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Student Code of (mis)conduct

Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Governing Council’s University Affairs Board began like any other, with the usual formalities. After premiering the university’s new online strategy, Jill Matus, vice-provost of students, moved on to address the impending review of the Code of Student Conduct, slated for the next several months. Thus began the meeting’s high drama.

Part-time student representative Joeita Gupta, who had already drawn critical attention to earlier points in the meeting, now reached the peak of her performance. Gupta delivered her points with clarity and determination. She called for the outright scrapping of the code, saying that such a disciplinary framework has been used to restrict students’ rights to free speech, especially when such speech challenges the university administration. She noted the 2000 TA strike and the debacle surrounding the Fight Fees 14 two years ago as examples of such misuse.

Jeff Peters, president of the Association for Part-time Undergraduate Students, addressed the board as a guest speaker. Peters also questioned the Code of Student Conduct, almost perfectly echoing Gupta’s sentiments from only moments earlier. This would have made for an unremarkable and superfluous speech if not for the fact that Peters has a speech impediment that gives him difficulty speaking. On this particular night, he was also struck by a cough that often overcame his body and appeared to nearly knock him down.

As this spectacle wore on, and Chair B. Elizabeth Vosburgh asked Peters to wrap up his speech, he stood his ground and starkly refused. He asserted that he had many points to make and that he would speak for as long as he needed. The chair was nevertheless firm, causing Gupta to intervene and insist that Peters be given more than the usual allotted time due to his impediment. The confrontation devolved into a shouting match between Gupta and the chair. In the end, Peters did wrap up and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.

Gupta and Peters are certainly neither foolish nor naïve, and their combined spectacle entirely reframed the meeting. Rather than simply paying homage to the university’s strengths, those in attendance were called upon to confront the shortcomings and inequities perceived among members of the student community.

Whereas U of T is undoubtedly a world-class institution that should proudly promote and celebrate its virtues, a single-minded focus on this hampers progress in the long run. Rather, improving the experiences of students requires bodies such as the Governing Council to realistically attend to the challenges and shortcomings that persist.

Before closing the topic, Matus responded that the code would be done away with only if widespread sentiment against it is made apparent in the coming months. The door to significant change therefore lies open, and the onus is on all members of this university to make their voices heard. Do we agree that the university is a hierarchical corporate structure and that students, like employees, are subject to particular rules of conduct? Do we instead agree that the university is a community of equal members, all subject to the same rules of conduct? Or do we simply shut up?

Maciek Lipinski-Harten is a graduate representative on the University Affairs Board.

Countdown to Copenhagen: U of T’s student delegation

Over 10,000 negotiators—and many more journalists, activists, and the like—are expected to arrive in Copenhagen this December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP15. A little over 800 of them have been identified as members of the youth constituency, and you just might recognize 10 of those exuberant faces.

Drawn from myriad disciplines—Peace and Conflict Studies to engineering—the 10 students make up the University of Toronto’s delegation to COP15. Selected based on our proven dedication to environmental activism, U of T’s group will be one of the four campus delegations present, the others being Yale, Oxford, and the College of the Atlantic.

If you are envisioning the cliché of vegan liberals who wear hemp sweaters for all occasions, you guess wrong. Yes, some of us are fond of plaid, and many are suspected cyclists, yet we have been thoughtfully selected to best represent the University of Toronto. Within the delegation, there is an architecture student, a yoga instructor, a former ad executive turned PhD candidate, and myself, a journalist. One of the members is a soon-to-be mom. Another makes excellent cookies (yes, vegan ones).

The delegation began with the thought that university students can so easily fall into the trappings of the ivory tower, and lack opportunities to apply their theoretical knowledge outside the classroom. Spearheaded by the Centre for the Environment, the delegation is intended to highlight the importance of an affair in some distant Scandinavian capital.

COP15 is arguably the most important meeting of climate leaders. They’ll be meeting to discuss, well, the fate of our planet. With the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol due to expire in 2012, COP15 has been set as the deadline to map out our common post-Kyoto future. It is imperative that the international community band together to forge a new international protocol that addresses climate change.

