Are U of T’s stocks bombing?

This month, the two gun clubs at Hart House will effectively be shut down, due to an administrative decision in June that said implements of violence had no place in universities.

Rini Rashid found this ironic, since the university has almost $2 million in stocks and bonds with Lockheed-Martin, an aerospace and advanced technology manufacturer cited by Defence News as the largest defense contractor in the world by revenue.

Rashid, vice-president of Investing in Integrity, a member of the rifle club last year who never found time to go shoot, is quick to point out that U of T has investments with a manufacturer of F-35 rifles widely used in armies and militias, but bans sport .35 rifles.

The University of Toronto Asset Management corporation manages the university’s $2.5 billion of investments in a roster of companies, including Lockheed-Martin, Chevron, and ExxonMobil.

Rashid claimed U of T’s investments would be more sustainable if they preferentially bought stock in companies with good environmental, social and political practices.

I in I works under the auspices of the Responsible Investment Working Group, an advocacy group composed mostly of law students at U of T, who are working to put forward a proposal for a new investment policy that would involve all stakeholders—that is, university staff, faculty, students and alumni, in the university’s investments.

According to a RIWG report, the university administration agreed to review its policies “to explore its role in promoting corporate social responsibility” in a meeting with the group in 2005.

Since then, the university has decided on a process for divesting its $10.5 million holdings in tobacco and tobacco-related companies, following pressure from the campus tobacco control group E-BUTT. However, it still has stocks in companies like Chevron, responsible for an ecological disaster now known as the Rainforest Chernobyl, in which some 18 billion gallons of crude oil were leaked into the Amazon.

Rashid emphasizes that the university must revise its policies mostly for to its own financial well-being. “By ‘responsibility,’ we do not only mean the moral kind,” says Rashid. “Bad governance will get you unsustainable business results.”

Bonds: chemical agent

Home run supremacy, or debauchery to a beloved record and athlete?

When Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run on August 8, surpassing Hank Aaron’s all-time leading record, baseball fans were divided, on an ethical level, about whether Bonds’ feat was “legitimate.”

756 is what it is. No matter how you feel about the man, the numbers speak for themselves. Fans may still regard Hank Aaron as the homerun king, but to deny the historic event that was 756 is just ludicrous.

Still, enthusiasts remain split on Bond’s alleged steroid use, particularly outside of San Francisco where interest in the accomplishment varied from apathy to disdain.

When Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’ record for most home runs in a single season, it garnered plenty of media interest, for the right reasons. The same could be said of Bonds’ surpassing the same record years later. But with steroid stigma casting a dark cloud over baseball, few really gave this historic moment its due– not even Major League Baseball.

Around this time Major League commissioner Bud Selig was in New York, attending a meeting, ironically, about steroid use and its policies. The man whom Bonds surpassed, Hank Aaron, had already stated his poor opinion of Bonds with a congratulatory video, showcasing his obvious disappoint concerning what had transpired.

The historic home run was hit on August 8, in San Francisco, Bonds’ only refuge from the slurs and innuendo. With two months to pad his record beyond reach, few fans would be able to tell you the correct number of home runs the athlete has reached. The number is 762 and counting, yet it’s barely reported in sports media today.

Seven years ago, when Mark McGwire surpassed Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61, the home run ball fetched 2.7 million at Guerney’s Auction House to an anonymous bidder. This year, the man who caught Bonds’ 756th dinger, New Yorker Matt Murphy, started bidding at 500,000 U.S. Sports in recent years has alienated itself from its fans. Maybe we too often look back on previous eras with nostalgia-after all Shoeless Joe Jackson inspired the movie Field of Dreams primarily because of his exit from baseball as part of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. To a cynic, baseball will always be tainted by the so-called steroid era it is currently under. While the record books will forever show that Barry Bonds is the homerun king, the history books will tell a different story, exposing the man Bonds really was.

Carleton clocks out

Less than one week into the school year, 700 office staff, technicians, and other workers at Carleton University in Ottawa are on strike, demanding pay raises to bring their salaries on par with those working similar jobs in the community. Both the Carleton University Student Association and the Graduate Students’ Association have declared their support for striking CUPE local 2424 members on campus, demanding a fair deal for members of the workers’ union.

Complicating the issue is the fact that the presidents of both student unions sit on Carleton’s Board of Governors, which BG chair David Dunn believes restricts them from supporting the strike.

Dunn has questioned their right to publicly comment on the strike, even going as far as suggesting to CUSA president Shelly Melanson that she should step down from BG unless she falls in line with the university’s position.

Jen Hassum, who recently concluded a term as president of UTSU (then SAC) to become chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario, deplored Dunn’s contention.

