CFS leader skips out

The Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students has appointed Carleton University Students’ Association president Shelley Melanson as its new chairperson starting June 1. Melanson will replace current chairperson Jen Hassum, a former UTSU president.

“We agree way more than we disagree. Shelly’s going to have a great year,” Hassum predicted of her successor.

The choice came at a CSF-O general meeting held last week from Thursday to Sunday in which two other positions, the treasurer and national representative, were decided. For the second year straight, all of these positions were acclaimed.

As with Hassum, tuition fees top Melanson’s priority list. “In the spring we will be having lobbying sessions at Queen’s Park,” she said. “Armed with the information that will enable us to argue articulately why we really need to have a cultural shift in post-secondary education.”

At these lobbying sessions, Melanson promised to call special attention to practical issues students face, such as debt and escalating fees.

“It’s becoming less and less feasible for students who need those opportunities of social mobility to attend post-secondary schools,” she insisted.

Also high on her priorities list will be reviews to the government’s scholarship fund. “Gaining momentum on ending the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, and having an actual needs-based grant system, is going to be a huge priority both nationally and provincially,” she said.

During Melanson’s time as president of CUSA, her executive voted, controversially, to call for killing the CMSF program.

This fall, CFS has announced they will hold a national day of action to draw awareness to the federation’s many post-secondary education campaigns.

CFS has had its share of internal rifts this year. In fall of 2007, CFS-Quebec weathered through legal battles, impeachments and political scandal over its executive elections. It has been effectively shut down by court order since late September.

Last year, students at BC’s Simon Fraser University voted to leave CFS. Meanwhile CSF-O has kept a steady keel, remaining free of major internal disputes.

Hassum’s year as CFS-O president featured the MMP referendum campaigns and She looks to the tuition fee freeze and as a major success in recent years.

In the upcoming months, Hassum will be preparing to pursue graduate studies in Canadian history, though she said she won’t be returning to the University of Toronto.

“Definitely not U of T. Costs too much.”

She does plan to remain politically engaged, she said.

“I have always been involved as an activist. But I have enjoyed the academics. It will be interesting to be back in the grassroots level. I can’t imagine not being involved.”

Cheaters never prosper

Internationally renowned track and field star Marion Jones was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment recently, for lying about her use of performance- enhancing drugs and involvement in a check fraud scam. The former winner of fi ve Olympic medals at the 2000 Summer Games—they have been stripped from her—was made an example of by U.S. district judge Kenneth Karas, who issued the maximum sentence recommended by the prosecuting attorneys. “Athletes in society have an elevated status,” said Karas. “They entertain, they inspire, and perhaps, most important, they serve as role models.”

Many might argue that Jones should have been treated like any other member of the public charged with a crime. Still, she isn’t your average person. Jones will now have the opportunity to educate young people on the consequences of deception not only on athletic endeavours, but in the greater scheme of life. One can only hope that she will take advantage of it.

There are more severe crimes that are not judged as harshly as the sentence given to Jones. But this should not serve as an excuse for her conduct or a reduced sentence, particularly when smaller penalties are caused by the internal defi ciencies of the criminal justice system. The judge’s role was to give her a sentence in light of all the evidence and circumstances of the case, plain and simple.

We must recognize that the law is adaptable to the circumstances of society. The media’s bombardment of athletes indulging in performance-enhancing drugs sensationalizes the issue without any significant steps taken to curtail it. Judge Karas has set a precedent that will hopefully discourage athletes from substance abuse and enforce scrutiny. While this may not lead to systemic overhauls of drug testing programs in sports, perhaps a trend of faster development of preventative measures will rise.

Jones will have a great deal of time in the coming months to recoup the broken pieces of her life. Though she may feel that this is the worst set of circumstances that could possibly occur, the athlete should thank her lucky stars that the illegal activities did not lead to more tragic consequences.

Lost in transfer

In his high-profile lawsuit against UTM, Adam Rogers has alleged that a mix-up over his transfer application cost his family their financial security. His case stands out, but Rogers is not alone. Approximately 1,000 undergraduates transfer to U of T each year. Some come from other universities, some from colleges. The process involves sheaves of paperwork. And for some, the transition means months of confl ict with U of T’s monolithic bureaucracy.