Against this backdrop, the U of T delegation has been formed to serve two main purposes. One, as members of an academic institution, we hope to engage the campus through creative means. We’re doing this in many ways, such as our Youtube campaign allowing students of all disciplines to upload videos of themselves answering the question, “What would you like for Canada to do at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen?” The videos will be collected to become part of a larger video installation effort. We hope the video campaign will enable us to carry these individual voices with us to Copenhagen.

Two, we hope that by collaborating with the Canadian Youth Delegation, we will take part in holding our government accountable, and remind our leaders that thousands of young Canadians are concerned for the state of our shared environment. The delegation also hopes to engage with the international youth contingent to advocate for a science-based agreement to cut carbon emissions by 2020—the only scenario identified by the scientific community as ensuring that humanity will avoid catastrophic climate change.

“I am excited for the chance to get involved directly as a member of this delegation, and to represent and voice the concerns of students here at the U of T at COP15,” commented David Gordon, who is part of a joint-university research team studying climate politics of Canada and the European Union. With every effort by these environmentally-conscious great minds, the University of Toronto takes one collective step closer to a much greater future.

May Jeong is a member to the U of T Delegation to COP15 and will be writing for *The Huffington Post on her experiences at the climate summit this December.
For instructions on how to get involved, email [email protected] or go to (under construction but up soon).*

Saving the best for last

While penalty kicks may not be the fairest way to win, you can’t doubt the drama they bring.

The entire Varsity Blues men’s soccer season hung in the balance on one shot. The Western Mustangs needed one goal to vanquish the top team in the Ontario University Athletics rankings but Blues goalkeeper Jon Smits was having none of it.

The Mississauga, Ont. native stared down the Mustang shooter, danced on his line, dove to his right and swatted the ball wide of the post. There was elation on the field and in the stands as Smits pumped his fist in triumph.

Midfielder Geoff Borgmann slotted one home and the Blues were one save away from the OUA final. It was up to Smits to guess correctly, and make the final save.

“I just looked at the guy’s eyes, read him the entire time, and tried to strip down his confidence,” said Smits.

Smits went right, the ball went right, and the celebration was on.

“What can you say about our keeper,” said forward Nordo Gooden. “He really showed up when we needed him most. He had me in tears—I’m not going to lie.”

With the hard-fought 3-2 win, the Blues moved into the OUA final against McMaster Marauders on Sunday afternoon where they eventually lost 1-0 on penalty kicks.

Toronto looked vastly different than the tentative team that played Laurentian last week. They played with purpose, confidence, and had the strut of the number-one ranked team in the country.

“I didn’t have to do much in terms of motivation,” said Toronto head coach Anthony Capotosto. “Mistakes are made by coaches arousing the players a little too much.”

Over a minute into the game, Nordo Gooden headed a corner just past the right post and three minutes later Alexander Raphael had a sure goal taken off the line by midfielder Ryan Avola.

“We were preparing all week to have a quick start,” said Borgmann. “Our game plan was to come out and pump some goals early.”

The Blues took a well-deserved 1-0 lead in the 18th minute when Gooden got his second of the postseason.

Borgmann took a one-touch pass and sprinted down the right side and centred the ball for Gooden, who tapped the ball by the left hand of Western goalie Andrew Murdoch.

The early Blues offensive surge left the Mustangs on the back foot as it took Western nearly 27 minutes to get their first chance on goal.

Western tied the game in the 28th minute. Michael Marcoccia gathered the ball, turned, and let a screamer go along the turf that beat a diving Smits. It was the fourth goal the Blues allowed in 11 games.

The Blues held an 8-1 shot advantage at the end of the opening 45 minutes.

Offensively, the Blues didn’t start the second half as crisp as the first. Their work rate and commitment was evident but they seemed plagued by nerves.

They moved the ball nicely from side to side, but the touch passes, there in the first half, were either too strong or inaccurate.

“It was a lot of jitters,” said Gooden. “We have a lot of rookies playing in the league who are not used to OUA soccer and they were nervous and it was showing out there.”

The Mustangs’ confidence grew. They pushed the envelope offensively but didn’t trouble Smits with anything of high quality.

