I own this shirt. It is navy blue with a white trim, a nice looking shirt. Perhaps you’ve seen this shirt. I wear it to the gym sometimes, especially the one back home where I show it off as if to say: why yes, I do attend university. Maybe you even own it too, I got mine for free and I know I’m not the only one. What really draws attention to the shirt is the message written across the chest: “I am Boundless.”Now I’ll admit it’s a great slogan. The first thing you can say about “Boundless” is that it fits all the criteria you would expect from a university slogan. Ambiguity? Check. Opportunity? Check. Infinite horizons? Check.From a marketing standpoint, the obscurity of this term is what makes it so effective. It carries the idea that school is what you make of it, putting you in the driver’s seat. What’s boundless? Is it the diverse mix of research programs, exchanges, clubs, teams and all manner of opportunities that are readily available at U of T? No. It is you. You are boundless.“Boundless,” perhaps more than anything else, denotes freedom. One could argue that this is exactly what potential students are looking for. The meaning of the slogan is twofold. It first posits that the university will help provide the necessary environment for you to explore your freedom, while at the same time, the slogan suggests that this environment will not restrict or bind you in any way.On an academic level, this slogan seems to fit well with U of T’s culture. After all, this school offers some outstanding opportunities. Ironically — perhaps intentionally — this motto runs contrary to some of the popular beliefs about this university. Barring any outside criticism, many students at this school report that the academic demands on their time are too strenuous, and that they invade too deeply into their social lives. This is of course merely the price one pays for attending a top school. Still, the fact that our slogan seems to run contrary to what many of us believe about this university is somewhat troublesome.If this slogan only meant that we are boundless in the academic sphere then perhaps there would be no issue. However, the various ways in which this slogan is delivered play up both the academic and social advantages of the school.In one sense, this is a must for the university’s advertising. In an age where the value of any given university degree has shrunk, social networks are becoming increasingly important for many prospective students.Accordingly, university ads seem to be advancing the social merits of their schools more than ever. In these ads, the message that the social value of the degree is tantamount to academics is not only promoted, it’s unequivocal. After all, how do you think alumni get to the top? When you play Frisbee in the shade of the campus quad with women in sundresses and men in Oxford shirts, yes there is great fun, but there is also an opportunity to make profitable connections.The reality for many students is that the academic rigors of this school overshadow the social benefits of university. In this sense, our slogan is contradictory. We are not boundless, but heavily bound. We can only hope, then, that this hindrance to social freedom will be worth it in the long run. Breen Wilkinson is a second-year student studying English, history, and American studies.
“Boundless” U of T campaign misrepresents the realities of university life
University advertisements misrepresent the constraints on student life
Controversial residence plans continue to spark debate
Knightstone residence would benefit students as living costs in Toronto rise
A new student residence is being proposed near College and Spadina. Knightstone Capital, a private firm, is planning to build a 24-storey tower, which could house 759 U of T students on property leased from the university. However, some members the local community, including City Councillor Adam Vaughan, oppose the project.Many U of T students welcome the proposal. Housing costs in downtown Toronto are soaring. A decent bedroom in a Bay Street condominium often costs $1,000 per month, and many students are more than happy to pay $600 just to find a living room to sleep in. On the other hand, commuting carries implicit costs. In addition to paying $106 a month for a TTC pass, commuters also tend to enjoy fewer of the auxiliary U of T services that they pay for. After all, few would be willing to commute back to campus after dark just for an intramural soccer game at 10:00 pm.The project also appeals to the university. The university administration has some responsibility to offer accommodation to its substantial international and out-of-province student body. For years, however, it has been unable to expand its aging residence buildings due to ever-decreasing public funding. As the Knightstone project is privately financed, the university can better serve its students while only taking on minimal financial risks. Besides, more student residences will always foster a sense of community on campus that big universities like U of T often lack.Opponents to the project protest that a glass-and-steel tower would be incongruous in the otherwise low-rise area, and that students would cause a disturbance in an otherwise quiet residential neighbourhood. These are genuine concerns; however, they should serve as signs to proceed with caution, rather than as roadblocks to the entire project. Indeed, some measures have already been taken to address these problems. For instance, the university stipulated as part of its lease that the operator of the new residence must obtain its approval. It is therefore to be expected that student life in the new tower will be held to the same standard as any other U of T residences.In their stern opposition to the proposed tower, community members also seem to have willfully ignored the enormous economic and social benefits that those 759 students will bring to the neighbourhood. Existing business owners will see an influx of customers, and residents will benefit from the opening of many new businesses.The university owns many other underdeveloped properties, such as the three blocks bounded by Harbord, Spadina, and Huron and Bloor. U of T owns all but 11 houses in the area. Building a mixture of new student residences and classrooms in the area will benefit the residents as well as students. However, if the Knightstone residence project is rejected, it will serve as a negative precedent for other future development projects in the area. Li Pan is a second-year student majoring in economics and mathematics.