“The reality is that the whole idea behind having student positions, and positions for staff and positions for faculty on the committees, is that they represent the interest of the constituency that elected them.”

On Sept. 11 the student unions staged a rally to show their support for CUPE 2424. Despite rain, more than 200 students took part. Some protestors said they viewed CUPE’s and Carleton’s failure to reach an agreement as a blunt negotiating strategy on the part of the university.

“A lot of students, particularly in the upper years, are starting to see this kind of behaviour and tactic of bargaining repeated”, said Melanson.

Many important services and facilities campus-wide, including libraries and registration, have been reduced because of the strike.

“As the semester progresses and we start tests and towards midterms and paper- writing time it’s going to become increasingly problematic.”

Wiz Long, a spokesperson for CUPE 2424, noted the two sides are still far from agreement on many issues, including wages, sick leave benefits for older workers, and the right to have union representatives present at preliminary disciplinary meetings.

Carleton has proposed a two-tiered system for sick leave benefits, with separate procedures for workers over 65. Long pointed out that the average staff worker retires at 62, with most of those who continue to work doing so out of financial necessity.

“We are looking upon this as an attack upon the very vulnerable,” she said. For the past week negotiations have been at a standstill, though the union has backed down from its hard stance on wage increase equity.

“[Carleton’s] last offer was essentially same as their previous one. We don’t consider that bargaining,” said Long.

Meanwhile, tempers at the student unions are short over Dunn’s warning to Ms. Melanson and Oren Howlett, the president of the Graduate Students’ Association.

Dunn told Melanson that he had been contacted by members of the BG frustrated with both CUSA’s stance alongside strikers and Melanson’s comments to the press. Dunn told her he considered it inappropriate for her, as a member of BG, to speak out against administration in a labour dispute.

“I will not step down,” Melanson said. “I was elected to represent students and represent their interests.”

If it ain’t broke…

Disgruntled about your student loans? Tell it to the man.

The man, in this case, is Human Resources and Social Development Minister Monte Solberg, who has invited students, parents, and general citizenry to air their views in online consultations from Sept. 7 to Sept. 28. The forum is part of a review of the Canada Student Loans Program announced in the government’s 2007 budget.

HRSDC’s annual surveys say that student borrowers’ satisfaction levels have ranged between 63 and 75 per cent since 2002. Detractors of CSLP, however, are vocal about the program’s shortcomings.

Common complaints include high interest rates (2.5 per cent above prime for variable rates or a whopping 5 per cent above prime for a fixed rate) and harassment from collection agencies ($450 million, or around 56 per cent, of defaulted loans are handled by private agencies and the rest are collected by the Canadian Revenue Agency).

U of T alum Leena Sharma said that, of all her debts, she’s repaying her OSAP loans last because they have the lowest interest rate. “I’m glad I had the help at the time, but I’d stress more grants and scholarships,” she said. “Students should leave school with less debt.”

How long till Sharma finishes repaying her loans? “Maybe a few years,” she conceeded. Christina, her co-worker, had a drearier outlook: “Forever, until I die. At my funeral, they’ll be the ones robbing my grave.” Christina declined to give her last name, under fear of “blacklisting” by U of T.

Third-year student Daniel Kim, meanwhile, has no idea how he’ll repay his OSAP loans. “I’m not even thinking about it,” he said. “It’s good that they don’t have interest until we graduate, at least. It’s ok, it’s better than nothing.”

Registered Education Savings Plans are also due for an overhaul; the budget will increase the lifetime limit from $42,000 to $50,000 and eliminate the annual limit.

24 hour primate people

Renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall made a quick stop on her round-the-world lecture tour to speak with journalists on Wednesday morning, before jumping on a plane to Saskatoon. When Dr. Goodall returns to Toronto, she’ll give a lecture, “Gombe & Beyond”, to a sold-out crowd in Con Hall.

The morning of the impromptu press conference marked the 50th anniversary of Goodall’s arrival in Tanzania’s Gombe Nation Park to start her pioneering work with chimpanzees.

“We missed our chance, but this is the anniversary,” she remarked before moving on to discuss the work for the Jane Goodall Institute that brought her to Toronto.

“There’s no point in exhausting ourselves doing conservation work if we aren’t also trying to raise the next generation to be better stewards than ourselves,” she said.

Those aren’t idle words. Roots & Shoots, JGI’s youth program, involves over 9,000 groups in 100 countries. On Sunday, Goodall will meet with some of these young people from Toronto groups, when Victoria college hosts the Roots & Shoots festival from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Goodall’s Con Hall lecture will discuss conservation strategies for Africa, including microcredit lending to women, scholarships to allow villagers to get higher education, fair trade farming practices, and HIV/ Aids education, alongside fostering a love of nature in youth worldwide.

