Editorial: Welcome back new and returning students

We were smoking cigarettes outside The Varsity tent at Clubs Day, observing fresh-faced frosh flock to the annual parade, their faces glowing with school spirit (amplified by Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway”) when it hit me: at 21, I’ve become the old guy. Entering my victory lap during what my parents pray is my last leg at the University of Toronto, I no longer feel that warm and fuzzy back-to-school feeling that makes one dream of cable neck sweaters and unlined Hilroy notebooks. While the idea of a Whole New Year of pseudo post-modernist lectures, student council hypocrisy and crushworthy Diablos baristas should fill me with glee, I mostly feel nonplussed. For all those students edging their way onto senior year and beyond, I have one question: if it’s a victory lap, what exactly are we celebrating?

The university experience contains multitudes, and carries no guarantees. As much as I would love to, I can’t promise you, dear reader, that the co-ed of your dreams will ask to borrow your pen in Art History class, or that your kooky roommate won’t have sex on your bed without asking permission first. There’s no assurance that you will graduate from this fabled institution with a 4.0 GPA and several offers to American graduate schools, or even that your ANT 100 professor will know your name by the end of first semester. Truth be told, you probably won’t graduate without a debt of several thousand dollars, and even if you occupy the President’s office you might end up in jail. This university has many deeply rooted systemic problems on top of a boatload of bureaucracy, and even for those who stay behind, it’s hard to feel that the real world is any kinder.

But don’t jump off the top of Robarts just yet, for I have a novel solution—write for The Varsity. Sure, multitudes of inferior publications across campus are offering you the same dazzling opportunity, but what they don’t know is that we matter. In attendance at a Governing Council meeting (mostly for the oatmeal cookies), I ran into President Naylor, who assured me that he makes his way through the paper every Monday and Thursday. “While I found it really hard to get through before, now I make a point to read it,” he boasted. While I’m fairly certain our content is on par with a Grade 9 reading level, I did appreciate the vote of confidence.

Think your $5,000 tuition fee is bullshit? Write an editorial. Hate the fact that your residence makes you attend Hawaiian-themed suite events just to get back in? We want to know. Ever feel prejudice because of your skin colour, sexual orientation, class background, or the way you look? We’re here for you. At The Varsity, we’re bored as hell and we just can’t take it anymore. Complacency might be rampant at U of T, but it sure as hell isn’t here. With the same student politicians running the show for years now, this publication might provide the only opportunity for an honest dialogue on how things really work around here. And if something in this paper makes you feel impassioned, for better or for worse, write me a letter at editor@thevarsity.ca

You’re paying $1.25 of your tuition fees to fund this historic, and, let’s face it, ego-inflated publication, so it might as well be yours. State your views in The Varsity and state them often. And quit smoking while you’re at it.

Yours truly,

Chandler Levack

Editor In Chief

The Varsity Newspaper

2007-2009

UTSU exec calls it quits

Binish Ahmed has packed up her desk and handed over her keys. Elected as vice president of university affairs at the University of Toronto Students’ Union this spring, Ahmed is resigning as of Sept. 8, the fi rst day of school.

Ahmed cited personal and academic reasons. “It was a really hard decision to make, but in the end I had to look after myself,” she said.

UTSU will not be holding elections to replace Ahmed. VP External Dave Scrivener cited UTSU by-laws, which require elections to be held to fi ll vacancies occurring in May, June, July or August but not after September 1.

Ahmed gave notice of her resignation on August 22. The succeeding VP of university affairs will be hired internally, in a procedure similar to the hiring of the VP of campus life, said Scrivener.

UTSU bylaws do not lay out a specific procedure for dealing with vacancies occuring after September 1 and before fall general elections have begun. At press time, UTSU VP internal Adnan Najmi could not immediately clarify what bylaws would be followed

The position entails working with admin and college councils. This year, the University Affairs Commission will be working extensively on the Code of Student Conduct, which has been under UTSU scrutiny since several students were charged for a protest in March. Another project is David Naylor’s planning document Towards 2030, which the university will vote on adopting as a guiding principle during the first round of Governing Council meetings this fall.

