Six things I’ve hated about U of T

I’m graduating. In a few short weeks, after my last May exam ever, I’ll finally be done with U of T. In my four years here, I’ve had my fair share of amazing times and memories that will—excuse the cliché—last a lifetime. Of course, I’ve also had to deal with a lot of crap. So here’s the Letterman list:

Robarts

Everyone knows Robarts. Everyone hates Robarts. Everyone has to go into Robarts. I’ll never understand why people study in this horrible hellhole of a book depository. I try to make a run for my books without looking at anyone and get out as fast as possible. It doesn’t just feel soul-crushing in there, it smells soul-crushing in there. It’s baffling that a brutalist library like that even exists, especially when we’ve got some amazing places like the Munk Centre.

That dude outside of Sid Smith that hands out Marxist literature

I wasn’t a Marxist last year. I wasn’t a Marxist in first year. I don’t care what you have to say. And no, that beret and pencil-sharpened goatee doesn’t make you look more intelligent. When you yell at us for being capitalists, you just seem like a selfrighteous douche.

Horrible tenured profs Just because you wrote a decent

book and obtained tenure doesn’t mean that you can teach. I’ve had far too many uninspiring, stuckin- their-ways asshole professors who are supposed to be brilliant. I don’t care if you discovered a fascinating 12th-century manuscript or pioneered a new form of literary theory. If your lecture makes the dazed class sink further and further into their seats to the point of passing out, you shouldn’t be an instructor. It’s an awful pity, since I’ve had more than a fair share of contract-based sessional instructors who taught brilliant courses, enthused even the most apathetic of students, and receive fantastically glowing evaluations. They’re making $25,000 a year without any benefits and these tenured pricks can’t get fired. What’s wrong with this picture?

Commuter Culture

We’re a commuter school. Most students don’t live in the Annex-College student ghetto. A lot of people simply show up for class and head back home, then whine and complain that U of T is a huge, unfeeling mass of unfriendly strangers. But we’ve got the college system, and some great extracurriculars. It takes a bit of effort, but there are multitudes of intimate communities on this campus—you just have to go find them.

Those dudes outside of Sid Smith trying to get you to come to their grind-sex-dance-club party

I don’t care how many “hot pieces of ass” will be there to join genitals with, I’m not going to your poppedcollar meat-fest, no matter what charity you’re using as an excuse to feel good about getting drunk and making bad decisions. So stop asking me.

Late exam schedules

Every single year, undergrads from schools around the country are done with school for the summer before I’ve even started my exams. Not only can they begin their wild and crazy summer adventures early, they also set the schedule that summer employers follow: all the good jobs start on May 1st. That leaves us struggling to find full time work, since we’re everyone’s second choice. Why hire a U of T student who can’t start working until two weeks after a Western student? U of T has tons of students to funnel through the examination process, but we also have a lot of buildings. Surely our administration could create an example schedule that lets us off before the end of April.

Stéphane Dion is still not a leader

If you ask your average Canadian to name an influential and memorable former Liberal leader, they’ll probably mention William Lyon Mackenzie King or Lester B. Pearson. These men are remembered for their charisma and initiative. Likewise, former Liberal leaders Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, although disliked by some Canadians for their controversial political decisions, were still respected for leadership qualities and the ability to bring about change. So how does the current top Liberal, Stéphane Dion, compare?

Dion has continually disappointed his supporters since he was first appointed as party leader. He started with a substantial amount of support from the party’s grassroots because of a focus on environmental issues. Today, his followers are few and far between—few Canadians believe in his ability to govern. Dion has managed to stay afloat in politics simply because he does not cause a lot of controversy, but his dullness is precisely why he cannot fulfill the public’s needs.

The biggest letdown of Dion’s tenure as Liberal leader is his failure to challenge the Conservative government on a number of important issues, including the extension of the Afghanistan mission and the recent budget. The opposition party in a minority government exists to challenge the majority on important decisions in order to strike a balance and to ensure that all possible voices are considered. With Dion, the Conservatives could make any decision with little or no opposition. In other words, the Liberals have become a party to be pitied under his weak leadership.

