Up Close: Jon Hopkins

Talking to the Mercury Prize-nominated producer about self-hypnosis and creating his own personal brand of electronica

Up Close: Jon Hopkins

Hailing from across the pond, producer Jon Hopkins invites audiences to a sketch of his personal realities in his third studio album, Immunity. The album was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize this year. Hopkins brands his self-written music with an entrancing digital ambiance. His use of hypnosis extends his production beyond any natively progressive genre like electronica.

Hopkins’s techno abilities have allowed him to collaborate with Coldplay and Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan and make remixes for Four Tet to Nosaj Thing.


The Varsity: What is the most important influence to your music?

Jon Hopkins: To be honest, I’ve got very little idea of what the current stuff people are listening to. My writing stage lasted for nine months, listening to the same music. I never really listened to anything new. I’d go back to old records, ambient stuff. My own production is really just a collection of things I’ve listened to over the years, which was European techno, ambience, breakbeat. Anything I bonded with as a child. I have confidence, I like what I do, and it does something to me.


TV: What sorts of instruments do you predominantly rely on? 

JH: I’ve relied heavily on piano. I’ve had this one for nine years, it’s come with me into every studio I’ve been in. It’s my main instrument for its nostalgic value. I was predominantly self-taught, but when I was eight, my parents put me into lessons. I resisted, of course, but soon realized how valuable they really were. It’s an amazing instrument. To realize the value of the technique is so useful. It’s very applicable in composition and production.


TV: What is the music scene like in the UK? Do you feel like your music reflects that?

JH: I feel like my music is terribly different… It’s not better or worse in any way, but it’s just not part of any particular scene. I don’t really care about whether or not it sounds new, I’ve been lucky enough to get people behind it and that’s been what’s helped me take it to a good audience. I do implement certain rhythmic techniques, hi-hat patterns and 4/4 beats you’ll hear today, but I make a conscious effort to use acoustic sounds and beats that are more interesting than relying on sampling.


TV: What inspired you to begin producing? 

JH: It’s always been what I liked most. At about 10 years old, my parents got me a portable studio. It was a secondhand, brown old thing. It was four tracks onto a cassette, and I didn’t really know what it was, but I started layering up tracks and realizing what certain things were. Time, how you could make sound go left and right, add treble, add bass… Then it became instantly fascinating. Music was always built into me for some reason, though. The first band I heard on the radio was Pet Shop Boys. Their electronic sounds — rather than band music — inspired me, but music was an obsession, ever since I was two years old. My mum used to use it as a means to calm me down.


TV: Did you continue with music during your post-secondary education? 

JH: I went to music college, and there I learned about professional synths. Sounds were more than just something people made. I grew up in a good time. Technology was finally getting to the point where you could have a home computer. It really started to happen when I was 18-19, pcs were affordable, programs were accessible.


TV: When you compose,do you use hardware or software predominantly?

JH: I really try to stop myself from doing everything on the computer, but mainly tracks that incorporate many synths/bass, I refuse to let myself do that. Let them sound different. On my previous album, the majority of it was composed on the piano, but I knew Immunity had to be different. Logic is what I write on. It’s perfect for arrangement and automation; if you have an idea and an effect, it’ll immediately latch right on. Automation keeps everything alive and prevents it from going sterile. They’re all the same, it’s whatever you started with. Logic and Cubase are easiest for me, but I’m sure Ableton is great too.


TV: I’ve read that you have a fascination with self-hypnosis. How did that translate onto Immunity? 

JH: Mainly “Sun Harmonics,” the 12-minute song on the album. It functions along the premise of repeating a thought for a long period of time to move into a deeper state of being. Upbeat tracks will do that too, and bring you to a higher state of consciousness accessible through meditation. It’s all about tapping into that part of your brain that you wouldn’t normally.

Jon Hopkins will be playing at the Hoxton on November 21 with Clark and supporting act, Nathan Fake.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Meet Judy Goldring

Family of Governing Council chair has donated over $10 million to U of T

Meet Judy Goldring

Judy Goldring, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at AGF Management, had a special reason to spend time in the library during her undergraduate career at the University of Toronto. “I loved hanging out at Emmanuel College,” she says. “This will really date me, but Tears for Fears did a video at Emmanuel College, and I loved going into Emmanuel College and saying ‘This is where the video was done.’”

Four generations of the Goldring family have attended U of T, including Judy and her brother Blake, both of whom graduated from Victoria University, and both of whom have individually donated over $1 million to the university. The Goldring family has made numerous donations to the university. The most visible signs of its generosity are the recently opened Goldring Student Centre at Victoria University and the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, currently under construction on Devonshire. “One of our family principles is to give back to your alma mater,” Goldring explains.

Goldring’s experience as a commuter student informed the decision to contribute to the Victoria student centre. “We’re really so honoured and proud and humbled to be able to put a building that we think will help integrate the commuter students, to have a place for not just commuter students but also [residence] students, and it’s a place of meeting.”

Goldring believes that the development of projects like the two Goldring centres must involve consultation and dialogue between donors and the administration. The student centre at Victoria created some controversy when it was first proposed in 2008, with students voting in a referendum that approved a $100 ancillary fee to pay for one-third of the $21 million building. Goldring says the decision of students to support the project at the time was inspiring. “I think that’s exactly what donations are all about; that’s exactly why if there’s a vote and people will support it, it’s because they want to make sure they’re improving the time for the student experience after they’re gone, and that’s exactly what we wanted to see happen with the Goldring Student Centre.”

