ASSU goes bottom-up

Within the span of two days, the Arts and Science Students’ Union has lost its student fees and its president.

Interim VP and provost Cheryl Misak has decided to withhold ASSU’s funding for the time being after she reviewed their two controversial elections from last year, as she informed the union Tuesday. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, ASSU president Ryan Hayes resigned via an emailed statement.

Both decisions came after The Varsity uncovered the collaboration between then-candidate Hayes, elections chair Ausma Malik, and then-exec Alanna Prasad on elections procedures and reports. Leaked emails and chats cast doubt on Malik’s neutrality, showing that Hayes and Prasad decided to put forth Malik as a candidate for election chair.

As chair, Malik threw out the initial election that Hayes’ rival, Colum Grove-White, won. The second election was pushed as far into the exam period as possible to “avoid an appeals process after the elections,” reads an email message from Prasad. Malik also asked Hayes and exec Alanna Prasad for input on her decisions and let them edit her verdict and the election report. When Grove-White lost the second election, he appealed to Jim Delaney, director of the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students. The investigation was handed over to Misak because Delaney is a claimant in an unrelated investigation involving ASSU executives.

In her decision, Misak invoked the Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, which allows her to withhold funding “if the Office of the Vice-Provost Students has reason to believe that a student society is not operating in an open, accessible and democratic fashion.” Her office, the Office of the VP and Provost, is responsible for U of T’s academic and budgetary matters.

Part of the dispute over the initial election stemmed from ASSU’s lack of official written rules for its elections. Hayes said he operated under past practice that disallowed campaigning. “Those were always the rules,” he said. Grove-White received written rules from an ASSU staffer stating that campaigning was permitted. Hayes and those who ran alongside him have claimed that ASSU staff, who are in the midst of a labour dispute with the execs, were not neutral in the election and supported the Grove-White slate. Misak’s letter to ASSU exec Sheila Hewlett, dated Tuesday, Sept. 16, voiced concern over the lack of written rules. “There was an absence of specific rules or procedures that might have brought openness and democracy to the situation,” the letter reads.

In an interview that took place immediately after he resigned yesterday, Hayes rejected the validity of the policy governing ASSU’s funding from student fees, which he said has a vague definition on the student society’s undemocratic conduct.

“They only need reason to believe, not definitive proof. The administration as an entity is biased in a referendum or election. The administration has interests because we negotiate with the administration,” he said. “The point that was made to her was that procedures already exist within ASSU to deal with any disputes.” The ASSU constitution states that instances not covered would be addressed by Bourinot’s Rules, parliamentary-style rules of order and procedure. Misak’s letter said referring to Bourinot’s is insufficient.

Sandy Hudson, president of UTSU, agreed with Hayes. “Under no circumstances should the administration withhold funds based on internal student union governance matters,” she said. “When there are electoral improprieties, it is the members, that is the course unions of ASSU, who have the responsibility to ensure that the organization is running smoothly.”

Grove-White called Misak’s decision “a double-edged sword.”

“On one side it will result in a transparent democratic process,” he said. “But on the other it jeopardizes funding for those course unions who really work on behalf of their students.”

In her letter, Misak said the ASSU constitution does not describe “a clear procedure for dealing with complaints from members” and later noted that “ASSU has no rules for the conduct of elections for President.”

When asked whether ASSU should have specific rules for complaints and the election, Hayes said, “If you want to do something, whether it’s a complaint, or something else, it’s the same policy. It’s all the same, because it’s all democratic. It would be redundant.”

Hayes’ written statement of resignation does not admit any unethical behaviour on his part. “This [the leaked emails] has resulted in sensationalized reporting largely revolving around petty personal politics and gossip, which I feared would be used to distract from the important work of ASSU for the remainder of my term,” it reads.

According to ASSU’s constitution, the exec can select a replacement for vacated positions until a by-election can be held. Regularly scheduled elections for four exec positions will take place next Monday, Sept. 22. Exec Edward Wong said the presidential election will not be held on that date, because there is little time for nominations. At press time, the chief elections officer position has not been filled.