He also lacks the communication skills of a great leader, as his grasp of English has often been criticized as childlike. While no one expects his English to be perfect, the public and fellow politicians would probably appreciate if they could comprehend the majority of Dion’s statements. How can a politician with such a weak handle on English expect to be successful in a country where it is the primary language of communcation?

The lack of respect fellow politicians hold for Dion is proven by their constant teasing in the House of Commons. Also, the unruly, Dion-appointed head of the party’s Quebec wing, Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, prevented a newspaper from publishing the names of the Liberal candidates without even consulting the leader himself. Critics also say Dion has little influence politically, does not establish contacts, is not well known, and does not raise money for the party—all essential characteristics of a national leader.

Stéphane Dion, lacking both the passion and the personality to maintain public support, cannot last as a party leader.

Talking nanotechnology with Ted

The Varsity: Tell us a little about yourself.

Ted Sargent: The only thing that anyone needs to know about me is that I am but a spokesperson: I have the privilege of working with the most amazing team of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, research associates, and administrative support that one could possibly imagine. I have the pleasure of speaking about what they do and why they do it—and when they succeed, what it could mean.

TV: What first peaked your interest in nanotechnology?

TS: I got into the field through the tradition of compound semiconductor optoelectronics. This is the domain of making perfect crystals that result in highly efficient, pure lasers for fiber-optic communications.

What I loved about this field was the exploitation of intriguing physical phenomena, such as the quantum size effect, wherein physical dimensions are used to ‘tune’ the optimal properties of a medium towards useful, practical purposes. What I hated was the cost and complexity of building lasers, detectors, and energy converting devices within this materials strategy.

This is what stimulated an interest in ‘bottom-up nanotechnology, looking for cost-effective ways to build nanoscale materials using nature’s propensities for selforganization using chemistry. Fortunately, U of T is a world leader in the field of materials chemistry, an astonishingly fast-moving and dynamic field filled with highly creative people. My group is fortunate to build on material chemists’ astonishing results every day in our own research.

TV: Congratulations on the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology grant. Could you tell us about your current research projects?

TS: With pleasure. We have three projects we are working on.

The first is making highly sensitive detectors of light based on colloidal quantum dots, size-effect-tunable nano-material that can be simply spin-coated onto any substrate.

The second is building highly efficient solar cells that capture the sun’s full spectrum, including infrared, based on colloidal quantum dots.

Finally, working in collaboration with Professor Shana Kelley in the Faculty of Pharmacy and the Faculty of Medicine, we are building chips that can detect disease, and at the earliest stages, based on gene expression profiles known to correlate with the early onset of certain types of cancer.

TV: In your critically-acclaimed book, The Dance of the Molecules, you address issues of human health, the environment, and communication. How will nanotechnology help us gain insight into these issues in the future?

TS: Nanotechnology offers a possible path to low-cost, large-area solar cells that could help us move past our dependence on fossil fuels. Also, it offers the potential for widespread, earlier diagnosis, and consequently treatment of a range of diseases. Through the advent of flexible electronics, it offers new ways of interfacing the human and the informatic—of sensing the world around us, rendering it in a peoplefriendly way.

TV: As one of the top researchers in your field, what are some of the upsides and downsides that you have encountered in your work?

TS: First, let me refute the premise of the question: there are thousands and thousands of highly accomplished researchers in nanotechnology around the world, and hundreds and hundreds of world-leading experts at U of T.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my career. U of T has, at all levels, enabled me to work concertedly towards realizing my dreams. It is a great place to work and an exceptional, internationally recognized brand. The people I work with are the best in the world at what they do. They could be anywhere, and they choose U of T.

U of T has an awesome research infrastructure: from materials analysis to fabrication to device characterization, the facilities are top-notch. And whenever we see any holes in our capabilities, there are people working hard to fill them through CFI, OIT, industry relationships, and other funding opportunities.