The connection to Victoria is obvious, but why high performance sport? Goldring says her father, the late C. Warren Goldring, co-founder of financial firm AGF Management, believed in a well-balanced life. “I did joke with him, ‘There are no Olympians in my side of the family,’” she remembers, “but he was a firm believer about having that element of your life fulfilled, and it is about having all parts of your life in a positive way, and that’s what the Goldring Centre for High Performance does.”

Health is a particular topic of interest for Goldring; her husband has Type 1 diabetes, and she has previously co-chaired the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Ride for Research charity event. According to Goldring, the quality of research being conducted at institutions like U of T is particularly important: “In terms of the research excellence that’s done here, you do see organizations like JDRF benefitting from phenomenal research, and research does make a difference in managing diseases like diabetes.”

Goldring believes that it is important for students to take care of their health. “You’ve got a lot of pressure; students today are under a lot of stress, and the pressure to perform and succeed in a very competitive environment is a challenge,” she admits. “But it is a good message to get out — to get out and do that, keep active, keep healthy, eat right.”

Goldring’s contributions to U of T go beyond the remarkable sums she has donated. She has been a member of the University of Toronto’s Governing Council for four years, serving as its vice-chair for two years before being elected to the role of chair on July 1, 2013. “We’ve spoken about my love of this institution, my fond memories of it,” she says. “My family connection has afforded me the opportunity to get involved, and when the opportunity came around for me to get involved with the council, I was excited to be able to give back.”

As Meric Gertler takes over as U of T’s new president, Goldring is leading Governing Council during a period of change for the school, and she looks forward to the work. “Certainly governance, I think, can be helpful in the transition, assuring a smooth transition to support the president and the provost,” she says. “We’re also looking to support, where appropriate, on key defined advocacy issues as the president might define or the administration might define.” Goldring emphasizes that a current key policy initiative for the Governing Council is the implementation of campus councils on the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, an effort to respond to their growth by increasing decision-making at the local level.

Goldring balances her position at the university with what she drily calls her “day job” as COO of AGF Management, a $38 billion asset management company that invests money for clients without the expertise or inclination to do so themselves. Portfolio managers at the company construct investment packages in which individuals and institutions can then choose to participate. U of T itself employs AGF’s services through the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation. “So it keeps me busy,” Goldring says of her multitude of responsibilities with a smile.

“Some would argue there’s no such thing as balance,” Goldring notes, when asked how she manages to keep her complex life in order. “It’s just a very busy time on campus right now, which is great. So right now, the balance is a little imbalanced, but it’s okay. It’s all good.”

The discussion eventually turns back to the business of U of T. Goldring shares what she sees as the most significant challenge for universities in Canada. “Broadly speaking, I think for all universities it’s government policy around post-secondary education and sustainability of the framework that we’re operating in,” she says. “It’s one of the more pressing issues; it’s not a new issue, and it’s not going to be solved in a day either.” Still, Goldring is excited about the opportunities for dialogue for the schools leaders going forward, and particularly expressed great confidence in president Gertler.

Perhaps she is remembering her days making friends in The Buttery, or reading in her favourite quiet spaces around Vic, or being awestruck by the building in which Tears for Fears filmed a video (yesterday’s Mean Girls and Convocation Hall, one might say). At any rate, there is context that makes the words Goldring utters in conclusion just a little more meaningful. “Enjoy your time here,” she says. “It goes by quickly.”

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

Outgoing U of T president discusses flat fees, fee diversion, favourite books, and his final thoughts as he says farewell

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

It has been eight years since David Naylor became president of U of T. He’s led the university in the midst of provincial funding cuts, a global recession, and seemingly endless battles with the students’ union. He will step down on October 31, and former Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler will take his place. I sat down with Naylor one more time for a 45-minute interview that lasted nearly an hour and a half, not counting the responses he emailed for the questions we didn’t have time to get to.


The Varsity: I know that provincial and federal funding is something that you’ve talked about for a long time, in terms of the university wanting more of it. If you could have any system you wanted right now, what would it look like?

David Naylor: We would be at the national average for student funding, at the minimum, and that alone would see probably on the order of $300 million of additional base funding; that’s how big the gap has become.


TV: And why are we below the average?

DN: This is a very challenging question to ever answer definitively. If you go back twenty years, you’ll find the province was already lagging in terms of post-secondary funding and, despite some positive steps in the early days of the Reaching Higher program the province adopted, there has been no real progress. It’s particularly puzzling because we are the national average on spending K-12 education, and the national average in terms of spending on health care. Yet we seem to have decided, somehow, that it’s okay to have a situation in which universities and colleges receive relatively less per student from other provinces. Indeed, so much less that if I were to move the University of Toronto’s operations to Edmonton or Calgary tomorrow, we would double our funding from the province, even after they’ve had their cuts.


TV: The province is considering amending the flat-fees structure, the proposal is, as of next year students taking 3.5 courses will be considered full-time, and as of 2015 students taking four courses or 80 per cent will be considered full-time. Do you think that these changes are positive? If so, why, and if not, what would be a better system?