The credit transfer process is labour- intensive. Some courses have direct equivalents at U of T, but many transfer as generic credits, with a list of exclusions (in one case, all full-year HIS courses). New students negotiate their changeover with the transfer credit office, but that office doesn’t have the final word, explained Glenn Loney, Arts and Science Faculty Registrar.

“The exclusions, the prerequisites and the program requirements are all the department’s rulings,” he said. Fourth-year history student Tammy Sprung knows this only too well. She transferred from Dalhousie University two years ago.

“The transfer department actually granted me a 100-level history credit,” she said. “Then they said that I needed to get a 100-level history course specifically from the University of Toronto, which would not count towards my degree or GPA. What was I possibly going to learn from that?”

Sprung got special permission from the history department to forego the extra course—and department administrators ended up determining much of her program of study.

“Now I’m concerned about what’s going to happen when I apply for graduation,” she said. At least one crucial letter, which had granted her an exemption from another program requirement, is now missing from her file. Because she had to go back and take program requirements without credit, Sprung is currently taking six courses and planning on summer school so that she won’t have to take a fifth year.

Transfer students shouldn’t assume that they will graduate on time, said Loney.

“It’s rather like changing your program,” he said. “If you’ve done two years or three years and you change your program, it’s difficult to do that without complication, waste or making up lost opportunities.”

Matt Burgess faced a different problem when he transferred from Wilfrid Laurier University. Burgess had attended one year of CEGEP in Quebec, where he had completed a calculus course that would usually exempt him from MAT135Y1 at U of T. Laurier had allowed Burgess to skip first year calculus. Not so at U of T.

“The transfer credit office said that I wasn’t eligible for transfer credit,” he said. “They weren’t allowed to open my file because I had only done one year of CEGEP.” Burgess’s brother took the same course, but completed a year and a half of CEGEP and therefore received the credit at U of T.

Burgess’s department, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, came to the rescue, waiving the program requirement.

Some transfer students still say that they are glad to be at U of T. Sana Waseem began her post-secondary career at Selkirk College in British Columbia. She switched to U of T after one year, graduated four years later with majors in biology and human biology, and is now in teacher’s college. Waseem had to take retake organic chemistry, but is still glad that she switched.

College, with smaller class sizes and a chance to stay close to home before crossing U of T’s intimidating threshold, has its benefits. But college students don’t receive much credit for their work—no more than two credits for a year’s study, and a maximum of five credits for a three-year college degree. Universities need to start taking colleges seriously, says Joey Coleman, Maclean’s post-secondary education blogger.

“The University of Toronto sells itself as an elite university,” he said. “To them, the idea that a course such as Introduction to Psychology could be taught by a college […] is insulting.”

That attitude may be changing. A new pilot program, with details to be finalized soon, would make it easier to start in Seneca College’s general arts and science program and graduate from U of T.

“Clarity is what students need,” said Loney. “They need to know how they will go about this, and how long it will take them.”

Chinese takeout hits sore spot

Directly across from the ROM’s main entrance, you’ll find the Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art, a quiet battleground in a new war for cultural patrimony. The modest space is the namesake of William Charles White, an Anglican bishop, museum curator, U of T professor, and accused smuggler of cultural relics.

Credited with building much of the ROM’s superb Chinese collection, White exported antiquities from the Henan province from 1924 to 1934. China, however, banned exports of cultural artifacts in 1930.

Linfu Dong’s book Cross Culture and Faith, recently published by the University of Toronto Press, casts aspersions on White’s legacy. The bishop, said Dong, illegally trafficked the treasures out of China, skirting inspections by traveling through small railway stations or by packing them in other missionaries’ bags.

“He actively sought to evade [China’s] restrictions and continued to procure objects that he knew had been obtained illegally and to ship them to Toronto,” says Dong’s book.

White’s story is only a part of the book, which is primarily a biography of White’s fellow missionary James Mellon Menzies, who worked to stop relics like those in the ROM from leaving China. Virtually unknown until recent years, Menzies refused to sell to the ROM and paid for his archeological prospecting work with his salary.