“You have to ask people ‘what do you care about,’ and try and direct them within those areas,” she said.

Dr. Jane Goodall’s public lecture “Gombe & Beyond” is scheduled for Saturday, September 15 at 7:00 p.m. in Con Hall. A book signing will follow.

Pekka packs up

Pekka Sinervo, U of T’s dean of Arts & Science, has announced he is leaving the university next June, a year before his term as dean expires.

The U of T graduate, who joined the faculty as a plucky assistant professor of physics in 1990, rose quickly through the ranks, making full professor in 1995.

When Carl Amrhein vacated the dean’s chair in 2003, U of T’s then-president Robert Birgeneau quickly appointed Sinervo, by then vice-dean of Arts & Science and no longer wet behind the ears, to the faculty’s top job until the university could choose a more permanent replacement. Five months later, U of T picked Sinervo as that replacement. His term began in January 2004, and was to last until June 2009.

During his term as dean, Sinervo test-drove a new set of duties as the university’s first vice-provost of first-entry programs. The post, created last year as part of U of T’s program to improve the student experience, saw Sinervo speaking for Arts & Science, U of T at Mississauga, U of T at Scarborough, Applied Science and Engineering, Music and Physical Education and Health.

Sinervo will instead depart early for Geneva, Switzerland, to pursue his research at the Large Hadron Collider apparatus.

Quirky Courses

With the books selling well over 100 million copies and the film trilogy earning billions in revenue, it would be an understatement to declare that there is a steady renewed interest in the works of one J.R.R. Tolkien. With the popularity of this beloved author in mind, this year U of T has included an introductory course on the fascinating world of Frodo, Sam, and the wizard Gandalf.

The Lord of the Rings: A Journey Through Middle Earth is a humanities course that will discuss the characters and events of Tolkien’s namesake trilogy and continue on with student projects explaining the history of Middle Earth, explanations on its peoples and languages and how various alliances and active mobs shaped the great War of the Rings. Other course topics include Tolkien’s inspiration for the trilogy and the author’s sources as well as the themes of good and evil, the idea of “free peoples” and the role of “higher powers” in Middle Earth.

Interestingly, one topic of discussion for this class is the enduring appeal of the three novels, which is sure to include talks on the complicated process of adapting such a popular novel to a major blockbuster film of great cultural impact.

The Lord of the Rings: A Journey Through Middle Earth is a first-year seminar course taught at Woodworth College by Professor J. Browne. It is a full-year course open only to new students at University of Toronto.

The Art of War

After keeping a relatively low profile following the impressive opening launch in June, ROM organizers have launched another spectacular exhibit for the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, but it won’t be housed inside the structure.

DARFUR/DARFUR, an exhibit of 150 photos taken by seven international photojournalists and one U.S. ex-Marine, is being projected onto the side of the Crystal each evening from dusk to 11 p.m. until September 17. The images will appear as two loops, one of portraits and the other of images of the conflict. They will be accompanied by traditional Sudanese music.

Given the nature of the ongoing conflict, DARFUR/DARFUR is both a window into Sudanese culture and a political cause. Fighting broke out in 2003 between a militia known as the Janjaweed, backed by the Sudanese government, and various rebel groups such as the Sudan Liberation Movement. Over 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and 2.5 million have been displaced, making Darfur the subject of countless appeals to both governments and the public to provide aid to the region.

However, the aim of the DARFUR/ DARFUR exhibit is not to create direct political change, but rather to have a more personal affect on passersby.

A free mini-exhibit will be on display inside the front lobby of the museum during regular hours. ROM organizers say that DARFUR/ DARFUR may set a precedent that will allow other installations to be projected onto the crystal, using it as a canvas for cultural and artistic expression.

“The money that’s required (to end the conflict) is on a government level,” said Jane Sachs, one of the exhibit’s co-curators. She hopes the exhibit’s captivating images will spark a grassroots response.

“The most important thing you can do is send a hand-written letter to your representative. Emails just get tallied.”

DARFUR/DARFUR was first exhibited at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has since traveled to 15 American cities. The exhibit comes to Toronto just as major advancements are being made to ending to the conflict, foremost of which is U.N. Resolution 1769, an agreement between the U.N. Security Council and the African Union to send 26,000 peacekeeping troops to the region. As well, BBC News reported in July that the discovery of a large underground lake may provide a great relief to tensions in Darfur, as competition for resources has long been cited as a major cause of the conflict.