Reminiscent of the first half, the Blues strung a series of passes that broke forward Gabe Gala through in the 38th minute. He went in alone on Murdoch but the keeper raced off his line and dove to knock the shot away.

Overtime was next.

Gooden scored his second of the game in the eighth minute of the first overtime session to give the Blues a 2-1 lead, but Michael Sawchuck tied the game with four minutes left in the second session, sending the game to a shootout.

With Borgmann’s goal and Smits’ save in the shootout, the Blues earned an automatic spot in the CIS men’s soccer championship.

All the president’s deeds

The conventional liberal interpretation of current events is that, one year after winning the U.S. presidential election, Barack Obama does not have much to show for his presidency. In a now notorious Saturday Night Live skit, Obama was lampooned for doing “jack” and “squat.” To the American left he promised universal health care, an end to the war in Iraq, the closure of Guantanamo Bay, more humane treatment of detained terrorist suspects, and serious legislation on gay rights and the environment. A year later, he has accomplished none of those things.

Of course, to big-government-loving liberals, accomplishment is synonymous with “doing”—taxing, spending, legislating, and “reforming.” That Barack Obama hasn’t rammed the entirety of the American liberal agenda down people’s throats is certainly disappointing to a left-wing movement incapable of logically defending its own views and values in front of an opposition audience (Fox News anyone?). Moving away from this “doing is good” paradigm, the conservative critique is even more devastating. It actually focuses on the content and substance of legislation the Obama administration has passed, and critiques him for what he has “accomplished.”

Liberals like to argue that despite their unmet expectations, Obama has done a satisfactory job in tackling the most immediate crises: bailing out the banks and re-stimulating the economy. Putting aside the fact that spending large amounts of taxpayer money is not a particularly courageous or praise-worthy feat, as all governments do it, the type of bill Obama churned out failed even these abysmally low expectations. Instead of taking leadership and “owning” the bill, Obama left a majority of the spending designs to the discretion of Congressional Democrats. The result was a gargantuan $787-billion stimulus package replete with pork and goodies for Democratic districts. The irony is that despite the haste in assembling the package, the majority of the stimulus money will not be spent until 2010 or 2011. It is no surprise then that recent unemployment figures have hit the double digits.

On trade, a vital component to the revitalization of the international economy, Obama has turned his back on basic economic principle. Despite having a brilliant cabinet of economists, from the venerated Lawrence Summers to the competent Timothy Geitner, Obama has instituted various protectionist measures through “Buy American” clauses. The Economist, a magazine that endorsed his candidacy, attacked his recent 35 per cent tariff on imported Chinese tires as “a protectionist move that is bad politics, bad economics, bad diplomacy and hurts America. Did we miss anything?” Obama talks about embracing international multilateralism, but his recent measures on trade strongly contradict the previous commitments made to his G20 partners.

As Democratic ambitions for single-payer health care in the United States is debated, Barack Obama would be wise to take into consideration Republican proposals. If he wants to cut health care costs, he could eliminate state laws that prevent health care providers from competing across state lines. Canadians are used to hearing the old refrain that the American “free-market” system costs more, but this is a gross misconception. With the current regulations in place, America does not so much have a free market health-care system as a network of 50 health care oligopolies. If Obama wants to expand coverage to those who can’t afford their own health care, he should provide a simple, no-hassle, means-tested subsidy. If he shares the concerns of working class citizens whose health care is at the mercy of their employers, he should help them establish job-independent health care savings accounts. He has promised to be bi-partisan and to transcend ideology from day one, but he has shot down all these Republican ideas.

This is just a cursory glance at the Obama administration’s efforts so far. Other disappointments include mismanaging Chinese-American relations, failing to provide solidarity to the Iranian opposition, and leaving his cap-and-trade bill vulnerable to predatory special interests. One year later, poor performance on trade, health care, and economic stimulus are enough to give Barack Obama the 51.5 per cent approval rating he deserves.

Tea Party boiling over

A fierce battle is being waged for the heart and soul of the political right within the United States. It peaked when Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava dropped out of the race for New York’s 23rd district after poll numbers revealed she was trailing behind David Hoffmann, a candidate for the Conservative Party, an ultra right-wing political faction. Scozzafava’s move was precipitated by activists within the “Tea Party” movement, a conservative activist group of about 3,000 people opposed to the policies of the Obama administration and what they perceive as lacklustre leadership on the part of moderate Republicans.