DN: I think the changes are not evidence-based…what has not been established is that there are any ill effects from this approach, and by established I mean good strong evidence rather than the usual anecdote that carries the day in newspapers. When you look at the studies that were done by the Faculty of Arts & Science, with student representatives on those committees, we see quantitative evidence that shows the following:

We see faster times to completion, which is good for everybody. We see the funds that have been generated from the program fee approach have been redirected to improve student aid, which is also a good thing net and net no one ends up paying more as a result, when you consider both intensification and the additional student aid.

You see that extracurricular participation has not fallen one bit. You see that grade distribution, so far from going in the wrong direction, is actually showing positive changes. When you put all the evidence together, there’s really not a lot to say that program fees have had an adverse effect.

Would you advocate for the status quo? Do you think that there should be any change at the provincial level?

DN: Do I think the threshold should be four? No, I do not think that threshold is appropriate. Do I think the threshold could be 3 or 3.5? You can argue it either way, but to me if you’re going to do it, what I really would want to see from the standpoint of fairness is get the evidence as you proceed, step by step, to show that adverse effects are not occurring.


TV: U of T consistently ranks poorly on Maclean’s and other surveys that rank student life on campus. Do you think U of T has as strong a student life or sense of identity as Queen’s or Western? If so, why? If not, why not? 

DN: I take some consolation on these surveys from the reality that we have a more critically minded, and I think very smart, audience that may be more inclined to take a skeptical view than those who are happier to paint themselves purple or participate in rowdy Homecoming institutions.




TV: Can it all be attributed to that?

DN: No, of course not. I just wanted to get in that preliminary caveat before I answered your question. The surveys that I look at that give me some sense of encouragement are the NSSE [National Survey of Student Engagement] surveys. On NSSE, we’re up meaningfully over the last few years on five of the seven big domains, and stable on two others. So there’s no question that student life and student engagement are improving. The reality is that this is a major urban centre. We have a lot of students who commute and we know in all these surveys that commuting poses challenges in terms of spirit and solidarity. I do think that the continued improvement in athletics helps. I think that having a Student Commons will help.

I do think that U of T students are simply more academic and have a stronger orientation to a life of the mind than students at some other campuses. And we get accordingly a group who may be less inclined to go out and whoop it up at an athletic event or hang out at a local bar and have fun and who may be a little more likely to be hitting the books in a pretty demanding school and tending to focus on their academics a little more heavily — and I frankly get that and I admire it.


TV: Yes. Now you said the words ‘‘student commons,’’ so I have to ask: On the one hand you have Trinity, Engineering, and Victoria who want to leave. On the other hand you have the students’ union who doesn’t want them to leave. What is a potential compromise?

DN: I think that one has to ask what are some of the services that are sufficiently common across the campus that they might be provided by an umbrella entity and which are division specific to the extent that one might want to see them devolved and that thinking around functionality is one starting point. Another starting point for a compromise is to think about how good governance occurs and that means there has to be some sense that there is an umbrella body like UTSU, that it is responsive to the component divisions in a way that gives them a real sense of full participation in decisions that are made, and both those principles become a starting point for some intelligent compromises. Where this will end up is going to depend upon whether people are willing to find compromises in both directions.

It is the formal position at Victoria, Engineering, and Trinity that they feel there is no room to compromise and they want out. And a few weeks ago the St. George Round Table passed a motion endorsing the principle that if students have voted to leave in a fair referendum then they should be allowed to leave. And, as you know, the union is not responsive to these things. Online voting only got implemented in this election because Cheryl Misak basically threatened to cut off funding. How do you work with the union under these circumstances?

DN: I think it is fair to say that the administration is very unlikely to be comfortable with anything that doesn’t involve some sensible compromises on all sides and if there is no appetite for compromise then there will have to be some decision made by governance on the advice of the administration as to what a sensible and fair dispensation would be. There is no question we have heard very quickly the unhappiness of at least three major student groups on this campus. There is also no question, that we have watched years of challenges to electoral results and have had more than one student group through the years have similar concerns to those that have crystallized and been voted on now. All that is to say that no one should underestimate the resolve of the administration to see a fair resolution.

So I think you will find that we will be moderately patient, perhaps frustratingly so for those that want a fast resolution, and we are going to try and keep the conversation going and if at some juncture there is no resolution, we will act.


TV: The Varsity recently wrote a story about interest fees the university charges. U of T collects about $1.76 million dollars in interest fees from the St. George campus undergraduate students. I don’t think that’s much money for the administration, but I do think that’s a lot of money for your average student. Students get osap money twice during the year, but they have to pay their fees once during the year. So bearing in mind the different OSAP timelines and the pressure from the students’ union, do you think the current model needs to be altered, and if not, why? 

DN: First off, whatever the number is, any money in base that recurs is important to the institution. This is not a one-time amount of money, it’s a recurring amount of money, but much more important than the actual amount brought in on interest charges is the fact that if fees are not paid on a timely basis, there is a loss on the part of the institution. Like any other enterprise we have to continue to make payroll, deal with our expenses, and manage cash flow.


TV: Are there ways to do that without charging interest?

DN: Well it’s pretty hard not to charge interest because if the money isn’t in our hands we can’t put whatever money has been banked out to collect interest out from the banks. Remember that our money comes in in a couple of tranches, just like the money comes in from OSAP in a couple of tranches. We have to manage cash flow for the year. If we don’t invest the money that comes in we’re guilty of dereliction of the appropriate use of capital in our hands and that would be inappropriate and wasteful. One of the reasons interest is charged on these accounts is not some desire to gouge or to make a lot of money out of the interest per se, but rather to make sure we actually have people paying on a timely basis.