TV: What advice would you give to other aspiring researchers out there?

TS: Focus. In a worldwide competition to deliver on your research goals, the only way to have a hope of winning is to identify your strengths, reinforce them each day, and then strive with blinders on towards your goal. Every once in a while, smell the flowers, contemplate new directions, and pick one. But 99.9 per cent of the time, focus single-mindedly.

Welcome to your corporate campus

If scholars practice the uncompromising application of reason, Valleau says they need a special social structure that allows them to test their hypotheses by trading ideas inspired by other scholars: the university. To work for the benefit of society, the university also needs protection from that society.

The benefit society gets from this is innovation. Buzzword though it is, Valleau stands by it. Valleau maintains that what academics actually do is innovate—a revolutionary activity.

“The word ‘innovation’ is an interesting one,” he says. His definition of innovation means more the “bringing goods to market.” Innovations benefit society when they are treated as public goods, says Valleau. “The scholarly researcher is supported by the public, works in a public institution, uses public equipment, and the results are surely open to the public. Furthermore, knowledge is not profitable. It is not diminished by use if shared. It should be part of the common knowledge. That, I think, is the principle of scholarly activity.”

“What scholars do is they test the limits of their understanding. With theories, you can never prove a theory, you c a n only disprove it or discuss what range it covers, and so on. What one can do is to test the limits of our understanding, and in doing that, one creates new paradigms of understanding.”

Unlike academics, powerful people have an interest in maintaining the status quo, to not be supplanted by up-and-comers. The revolutionary quality of true innovation, therefore, poses a serious threat to industry and government alike.

So how did we get to the present state of things? “First of all, you cut back the funding for scholarly work until it’s a pittance,” he says. “And then offer to reinstate the funding, but only under special conditions.”

U OF T THE WEED

Janice Newson, York University sociology professor and co-author of Universities Mean Business, agrees with Valleau’s assessment of the situation. While visible signs of corporate presence are only now appearing, she says, corporations have been highly involved in Canadian universities for at least three decades. Newson characterizes corporatization as a weed: “In the ’90s the tubers began to send up shoots, and the shoots were names on university buildings that belong to big corporations.” A few instances from the 1990s offer hints to the present underlying corporate culture at Simcoe Hall.

In 1997, Northern Telecom donated $8 million to found the NorTel Institute of Telecommunications, a master’s program, and two research chairs. The terms of the agreement relating to NorTel Institute researchers’ intellectual property rights were not made public at the original announcement. Investigation by The Varsity and the U of T Faculty Association showed that while U of T still owned the intellectual property from Institute research programs, the licensing option for Institute products go immediately to NorTel. More alarming, perhaps, is that intellectual property not pertaining to a researcher’s specific project can still belong to U of T, and by extension, NorTel. As per U of T’s inventions policy, faculty and their grad students do not hold any of these rights. Neither does the taxpayer. Through this donation NorTel has effectively set up its own lab, which also uses university resources.

In 2000, the pharmaceutical company Shering Canada Inc., producers of Claritin, donated $34.5 million to the Alzheimer’s research program led by the U of T Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases Network and the Hospital for Sick Children. A better term for the largest “gift” in Canadian history might be “intellectual property agreement,” as it grants Shering-Plough (Shering Canada’s parent company) exclusive worldwide licenses to produce and sell the products and technology developed through the program. The coup de grace for scholarly independence, however, came with the secretive deal pertaining to Joseph L. Rotman’s donation to the School of Management. The university matched Rotman’s $15-million gift to found and endow six faculty chairs based on the recommendations of the Rotman Foundation. The faculty was also renamed the Rotman School of Management.