Although Hoffmann lost to Democrat Bill Owens, we should take this as a sign of things to come. In the 2010 elections, conservative activists plan to challenge over a dozen Republican House and Senate nominees who they perceive as being too moderate or liberal. This was exactly the reason Scozzafava dropped out of the race. She was perceived to be too liberal because she is pro-choice and supports gay marriage as well as some Obama policies. The Tea Party faction will also challenge Charlie Crist in Florida for endorsing Obama’s stimulus package. Everett Wilkinson, who heads the Florida Tea Party Patriots, told Politico that “We would lose if Charlie Crist got elected or if another person who doesn’t support our policies got elected.” The disconcerting aspect about the movement’s opposition to moderates is not only that it seems to suggest there is no place for moderates in the Republican Party, but in the whole of America itself. The word “liberal” has become pejorative, and usually marks someone as an enemy of the people, as someone who is anti-American in their support for abortion, gay marriage, and initiatives such as the stimulus package or government-run health care. The suggestion is that if you have any agreement with anything liberal, than you are not an American.

The Tea Party movement has been anything but civil. At the town hall meetings on health care reform organized by Democrats in August, the behaviour of Tea Party members was not only atrocious, but undemocratic in the sense that they were encouraged to disrupt free political assembly. A memo circulated by the website Tea Party Patriots encouraged supporters to “Yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early. Get him off his prepared script and agenda […] The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.” As a result of such encouragements, some town halls ended in fisticuffs, hospitalization, and arrests.

The point of these tactics is not so much to change the nature of the debate as much as to deny debate period. Extremists always put the conclusion before the premise: any discussion of health care or economic reform is socialist and therefore must be shut down. The message of this group is clear: no freedom of speech except for our group, no political assembly except for our group, no political power except for our group.

The other disturbing aspect is that this is not a grass-roots movement. In fact, many of the larger protests have been orchestrated by two right-wing lobby organizations, Americans For Prosperity and Freedom Works, who have chartered buses and given members millions of dollars. In one large protest held in Tampa, Florida, protesters stated that they had been encouraged to protest by the Hillsborough County Republican party and had even been given talking points. The same memo quoted earlier also gave Tea Party members tips on how to successfully control debates and take over the proceedings.

This is not a movement about changing the face of government, this is a movement about taking over government and ensuring no one else can change it.

Ontario cracks down on illegal colleges

Private career colleges that offer unapproved programs in Ontario now face fines of up to $25,000. The measure is part of the province’s Private Career Colleges Act, which took effect on Nov. 1.

Ontario has 580 registered private career college campuses. Penalties will range from $250 to $1,000 daily for a first offence and can escalate with repeated offences.

Previously, students who enrolled in institutions with unaccredited programs had no protection and no ways of getting reimbursed. Last year, Bestech Academy simply closed down its campuses in St. Catherines and Stoney Creek.

“Work on the private career colleges has been going on for quite some time. It was one of the recommendations that came from the ombudsman’s report [about Bestech] that was released earlier this summer,” said Annette Phillips, media spokesperson for the Minister of Training and Colleges.

In September, Toronto Star reporter Diana Zlomislic went undercover at an unlicensed college. Zlomislic obtained a certificate from the Ontario Academy of Science & Technology to practice as a personal support worker after watching instructional DVDs and reading Wikipedia excerpts for two weeks.

The McGuinty government has appointed enforcement officers to inspect and fine fraudulent private colleges. Ontario has also started a campaign to inform students and encourage them to research colleges through pamphlets, posters, Facebook, and the province’s website before signing any contracts.

Maxed out

When interviewing Tucker Max, be careful about dropping the S-bomb. To a writer assigned to deliver a story on Max, the “sexist” issue may seem a natural point of discussion. To a man who has been dealing with the adjective every day since the 2006 publication of his book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, it is a topic of considerable weariness.

“Define ‘sexism,’” he shoots back.

I scramble for a dictionary. “See?” he says. “You’re throwing around a word you don’t know the meaning of!”