TV: Could U of T operate on a model where students pay once per semester? Other universities do.

DN: You have to look at each institution’s model to look at what works. As I see it, most institutions have some interest charges simply to ensure fees are paid on a timely basis. As I see it when a newspaper reports that this amounts to 19 per cent they are misrepresenting the reality and that no one is going to go a full year without paying their fees. When we have claims that these fees are a great burden when in fact they’re OSAP-eligible expenses, we also have some misperception.


TV: If I may though, the data does show that most people are sitting with it between OSAP disbursement periods.  

DN: So in that period they will see this as an expense and they will wait to be paid back, and I understand that that is something that rankles, I get it. It also rankles when anyone else gets a bill with an interest charge on it, which is why we pay them. I would love to see some sensible compromise that found everyone happy our fees are paid on a timely basis and students feeling as though they are also incentivized to do their share to pay.


TV: What is next?

DN: I will go back to the ranks and I will try to be helpful to the institution in any way I can. I will do some private sector work and I will do some non profit and charitable work and try to stay out of the way.


TV: Will you teach?

DN: I hope so. I love teaching, and I really enjoyed research. I would like to live that life again, but I will have to take a little time to see how feasible that is. I mean, I’ve been at it 14 years as a full-time academic administrator as dean of Medicine and president and the jury is out as to whether I can retool and be effective as a researcher again. I’d like to give that a try, but it may be too late — the neurons may have gone to sleep permanently.


TV: What is your favourite book?

DN: Mr Bumbletoes of Bimbleton… That’s a sentimental choice.  My grandparents on both sides were immigrants with limited education.  My mother was a gifted student, but neither she nor her three brothers attended university. My father was determined to be a medical researcher, and was the only one of six children in his family to attend university.  He arrived here at University College during the Depression without any family financial backing, and worked more or less full-time to support himself.  There was no student aid.  He made it as far as first-year Medicine, but couldn’t manage and dropped out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my parents gave their four children a house full of books and a strong sense that we should all pursue higher education as far as it would take us. Among those books, Mr Bumbletoes was my childhood favourite. I am sorry that my father did not live to see his old oak desk in the office of the dean of Medicine at U of T.


TV: Let me ask you one last question. If you came back to U of T 10 years from now, what would you hope the campus would look like?

DN: I would hope they were still amazingly diverse, with the fabulous mix of students we have here from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. I think one of the things that I feel best about is that we’ve had huge numbers of people over the last number of years work hard to promote a uniquely Canadian brand of accessible excellence here at U of T. I think it distinguishes us hugely from some of the Ivy League institutions with which we compete otherwise on the academic level, and I also think in the quality of our graduates — so I would want to see that same wonderful level of diversity. I would hope that we might on this campus have finally figured out a way to close down some of the traffic around King’s College Circle, so that this can be even more of a pedestrian space.

I’d love to see some of the new buildings that are planned up and thriving and full of terrific students and faculty and staff, and I’ll be watching all of those developments with great interest. East and West, I would be really excited to see more of a sense of research buildings that enable more graduate students and graduate studies to thrive as per the 2030 plan as well as the outworking of some of the great plans they have underway. For example, in Scarborough the development of the North campus with the remediated land around the Pan Am Centre is going to be incredibly exciting, and I think they will have made big progress a decade from now.

To the West, there’s infinite potential at the Mississauga campus and I can see any number of new programs emerging there that would again represent a change. They have an academcy of Medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Missisauga and Scarborough with academies of engineering or similar professional programs that are tied to St. George at some later date. I think the sense of a blend of all the historic architecture and all the facilities and greenspace is something that I hope will remain forever. It will always be a place I come back to with a sense of coming home.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

On the rise: Shah

U of T alumnus turned rapper Shah on being a child of the '90s and moving from Toronto to New York

On the rise: Shah

New York-based rapper, Shah, preaches how security is not synonymous with success, using his life’s own fusion of art and academia to ground the argument. Having graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of commerce and a doctorate in medicine, Shah’s drastic decision to put his craft rather than his credentials into practice has resulted in his debut album, Today, which  will be released on November 1. Shah’s ’90s-born, assertive, story-telling lyricism — which he sets to minimalist, ethereal production schemas — reminds modern rap mavericks that a degree shouldn’t be a distraction from riskier, underlying passions.


The Varsity: What was it like, making the radical switch from medicine to music? 

Shah: I always stood out in med school because I looked like the guy who didn’t belong there. I would show up to class in my hoodie and my fitted and only be there to write the exam, then watch the rest of the lectures on video from home. The boat came and went for basketball, so rap was all I had left. I don’t think I surprised too many people with my decision to pursue music.


TV: Did you find that your degree distracted you from your passion at all? 

S: I did things a little differently. You should never take your passion and make it anything less than your main pursuit. In my case, I wanted to secure all my risks before taking the jump, so I finished my degree at U of T, but music was something I was always obsessed with and best at. If I could do it again, I would have dropped school altogether. I realized I needed to be having fun everyday. There, I had limited options.


TV: When and how did you first realize that rap was the route you had to take in music? 

