptors coaches there seemed to provide an emotional lift for the Blues. The usually glib Mike Katz was even more speechless after the game, only managing to comment: “We knew that we had to have a good second half, and I was really happy that we won the game. If Sam Mitchell doesn’t show up today, we don’t win that game.”