Local institutions do more to renew independence post-disaster
Effective disaster relief depends on cultural and social context on the ground
Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda has killed more than 5,000 people and devastated the livelihoods of 13 million. An overwhelming majority of those affected are traumatized, hungry, thirsty, hurt, and homeless.This is an appeal to aid, but perhaps not a conventional one. I wish to convince you to donate to local agencies that I believe have more expertise, empathy, and long-term outlook to provide a more resilient post-disaster Philippines.
Relief is complicated. It carries political and methodological baggage. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be fighting on the field as to what, how, and to whom aid should be distributed. Cash or food? Women or men? Shelter or medicine? With limited resources come hard decisions. “The choice is to use the same truck either to distribute food or collect bodies” said Tacloban’s mayor, bleakly. There is no doubt that there is a need for resources and thus I will not discredit the efforts of larger agencies — such as the World Food Program, the UN Refugee Agency, Oxfam and Red Cross/Crescent that are well-intentioned. But with relief, intentions are never enough.Relief is contextual. Money rarely translates into what the donor intended, more importantly, beneficiaries are rarely provided with the aid they need. The social context into which foreign aid is introduced will determine how that aid is distributed. I witnessed this first-hand when I studied a post-cyclone relief effort in India. Cultural nature, political rivalries, ethno-religious divisions, and economic stratifications are essential to understanding how to propagate a relief effort. I am not Christian, but I would not think twice about donating to a smaller, Christian organization if they are effectively getting aid through to those in need. Aid comes first, not ideology.International aid is rarely as effective as locally tailored aid. Local knowledge is essential to effectively providing aid. It can be as simple as knowing another route in case of traffic, or completely understanding what people’s priorities are and how to deal with the various demographics. That is why I recommend donating to Filipino or regional agencies that have a robust local network. The Philippine Red Cross stands out, as do Citizens’ Disaster Response Centre, the Asia-Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management, and Community and Family Service International. You can also donate directly to the government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development — which, though facing criticism, is still one of the most effective agencies in the field.Relief is human. Affected people always have pride, and if provided with the correct tools, they develop some agency. This is far from the conventional image of helpless, dejected, and submissive victims. Even with their houses destroyed, these people rarely submit to begging, or discarded old T-shirts. Local agencies are usually more aware of this. Because they are inherently invested in the society around them, they do more to provide agency to the affected people.Relief is never over. This current and essential relief effort will die down. International agencies will pack up and leave when critical needs have been met; the initial crisis will have been averted, but the essential job of rebuilding livelihoods remains.Post-disaster reconstruction efforts are achingly slow due to lack of funding, and international agencies rarely deal directly with these efforts, as there are no glamorous media-bites.However, disasters due to climate change will only increase in frequency — we need to design our cities to be resilient, but also socially and environmentally appropriate, which can only done by locally aware agencies. Donate localy, not only will these charities provide better and faster aid but they will also be there to do the serious rebuilding that comes after the big organizations leave. Ankit Bhardwaj is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto
U of T building beyond its means
University lacks infrastructure roadmap
New University of Toronto president Meric Gertler wasted little time expressing the university’s dissatisfaction with provincial levels of funding for post-secondary education, citing funding pressures as a key challenge for the university in his installation address. The Varsity has recently highlighted the alarming growth of deferred maintenance at U of T, as well as the interaction of provincial funding structures and donor priorities with what gets built and fixed at the university. Despite the constant talk of funding levels and priorities, questions around deferred maintenance are still rarely discussed.For many students, the first of these questions will be: What is deferred maintenance? Deferred maintenance occurs when the university spends less on maintaining its buildings in a given year than it thinks it should. The Facilities & Services department monitors how much upkeep has been delayed until future years in this manner, and their reports make alarming reading.As of 2012, the university has some $484 million in deferred maintenance. If U of