UTSU will decide on hiring specifics at their next exec meeting, scheduled for this Tuesday. According to Scrivener, the procedure will be according to precedents set by the last such resignation in 2006, where Emily Shelton was hired to replace Paul Bretscher.

As her biggest accomplishment over the summer, Ahmed named the Student Rights Handbook, which she said UTSU has been trying to complete for the past two years. Scrivener said the handbook is now almost complete, with UTSU officials working to make it more readable.

She also recalls her work organizing Frosh Week, especially the parade. “I have been working on Frosh for the last three years, so it’s something I love doing.”—

Average Joe

With his easy smile, golden tan and silver hair, Joe Biden boasts the congenial appeal of a classic game show host. Instead, the 65-year-old veteran senator from Delaware will try to make history by helping Barack Obama become America’s first black President.

In a campaign where the Democrats are making the need for change a major theme—employing slogans like “McBush” and “More of the Same” to attack Republican candidate John McCain—Obama’s choice for running mate is telling. First, by stressing Biden’s foreign policy experience—he played a key role in passing legislation endorsing the air raid in Kosovo in 1999—Obama aims to neutralize his own lack of experience in the same field. Second, by emphasizing Biden’s working-class roots, Obama is implicitly acknowledging the Republicans’ and right-wing media’s criticism of him as an elitist celebrity, and seeks to counter that perception by painting Biden as an “Average Joe.” When introducing his running mate for the first time, Obama gushed that Biden “is still that scrappy kid from Scranton [Pennsylvania] who beat the odds.”

Lastly, Obama’s choice of a white male Washington insider panders to independents and conservative democrats who find Obama unappealing. This is where the choice of Biden could backfire. It is unlikely that anyone who is uneasy about a Black president would vote for Obama anyway. And while Obama’s fresh, Oprah-approved face is integral to the Democratic Party’s theme of change, doesn’t Biden, who has been a member of Congress since 1972, represent more of the same? The sobering reality is that Obama’s choice of a white male Washington power player as vice president was a no-brainer. Selecting a black running mate would have been political suicide. Selecting a woman would have been too. Ironically, McCain, in what many view as a desperate attempt to pull even odds with Obama in the polls and win over Hillary Clinton supporters, has selected little-known Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience and rapidly increasing celebrity status—her designer specs are all the rage amongst political geeks—should take some of the pressure off of Obama.

Now that Obama has won the Democratic nomination, it’s crucial that he moves towards the centre of American politics, attracting those much-coveted mainstream voters. This means abandoning the idealistic rhetoric that attracted so many during the early days of Obama mania; that image of the charming senator from Illinois single-handedly transforming Washington politics. By appealing to urban intellectuals and blue-collar workers, the Obama-Biden ticket is designed for mass appeal. Biden is a hard-nosed veteran who knows his way around the halls of Congress and the corridors of power. Only time will tell whether that proves to be an asset or a liability to those clamouring for genuine change.

GC doctored minutes, says student union

The University of Toronto Students’ Union has called into question the validity of the Governing Council meeting that approved tuition fee hikes for 2008-2009. UTSU also questions the accuracy and objectivity of minutes from that meeting.

After fee hike protesters shouted down governors at the April 10 meeting, the chair moved the council meetings behind closed doors. UTSU says the move makes the meeting and the motions approved, including the tuition fee schedule, out of order.

UTSU argues that GC Chair Jack Petch didn’t follow steps listed in the Policy on the Disruption of Meetings. UTSU president Sandy Hudson, who was there to protest, says that Petch never informed them of the policy and the penalties for breaching it, and did not ask them to leave.

Petch recalled it differently in a letter to GC members. Citing an obligation to protect the freedom of speech of council members, he said he moved the meeting, instead of attempting to eject protestors, because of safety concerns after police removed demonstrators from Simcoe Hall in late March.