But White grew rich from his activities, amassing a private collection and getting a handsome $35,000 by selling parts of it to the ROM after 1934, Dong found. White’s sales to the ROM formed the basis of the Chinese antiquities collection that now bears his name. That same year, upon his return to Canada, White became curator of the ROM’s first Far Eastern collection and started teaching at U of T, heading the first School of Chinese Studies.

Mark Engstrom, deputy director of collections and research at the ROM, acknowledged that White was aware of the ban. “He didn’t know how it would take effect,” said Engstrom, who denied that the ROM artifacts were smuggled.

“They were declared and exported through Shanghai customs. We don’t have the customs forms, but I have his statements.”

Engstrom said he could not give an estimate of the size of the Bishop White collection or how much White was paid, citing spotty or unavailable records. He said that the missionary was never officially under contract with the ROM. “[White] was an individual selling to the ROM.”

Dong is not the first to unearth allegations of plundering against White. The former missionary was called “a robber of graves and a robber of souls” by a Chinese bishop as early as 1953. A 1974 biography of White notes his fl aunting of Chinese law on exporting cultural objects. The Museum Makers, Horatio Henry Lovat Dickson’s history of the ROM, says White and the ROM’s then-director Charles Currelly plotted to take advantage of China’s civil unrest and ship out as many artifacts as possible.

Engstrom downplayed the value of the ROM’s Chinese antiquities. “Frankly, although the ROM has very good collections from China, anything we have here would be minor compared to what’s available and what’s on display in China,” he said.

For its part, the Chinese government has never formally demanded the return of the artifacts, but the dispute over the Bishop White collection is part of a wave of repatriation claims that is rocking the museum world.

“It’s an issue of great concern to the profession,” said Lynne Teather, a professor at U of T’s museum studies program. “There are still all kinds of cultural groups who have or will have claims against many major collections in the world.”

Some relics are making their way back to their homeland. Engstrom said the ROM has not received repatriation claims from any country, but that the museum does have a policy for returning objects to Aboriginal groups within Canada. “Recently, we sent back two beaver bundles and two headdresses to a Blackfoot group in Alberta,” he said.

But across international borders, different laws and tangled provenance records slow the resolution of disputes. Last week, Italy celebrated the return of the Euphronios krater, an ancient vase, from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—after a three-decade tussle.

The British Museum—home of the infamous Elgin marbles from the Parthenon and other buildings in the Acropolis—has become the most vocal supporter of a manifesto defending the “universal museum,” published by the directors of 40 major museums calling themselves the Bizot group. “Objects acquired in earlier times must be viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values, refl ective of that earlier era,” reads the statement.

Museums in 102 countries now operate under the 1970 UNESCO convention that governs the transfer of cultural property. As the website of the International Council of Museums notes, “The UNESCO Convention of 1970 has no retroactive effect; it only enters into effect on the day of its official ratification.” Canada ratified the convention in 1978.

Engstrom expressed similar sentiments. “The times in the 1930s were different than they are now,” he said. “Today, the museum is very tight about the provenance of objects. Certainly in the past, we would have hoped everything was sent in legally.”

Too many frosh in the sea

As reported in the Jan. 21 issue of The Varsity, Ontario universities have seen the highest demand for first-year spots since the OAC year of high school was eliminated in 2003, causing the “double cohort” of uni applications. This year, the number of entry applications to Ontario schools rose by five per cent, to 83,000, up from 79,000 a year ago.

Competition for popular programs is fierce, and the provincial government is under pressure to create additional spaces.

Most of Canada’s other regions have seen university applications remain roughly the same over the past few years. The Maritimes have seen a decrease in university applicants. The space crunch in GTA universities is spilling across southern Ontario. Preliminary data released by the Council of Ontario Universities suggests that applications at the University of Guelph are up nearly 25 per cent.

Despite the $6.2 billion the provincial government has invested in the higher education sector, universities are finding it difficult to cope with such a high number of students submitting applications.

“The McGuinty government deserves credit for the Reaching Higher plan in the 2005 budget, which put significant increases into student aid,” said Paul Genest of the COU, who added that the growing demand for PSE was due in part to increased government support. “We’re fortunate that Premier McGuinty wants to be known as the ‘education premier,’” he added.