T were to decide to do all that work today, it would cost them one quarter of the university’s endowment. Amazingly, that’s not the alarming part of the problem; even if U of T were to spend that money catching up on maintenance this year, we would still have significant levels of maintenance necessary next year.It is not difficult to see how the university has arrived at this point, and U of T’s administration is not doing anything that other large Canadian institutions have not done. Every year, U of T has to spend more than it earns — something that it cannot do. Many public institutions — including the ttc, school boards, and the provincial government itself — face this yearly dilemma. The province makes ends meet primarily by incurring debt, but other institutions often make up the funding gap by deferring spending on maintenance. If U of T were to defer other expenses — such as salaries, heating, or financial aid — people would notice. However, the university can easily get by unnoticed without spending millions on removing the asbestos from Sidney Smith, or other projects that are advisable in the long term but not immediately necessary.It is important to note that deferred maintenance does not pose any immediate danger to the people using these buildings. Facilities & Services monitors the university’s infrastructure, and urgent repairs are carried out before they become a hazard. The problem, however, is that while the asbestos in Sid Smith can be safely contained for now, it will eventually have to go. The same is true for every job that can, for the time being, be safely put off until next year. Deferring maintenance also provides short-term savings at the expense of long-term costs, since labour, material, and evaluation costs increase every year.Until 2008, U of T was slowly improving the situation; from 2005–2008, the amount of deferred maintenance decreased from about $300 million to less than $200 million, as U of T actually spent more on maintenance than the annual requirement. Since 2008, however, the trend has reversed. Both the rate of increase and the amount of deferred maintenance are now growing every year. Even though U of T’s contribution to maintenance has actually increased steadily since 2008, provincial funding has been declining, and total funding is not keeping pace with need.This problem of ever-increasing deferred maintenance is compounded by the fact that donors and politicians alike want to fund exciting new projects, particularly innovative or glamorous new buildings. By going along with these plans U of T maximizes the total amount of grant and donation money it receives, and continues to grow its infrastructure and enhance its reputation. All of these are positive developments, and they often lead to tangible benefits for students. The downside is that the university can’t quite afford to maintain the buildings it already has. While some donations fund renovations, which include maintenance or revival funding, new building is almost always part of the deal, leading to even more maintenance cost as those buildings age.Administrators have argued that U of T can neither tell donors what to fund nor change the government’s mind, and that it has to take advantage of these opportunities or risk falling behind its global competitors. This argument ignores the reality that, eventually, deferred maintenance will catch up with us. The university can devote more money to innovation and growth today by deferring maintenance spending. By doing so, however, administrators ensure that at some point in the future, U of T will have less to spend less on these goals as it is forced to divert funds to urgent up-keep spending.Allowing donors and capricious provincial grants to set the university’s agenda for growth also puts decision-making in the wrong hands. The university certainly benefits from exciting new buildings, but it needs money for maintenance, as well as more classrooms, residences, and student space. We expect that the provincial government will spend money where it is needed, whether it is glamorous or not. The university and its students — who donors always express a willingness to listen to — must ask that donors provide money for what faculty and students are really asking for, rather than what benefits their reputations or desires for legacy projects. Gertler is a world-renowed urban geographer, and we hope that his academic background will inform a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the university’s development.The Goldring family’s support for the Goldring Student Centre is an excellent example of donor funding for student space. This kind of support is very rare, and has been totally absent from the Student Commons fundraising process, which places the whole burden of funding on students.The question of deferred maintenance is a question of leadership. The university is sabotaging its long-term growth to further its short-term growth. By incurring an enormous and growing amount of deferred maintenance, and by allowing donors and grants to set a haphazard course for growth, we are undermining the university’s future. University and provincial leaders are taking credit for the university’s current strength and growth, while ensuring a weaker future.