Grove-White isn’t sure if he will run. “I think I need to talk to some course unions,” he said. “I’m a little worried because of ASSU’s current predicament and about who is willing to step up to the plate if I don’t.”

Both of ASSU’s remaining execs, Wong and Hewlett, declined to comment on Hayes’ resignation and the fund freeze. Wong said the execs would meet and would respond to Misak’s letter, as requested, by noon on Friday, Sept. 19.

Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright Dead at 65

Classic rock fans across the globe shed a tear on Monday when Richard Wright, the keyboardist for Pink Floyd, passed away. Wright co-founded the band in 1965 and was integral in the composition of many Pink Floyd classics, such as the landmark albums Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon, and Wish You Were Here. Due to mounting tension with Roger Waters, Wright opted out of The Wall recordings, but continued to play with the band in live shows. He officially re-entered Pink Floyd in 1988 and contributed to the band’s final album, The Division Bell, in 1994. Wright also released two albums as a solo artist, Wet Dream (1978) and Broken China (1996). Wright passed away from cancer in England on September 15th at the age of 65. Before his death, Wright was working on a new album composed mainly of instrumental pieces.

Carleton kid couldn’t hack it

A third-year math student at Carleton University has been charged with mischief to data and unauthorized use of a computer, and could face up to 10 years in prison after exposing security flaws in the university’s computer system.

Mansour Moufid, 20, used a key logging program to breach the school’s card-reading software and exposed the confidential information of 32 students. His case is renewing the debate over whether hacking can ever be ethical.

Moufid claims that he wrote the software to reveal flaws in Carleton’s card-reader software, and sent a 16-page report to the University Secretary’s Office explaining his actions. With the students’ user names and passwords, he had access to students’ e-mail, library records and card balances. Moufid made mistakes when covering his tracks, however, and his identity was exposed and given to the police.

Moufid’s report, available online, explains that “the author hereby wishes to elicit a response from the reader and the community leading to greater awareness of the issues of privacy and security (or lack thereof) affecting students.” Moufid goes on to say that the Campus Card, like U of T’s T-Card, does not store passwords, and is a “weak link” when combined with rudimentary key-logging hacks. He claims that in its current form the card could be exploited for financial fraud “on a large scale, and it is likely that this is merely the tip of the iceberg.”

It is not known whether Moufid will remain a student at the university, but spokesperson Steve Blais said the matter was taken to police before the student was identified. “The [administration was] deeply concerned about the nature of the breach, and the university believed that it was a criminal act, so we called the police because it was appropriate.”

Bruce Lee-Shanok, a law student at Dalhousie and a Waterloo graduate in computer science, has started a Facebook group called “Leave Mansour Moufid Alone.”

“Ultimately,” he said, “what Mansour did was a public service. Imagine the harm that someone with his knowledge could have done. Thanks to him, Carleton is aware that a problem exists. The fact that he’s being treated like a criminal should be making people angry.”

Carleton’s Campus Card is similar to U of T’s T-Card. A magnetic stripe on the back contains a student’s username, linking it to the university database, and on the front is a bar code with library information. The main difference, according to Adam Wunker, a help desk advisor at Robart’s Information Commons, is that U of T stores student data differently. Access to one account, such as UTORid, does not lead to ROSI access. U of T students also use their T-Cards for fewer things, whereas Carleton gives discounts to students who use their card to purchase goods on campus, including textbooks.

“Keylogging is the biggest vulnerability,” said Wunker, but there are very few ways to install such software on U of T’s computers. “There have only been a couple cases of circumvention in the last few years,” he said, and those didn’t endanger the information of multiple students.

Moufid’s case is spurring intense debate on tech websites.

“The university should spend money hiring admins with better computer and teaching skills rather than paying lawyers,” wrote Aqui, one user on the popular site Slashdot.

Others disagreed. “If you steal something and decide to bring it back, it doesn’t mean you didn’t steal it,” said a representative for the High Tech Crime Unit at the Ottawa Police Department. “This was a serious breach of [the students’] data. If we don’t prosecute these things, it leaves the door open for other people to do the same thing.”

Moufid will appear at an Ottawa court on October 15.

