Pioneer prof switches schools

Political science superstar Thomas Homer-Dixon is leaving U of T for a position at the start-up Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, beginning this July.

Homer-Dixon came to U of T in 1989 after completing a PhD at MIT. He rose to prominence with the 1991 article “On the Threshold: Environmental changes as causes of acute conflict,” which caught the attention of academics and policy-makers worldwide. Subsequent work followed this strain, including the award-winning books The Ingenuity Gap and The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, among others.

Homer-Dixon currently holds the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. David Welch, director of the centre, credited Homer-Dixon with “[taking the] small research centre on peace and conflict issues, renamed it the Trudeau Centre, and brought it global recognition.”

Homer-Dixon said he is moving towards an intensely interdisciplinary approach on issues of scarcity, conflict, and complex systems. “I don’t feel the University of Toronto is particularly well-suited to allow me to do that research.”

Waterloo’s smaller, closer-knit community, he said, allows for the clearer, more focused vision that he desires.

“Sometimes you reach a watershed where you think about what you’re going to do for the next section of your life,” he said.

A joint venture between the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, the Balsillie School was funded by a $50-million gift from Jim Balsillie. Balsillie is the founder of Research in Motion, the company that produces Blackberry handhelds.

Despite his misgivings about U of T’s structure and direction, Homer-Dixon spoke glowingly of his colleagues, principals, and mentors in University College, and most of all, his students. “The best thing about [the Trudeau Centre] is the students. We’ve somehow got something going on here that attracts just truly wonderful people, interesting people who will make a real difference.”

“This is going to be an emotionally wrenching thing. I have deep roots and deep commitments and a lot of friends on this campus.”

The case for Twelve Angry Men

Ordinarily, one associates Mirvish with song-and-dance (or, shall we say, very cheesy) theatre. But the latest from the regular Mirvish subscription season, Twelve Angry Men is a gripping courtroom drama that every theatre lover must see. Based on the famous drama by Reginald Rose, New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company has brought the hit production of this classic play straight from its Broadway premiere, which stars the Emmy-winning film and TV actor, Richard Thomas (The Waltons, Wonder Boys). The production has earned three Tony nominations and unanimous praise from critics.

The plot is simple. Set in 1954 in New York City, 12 jurors are corralled into a hot, humid room to deliberate the guilt of a 16-year-old boy accused of killing his abusive father in a moment of rage. One juror, to the frustration of his 11 peers, feels that there is not enough evidence to declare a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt. During the heated debate that follows, the hidden preconceptions and assumptions of the jurors are revealed. Each juror is forced to face himself as he plays hangman.

Granted, the plot is not as interesting as the characters themselves, all of whom are clearly defined and well-cast to boot. It would be unfair to call them stereotypes, but they each embody a different slice of life, such as an overtly arrogant businessman, a lower-class worker, a middle-class intellectual, and so on. The interaction between the characters was dynamic—however there was the occasional confusion in identifying the speaker if everyone in the scene is chatting.

The set was well designed, and the direction was crisp. There were many gasps and applauses in appreciation of certain moments. The audience’s verdict: a well-deserved standing ovation.

Twelve Angry Men runs at the Princess of Wales Theatre until February 10, 2008. For more information, go to www.mirvish.com

UTSC split in social justice squabble

Posters reading “Stephen Harper hates white people too” have reignited a running feud between student politicians at UTSC. The posters advertise eXpression Against Oppression, a week-long social justice event planned for Feb. 12.

At last Friday’s board of directors meeting, the Scarborough Campus Student Union voted to maintain an earlier decision not to endorse the week, which will involve a number of student groups on all three campuses. SCSU’s ire was raised when their logo appeared on XAO posters around campus, though the union had not actually endorsed the event.

During the three-hour discussion, the controversial poster campaign figured prominently. Some SCSU directors said that, while they were willing to provide tables, chairs and room space for the event, they thought the Harper posters could offend many members of the school community. They argued that since the SCSU’s mandate was to represent the needs of all students and this event confl icted with the opinions and ideologies of some, it would be best not to take a position at all.

While the 10 members of the board who voted in favour of official endorsement outnumbered the seven who voted against and two who abstained, the motion required 2/3 of the vote in order to pass. Consequently, the union neither supports nor opposes XAO.