Mayor Ford may be on his way out, but Ford Nation is here to stay
Toronto's divisive political geography
We’ve certainly had an interesting few weeks in Toronto. Rob Ford has turned our proper and polite city on its head, introducing a scandalous cast of crack dealers, gang members, and potential prostitutes into the salacious drama that our municipal politics has become. To put it in Mad Men terms, Toronto has gone from Jackie to Marilyn — and if it were television, rather than real life, I’d say I like it this hot.Every day, there are Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail authors hailing the end of Ford as fanatically as Harold Camping preaches the Second Coming. They denounce him as “brazen and dishonest,” “shocking and embarrassing,” and a disgrace to the city.But let’s drop the rhetoric and be reasonable for a moment. Is it really Ford’s fault that he’s a fatuous drunkard? Probably. Is it his fault that he’s a racist crack head? Almost definitely. But enough of this was obvious before he ever came into office. How can we blame him for continuing to be exactly the man he was before we elected him with a whopping 47 per cent of the vote?When it comes to Rob Ford, the buck stops with the voters. The question we need to ask isn’t how we can get rid of the mayor, but how the hell we elected him in the first place. Thankfully, it is a question with an answer: Mike Harris.In 1998, Harris’s PC government proposed merging the old city of Toronto with five adjacent suburbs. The move was met with stunning opposition — referendums held in the regions opposed amalgamation three to one. Yet, flying in the face of democracy, Harris forcibly created the uncomfortable and incoherent sprawl we now call Toronto.If we look at the 2010 mayoral election results, the wards that voted Ford and the wards that voted Smitherman are divided almost exactly between the city and the suburbs. Simply, the old city said Smitherman, but the megacity said Ford.The 2010 election is a perfect, microcosmic representation of the reality of modern Toronto: two distinct ideologies, one suburban and the other metropolitan, warring for dominance of the city. In handing the political majority to Etobicoke, Scarborough, and North York, we’ve given the suburban creed a serious advantage in that battle.Admittedly, we need to get rid of Ford. It isn’t right to have such a man at the helm of our city. But our basic problem is much, much larger than him — and that’s saying something. Ford might leave the mayor’s office, but the people who elected him aren’t going away. Like it or not, they’re not going to vote any more rationally than they did when they called themselves Ford Nation.The real problem is not Rob Ford, but the simple fact that the suburbs control the downtown core. Some have called for de-amalgamation as the answer — a nice idea, but probably unrealistic. The cost makes the idea politically unattractive, and somehow I don’t think Toronto wants to sacrifice its prestigious title as North America’s fourth largest metropolis.Realistically, our best chance is to adapt to the circumstances — to stand strong as a city behind a single progressive candidate. Even if Ford were to win 47 per cent of the vote again, 53 per cent is still up for grabs. It is by no means a perfect solution — Ford Nation is an intimidating beast. But in the jumbled reality that is Toronto, it’s just about the only hope we’ve got. Devyn Noonan is a third-year English student.