Rotman stipulated that the management school must have “special status” within the university. This status means that business education must remain a focus at U of T and the faculty is protected from budget cuts. At the same time, many of the rules applying to other faculties at U of T simply don’t apply to Rotman. In some circumstances, for example, the foundation had the right to bypass Governing Council (to which Rotman was appointed by the Ontario government in 1995) and have the chair of the Association of American Universities dictate policy to the university. Joseph Rotman is also allowed to stipulate which public relations firm the faculty uses. A final term of the agreement was that the terms of the agreement were to be kept confidential.

After The Varsity obtained a copy of the agreement in 1997 and published its details, public outcry forced the Governing Council to renegotiate with Rotman, amending the agreement to meet the basic demands of the U of T Faculty Association. What the initial agreement showed, however, was Simcoe Hall’s blindness to questions of conflict of interest, and its unwillingness to present its deals with corporations to university members in a transparent way.

Incidentally, at the time Rotman was on the board of, among other things, Barrick Gold Corp., whose CEO, Peter Munk, donated $6.4 million that same year.

The Varsity made public the conditions of that agreement, which had been signed two years previously without consultation with the academic board, after obtaining the contract through U of T’s Access to Information Policy. The $6.4-million donation, to be paid over 10 years, came with conditions, stipulating that a council set up for the centre would have to cooperate with the Barrick Gold international advisory board. Another condition forbade the university from cutting Munk Centre funding for 30 years, which would amount to an opportunity cost for other departments during periods of government cutbacks. Like the Rotman agreement, this contract was amended subsequent to outcry from the UTFA.

Yet allegations that the Munk Centre has an institutional bias haunts it still. When in 1997 George Bush was given an honourary degree by U of T, many called it a conflict of interest (Bush was highly connected with Barrick Gold at the time). This year, a committee of senior administrators deemed posters representing Munk in an unfavourable light as “potentially defamatory” and, in an unprecedented move, ordered that they be torn down.

“What [the Munk Centre] most seems to serve as,” says Valleau, “is a platform for Janice Stein [director of the centre] to, unchallenged, offer support to the government or the Liberal Party, and to have the prestige of a major institute at the University of Toronto to back up what she says, never challenged by people at the Munk Centre or elsewhere at the university.”

U OF T THE FRAUD ARTIST

In the summer of 2000 the residents of Wiarton, Ontario, complained about suspicious odors in their drinking water. Throughout June and August they noticed yellow and orange spots and bleach marks in their laundry. The Ontario Clean Water Agency received calls from 33 Wiarton residents with complaints from during this time. “Many refused to drink the water that marked their clothing,” said an August 23 report in the Globe & Mail about the issue.

Meanwhile, unknown to the residents, U of T professor Robert Andrews was heading an experiment under contract with the chemical company ERCO Worldwide, pilot-testing chlorine dioxide as a water purifier on Wiarton’s water supply. The study’s aim was to test a newly patented chlorine dioxide generator, the SPC ERCO R101, and to examine whether chlorine dioxide could replace ordinary chlorine as a water disinfectant.

Following the complaints, the experiment was abandoned two weeks before its scheduled Sept. 4 completion date. Despite this, the study was declared a success that “exceeded the project objectives and expectations” in a report by Andrews and Georges Ranger, a patent-holder for the generator being tested in the study. None of the journal articles published on the study mentioned any of the residents’ complaints.

“No customer taste and odor complaints were reported during the study period,” said an article on the Wiarton study published in the Journal of Environmental Engineering and Science, despite the fact that these complaints were reports in several dailies, and a letter that appeared in the weekly Wiarton Echo.

Forty per cent of respondents reported bleach spots in their laundry in a Sept. 23 survey. Thirty-five per cent reported noticing adverse changes in tap-water quality. Some reported the deaths of small animals. Despite these results, Andrews and Ranger described the water supplied to citizens during the study as “significantly superior compared to chlorine” and “likely the best-quality drinking surface water in Ontario” in a paper in 2001.

In 2003, ERCO boasted that the SPC ERCO R101 represented a growth opportunity for the company. They talked of expanding into “industrial and municipal water treatment” as an avenue for sales.