At the head of the event is Alexandru Rascanu, a student who lost to current SCSU president Rob Wulkan in a bitterly divisive election held last year. He demanded that the SCSU support XAO, calling it “a slap in the face of students” for the union to do otherwise. However, there are other students involved in the event that disagree, saying that they feel the SCSU shouldn’t be taking a specific stance on the matter.

“If XAO takes any one side of a particular political issue, the SCSU, as representatives of the whole student body, can’t endorse that one side, and still claim to represent the entire student body,” said David Leaman, Coordinator for UTSC’s LGBTQ. His group is one of the many student groups participating in XAO.

The event will also take place on the St. George and Mississauga campuses, with the support of the University of Toronto Student Union. Sandy Hudson, VP equity at UTSU, said XAO was in line with the values of the SCSU.

“Student government is intrinsically centered around anti-oppression,” said Hudson. “The SCSU wants to remain politically neutral—but how can you be neutral about oppression?”

Wulkan pointed out that SCSU involvement could hamper XAO’s ability to act freely. “An endorsement from SCSU means that every piece of advertising on an event has to be personally approved by me,” said Wulkan. “XAO has a lot of manpower behind the organization. Do they really need the SCSU?”

With files from Maria Shibaeva

Shut out: Black players still a rarity in hockey

Barriers exist in many forms, sometimes they come in the form of a glass ceiling, other times they resemble a floor of ice. But the harder they are to see, the more difficult they can be to overcome. An old reminder of this came on Saturday night during a seemingly unimportant hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers.

Prior to the opening faceoff, a well-dressed man walked along a black carpet towards centre ice. Clad in a well-tailored French suit, a pink dress-shirt, and a yellow rose in his chest pocket, he looked somewhat out of place among the players in uniform. But this man belonged on the ice as much as any player at the rink that day. It was a place he had known since he was two-years old, skating on a pond outside his native Fredericton, NB. Yet to the majority of spectators looking on, there was little to suggest that this now 72-year-old man had ever been a professional hockey player: least of all his colour.

In the NHL today there are only 14 players of African-American descent, in a game that is often termed pejoratively as a “white sport.” How much more difficult would it have been to imagine then, on January 18, 1958 at the old Forum in Montreal, the man they were now seeing became the first black player to lace up a pair of skates in an NHL game, when he donned the black and gold of the Boston Bruins.

On this night, at Madison Square Gardens he was no longer just the answer to a trivia question, but a man of flesh and blood, in attendance to receive an accolade that was long overdue. Willie O’Ree: hockey player, underdog, symbol.

New challenges

When Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball, making his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, it ushered in a new era. After Robinson, hundreds of thousands of black players would go on to have successful careers in the major leagues. Yet the concept of breaking down a colour barrier, something more abstract than tactile, often creates new challenges of its own. It’s the kind of barrier that becomes more unmoveable the more one thinks it no longer exists.

The Toronto Star, typically grounded in reality, was somewhat idealistic with its premature pronouncements. A 2003 article by Mike Morrison read: “Once an all white enclave in the world of sports, the face of professional hockey is changing.”

Sadly no one watching the National Hockey League today could possibly take this position. Consider that from O’Rees’s first game in 1958 to 1991 only 41 black players suited up for an NHL team. In fact, after O’Ree there was no other black player in the NHL until Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

“There are around 20 black players in the NHL now” said O’Ree during a recent interview. “There’s definitely going to be more in the future,” O’Ree currently works for the NHL as Director of Youth Development for the Hockey Diversity Task Force, so he has more than a vested interest in the outcome.

In reality there are only 14 black players on active rosters as of Jan 18, 2008 (less than one per cent of the league’s overall composition),

“I thought there would have been more minorities in the NHL by now, but I guess it’s slowly growing,” said Darren Lowe, in a 2003 interview with the Star. Lowe, the head coach of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team, was one of four black players in the 1983-84 NHL season when he played eight games with Pittsburgh.

A number of cultural factors have been suggested for the dearth in black hockey players.

African-Americans make up only two per cent of the Canadian Population and 12 per cent of the American. The United States contributes approximately 15 percent of the players in the NHL, while Canada produces close to 70 percent.

Still, that hasn’t stopped other professional leagues like the NBA, NFL, and MLB from having a visible black presence. The bottom line is one per cent in is unacceptable when considering how other leagues have embraced the diversity of it’s players.

A change for the better

The NHL needs to promote a more inclusive ideology in the sport. Hockey leagues can to often feature a countryclub mentality, denying membership to certain types of people. At some point one has to stop making excuses, cultural or otherwise, for a continuing problem .