S: I used to rap in high school. I grew up on Nas and Wu-Tang, and the ’90s were definitely their prime. From there, I grew up and started a non-profit organization at U of T, teaching kids how to read and write through rap music, but that only got me closer to the industry. It didn’t put me in it, which is where I both wanted and needed to be. Making the music seemed like my last and only choice.


TV: What is it like being a Canadian rapper trying to make it in New York? Are you responsible for your own production? 

S: One thing you’ll find here is that people want to support other people. It’s that culture of bringing up the entire state with a rapper when he goes platinum. I love Toronto, but there’s an issue with dishonesty. That’s why our mixing process especially is so involved. I have a lot of influence over the creation of the beat, but I can’t execute those pieces. I’m like a four-year-old who found a keyboard.


TV: Who made the greatest impact in how you honed your skill?

S: I look up to the big guys: Michaelangelo, Julius Caesar, NASA Space Exploration. I always kept in mind that doing things on a grand level can be done by anybody. Napoleon? Short guy, but he made it happen. They remind me that there’s always a better version of myself, but it’s going to be discovered off the beaten path, not that it’ll stop me. I’m an adventurer, discovery is the theme I’m addicted to.


TV: What are you trying to achieve through your music, having been in the academic stream and now pursuing an art? 

S: My music was engineered to appeal to people who want to relax to a sick beat, but without compromising the depth in the lyricism. There’s always that hype that doesn’t require intense analysis, but everything in my work is very intentional. In terms of today, I would say Kendrick Lamar is the closest sound I could compare myself to. Him and his endless love for cyphers, I respect that.


TV: Were there doubts starting out, or have you had that moment that put things into perspective? 

S: There was never a moment where I wanted to give up, but there were moments of frustration where I would ask myself why it was taking so fucking long. The reason it’s taken so long is because I’m proudly a perfectionist, and so is my team. You put people from medicine, finance, and fine art together, you get a varied dynamic and great results.

From Hamilton to Hyperdub: Jessy Lanza

On hometown pride and keeping academia separate from music

From Hamilton to Hyperdub: Jessy Lanza

Jessy Lanza’s relationship with music goes way back — both of her parents were musicians who put her through piano lessons, and she spent a few years in Montreal studying music academicly. While pursuing her Master’s in musicology, Lanza realized she would rather make her own music than study the music of others. Naturally, she returned home to Hamilton in order to immerse herself in doing what she’s pretty much been born to do. It wasn’t until another Hamilton native, Jeremy Greenspan of the Junior Boys, asked Lanza to collaborate with him that she began to have the makings of an album. Her debut album, Pull My Hair Back, was released under the boundary pushing record label Hyperdub. In this way she sits comfortably alongside other artists such as Burial, Laurel Halo, and Zomby, to name a few. Her first effort is an interesting one. At the first listen, one can quickly identify the album as r&b, but it’s hard to ignore the influence of dance music. Get to know Jessy Lanza before she takes on the Garrison in her first headlining show on November 2.


The Varsity: Did you know an album was going to come out of your collaboration with Jeremy Greenspan? 

Jessay Lanza: When we first started working on stuff, we didn’t know what was going to happen — or if we make enough material to make up a full album. But eventually, we had enough tracks that sounded like they belonged together, to make up a full album. So it sort of just came together.


TV: How did you arrive at that distinct sound that pretty much defines your entire album?

JL: I don’t know where it came from. We had to get rid of a lot of tracks that we didn’t use for the record. So I think the fact that all those songs sound like they belong on a record together was a pretty solid decision. We had to get rid of a lot of stuff to make a very cohesive record.


TV: The Guardian recently included you as one of the future faces of this genre we now refer to as “experimental R&B.’” How do you see R&B evolving in the future?

JL: I don’t know, I have no idea… It’s just like every genre that’s being crossed with different things. In this case, I set out to make an r&b record, but I think because Jeremy also listens to a lot of dance music, it has those sorts of sounds on it as well.


TV: How did growing up in Hamilton have an impact on your relationship with music?

JL: Both of my parents were musicians and they’ve always encouraged me to do music in some way. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a teacher or if I would do my own music. But yeah, I grew up in Hamilton and I still live there now.


TV: Were you able to find time to make music while you were working on your Bachelor’s and Master’s, or was it something you put off to the side in order to focus on your studies?  

JL: While I was doing my Master’s, the whole time I was working on it, I stopped. I didn’t get to do anything creative really — just reading and writing, which is what your Master’s is all about. For my undergraduate degree, I did jazz piano, so that was very focused on learning other people’s music to studying jazz. I didn’t get to do much creatively at that time.


TV: Do your academic interests influence the creative process of making music, or is this something you keep separate from one another?

JL: I keep them pretty separate. I try not to let anything that I was doing mingle with what I do now. It’s a pretty separate chapter of my life.


TV: You ended up leaving your Master’s degree in order to pursue music. Have you ever had moments where you tried to convince yourself to stick it through, and just complete the Master’s despite not wanting to?

JL: No, definitely not. I mean, there were moments when I was like, I should go to teacher’s college and, not exactly get a real job, but a more reliable and consistent job. But everybody has moments like that. In order to be happy, you need to have a lot of passion for the subject. I hate to think of people who aren’t passionate doing it just for the sake of doing it. Nobody needs that kind of attitude.