When The Varsity contacted Andrews for comment, he was surprised to hear from us. “That was all done a long time ago, and I really have nothing to add,” he said. Far from being concluded, however, the matter is now being heard in federal court, thanks to a whistleblower who was Andrews’ Master’s student. His complaints don’t end at Wiarton.

U OF T THE PLAGIARIST

In March of 1998, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada awarded Christopher Radziminski a two-year, $31,400 scholarship. He was admitted to a Master’s of Applied Science program in civil engineering at U of T. Here, he became part of the new “Drinking Water Research Group,” beginning his thesis in the summer of 1999 on the disinfection of drinking water and focusing on an alternative to chlorine called chlorinedioxide. This was co-supervised by Robert Andrews and Christian Chauret.

In the summer of 2002, Radziminski found out that he was listed as an author on two publications without his knowledge or consent, based on research he had carried out. On Jan. 4, 2003, he filed a formal complaint to U of T’s School of Graduate Studies, alleging “Incomplete and/or inaccurate presentation of results,” and “extensive reproduction of work from [his] thesis without permission.” SGS replied three weeks later, saying the matter was out of their jurisdiction.

Barry Adams, the chair of the civil engineering department, held an inquiry that, according to the faculty’s own Framework of Ethics in Research, was to be concluded within 10 working days.

Nearly six months after filing his complaint, Radziminski got a reply from the department, dismissing his complaint.

Radziminski says, “When I first discovered the papers and then looked more deeply into the research in the papers…I naively believed that the university would take my allegations seriously, and that they would investigate.”

Confused and discouraged, he wrote to the scientific journals involved, and on May 20, 2004, received a threatening letter from a Bay Street law firm retained by the University of Toronto, threatening to sue him for defamation for communicating with “third parties.”

Eventually, one journal retracted its article, and the other censured both professors, prohibiting them for writing for or reviewing it or any of its associated journals for a certain period.

The Canadian Federation of Students National Executive met in October of 2004 and decided to support Mr. Radziminski’s case, allocating funds for litigation. Explaining the unusual degree of support given to Radziminski, the federation noted that students are particularly vulnerable when bringing forward complaints of misconduct, because virtually no protection exists in Canadian academia for whistleblowers.

“I am actually quite shocked,” said Radziminski of his experience. “There really is nothing that I have seen that exists to ensure research integrity in Canada.”

A match made in heaven

The MaRS Discovery District calls itself “a non-profit innovation centre connecting science, technology and social entrepreneurs with business skills, networks and capital to stimulate innovation and accelerate the creation and growth of successful Canadian enterprises.”

The centre often works closely with U of T. The U of T Asset Management Corporation and U of T Innovations Foundation, two subsidiaries of the university, are highly involved with MaRS . Ron Ventor, the interim director of UTIF, spoke giddily about the facility. “In the research commercialization arena, this is the most exciting meeting place in the world,” he said.

MaRS’ CEO, Ilse Treurnicht, is married to U of T’s president David Naylor. Four other members on the MaRS board of directors are staff or governors at U of T. The school has contributed $5 million to the nonprofit enterprise.

Much of MaRS ’s activities are funded by the provincial government. A June 26, 2006 press release from the Ontario government states that the government has invested $46 million in MaRS . More than $50 million of Ontario government funds have been channeled into the facility since Dalton McGuinty became Ontario’s first research and innovation minister.

In 2006 the Government of Ontario announced that it would put up $25 million a year for the Premier’s Summit Award in Medical Research, to be administered by MaRS . The amount is matched by private funds, and are awarded each year to ten “internationally recognized leaders in medical research.”

The award committee includes John Evans, president emeritus of U of T, as its chair, and NSERC president Suzanne Fortier as a member.

Science for sale

One of the most notable whistleblowers in U of T history is Nancy Olivieri, who was on the U of T medical faculty through her work for the universityaffiliated Sick Kids Hospital. Her case emerged in 1996 when the worldrenowned hematologist decided to breach a confidentiality agreement she had signed with Apotex Inc.