Yet Ken Martin, an African-American, and senior director of community relations and diversity programs for the NHL, seems to do just that when he says: “Traditionally, black youths have turned to basketball, partly because some blacks in lower economic areas can’t afford the equipment and travel expenses of hockey”

It’s interesting that the NHL would use such an obvious stereotype to defend accusations of racial bias. But examples of it’s exclusionary culture continue to this day.

How about the story of Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley, who was the recipient of a racial slur from his own head coach with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.

“Each black player has had to wage a personal battle for acceptance and respect,” said Cecil Harris, author of the book Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey. “Facing abuse that is verbal, physical or psychological because of their colour has been an unfortunate reality for almost all of them.”

It is perhaps the most compelling reason why there are so few black players in hockey. Many people caught in the same situation would simply quit rather than face the abuse. Not everyone has the strength to be the only black player or player of colour on an all-white team. That’s what makes players like Jackie Robinson and Willie O’Ree are a rarity.

The idea of breaking down barriers can often be misleading, since it suggests that there are no longer any obstacles to entry. In reality, the barriers never really go away, and they are even more dangerous because no one knows it except the people that have to fight through them.

Scarborough fair?

Crime-ridden, sprawling, and underserved—accurate or not, Scarborough has a bad reputation. City councillor Norm Kelly is out to change that, using research conducted by UTSC co-op students Kathy Chan and Dorinda So.

The 68-page Fair Share Scarborough took four months of full-time work to complete, and it’s attracting more attention than your average term paper. The report addresses the perception that the largest former city amalgamated into the City of Toronto 10 years ago “is not receiving its fair share of the City’s services.” Chan and So’s findings have been debated at a Scarborough Community Council meeting, and covered by the Toronto Star, as well as Scarborough’s community newspapers.

Assessing 10 city services, from libraries to policing, transit to wastewater services, Chan and So found that Scarborough receives its fair share of children’s services, long-term care, roads and transportation, and social housing, but classified Scarborough’s share of other services as neither fair or unfair, but “uncertain.”

A long-time supporter of amalgamation, Kelly was positively gleeful. While emphasizing that the report found no underfunded services, he also referred to “funding gaps” he blamed on pre-megacity councillors.

“The interesting thing that I found was where there were service gaps or funding gaps they were all in areas formerly controlled by the city of Scarborough,” he said. “So don’t point to the city and say, ‘We’re not getting our fair share.’ That’s what you brought to the city.”

Chan and So are both fourth-year management students with some background in statistical analysis and previous co-op experience. So has also worked for the federal government. Still, neither student had much practical knowledge of city government when they started.

“We had to learn everything from the basics,” Chan explained. “We had so many interviews with city staff, just to have an idea of what actual city operations are like on a daily basis, in order to get a feel for what it’s really like.”

Chan and So were supposed to compare pre- and post-amalgamation services, but that got complicated.

“We couldn’t do that because of the lack of data,” said So. “So we just did an overall snapshot of today, in comparison to the rest of Toronto.” Even within the snapshot, many services were rated uncertain—for example, Scarborough has fewer police officers per resident than the rest of the city, but it also has a lower crime rate. Scarborough has fewer community centres than the rest of Toronto, but they tend to be larger.

And like most reports, Fair Share Scarborough will soon be out of date. “There are so many plans on the way to improve the service level in Scarborough,” said Chan. “For example, they’re building a new library in the city centre, and they’re renovating other libraries.”

Looking out for number one

Women’s basketball head coach Michele Belanger got her players to crush the RMC Paladins 67-25 Friday night at the Athletic Centre the opportunity to see what work needs to be done during the final three weeks of the regular season before the OUA playoffs begin. Belanger was pleased with the results of her team’s latest victory,

“I think they’re working really hard,” she said. “I hope that we can get a little more communicative out on the court, that would be our biggest weakness right now.”

With three regulars, Alaine Hutton, Amanda Van Leeuwen and Jessica Hiew, sitting out the game to rest up for their Saturday tilt versus Queen’s, the Varsity Blues still had no trouble in building up a 36-17 halftime advantage. The Blues were led in scoring by cocaptain Christine Cho’s 13 points, while Cassandra White led RMC with five points at the half. In the second half Belanger started her bench players, and was rewarded with a stellar defensive performance. The Paladins shot only 16 per cent from the field in the second half, good for eight points.