TV: From what I’ve heard, Hamilton, despite it being a smaller city than Toronto or Montreal, is a great environment for the arts. What do you think Hamilton has that bigger cities lack?

JL: There’s a pretty tight arts community. The people here don’t really care about what’s going on outside of the city. The music scene is big enough to sustain itself. There are always more people supporting the local acts when the big names come to play. Usually I would go to see my friends play. There are a couple of shows that come through where my friends are opening for someone I was never familiar with before.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Would you buy an essay?

The Varsity investigates essay-writing companies

Would you buy an essay?

The University of Toronto’s St. George campus is teeming with posters advertising custom essay-writing services to students. The university’s official recommended punishment for submitting purchased work is expulsion. Posing as a first-year student behind on their work, The Varsity spoke to Custom Essay and Essay Experts and purchased a three-page paper from Essay Experts in order to learn more about the process.

Essay Experts charged $124 for a 750-word paper. Custom Essay offers similar rates. Both companies claim that their papers are written by qualified professionals, and said that all of their work is original and will not be flagged as plagiarism by websites like turnitin.com.

Marcel Vilanez, a representative of Essay Experts, said that the company’s papers are not meant to be submitted as is. “You are not supposed to submit the essay directly to your professor. That would go against the university code. This is why we give you time with the paper, so you can write your own. It is as if we are another student in the class, perhaps a very good student, and you want to see their answer, what they would write,” he said. The company website claims that it is completely legal to purchase work as long as it is properly attributed, and outlines the proper way to cite Essay Experts’ work in an original paper.

In contrast, Nick — a representative of Custom Essay — said that he would not recommend that a student purchase work from the company and cite parts of it in an original paper. “I wouldn’t dream of it. You are asking for trouble. You would probably get thrown out of university. We are not credible enough to quote,” he said. The company even offers a $25 service to run its papers through turnitin.com, to reassure students who are worried about getting caught. Turnitin saves copies of all the papers it receives, so it is not clear how this service would make the paper less likely to be flagged at a later date.

Custom Essay’s website is registered under an organization called Domains by Proxy, a company that offers domain privacy services to companies who wish to anonymize the personal information of their domain owners.

The purchased paper was written according to the requirements of an actual assignment for PHL275 — Introduction to Ethics. The paper answered the question: “Is psychological egoism true? If it were true, what implications would this have for our understanding of morality?” It received an approximate grade of C+ or B- from the instructor of PHL275, professor Thomas Hurka. “It covers the territory but it is not written in a mature way. It only reports on other people’s opinions and tends to rely on quotations to make its points, which is in a way more of a high school than university way of writing,” said Hurka.

Both Vilanez and Nick were contacted on the record and informed of The Varsity’s investigation. Both claimed that they provide work for reference only, and would never counsel a student to hand in the essays they purchase. During The Varsity’s original interaction with Nick, he stated: “Once we give [the essay] to you, what you do with it is your business. We can’t tell you anything, basically. We do the research for you and then it’s your property.”


University does not have a clear policy on citing purchased work

The university does not have a clear policy on whether or not citing a purchased work would constitute an academic offence. The Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters states that it is an offence to “obtain unauthorized assistance in any academic examination or term test or in connection with any other form of academic work.” It also states that the recommended sanction for submitting purchased work is expulsion, with a minimum sanction of suspension, and zero as the final grade where the offence occurred.

Though Essay Experts claims to have served “literally thousands of students” nationwide, and maintains that its services should be properly cited, Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing at U of T, stated that the University Tribunal is not aware of any case where a student has cited a purchased work. “Whether in any particular assignment such an action would amount to an academic offence would depend on the particular circumstances of that case; however, it is difficult to see how such a purchase and citation could add any academic merit to the student’s work,” he said. “Students should be very reluctant to expose themselves to the risk of a prosecution arising from the purchase and use of custom essays.”


Instructors disagree on whether citing purchased work is acceptable

Some educators say that citing purchased work makes it too easy to stretch into the territory of academic offence. Jacques Bertrand, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, commented that he would absolutely not accept work that cited purchased essays, adding that he considers such services deeply problematic. Kimberly Clark, a teaching assistant in the Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies program, echoes the sentiment. She says that upon seeing an essay company cited in a paper, she would request a meeting with the student, and ask them to produce the source. “Of course,” she says, “in producing the source, the student will then open the door to a number of potentially damaging consequences for their academic record.”

Jessica Soedirgo, a TA in the Department of Political Science, says that she would not accept a paper that cited an essay writing service. “These services, they’re notorious essay mills. Citing them is just, it’s problematic. That’s terrible,” she said, adding that she thinks most students who purchase work would hide this fact, rather than cite it in an original paper.

The contrast between citing purchased work and submitting it in whole is important for Hurka. He compares the essays provided by the service to any other external work incorporated into a final paper. He said that if a student borrowed a paper from a past student in a class, used it for guidance, and cited it appropriately, it would not constitute plagiarism. He said that he does not see a significant difference between this and citing a purchased work. As long as the bulk of the work is done by the student themselves and the source is cited properly, it does not constitute plagiarism, he says.

“It’s hard to believe that they would pay for an essay in order to cite it,” said Clifford Orwin, a professor of political science, adding: “Why would you turn to what an essay mill tells you about Machiavelli with the intention to cite it, when you could turn to what legitimate scholars say about Machiavelli?”