Rob Ford controversy distracts from Remembrance Day ceremonies
The mayor's appearance at Old City Hall detracted from the solemn afternoon
On Monday, November 11, veterans, members of the community, and politicians gathered in front of Old City Hall to pay respect to those who fought in the Canadian military in the wars and missions that have taken place since the beginning of the twentieth century. However, based on the reaction of some who attended the ceremony, attention was not fully devoted to honouring the country’s war veterans — Rob Ford’s presence was seen by many as the event’s main spectacle.In order to continue a long-standing tradition, the mayor attended the ceremony and gave a brief speech to honour veterans on behalf of Torontonians. Despite the content of his speech, some in the crowd decided to take this time to express their disapproval of the mayor: he was greeted with boos upon arrival.Whether or not the mayor should have attended the ceremony wearing the Mayor’s Chain is another question. In the end, Ford decided that he would put his embarrassing issues aside and take part in the Remembrance Day ceremonies, just as mayors before him have done for decades. His presence or absence at the ceremony was up to him alone.At the conclusion of the ceremony, reporters flocked to Ford looking for answers to their questions about his personal life and his intentions for the future, in light of the confirmation of his drug use and the release of a video of him yelling vulgar and threatening slurs.Those who attended the ceremony and decided that it was an appropriate time for them to vocalize their disapproval for the mayor were mistaken. Remembrance Day is the one day of the year where the community gathers together to honour those who have fought and fallen for the well-being of the country.To erase the boundary between this day of honouring, remembering, and mourning and current news concerning the mayor’s personal habits blurs the meaning of the day and, puts veterans in a subordinate place to the highly-entertaining, disappointing, and controversial life of a man who unfortunately holds the position of mayor. This Remembrance Day, those who spent a solemn ceremony focusing on Ford’s behaviour disrespected veterans in an unforgivable way. Elizabeth Benn is The Varsity‘s Sports Editor.
Sikh Canadian soldier remembered
Canada's history is rich with immigrant stories
This summer, when Brigitte Frot, director-general of the Quebec Soccer Federation, said: “[Sikh children wearing turbans] can play in their backyard. But not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer. They have no choice.” She portrayed the Sikh Canadian community as outsiders, inspite of its proud and tireless contribution to this great nation for the past century. But this mindless statement was not the end of this controversy — soon came Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’s Charter of Values, which seeks to ban all public servants from wearing religious clothing — including hijabs, turbans, and kippas. If the bill is passed, many Quebecers, including Sikh public servants, will have to make an unfortunate choice between their work and their religion.
In times like this, it becomes crucial for communities to seek stories that provide inspiration to move forward and attempt to find commonalities in our history. One such story is that of Private Buckam Singh, a Sikh pioneer who fought for Canada in World War I. Singh emigrated from Punjab at age 14 in 1907, and worked on farms in British Columbia and Ontario. This was a time when anti-immigration groups rioted throughout Canada, beating and looting immigrants. The government soon after effectively banned all immigration from India. Sikh immigrants were not allowed to bring their families along, were unable to vote, and were only allowed to work low-skill manual labour jobs, regardless of their work experience or educational background.Despite not being treated as an ordinary Canadian citizen, Singh saw much hope in his adopted country. Thankful for all that Canada had given him, he enlisted in the twentieth Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. Like the thousands of Sikhs from India fighting on behalf of the British Empire, he soon found himself fighting in France. He received severe wounds to the head in June 1916 during the Battle of Mont Sorrel. Recovering in three weeks, Singh joined the war effort again. Less than a month later, however, he was wounded in combat again and sent to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital. The hospital was run by none other than University of Toronto graduate and poet, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who wrote the famous poem In Flanders Fields.In England, after recovering from his injuries, Singh contracted tuberculosis and was sent back to Canada. He spent a year in Kitchener’s Freeport Hospital and died on August 27, 1919. He was buried in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery by the military, without any family around him. The recent discovery of his Victoria Medal by historian Sandeep Singh Brar has provided the Sikh Canadian community an incredible hero to be proud of.Buckam Singh’s story has helped Sikh Canadians unite two seemingly distinct histories and be proud of their contribution to protecting the freedom of this country. Attending the Remembrance Day Ceremony in Kitchener with the Sikh Students Association this weekend, it was heartwarming to see young Sikh boys and girls drawing inspiration from Buckam Singh’s story, ready to fight against injustice and inequality in the world. When they read In Flanders Fields, they are reminded of not only the Canadian contribution to the war, but also that of Singh: a proud immigrant.Singh set the ball rolling for a multicultural society that celebrates its differences. Canada has changed immensely for the better since 1907, a time when Sikh immigrants were not even considered to be citizens to a country where Sikhs pride themselves in wearing the turban while serving in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan, among other peacekeeping missions.As Canadians, we are at an important juncture where we must reflect on our accomplishments and move forward to a country that continues to be equitable for all. Québec’s new Charter of Values does little more than institutionalize prejudice by ostracizing minority groups, and is a direct insult to the decades of contributions from immigrant communities to Canada. This is not the time to move backwards and undo the great battles that our ancestors have fought to make our great society the envy of every nation in the world. Anamjit Singh Sivia is a second-year student studying engineering, as well as the Global Affairs Coordinator for the University of Toronto’s Sikh Student Association.