The Toronto-based pharmaceutical company funded Olivieri’s research in deferiprone (an experimental drug for people with thalassaemia), but Olivieri started to lose faith in the drug and came to believe that it was causing serious side affects. Apotex disagreed and threatened legal action if she violated her contract by making her claims public.

After submitting her findings to the New England Journal of Medicine, Olivieri was removed from her hospital post. During this time, as she wrote in a letter to the Globe and Mail, neither the university nor the hospital gave her support as both were expecting large donations from Apotex. Olivieri was reinstated after a 1999 academic tenure and freedom committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers commissioned a report that exonerated her, concluding her academic freedom was infringed when Apotex threatened legal action if she went public with her fears about deferiprone.

A 1999 scandal made the university’s conflict of interest clear when then-U of T president Robert Prichard was caught lobbying the federal government on behalf of the company, asking that the government reconsider regulations on the generic drug producers that, Apotex claimed, would prevent them from fulfilling their promised $20-million towards a proposed $90 million Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology Research at U of T.

Female features

With a warm welcome from Executive Director and Festival Founder Leslie Ann Coles and a brief speech from director Kari Skogland, the sixth annual Female Eye Film Festival opened with the latter’s latest feature, The Stone Angel, last Thursday afternoon at the Cumberland Cinemas. The film, based on the best selling novel by Margaret Laurence, adapted and directed by Skogland, is about a cranky old lady, Hagar Shipley (Ellen Burstyn) who in the last days of her life, takes a trip down memory lane to reencounter and unveil the secrets of her past. Bobby Bukowski’s remarkable cinematography sets the perfect landscape for Hagar’s inner journey.

Through exceptional sound and image, the dramatic film is narrated in a series of flashbacks and flash forwards. Her memory reel triggers after her son Marvin Shipley (Dylan Baker) and daughter-in-law Doris Shipley (Sheila McCarthy) attempt to enroll her in a nursing home, which she relentlessly resists. The cast includes Christine Horne, Cole Hauser, Wings Hauser, Kevin Zegers, and Ellen Page. The feature film will be released on May 9, Mother’s Day weekend in Canada, and is scheduled for release in the U.S. July 2008.

“Margaret was with us,” said Skogland during the panel discussion Book to film: the art of adaptation Friday afternoon. Moderated by Christopher Heard, the attending guests were filmmaker and producer Gail Harvey, executive producer Jon Slan, novelist and screenplay writer Brad Smith, and of course, screenplay writer and director Kari Skogland. A few topics covered by the filmmakers were related to their own experiences with the translation of a literary work into motion pictures. Slan added, “Screenplays are not written to be read, but to be seen.” In addition, the panel focused on the difficulties of translating a non-fiction book into a screenplay, “when truth and legend collide, print the legend,” suggested Slan.

Concerning Skogland’s experience adapting The Stone Angel, she mentions the three screenplays developed from Laurence’s novel, yet none that fit with what the author had in mind. After being asked by an audience member whether she had a special actor in mind when pouring her ideas onto her first drafts, Skogland claimed that doing so limits a story’s potential. Furthermore, her suggestion for writers was to avoid editing while writing first drafts, “Don’t edit while you’re writing, don’t let that be your barrier.” Even though the audience was intimate, the panel had a fruitful exchange of ideas, offering great tips for screenwriters-to-be.

Following the panel discussion came the Toronto Filmmaker Series, which according to Leslie Ann Coles has become a staple in each year’s FEFF. Short film My Name is Pochsy is a black comedy written, directed and performed by Karen Hines that presents a mercury factory worker’s reflection on life and taxes. Tell Us the Truth Josephine, an experimental drama, presents the story of an immigrant woman in Canada and her turbulent past. Northland: The Long Journey, a film by Edie Steiner, unveils a family’s truth in a small mining community in Northwestern Ontario. In the Stars, written and produced by Michelle Daides and directed by Darrin Brown, is the story of a young woman who has based her life according to her horoscope until she realizes that “new beginnings, rebirth and happiness” is just a deception. Succubus, directed by Alison Reid, presents a lesbian couple trying to conceive. Finally, Rock garden: A Love Story, directed by Gloria U. Y. Kim, tells the story of two neighbours finding beauty and a connection in the most innocuous of objects.