Genest called on the Ontario government and the province’s universities to respond with greater investment in PSE. U of T is of the position is that limited room for growth exists at the St. George campus, but Missisauga and Scarborough campuses could both expand.

He’s not kidding about neocon comeback

Divide the U.S. voting population by Services Canada) age and each five-year segment has a marked party preference, usually by an eight-point spread. Amongst those who turned 20 between 2001 and today, there is a 12-point gap. “It indicates a huge generational shift,” said former Bush speech writer David Frum.

He was speaking at the Hart House library on Wednesday, Jan. 23 in an event co-sponsored by the Debating Society and right-wing think-tank the Fraser Institute.

“It’s a little bit like being a financial writer during the great crash,” said Frum of his new book, Comeback: Conservatism that Can Win Again.

He should know. Once a writer for George W. Bush—he wrote the “axis of evil” speech, though originally called it the “axis of hatred”—Frum has appointed himself as the bearer of bad news for Republicans.

His message: the “Bush babies,” kids who came of age during W’s tenure, are about to take their revenge.

To the conservative writers, such as James Antle and Ramesh Ponnuru, who argue that the policies laid out in Comeback betray the principles of conservatism, Frum replies that it is their attitude that will continue to alienate young voters. “Can you talk about now, please? That’s what I worry about, that there isn’t a way to talk about what’s going on now.”

On Wednesday, to an audience that included hecklers, devotees, and detached watchers, Frum argued that for the Republicans to win again, the party will have to let go of its Reagan-era policies. “There are unintended consequences to every political change, and it’s those we need to confront,” he said.

In the 1980s, Reagan was able to build a strong consensus around the belief that though some might succeed more than others, the population would benefit from neoconservative policies. Today, though, the gap between those who succeed and those who don’t is growing. “The bottom third is still in the 70s, that’s why there’s demand for hope.”

Two other issues facing the party are the broad demographic changes currently experienced in the U.S. as well as the Bush administration’s mishandling of key issues, especially the war in Iraq. Foreign-born Americans, currently at 40 million, are on the rise, as are other groups that traditionally vote Democrat: single women and “the fastest growing religious group,” those who do not attend church. But of primary concern to Frum are people in their 20s: “The trend is most dramatic among young voters.”

“We were the party of science, empiricism, intellect,” he lamented. “This is not the way we’ve been winning arguments in the 2000s.” Today, 70 per cent of Americans say their country is on the wrong track. The figure is staggering considering that when 50 per cent give that response, it’s usually considered a red flag.

Noting how voters form party allegiances based on their reaction to the political events occurring when they are 20-year-olds, the current shift among young voters towards the Democrats will have implications for the U.S. politics for years to come.

The time for a ban is now

The safety of Toronto’s streets has once again been tested. Last week an innocent bystander was fatally shot outside a Yonge Street strip club. In a sad turn of events, John O’Keefe, 42, was struck by a bullet intended for one of the club’s bouncers. Mayor David Miller, along with Premier Dalton McGuinty and local authorities, has demanded a nationwide ban on handguns. Although the Harper government has taken a tougher stance on gun crimes and has passed legislation for stricter sentencing, they have not taken any steps towards an official ban on the use and possession of handguns. John O’Keefe is another statistic to tally up at the end of 2008.

“The Year of the Gun,” a term coined by police in 2005, was a period of increased gun crime that made every Torontonian more watchful. Reports of gun-related homicides saturated the news, and left us feeling stunned. We questioned if we could ever walk on the streets again without being caught in deadly crossfire.

Community leaders and residents looked for strategies to curb the violence in high-risk neighbourhoods. Politicians attributed the rise in crime to poverty, high unemployment, and a lack of social services. Fast forward to 2008, and we seem to be on the road to repeating history.

The perception of gun use in Canada stands in stark contrast to that of our American counterparts, who appreciate their gun-toting liberties. Our current policies are relatively progressive and affirm a strong support of gun control, but a full-out ban would ensure that Canadians are well-protected, reducing future violent incidents. While many Canadians are registered gun owners and enjoy their firearms for sport, it is all too easy to have a weapon misused for a malicious purpose.

