Letters

An open letter to students from President Birgeneau(Re: Proposed Varsity Centre)I’m writing to invite your support for the long-awaited new student recreation facilities on the Varsity Stadium site. The proposed new Varsity Centre will provide a fully-accessible, barrier-free recreation and athletic home for students at the North end of campus where access and student focused programming is guaranteed.Plans for Varsity Centre reflect the best thinking in the university and the community, after a long and extensive process of consultation. Varsity Centre will be a significant investment in the future of the University ofToronto. The university is strongly committed to making Varsity Centre a reality. But it cannot complete the project without a contribution from students. That is why I am writing for your support.Why is there a student fee? As much as possible, the university tries to fund major capital projects without asking students for a contribution.Nevertheless, funding of all major buildings today usually requires an integrated approach where the funding is derived from numerous stakeholders that can include SuperBuild, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, Private Donations, alumni and friends of the university, business and industry and the university and faculty contributions. Many of these traditional sources, particularly those from government, are not available to assist this project. For this reason, the Varsity Centre cannot be funded without student participation. To build anything less would be to shortchange students who seek co-curricular opportunities at U of T. To delay further would substantially increase the costs.For Varsity Centre, of the $55.1 million total costs, the university is contributing $14.6 million or 26% of the total costs. The university has chosen to do this because Varsity Centre is a much-needed facility, because funds cannot be easily derived from other sources and because it is important to have a facility that is fully accessible by the student body and is not dependent on sources of funding that would reduce student access.What about students in need? The university is strongly committed to reducing the financial burden upon students in need. During 2000-2001, more than 16,000 U of T students received financial aid totalling $30 million. I have made increased student financial aid a priority of my presidency, not only for U of T but for the entire Canadian system of higher education. In keeping with this commitment, students in need and graduate students supported by the university’s financial guarantee will have their increased ancillary fees fully covered by the university.During the weeks ahead, you will be asked whether you support a fee increase to contribute to the construction of the athletic and student club components of Varsity Centre. Specifically, you will be asked to vote for a new fee of $25 per full-time student and $7.50 per part-time student during the years of construction, and then an indexed fee of $70 per full-time student and $21 per part-time student for 25 years or until the mortgage is paid off. I ask for your support to enable us to build this much-needed new facility for students.Robert J. BirgeneauFor those of us …(Re: ”Let’s talk about Palestine,” 28 February 2002)For those of us who are directly involved in the Palestine/Israel conflict , we nervously await every newscast, knowing full well that news about the latest round of bloodshed is imminent. Knowing that once again we will sit helplessly while images of our slaughtered brothers are beamed back for mass consumption. We do what we can—raise money, write letters and try to mobilize public opinion on our respective sides—but it’s cold comfort. For those of us who lack the luxury of emotional detachment from the conflict, be they “new socialists” with a misguided sense of justice, or Rob Thomas from the Varsity staff who recently encouraged an escalation of the debate, it is hatred that consumes our days: a deep and intense hatred that grows stronger and more bitter with every death. This hate casts us further away from a willingness to reconcile the past, in pursuit of a peaceful resolution. I know this hatred well, I have seen it in the eyes of stone-throwing Palestinian youths and I see it in myself as I watch the Palestinians celebrate the news of another suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Those of us who have lost loved ones in the conflict do not need open, honest debate in the pages of the Varsity. We need ideas on how to make the hatred go away. We need a new generation of strong and brave leaders who can work together to bury the sins of the past and move forward. We need the media to stop exploiting the tragedy to fill their pages. We need uninformed and misguided social movements to stop taking sides. We need the obliteration of the pro/anti-Israel distinction that characterizes so much of the media today. We need objective evaluations of the present, not subjective narratives of the past. We need to understand that continuing this debate as it has been conducted so far in this paper is counter-productive and further polarizes those few that may be able to actually offer positive ideas on how to break the current death spiral. We need an end to the current round of violence that claims new lives every day. Above all, we need a ray of hope that in our hatred we will not destroy ourselves and each other.Stephen GlazerWhat is the Varsity afraid of?(Re: “Let’s talk about Palestine,” 28 February 2002)Why is the Varsity trying to censor [Benjamin] Matta? If the Varsity truly isn’t anti-Israel, why does it want to discredit Counterpoint before it reaches the shelves? Let the readers decide if this new publication has nothing to offer. Your last editorial proved the utter ignorance of the Varsity on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Palestine was never an independent country. It was a British mandate, not an Arab state. Before the British, it was in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The name Palestine in Arabic is “Philastin,” which is derived from the Roman word “Philistia,” a name the Romans gave the Jewish kingdom of Judea to wipe out its owners’ connection to the land. The territory once called “Palestine” is now mostly occupied by Jordan. I guess now we know why your editors are afraid of Counterpoint. It might actually know something about the Mideast. Mark EltisEd. note: An opinion piece by Benjamin Matta appeared in the March 12 issue of the Varsity.Change will take a lot of protest(Re: “Celebrating 175 years,” 12 March 2002)If there is a theme in U of T’s history, it’s that the university has held out against students on the most basic and obvious issues of justice.Access to Robarts for undergrads, access to Hart House for women, an end to U of T’s investments in apartheid-era South Africa—all of these required real protest before the university gave in. What this says to me is that students deserve a much stronger say in how the university is run. Why shouldn’t we have a large proportion of the governing council seats? Universities exist largely, although not solely, for us. To a significant extent, the public funds universities for the sake of the students who come here to learn.As Students’ Administrative Council (SAC) elections approach, we will hear the perennial moans about low turnout. The fact is, nobody cares about SAC because we all know it has no real say in how the university runs. Likewise for our handful of seats on Governing Council.If history is any guide, getting a real, institutionalized say in how this university is run will take a lot of protest.David Shiga

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