Quit whining and drink your coffee, students told

The microwave in Sid Smith’s basement cafeteria will be replaced by a confectionery oven come May 19, when a controversial renovation of the caf’s Tim Hortons is set to open. The donut kiosk is expanding, cutting into the room’s seating space and microwave area, despite protests that it infringes on student space.

In an email last Thursday, the building’s manager notified occupants that construction would begin this Monday, April 7.

The news came as a surprise to the ASSU campaigners who held an “eatin” in February and collected over 500 signatures to protest the expansion. Aramark, the food service contractor that proposed the move, has said growth is necessary for effective service. But ASSU president Ryan Hayes called the move a sign of increasing corporate presence on campus. Hayes also objected to the Second Cup’s Sid Smith expansion this September, which crowded out student tables in the building’s lobby.

Hayes, who accused university administrators of going back on their promises, said that ancillary services director Anne MacDonald had agreed in a March 11 meeting to halt the project if students collected 500 signatures, following an earlier agreement from a staffer who has since left U of T. “We have two verbal commitments,” Hayes said.

MacDonald could not be reached for comment. When she spoke with The Varsity this February, she characterized opposition to the expansion as “a couple of people in the Arts and Science Students’ Union.” She added: “If the students really don’t want the Tim Hortons in the building then we won’t have one, but […] there are thousands of people who use that outlet every day.”

In an email response to Hayes, Mac- Donald cited concerns of “factual errors” in the petition. “My primary concern […] is that the questions asked are far broader than the issue that was originally raised,” the email reads. ASSU’s online petition, in addition to opposing the Tim Hortons renovation, also called for healthier and vegetarian food options, improved workers’ rights, and return of the café’s operation to students. For his part, Hayes denied that the additional demands detracted from the topic at hand. “These issues are integral to the campaign,” he said. “The Tim Hortons issue was the focal point, but then the question becomes, if not Tim Hortons, then what?”

Young folks

Meet Joseph Mitchell, Helen Boston and Liria Petrides. At 75, 78 and 83 years old respectively, members of a North Hampton seniors’ singing group called the Young @ Heart. The group’s claim to fame is that they sing rock and roll songs, including “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?,” “Fix You,” and “I Will Survive,” becoming something of a You- Tube sensation with their humorous music videos. They’ve played soldout concerts in Europe, and are now the subject of a documentary being released by Fox Searchlight. Keep in mind that nobody in the group particularly likes rock and roll. When asked about their favourite music, most of the members cite opera or Broadway musicals like My Fair Lady.

Young @ Heart documents two challenging, tragic, and eventually triumphant months in which the group rehearses for a new show under the leadership of their ever-patient chorus director Bob Cilman (age 53). Before I saw the film I was worried it would use its geriatric heroes as a freak show attraction (“Ha ha, these people are so old!”). Instead, director Stephen Walker broke down every wall of critical snobbery I had. This documentary is a real crowd-pleaser

When I met Mitchell, Boston and Petrides for an interview at the Four Seasons, the first thing Boston said was, “He’s so young!” I was taken aback by Liria Petrides response to whether having a documentary crew constantly filming them felt unnatural. Said Petrides, “We get so used to paparazzi in our face when we’re in Europe…we know how to act without looking at the camera.”

Much of the film follows the group’s attempts to memorize the words to difficult songs. The group is reluctant about the material, particularly Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” but gradually comes to a newfound appreciation.

“Most of the songs, my children sang them,” says Boston. “So when they hear us… (they ask)‘You’re gonna sing that, mom?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Cool!’ They’re helping me with the music.”