I have found a definition: “Sexism: discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards members of the opposite sex.”

“Okay,” he pauses for a second. “So, discriminatory behaviour, right? That means treating women differently simply because they are women. It’s not like I look at someone and say, ‘Okay, because you’re a woman, I’m going to…’ whatever, ‘xyz’ that I wouldn’t do with a man. No. I mean, like, the only people who focus on that shit in my writing are really kind of…whatever…” His voice trails off.

“Look. Every person in my book takes shit. I give shit to guys just as much as I give it to girls, and probably no one ends up worse off than I do. And yet, it’s funny, no one ever says, ‘Why do you make fun of yourself so much?’ or ‘Why are you so hard on guys?’ For some reason they only focus on the aspects involving women. I really don’t know why. But sexism implies treating women differently. I don’t treat women any differently than I treat other men or myself.”

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, a raunchy collection of hook-ups gone wrong, features a disclaimer: “My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole.” This more or less establishes the persona point-blank. As described in his literary adventures, Tucker is an unapologetic narcissist with a raving id and a shortage of shame, eager to consume as much sex and booze as humanly possible. “But I do contribute to humanity in one very important way,” the disclaimer adds. “I share my adventures with the world.”

Beginning as a blog, the book became a bestseller many times over, particularly on university campuses. Everyone’s favourite story seems to be “Tucker Tries Buttsex; Hilarity Does Not Ensue,” a chapter that filled me with the intense desire to buy Max a mop.

Now there is a feature film of the same name, collecting many of his most famous anecdotes into a fictional story about Tucker (Matt Czuchry) taking his friends Drew (Jessie Bradford) and Dan (Geoff Stults) to a strip club to celebrate Dan’s impending marriage. Imagine The Hangover if you actually saw the bachelor party.

The film is belatedly opening in Toronto theatres following an American theatrical run in September, where the film was met with modest box office revenues and some of the harshest reviews of the years (“The result just might be the most hypocritical feature in the history of film as well as the history of hypocrisy,” wrote Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune). Gamely taking interviews for the Canadian release, it is clear that Max is still smarting from the reception.

I mention that Tucker’s big redemptive speech didn’t feel very redemptive. His voice lightens considerably. “So many critics totally fucking missed this,” he says. “I mean, they tried to criticize the movie because they’re like, ‘Oh, Tucker’s supposed to be irredeemable but then he fuckin’ totally changes at the end.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you idiots, did you not watch the fuckin’ movie?’ Because, like, he doesn’t! That’s the whole point.

“This presented a lot of problems with the critics: so much of American film is so trite and so pat, and everything’s wrapped up in a little bow, and the moral message is very clear, right? But life doesn’t work like that, and we didn’t make a movie like that, because that’s bullshit. We made a movie where every character has faults—some are more good than bad, but the movie doesn’t take a moral position on anyone’s actions. It just shows them as they are. Sorta like The Wire, my favourite TV show of all time.”

He continues: “A lot of people took this like, ‘Oh, they’re saying this [behaviour] is funny, this is good’—no! It’s not! Like, the movie doesn’t take a position on narcissism necessarily, and if it did, it would be that it’s bad. But a lot of people, because they’re so used to bland pabulum, they don’t get it. If you have a good, complicated movie, sometimes it’s tough to get across in the first showing. Sometimes people have to watch it a few times, like Fight Club, Office Space, whatever, and I think this movie kinda fell into that trap.”

I was bothered by the scene where Tucker flirts with a group of female friends in a bar, holding an indignant one up to ridicule. I ask if it was fair to feel that the woman had every right to be angry. “Yeah, dude. No one’s right or wrong. I mean, in their exchange, sometimes she’s wrong, and sometimes he’s wrong, y’know? Like, there are definitely times when she’s kinda being a fucking cunt, and then there are other times when he crosses the line. The barometer of where the audience should be is where her friends are…I mean, dude, it’s supposed to be like real life, and it’s not always clear what’s right or wrong.”