Authorities have discovered that gun smuggling has reached dangerous proportions. As our southern neighbours grapple with an influx of illegal immigration, we’re dealing with an influx of illegal firearms that are crossing the border and getting into the hands of criminals. Incarceration seems like the natural course to follow, but how much of a deterrent is it? Imprisonment for 10, 15 or even 20 years may seem like a justifiable punishment, but alone, this is simply inadequate. Once perpetrators leave the prison system, they could strike again. Police have taken steps to curb gun violence in the city, including the installation of video cameras to monitor activity in the streets and a boost in police presence in high-risk areas. But they can never be sure of what someone is hiding behind their back when they’re prepared to strike.

The solution requires strong commitment from the government. Toronto’s finest do their best to ease the threats, but we cannot rely on mere vigilance to protect us. How many more accidental fatalities will it take until a ban is put into place? There is absolutely no reason why Toronto’s citizens would need, or even want, to possess a handgun. We would be much safer if we relegated the weapons to trained and responsible professionals in law enforcement and the military. It’s obvious that the screening process that potential firearm owners undergo is ineffective. Securing our borders, placing harsher restrictions on gun ownership, and establishing a long overdue ban will restore some sense of peace in the city. Target shooters will just have to find themselves another hobby.

Manufacturing promise

The Vancouver Sun has reported that over 130,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Canada last year. Taking a stab at Conservative inaction on the issue, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion has pronounced that he will invest $1 billion to revive the struggling sector if he were to win a federal election. One year ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke at a Toronto Conservative Party rally, calling the Liberals a party “of vested interests.” Perhaps a rhetorical exaggeration at the time, Dion’s latest row over national industrial policy increasingly legitimizes Harper’s statement. Dion’s plan is economically unnecessary, ethically unwarranted, and in many ways technically inefficient. Had the Conservatives proposed this plan with Canadian tax-payer dollars, would Dion have called it for what it really is—corporate welfare?

The idea that a failing manufacturing sector is a blow to our public welfare is misguided. Structurally, economies change over time. Canada and the U.S. used to be primarily agricultural producers. Now, having evolved into predominantly service-based economies, the agricultural sector comprises two and one per cent of the countries’ overall earnings, respectively. Despite these changes, neither country has suffered any long-term damage. In fact, most economists would agree that living standards have slowly risen despite these transformations. When observing the ailing manufacturing sector, the same perspective should be taken. Dion is missing the forest for the trees: the importance of the economy’s composition pales in comparison to its overall state. Both inflation and unemployment are relatively low, and while growth is slow, it’s due to the economic woes of Canada’s largest importer down south. Moreover, the economy is structurally dynamic: the Canadian workforce is one of the most educated, adaptive, and skilled in the world.

Manufacturers will appeal to our sense of social justice and our predominantly liberal fantasy that government should solve all of our problems. If we accept that capitalism and free markets ought to play a less dominant role in our society, why should we feel obligated to use public money to bail out some of the most well-endowed players in the game? Corporate manufacturers have long enjoyed cushy profits and large market shares. They are large enterprises with a wealth of resources and talent. Recent failures are due to their lack of strategy to remain competitive against developing countries with cheaper labour and more efficient production processes. They suffer no disadvantage, and thus do not deserve our charity.

Of course, many wonder how lost jobs will affect ordinary Canadians who are not responsible for the managerial failures of their employers. Theoretically, they will eventually be re-absorbed into the economy in more high-demand sectors. Yet there is a solution that doesn’t involve pouring money into a failing sector of employment: aiding individuals most affected by retraining them in other employable skills.

In the larger scheme of things, Dion made another suggestion with potential: investment in green technology. And yet, if manufacturers have failed to meet expectations— make a profit, that is— why does Dion expect them to be better at using government R&D money? Such funding should be aimed in a general direction so that future entrepreneurs can re-appropriate these funds to create their own niche markets, in manufacturing or other sectors.

Canadians want to hold onto the idea of an industrious manufacturing base that has served as the “backbone” of our country. Dion, whether out of ideology or opportunity, is encouraging this misguided conception. But our manufacturers are the privileged trustfund kids of the economy, the ones who fail to perpetuate the past successes of their parents. In life, some people fail. In the market, some former winners lose. The proper response is to accept the results and move on.