Turnitin is not obligatory and does not take ownership of students’ work

Debunking common Turnitin myths

Contrary to the common misconception among some students, submitting essays to Turnitin.com does not result in the loss of ownership or copyright privileges to their work. “Students surrender no rights to their work when submitting to Turnitin” said Chris Harrick, vice president of marketing at Turnitin.

The University of Toronto’s policy on use of the website maintains that students who do not wish to use the service must be provided with an alternative means of verifying they are providing original work. Turnitin.com is a widely used tool both in Canada and the United States that helps to detect plagiarism in written assignments. Each is algorithmically checked for textual similarities against 24 billion pages on the Internet, as well as more than 300 million assignments previously submitted to Turnitin. Once the paper is analyzed, an Originality Report is generated highlighting any questionable areas in the paper. These are typically accessible to the instructors, but may also be made available to the students. Many U of T Arts & Science faculty members use Turnitin because, according to U of T’s policy: “the Turnitin Originality Reports can save instructors time in the investigation of the originality of student work and can allow for efficient citation verification.” However, the use of the website is not universal across all instructors and most who do use the tool offer a the choice to opt out. Typically, students are able to opt out of the service by discussing the matter with their instructor.

Instructors who choose to use the service must adhere to three guidelines — first: “instructors must exercise their independent professional judgment in, and assume responsibility for, determining whether a text has been plagiarized or not.” Second: students must be informed about the use of Turnitin at the start of the course in the syllabus. And third, “if and when students object to its use on principle, a reasonable offline alternative must be offered.” For example, as an alternative students may be asked to submit their rough work with an annotated bibliography. The university last updated its policy in September 2013.

As for the copyright issue, Turnitin works by mapping out the words in the papers algorithmically and comparing it to other combinations of words on the Internet. Turnitin does not store true representations of papers, only searchable and comparable data. Ryan Green, an educational technology liaison for U of T’s Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) said: “[papers] are stored algorithmically… to look for matches.” Green went on to state that he believes in the six years the university has worked with the website it has developed a good program. Green also said that after the Originality Report is given, students can ask for their papers to be removed and papers always remain students’ intellectual property.

Many instructors choose to use the website for its ease and convenience. Gustavo Indart, senior lecturer in the Department of Economics, said he believes most of his students are honest; however, Turnitin is a valuable tool for discouraging those who might consider plagarism. Indart likes the service because it “reduces the temptation not to learn”.

However, not all feel the same way about the Turnitin services. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has a history of campaigning against the website, and as a part of their on-going Student Rights initiative, its website maintains that students have: “the right to own [their] work and refuse to use turnitin.com.” The UTSU also spearheaded a campaign called “Ban Turnitin.com.”

Some faculty share UTSU’s views on the issue. Romin Tafarodi, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, said that he does not use Turnitin.com because “…it symbolizes distrust. Using Turnitin means I need to use policing when establishing a relationship with a student.” Tafarodi addressed another complaint students have against the service, mainly that it assumes students’ guilt and is used as a tool to prove their innocence. Tafarodi believes that the “best thing we could do to cure plagiarism is to create a healthy and ethical environment in the classroom for students, where they’ll understand that if they won’t write in their own words, they would be losing a valuable opportunity.” Shawn Tian, president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) had a similar view: “When you implement so many measures to contract, it indicates a lack of trust,” he said.

Christian residence only option for some

The Varsity investigates Loretto College, a private residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College

Christian residence only option for some

The year she graduated from high school, Emma Sexton was accepted to Engineering at the University of Toronto with the usual residence guarantee. She grew up in a small town in the Niagara region and knew little about what to expect in terms of university residence or Toronto life. Excited about the prospect of living at her school of choice, Sexton applied to New College and University College, and didn’t think any more about the matter for several months. Sexton received several emails saying she would hear about residency in late June, but the date came and went without a residence offer. Finally, just six days before the payment deadline, she was offered a space at Loretto College, a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College. Sexton says she was “disappointed about being put in Loretto,” but took the spot because she was not offered an alternative.

After moving into Loretto, Sexton quickly learned that it was not like most other residences at U of T. In the Loretto residence agreement, the philosophy statement reads: “Life at Loretto College focuses on participation and involvement in a supportive Christian academic community.” The agreement goes on to state that the College has the right to make policies that “implement the philosophy of the College,” but that discrimination will not be tolerated. Students are required to sign the agreement, agreeing to “adhere” to the college’s philosophy.

Over the past three months, The Varsity spoke with more than fifteen current and former Loretto students; although their experiences differed, many of them expressed discomfort with the college’s unique policies and residence life.


Students uncomfortable with “conservative” residence life
Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Sexton described an experience when she signed out a male guest 2 minutes after curfew, and the porter said to her: “I signed you out at 10:00 — otherwise they talk.” Sexton recalled that this experience made her feel strange. “I assumed ‘they’ were the staff. It made me uncomfortable that I was going to be perceived differently because of two minutes,” she said.

Many students took issue with the restrictions on when men can be in certain parts of the college. The residence agreement from 2012 states that male visitors are not permitted in residence rooms between Monday and Wednesday and are only allowed during certain hours on other days. The fact that men are restricted to certain hours is publicly available on the U of T Housing website, but is not available on the Loretto webpage.