Neither side has yet made reference to a caveat found near the end of the policy document stating, “It is recognized that in extraordinary circumstances it may be necessary for the University administration to take immediate action without the possibility of following the sequence of steps outlined.”

The minutes from the meeting make no mention of the policy and refer instead to the broad discretion of the chair granted by a bylaw that allows the chair to “exclude or cause to be removed from the meetings” any disruptive persons.

Hudson and other student leaders have requested a number of amendments to the meeting minutes. They include the removal of statements that say protestors would be diffi cult to remove, and addition of a clause that makes it clear allstudents were barred from the reconvened meeting.

“I don’t understand why a group of people think they can shut down a meeting and then complain after that they didn’t like the procedure for shutting it down,” Petch said in an interview this summer. Students did disrupt the meeting, Hudson admitted, but only out of “an act of desperation.” She argues the minutes use suggestive language: where students “alleged,” the chair “explained.”

Alex Kenjeev, a graduate student who sat on Governing Council last year, agreed that from the way the minutes read, it seems the chair followed the steps outlined in the procedure. He said it’s hard to remember whether the chair did ask protestors to leave, but that something had to be done.

“It was a real atmosphere of chaos. One of the student members was trying to speak, and nobody could hear what he was saying. […] The chairperson had to make a decision about how to restore order in the room.”

Bureaucracy has blocked UTSU’s attempts to get tapes of the April 10 meeting. After the GC secretariat was told the tapes were destroyed, they found out from Information Services that the tapes were there and open to the public. By the time UTSU made an appointment to listen to them, the rules had mysteriously changed. When The Varsity asked for them at Information Services, no one seemed to know what we were talking about.

As a governor, Rascanu could listen to the tapes, but he can’t make copies. He said the tapes confirmed the chair did not inform student representatives of the policy or its penalties, nor did he ask them to leave.

Hudson’s requested amendments to the minutes were ultimately denied. Minor changes made, said Hudson, were an attempt to avoid litigation. UTSU considered seeking an injunction on tuition fee collection because of the questioned legality of the April 10 meeting, but decided not to pursue legal action.

Council secretary Louis Charpentier said allegations of doctored minutes are completely false. “One would consider that offensive,” he said, adding the minutes are intended solely to provide a record of decisions and a general summary of the meeting. “They are never intended to be a verbatim transcript.”

Pressed on how he thinks this will look to students, Petch responded that he was put in a difficult position by people who didn’t want the meeting to continue. “Let’s look at the step before that: how did we end up in that position?” he asks. “If I’m a student, who do I want to have represent me?”

Grand Old Party makes a grand old mistake

As we discussed last week, the evening of August 28th, 2008 marked a historic moment in American history, as Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. An overcrowded football stadium in Denver, along with 40 million viewers across the country, watched the junior senator from Illinois outline his plan for rebuilding a fragmented nation that has suffered from severe cynicism and cultural disunity over the past eight years. The very next morning, Republican John McCain announced his running mate at the rally in Ohio. Onlookers were puzzled, and the media didn‘t know what to make of the story.

The choice was an unexpected one. Most political insiders had made their assessments of potential candidates and settled on a few safe choices, such as former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. Out of sheer political desperation, the campaign selected the rookie Governor from Alaska (and one-time beauty queen) Sarah Palin.

A relative newcomer to the national stage, Sarah Palin was a well-known figure in her home state. Her career began with a brief stint as a sports broadcaster; from there, she claimed victory as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a small town with roughly 8,500 residents. Local notoriety inspired her to run for governor, and she landed the gubernatorial position in 2006. So far, her political ideology and unusually large household (five kids) has attracted more attention than her executive experience. She touts herself as a staunch social conservative; opposed to abortion in any circumstance, against sex education and a proponent of abstinence-only programs. Furthermore, she believes Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution in science classes, and is reluctant to attribute global warming to human activity. In other words, she’s an ideal poster child for the extreme right-wing.