Elbow wins Britain’s Mercury Prize

They’ve been around since 1990 and released four critically acclaimed albums, but it’s only now that Manchester five-piece Elbow have achieved international fame. How did they do it? Simple—by knocking off such luminaries as Radiohead, British Sea Power, and Estelle to claim the £20,000 Nationwide Mercury Prize. Much like Canada’s Polaris Music Prize, the award has a history for rewarding the underdog ahead of more commercially successful acts. Despite being virtually unknown in North America, Elbow have built a reputation as one of Britain’s premier indie bands and were nominated for the prize in 2001. Their album The Seldom Seen Kid was named the winner at a star-studded event at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel last week. “I know I’m supposed to be cool and say something coy, but it’s literally the best thing that’s ever happened to us,” said singer Guy Garvey. Whether or not the award will pave the way for (sorely deserved) greater success outside their native land remains to be seen.

Artsci budget loses four per cent

The Faculty of Arts & Science budget will decrease by 4 per cent this year, making 2008 the tenth consecutive year of cuts. The faculty’s base budget has been slashed by an average of 3.3 per cent annually since the academic year 1999-2000, and a total of $41.8 million has been removed.

Rather than cutting costs centrally, as has been the norm over the past seven years, costs are being handed over to individual units under the faculty. Each department, college, center, and institute will lose 4 per cent of its budget, except for the smallest.

“Despite making cuts we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we continue to offer the courses students need to fulfill their degree program requirements,” said interim Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler, “and we have succeeded in doing that.” Gertler said that the faculty had increased the number of total spaces offered in courses year after year despite the loss in budgets.

Many departments have been forced to cancel courses to negotiate the cuts. While the “Dean’s Promise” ensures that course cancellations don’t keep students from graduating in their last year, removed courses mean students have to go out of their way to cover requirements.

Danielle Sandhu of Woodworth College, who is finishing her Peace and Conflict Studies program this year, was disappointed when she found that a course she needed to compete her program was not being offered this year. Having declared POL 417 as a requirement for her program at the end of her first year, Sandhu had to request for a substitute course, and wait to have it approved by the program director.

“It was not a difficult process, but I was disappointed because I had been waiting three years to take that course, due to all the pre-requisites” said Sandhu.

“The support for undergraduate education is not what we would like it to be,” said Alex Bewell, chair of the Department of English. Bewell said it is the responsibility of Queen’s Park to increase funding.

Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Christina Kramer, said that her department had to resort to external funding to stay afloat. “We are very fortunate that we have successfully raised external funds from many communities, funds which help support language study in Polish, Ukrainian, Macedonian, and Croatian as well as Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian.”

“The cuts force us to concentrate on our core mission, which is providing language, literature, and culture classes in ten different languages,” she said. “Other activities have already been diminished and we had to cancel a very popular second year course.”

“It speaks to U of T not seeing a priority in liberal arts education, humanities, and social sciences,” said UTSU VP external Dave Scrivener. “The University can make more money and get private funding from sciences, engineering and other professional faculties.”

U of T has increased revenue by raising tuition fees and international student enrolment. Tuition fees increases this year averaged 4.26 per cent across all programs and departments for domestic students.

However, according to Gertler costs have risen faster than tuition fees. He also pointed out that tuition fees account for only about one third of the faculty’s revenue.

Gertler and Scrivener agreed that the provincial government needs to increase funding. Currently, the provincial government is responsible for 40 percent of the operating budget.

“I think the most important thing is to make the case as clearly as we can to Queen’s Park that the grant revenues have to increase. It’s just impossible to continue to offer a high quality education so long as our grant revenue is declining,” said Gertler.

With files from Naushad Ali Husein

When particles collide

On Sept. 10, scientists and citizens tuned in for the successful startup of what is being touted as the greatest experiment in particle physics: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Found underground at the CERN laboratories near Geneva, the world’s largest particle accelerator is the result of 14 years of collaborative efforts that bridged languages and nations, including contributions from several University of Toronto scientists.

“It’s a fantastic moment,” said LHC project leader Lyn Evans about the collider’s first successful particle steering. “We can look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.”