The film chronicles several painful moments for the group, including the deaths of two of its members. Faced with mixed feelings about being filmed, Young @ Heart soldiered on.

“I mean, they actually went into the hospital and the hospital bed” says Petrides before tapering off.

“Well, I think Bob wanted that,” says Boston.

Petrides pauses before responding, “Well, fine, I’m just saying, don’t let ‘em in if I’m there!”

The documentary’s subjects have high praise for Bob Cilman, the founder of the group, seen in the film as an exasperated but caring authority figure. “Bob’s a genius, that’s true,” says Petrides, “because the origins of this whole big thing, which is now considered such a success, was in Bob originally. A lot of people have helped along the way, but it was his idea to have a senior group that does this. Almost every town and city in the United States has a senior group doing something, but very few of them are invited to Europe to sing rock and roll.”

“Any time you can give seniors a song and teach ‘em how to sing…you gotta be special,” adds Mitchell. “He’s gonna teach us that song, and, y’know, you get a bunch of kinds and their minds are very alert. But when you get older…”

“…Alzheimer’s setting in…” says Boston.

Young @ Heart is a real charmer. It’s funny but not snide, moving but not manipulative. It has the potential to be a sleeper hit.

Young @ Heart opens April 18.

Putting democracy to the test

The Democratic presidential contest intensifies with every passing day. It’s those who whine about the prolonged process that extend the race. As cutthroat as the competition between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appears to be, the primaries are extraordinary assets to their campaigns, as well as the party. Each of the candidates has accumulated record amounts of money and voter turnout from state to state, effectively outnumbering Republican support. The invigorated Democratic electorate has shown, and continues to show, that this long and drawn-out process isn’t limiting their enthusiasm one bit. Democrats are eager to reclaim a country that has suffered at the hands of the current administration, and they’re not ready to give it over to another Bush clone.

The presumptive GOP candidate, Sen. John McCain, holds overwhelming similarities to the current president and his unsuccessful policies, conjuring up visions of a third Bush term. It’s obvious that he’s not running a campaign of change like his rivals. That could explain why he hasn’t been as prosperous as the Democratic contenders, or why the energy and enthusiasm of McCain supporters is incomparable to those of Obama and Clinton. The ideas he has put forth lack the idealism of his opponents, and have yet to resonate with voters. Extending the Iraq War for another 50 or 100 years doesn’t sit well with Americans or with the struggling, war-torn economy. His hopes of proclaiming victory in the bloodied region are unattainable, despite a surge in troops. Along with his recent displays of incompetence in regards to foreign policy in Iraq, many scrutinize his claims to expertise in foreign affairs.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Senators Obama and Clinton have faced tough criticism from rival camps, Republicans, and media pundits. Both candidates have had difficulty trying to overcome the racial and gender stereotypes that are deeply entrenched in the American psyche. Obama has opened up new levels of dialogue to bridge the gap between conflicting racial groups. Clinton has proven that, despite challenges imposed on her as woman, she possesses the leadership skills to make her a formidable candidate. While they have have miles to go before the showdown at the Democratic National Convention in August, upcoming primaries in Indiana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are shaping up to be highly climactic races.

Senator Clinton had a substantial lead over her rival in Pennsylvania for a while, but as the campaigning for blue-collar votes heats up, Senator Obama is inching higher in the polls. Recent numbers place them in a statistical tie, but polls tend to fluctuate like the temperature. It’s too early to assume a winner, but we can say for certain that this year’s highly-contested primary process is putting democracy through a rigorous obstacle course. Americans have every right to challenge, scrutinize, and pick apart these candidates. Voters see two individuals who have a common vision in improving healthcare and education, stabilizing the weary economy and initiating troop withdrawal from Iraq. Now it’s just a matter of selecting the best candidate to unite the nation across partisan lines. This is perhaps more difficult than casting a ballot in November, but I’m confident that the electorate will choose the most qualified individual to defeat Sen. John McCain. If they don’t, they might end up with George Bush 2.0.