The first several days of campaigning have been a whirlwind, as scandal after scandal has been revealed. Aside from her out-of-touch social conservatism, Sarah Palin is currently under investigation in Alaska for unethical use of executive power. She’s had ties to the corrupt senator Ted Stevens in the past, and her lack of experience has sent accusations flying. The icing on the cake, however, was the revelation that her 17-year old daughter is five months pregnant.

Sarah Palin’s selection exposes three weaknesses in the McCain campaign. First, McCain has struggled to solidify support from the ultra-conservative base of the party. Though his selection was hardly reasonable, Palin was meant to reassure voters that McCain would be their “pro-life” warrior through thick and thin. Next, his team has done a terrible job of investigating this woman and her personal life. No one is criticizing her choice to have five children, but when you base your career on religious values and your teenage daughter gets pregnant, your ability to help run the country (let alone your own family) must be addressed. The last weakness involves the media, for allowing the right-wing to get away with such blatant hypocrisy. Imagine if one of Barack Obama’s daughters were to get pregnant at 17; would the Republican reaction be just as tepid? The media would have a field day, and he’d most likely be stripped of his nomination. John McCain may boast about putting the country first, but this move reveals it’s always the same old politics.

Sex ed program gets turned on

If your degree just isn’t doing it for you anymore, don’t despair. This fall, U of T introduces the fi rst sexual diversity studies graduate program in Canada.

Students who want a Master’s or Ph.D in SDS have to register in one of the 25 Arts and Science departments associated with the program.

“The time is now for a program like this,” said Scott Rayter, Acting Director of the Mark S. Bonham Center for Sexual Diversity. The SDS centre was initially self funded with donations as its primary source of revenue. It’s now funded by University College and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“The university recognized student demand and innovation in the field by quite a number of faculty and wanted to be leading the way in promoting and advancing the area of Sexual Diversity Studies,” Rayter said.

So far 12 graduate students have signed up, including the renowned Canadian filmmaker John Greyson. They’ll study issues ranging from queer theatre in Canada to contemporary gay identity in China, sexuality and colonialism, and sex education in the school curriculum.

“One of the huge attractions of the program is that it encourages you to range widely across the university,” Greyson said. “Your coursework and the work you do with faculty could include someone in Humanities, someone in English and someone in Drama Studies, as I’m doing, and someone in physics.”

The scholarly support that the program offers is another huge benefit, added Greyson, whose research is usually solitary work. U of T was recently named by MediaCorp as one of Canada’s top 25 diversity employers for 2008.

For Rayter, the creation of the new graduate program in SDS shows that U of T is “putting its money where its mouth is.”

Victory is mine… almost

Another school year has begun, and with it comes the requisite frosh mania. A very long five years ago, the first week of school was frightening, with its uncertainty and newness. While opting out of frosh activities (I am not a fan of icebreaker games), I still felt like every other new student: a very small fish in a huge pond—actually, more like an ocean. Eventually I became comfortable at U of T and familiar with all its workings. I also became progressively irritated with the frosh hype, which seemed more and more futile as the years went on. Now, in my last year (or rather, the sequel to my last year), Frosh Week is completely unbearable. Technically, I shouldn’t have to experience it—I should have graduated by now. I am one of those special individuals who decided to take a fifth year to finish their undergraduate degree. Yes, I am a “victory lapper”.

The term “victory lapper” troubles me, since we all know it’s just a euphemism for “lazy-ass student with no direction who wishes to avoid real responsibility for as long as possible.” At least, for me it is. At this point, the novelty of school, and especially first week hysteria, has completely worn off. I feel as though I’ve gained all I can from the university experience (from a non-educational perspective, of course!) and want to make year as painless and quickly as possible. As an experienced student, I have no desire to make friends or to get involved with school activities. All I want to do is go to class, get the most out of it, and then go home. This year I’m strictly business.