Caitlin Scinocca, another student who did not apply to live at Loretto, described her discomfort with this policy: “The fact that there were male visiting hours really bothered me,” she explained. “If I’m paying good money for a room, at least let my friends come hang out during frosh week, or let my dad up to the room.” Julia Kemp, an exchange student, said that she felt the policy was far too restrictive. “I understand that U of T needs a space where it is all-girls due to demand and religious reasons. However, if I have a single room I see no reason whatsoever why I should not be allowed a male in my room,” she said, adding that she “felt like she was treated like a girl in a boarding school.”

Another student, who lived in Loretto for two years and requested anonymity, said that these regulations are “ostensibly in accordance with Catholic doctrine to discourage any kind of fornication. Nobody really knows why, and I’ve never gotten a straight answer. That is all fine and dandy — unless of course you aren’t Catholic.”

The same student stated that she felt uncomfortable with what she perceived as a conservative environment maintained by the college administration. “There is a type of conservative personal decorum that students are somewhat implicitly encouraged to maintain,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to receive comments about so-called provocative behaviour or inquiries about your whereabouts at social events.”


Some have no other residence option

A number of students reported that, like Sexton, they were offered residence at Loretto without having requested it and were not given an alternate offer. Elizabeth de Roode, a second-year engineering student, chose to decline Loretto’s offer because she felt uncomfortable with the residence agreement. She found off-campus housing on her own, although finding a place in Toronto was “incredibly stressful” as she only had between June and September to find one. “I wanted to live in residence, I just didn’t want to live in a residence so different from my idea of what university should be,” she said. Julia Kemp, a 2012-2013 exchange student, was keen to live in residence but had trouble securing a spot until August. “[Housing Services] told me they could offer me one room in an all girls residence called Loretto. I was so desperate for campus I accepted without much research into it at all,” she said. She added that Loretto’s website does not provide a comprehensive description of its policies. The online descriptions of Loretto — both on its webpage and on the U of T housing site — state that it is an all-female residence, but do not mention the religious philosophy of the college.

U of T guarantees a residence offer to every full-time, first-year undergraduate student. The Varsity asked Michael Kurts, U of T’s assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing, whether or not a girl can be placed in Loretto without having requested a spot there. Kurts stated that the university’s housing policy does not guarantee students a place in their first choice of residence. “When we cannot meet a student’s priority choices, Housing Services contacts all colleges who have space available to make an offer. Many students in the residences were offered a place in a residence they might not have applied to.” He insisted that these issues are “a case of supply and demand,” and that Loretto is “no different than any other residence,” in this respect. Kurts added that Loretto welcomes students of every religion, despite what he described as its “religious roots.” Kurts did not answer a number of questions about Loretto, including what ratio of girls who are placed in Loretto actually applied there.  He indicated that he would respond next week.

Angela Convertini, dean of women at Loretto College, was surprised to hear that students were given the choice between a place at Loretto and no spot in residence at all. She claimed that all students are offered a choice between St. Mike’s and Loretto, and that everyone who lives in Loretto does so by choice. All of the girls spoken to for this story who did not apply to Loretto claimed Loretto was presented to them as the only option.

Convertini stated that students apply to live at Loretto, and if there are still spots left after the application process, they inform U of T housing — who then fill the spaces. “We would never think that someone was forced into living at Loretto… We send them the actual residence agreement, they have a choice — they can go to a co-ed, they can go to us, we really believe that the people who come here enjoy themselves,” said Convertini.

Covertini, along with some other members of the Loretto College staff, is a member of the Loretto Sisters — an order of Roman Catholic nuns. According to the Loretto Sisters’ website, the college is owned and operated by the sisters and “affiliated” with U of T through St. Michael’s College. Students told The Varsity that some sisters live in a separate area of the residence.

Kurts also did not comment on the degree to which U of T’s policies apply at Loretto, given that it is a private residence. When asked to comment on whether or not a girl who is uncomfortable with Loretto’s religious policies would be offered an alternate residence, he emphasized that the residence welcomes students of all faiths.


Many students enjoy tight-knit community

Shams Al Obaidi, a third-year don at Loretto College, felt that the tight-knit sorority atmosphere was an important part of her university experience. For Al Obaidi, the other residences are too large to be able to connect with other students.

With a community of around 130 students, Loretto allows residents to get to know each other on a much more personal level, according to Al Obaidi. She further stated that international students feel particularly welcome in Loretto. “I came all the way from Qatar, and it was my first year in Canada. It was really nice to come all the way here and feel at home.” Al Obaidi also stated that: “Loretto welcomes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds and religions.” For example, she recalls a time when a sister told her to attend the college’s weekly masses, despite being of a different religion, because “all are welcome.”

Al Obaidi also believes that Loretto College’s male policy is not unduly restrictive. She points out that men are able to visit the main floor and the lower lounge at any time, and that the restrictions on male visitors are “more of a courtesy to others” than anything else.

Convertini stressed that the residence tries to be inclusive of residents from diverse backgrounds. “We like to think that U of T provides a whole continuum of residence experiences for its students and we’re just one of the choices students have,” she explained. “While we’re a traditional Catholic dorm, we’ve had Jewish girls, Protestant girls, Muslim girls — girls from every faith, and it’s a very welcoming environment,” she said.


With files from Madeleine Taylor