A tale of two presidents
U of T's presidential transition provides opportunity for further growth
David Naylor stepped down as U of T president on Friday, ending eight years in the university’s most important office. For almost a decade, Naylor has filled the president’s office with remarkable energy and has often been in the public eye. It is hard to assess Naylor’s personal legacy, but the university has certainly benefitted from his efforts.
At the time of his appointment, Naylor’s successor, Meric Gertler, emphasized Naylor’s achievements in raising U of T’s international reputation: “I am following in the footsteps of President Naylor — a leader who has combined vision, hard work, and dedication to propel the University to compete with the best institutions in the world.” Under Naylor, U of T has placed among the world’s top 20 universities in both the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Although Naylor himself has questioned the accuracy and significance of university rankings, they are just one indication of U of T’s growing international standing. Naylor can claim a great deal of credit for this achievement. The “Boundless” fundraising campaign, launched in Naylor’s second term, is the largest in Canadian academic history and has bolstered the university’s global connections. Again, Naylor’s personal involvement has been substantial.Although Naylor has been good for U of T’s public image abroad, he has been less successful closer to home. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the proposed student residence that was to be built by Knightstone Capital Management Inc. on College Street. The university’s negotiations with Toronto City Council and with community groups opposed to the proposals were less than cordial. The university released an unsigned statement accusing city councillor Adam Vaughan of “uncharacteristically threaten[ing] to use his office to damage the University’s interests in various ways,” while Harbord Village Residents’ president Rory (Gus) Sinclair threatened to “[go] to war” with the university. The incendiary back-and-forth over the residence contributed to Toronto City Council’s rejection of the proposal. It would be unfair to lay the blame for this fiasco on Naylor alone, but as president, community and public relations were part of his responsibility.It seems fortunate, then, that incoming president Gertler’s academic background is in urban geography and economics. Gertler seems well-suited to ameliorate the often-strained relationship between the university and surrounding communities. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Gertler stated that he sees “a real opportunity for the U of T to play an expanded role in city-building, and working with civic leaders.” If U of T is to continue to expand, particularly if it is to finally build new residences, effective communication and compromise with its neighbours must be a priority. This is one promising area where Gertler has the opportunity to make his mark.There are also areas where Gertler seems poised to build on Naylor’s successes. Gertler has already helped raise $175 million towards the Boundless campaign. He seems eager to pick up where Naylor left off in the university’s fundraising efforts, saying in one interview that he enjoys fundraising. Private donations have met or exceeded expectations for several years, but this is not the only funding question that the new president will have to manage. As president, Naylor repeatedly stated that government funding is unsustainably low. In addition to expanding and improving community relations, Gertler should focus on continuing to persuade governmental bodies to invest in the university. One of Naylor’s approaches to this issue has been to emphasize entrepreneurship at the university. Gertler may well continue this, but should be cautious to prevent excessive commercialization of research and ideas.Gertler’s history as dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science means he does not assume the presidency with an entirely clean slate. The controversial 2010 review of the faculty, which proposed major budget cuts that included the termination of the university’s Centre for Comparative Literature, drew outcry from students and faculty alike. Gertler also played a major role in implementing the university’s unpopular flat fee policy, which has been a major student grievance since it was introduced. Some tension between the university’s students and its president seems inevitable. Yet these high-profile and unpopular decisions mean Gertler could have an uphill battle to convince skeptical students of his good intentions. This should not, however, preclude constructive dialogue between the new president and student leaders.The impact of the president on the university is difficult to measure. Like any leader, the tone a president strikes and the example they offer can be as important as specific policies and initiatives. Gertler should model transparency and willingness to consult and compromise in the many challenging situations he will undoubtedly face. The university has, on the whole, been well-served by Naylor, but there is always more work to be done.