Cho finished with a game-high 18 points in only 22 minutes, while Ilana Weissberger pulled down eight rebounds. White, despite getting no second-half points, still led her team with five points, while teammate Kalaneet Malik led the Paladins with seven rebounds. Rookie forward and player of the game, Allie Collyer, took advantage of her increased minutes by planting herself down low and posting up the Paladins for three straight field goals while her bench cheered her on. Cho saw the performance of the bench as a good indication of the skill level on her team.

“Our team is pretty deep and this proves it. Everyone contributed,” Cho said. “We really try and take it one game at a time, but it was good to get everybody into the game.”

Looking ahead after Saturday’s game versus Queen’s, the Blues have a tough schedule to close out the 2007-2008 regular season with four of their last six games coming against York and Laurentian, two teams battling it out with the Blues for the top spot in the OUA east. Coach Belanger sees next Saturday’s game at York University versus the Yeomen as their biggest test.

“We’re going through a stretch with four tough games (versus York and Laurentian), two of which are on the road,” Belanger said. “It’s a test to find out whether or not we’re strong enough mentally to go into someone else’s gym, particularly York […] and beat them.” Cho also sees York as the key matchup. “We know Laurentian and York are really good teams and York, they basically pride themselves on their defense and playing together as a team,” Cho said. “So it’s something that we recognize because it’s against a team we’ve played in the past.”

The Varsity Blues basketball coaches declared a “white-out” before the game, where all Varsity Blues fans were asked to wear white to support the Blues’ playoff bid. Clearly the message had not caught on yet, as few fans showed up and even fewer wore white. Cho believes that message will catch once Blues return for their final two regular season home games, on Feb. 8 and 9.

“Our next home game is in a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to get more fans out and plus they will be better games,” Cho laughed. “So as far as the white-out goes, it’ll happen when everybody knows more about it, especially the students, because there wasn’t a huge fan base tonight.”

CMSF DOA?

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation is facing strong opposition from the NDP’s post-secondary education critic, Denise Savoie, who stated in a letter to Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Monte Solberg that “the Millennium Foundation must be replaced by a publicly administered, federal system of upfront, non-repayable student grants.”

Lavoie suggested that in order to plug a $350-million gap in student funding, CMSF money should be available to all Canada Student Loan borrowers according to need.

A number of student groups, including the Canadian Association of Student Associations, the College Student Alliance and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, are urging the government to extend the CMSF’s mandate, set to expire in 2009. The groups argue that the government should continue funding the organization, which since 2000 has disbursed over half a million bursaries and scholarships totaling about $2.2 billion and each year distributes roughly $325 million in student financial aid.

The Canadian Federation of Students has long opposed the CMSF, saying that the private foundation is not publicly accountable.

According to a paper published by the Education Policy Institute, the CMSF was responsible for 39 per cent of non-repayable need-based aid in Ontario, and close to half of such aid in Manitoba and the Maritimes. In 2005 the CMSF introduced a low-income bursary, which will, said the EPI, account for a higher proportion of needbased CMSF funding in some jurisdictions. Solberg’s office stated that no decisions have been made with regard to the CMSF. According to a government spokesperson, the spring budget will announce any changes from a review of the Canada Student Loan program.

‘How the other half dies’

“Don’t lose heart,” said Dr. Sarita Verma as she opened the 10th annual Health and Human Rights conference at the Medical Sciences building Friday night. Verma’s talk, “Health and Human Rights: how the other half dies,” opened the twoday conference. This year’s event, hosted by the U of T’s international health program, focused on health care disparities between urban and rural communities and international access to health services.

Verma was part of Canada’s foreign service and worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Sudan and Ethiopia. She set a grim tone for the conference with photographs of starving children she had cared for.

“Go and be a part of the global community instead of just sitting here and talking about it,” she told the audience.

Canada, said Verma, was poaching foreign health care workers from developing countries. She said students and scholars could do a great deal of good for international health care.

The conference’s keynote speech came from Dr. Peter Singer, a professor at U of T’s faculty of medicine. Singer is also co-director of the life sciences, ethics and policy program at the McLaughlin Rotman Centre for Global Health. The talk outlined Singer’s conception of the role of local manufacturing of health care products, and the resultant boost to local economies, as a key to bridging life expectancy.

“It is very important to create awareness on global health issues and to shed light on the disparities that exist,” said Farheen Shaikh, a fourth-year human biology and health tudent at U of T and chair of this year’s conference.