Before entering the main particle accelerator loop, positively charged particles called protons are channeled through a series of circular paths, in which superconducting magnets increase their velocity. As the protons are shifted to larger and larger circular paths, they approach the speed of light. At this point, energy added through magnetic and electric fields makes the particles heavier. The final stage of the LHC channels these “heavy” particles into the main accelerator, an underground tube with a circumference of 27 kilometers, located at the France-Switzerland border. Once inside, the particles are split into two channels and travel around the final track in opposite directions. The collision of these two groups of high-speed particles occurs at unprecedented levels of high energy. The results of these collisions should allow scientists to discover the fundamental forces and particles that were at work in creating the universe.

The LHC hopes to validate the Standard Model, which according to U of T Physics Professor Robert Orr has “allowed us to understand the behaviour of the minute particles that make up matter.” While the Standard Model represents everything humans currently understand about particle physics, there are several phenomena left unexplained, including the origin of mass. It is thought that the “Higgs Mechanism” may be the answer, in which case a so-called Higgs boson particle would exist. The Higgs boson, occasionally referred to as the “God Particle,” is theorized to be the crucial link in explaining how matter has mass. This elusive entity has not yet been revealed by less powerful particle accelerators. U of T’s role in the LHC project is focused on the ATLAS (AToroidal Lhc ApparatuS) experiment, one of the goals of which is and attempt to find Higgs boson particles.

At an event held by the Department of Physics last week, U of T ATLAS team members revealed that preliminary data is promising. Dr. Richard Teuscher, an experimental physicist at U of T, works with the LHC at CERN. He indicated that the next step is studying the calorimetric component, which investigates the heat of reactions or any physical changes that occur.

While this initial startup is a monumental moment in history, Dr. Teuscher is quick to note, “We will need several years to find the needles in the haystack such as the Higgs boson.” Two to three years worth of LHC data will be required in order for scientists to make meaningful analyses about Higgs boson particles. Due to the relative low Higgs boson production rate, for every few hours the collider is running, scientists estimate that only one of these sought-after particles will be generated.

The first stage in unraveling the universe’s origins has already yielded positive results. The operational LHC gives a preliminary picture of what occurs during the time of collision. LHC collaborators point out that it will take several weeks to months for the particles to reach the critical speeds necessary to surmise creating the Higgs boson particle.

Concordia: No friend of Facebook

On Sept. 1, Concordia University prohibited access to Facebook and other social networking websites on school computers due to security concerns. The university said spam and viruses related to Facebook could damage its internal network, which services approximately 50,000 students, faculty, and staff members. In addition, admin said the openness of personal information on these sites could lead to numerous phishing scams.

The ban only applies to desktops, so Facebook addicts can still get a fix through a wireless connection and in residence.

Astronomy tours offer stellar view

Only on the roof of the McLennan Physical Laboratories building can you experience something of astronomical proportion.

On the first Thursday of every month a free talk and tour is given by a PhD student or a specialist in the field of astrophysics. The 45-minute lecture on modern astrophysics begins at 9:10 p.m., followed by a public viewing through the telescope atop the McLennan Labs building.

PhD student Kaitlin Kratter has been the quick-witted lecturer for the past week, amusing the audience with knowledge and humour. “Asteroids,” she quipped one night. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” Her presentation includes illustrations that highlight astronomical findings aided by satellites and attendees are able to ask questions throughout the talk.

On this particular night, the lecture hall is packed with attendees of all ages. One audience member asks, “Can a large enough asteroid cause destruction on earth?” Kratter answers that only an asteroid with the width of approximately one kilometer could cause significant destruction. A bright-eyed 10-year-old sits to the right of the hall with his father; the audience is stunned when he correctly answers a question about an asteroid’s orbit.

The large refracting telescope is the night’s highlight. Usually when the sky is clear, the state of the art facilities allow for excellent viewing of the heavens. Double stars, the moon, and even Jupiter can be seen through the telescope. When the weather is uncompromising, a virtual telescope is available as PhD students patiently answer questions, while taking viewers on a virtual tour.

People of all ages are encouraged to attend with free refreshments available. Even if you’re not into astrophysics, Thursday night astronomy tours provide a point of view any star gazer can appreciate.