Any reminder of the start of yet another year is quite tedious. So tedious, in fact, that I wish I could take a long nap and wake up in the middle of October on some random Tuesday. I apologize to all those fresh-faced, bright eyed froshies who are excited to start their university careers, but I can’t wait for the first week excitement to go away (been there, done that, gained the freshman fifteen). Five years after my first year (and back to my normal weight), the prospect of enduring another full year of university makes me wish I had graduated last year with my friends. I assume there are many fifth-years who can commiserate. And it’s probably easy to pick us out on campus: we’re the ones with the sullen expressions and worn-out faces, the ones who look impossibly tired, rolling our eyes at the sight of any sign of frosh mania. Especially the purple guys—you know who you are.

Let’s play small ball

In a famous Nike commercial, pitching greats Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, jealous of Mark McGwire’s batting scores, abandon the mound and try to hone their skills at the plate. After many desperate attempts, they finally hit one out of the park. During a congratulatory high-five, they concluded that “chicks dig the long ball.”

Perhaps Glavine and Maddux would have revised this conclusion if they had attended the Varsity Blues’ season opener last Thursday in Scarborough. The game against the Laurier Golden Hawks proved that in baseball, it’s not the long ball but the little things that count.

“It was a very unusual game,” said Blues’ head coach Dan Lang after his team’s 10-4 loss to the Golden Hawks. “Sometimes [by looking at the score] you can really figure out what kind of game it was—but not this one.”

Things got unusual beginning in the third on an offensive interference by Laurier catcher Chris Pittaway. After a single by first basemen, Curtis Young, baserunner Pittaway collided with a Blues’ fielder and was called out at second.

The next inning saw another rare interference when Laurier’s Andrew Stevens was hit with a batted ball while running from first to second.

“You know, if you came to every game for five years you wouldn’t see that again,” Coach Lang said of the multiple interferences. Yet these interferences proved meaningless as the game remained scoreless into the 6th—when things began to get really wild.

The 6th inning saw Toronto put a dent in the scoreboard by gaining three runs against the Golden Hawks. However, like the rest of the game, there was nothing typical about the way the runs were scored.

After a series of walks and hits by pitches, Toronto loaded the bases. With Phillip McColl at bat for the Blues, the first two runs of the inning were scored on consecutive wild pitches. The third run was scored by Blues’ star outfielder Pat Janssen after McColl reached first on an error by Laurier’s second baseman Scott Mahn.

These fielding and pitching errors meant that while Toronto was up by three runs, they still had no RBIs to show for it.

Janssen ended Toronto’s hitting futility in the 8th inning with an RBI single after a lead-off walk by Chris Papalia and a double by Chris Dahiroc. However, this fourth and final run for the Blues came too late as Laurier had taken the lead after scoring seven runs in the top half of the inning.

While the Blues’ Nick Cunjak, pitching in relief, got the loss and gave up four earned runs, Coach Lang was quick to defend his talented pitching staff. “We got six innings, scoreless pitching, that’s got to say something…and then when [Laurier] started scoring runs it was on really odd things,” he said. “[For example,] we had these two little balls in the infield, hit off the end of the bat—they only hit the ball about 20 feet. The pitchers were doing very, very well—it’s just hard balls to get to.”

Coach Lang insisted that he doesn’t want the game’s oddities and the 10-4 loss to affect his team. “The first thing to tell [the team] is to put this game behind them.”

However, the Blues will still take something away. With the interferences, the wild pitches, and the pesky little hits by Laurier, the Blues will stop “digging the long ball” and focus on the small things. In preparation for the rest of the season, Coach Lang said, “We won’t bat at all [next practice]. What we’re going to do is field bunts. [We need to learn] what we’re going to do about these short balls. We’re going to spend two hours working on those little things.”

Look for the Blues to perfect their game when they head to St. Catharines to battle the Brock Badgers on Sept 9.