Instead of parlaying his book’s popularity into a big studio movie deal, Max went the route of independent financing and distribution. “I turned down $2 million for this script. There’s absolutely no way that had I filmed the script through a major studio they would have done anything but fuck this movie up. They would have cut all the balls off the comedy, they would have put Seth Rogen and Dane Cook in it, they would have changed Tucker to make him fall in love, and all this stupid shit that would have driven me up a fucking wall.”

Several times during the interview Max refers to himself and his character as a narcissist, and I tell him that I’m surprised by his frankness. “I really am a narcissist, y’know? I’m not quite as bad as I was in the movie. The movie portrays me, like, 10 years ago, when I really, truly was, like, straight-up narcissist. Now I’ve kinda thought my way out of a lot of those issues, and I now maybe only have narcissistic traits, I’m not a full-on narcissist anymore.”

Tucker Max will be appearing in-person at CINSSU’s advance screening of *I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. The film opens on Nov. 13.*

Beyond Bruce Lee

Now entering its 13th year, the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival does not always attract the best of Asian and Asian-themed cinema. (The opening night gala in 2007 was Finishing the Game? Really?) However, it usually does provide a good chance to see some hidden independent gems, as well as Asian-produced box office hits unlikely to land a North American studio distribution deal. This year’s line-up is looking exciting, particularly because of the centrepiece presentation: Red Heroine (1929), the only surviving martial arts film of its period, will be screening Friday at the Royal with live musical accompaniment. In addition to the vintage kung foolery, here are three more major screenings.


The last decade has been a disastrous one for the Hong Kong film industry. Once among the most vibrant and prolific film producers in the world, an annual output of 400-plus theatrical features has dwindled to around 50 thanks to a combination of rampant piracy and a shortage of new talent. Overheard, the festival’s opening night gala, comes from Alex Mak and Felix Chong, two of the makers of Infernal Affairs (2002), one of the few really worthwhile and globally successful Hong Kong films this decade. Overheard is one of the region’s most successful local productions this year, and it is indeed above average for contemporary Hong Kong commercial filmmaking. Ostensibly about three cops (Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo, and Daniel Wu) tasked to spy on a business firm suspected of insider trading and price fixing, Overheard isn’t so much a suspense thriller as a slick soap opera, with Koo tempted into corruption to support his dying son and Lau holding a secret affair with another cop’s estranged wife. The story walks the line of believability in its later scenes, and I’m not sure I’ll remember much of this a few months from now. Overheard is, however, serviceable entertainment. And as anyone who’s been following Hong Kong cinema over the last 10 years can tell you, there’s something to be said for serviceable.


A Japanese punk band primarily famous for having broken up “one year before the forming of The Sex Pistols” (as on-screen text tells us twice) record their last single, a Dadaist oddity called “Fish Story” based on a bit of bad translation from a paperback published just after the Second World War. A meteor races towards Earth 37 years later, and two men in a Tokyo record store spend their last hours attempting to decipher the meaning of the one-minute silence within the song. Amid these book-ending plot threads, director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s very deadpan comedy (based on a novel by Kotaro Isaka) shifts to several different subplots spanning four decades, the connection between them ambiguous until the final scene. Compulsively watchable for its dry tone and enigmatic plot, Fish Story is an entertaining testament to the importance of chance—until the ending explains how everything fits together, and the effect becomes somewhat anticlimactic. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the revelation, but I wish Nakamura had taken a cue from the film’s band and left a little more to the imagination.


Yang Yang is the second feature-length film from director Cheng Yu-Chieh, whose Do Over received some acclaim on the festival circuit in 2006. The film follows its title character, a Eurasian teenager (Sadrine Pinna), as her mother marries Yang Yang’s track and field coach and her best friend Xiao-Ru becomes her stepsister. Shawn (Bryant Chang), Xiao-Ru’s boyfriend, takes an increasing interest in Yang Yang, and tensions rise between the two friends. Shot in claustrophobic close-ups with a handheld camera—a technique easier to take in small doses, admittedly—Yang Yang is still a strikingly intimate drama with naturalistic performances from its three leads. Director Cheng shows considerable skill with mood: he knows how to evoke his characters’ restlessness in visual terms.

The Reel Asian Film Festival runs from Nov. 11 to 15. Locations include Innis Town Hall and Bloor Cinema. For more information, visit