Frivolous spending on Fireball

Every year the UC Lit, University College’s student government, organizes a huge formal to celebrate its “community, history, and friendships.” Fireball is a way for students to escape the stress of university and have a good time, and the extravagant ticket promises just that: a wonderfully memorable night with live bands, a DJ, an impersonator, chocolate fountains, giveaways—the list goes on. I’m glad to hear that the UC governing body is interested in engaging the students in social events, but I strongly believe that the frivolous spending involved is unnecessary.

As students, we pay not only for courses but also for the services offered on campus, including those provided by our student governments. The most recent budget for Fireball states that the dance will cost $49,000 (an estimate likely to increase). This amount includes nearly $900 for printing tickets, $500 for an ice sculpture, and $1,800 for the visiting psychics. Aside from ticket sale revenues, 33 per cent of Fireball’s expenses are from UC Lit funds—money coming from our student fees. So, although every UC student pays for Fireball, not all can attend and benefit from it. My question is whether this gross over-expenditure is necessary for a “good time,” especially when only a minority can actually take advantage of it?

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When I inquired about the Lit’s budget last year, I was told by an executive member that the Lit’s money is from the students, and for the students. Yet I have never been asked, in my two years living at UC, how I wish for my money to be spent.

Well, UC, let me tell you:

An alternative allocation of the Lit budget could be to put towards a more meaningful investment that every UC student has the chance to experience.

The UC Lit’s goal is to create a student community in which everyone can take part. I believe the budget should focus more on enhancing student involvement at UC. For example, the Lit currently helps fund the UC Outreach Commission, which provides students with the opportunity to give back to charitable organizations in Toronto. Although I am not in any way associated with the commission, I believe that this is a great concept and can be expanded even more to include UC student groups. With a larger budget, the UCOC could contribute to helping our student clubs organize additional events on campus to engage the student body. The Lit’s investment in student clubs could not only help these groups reach their goals, but also enhance the student experience through further involvement with the groups’ initiatives.

There are many other ways in which this money could be better spent, but I think that it is not up to me to make the choice, but rather the whole student body. The task for the UC Lit student representatives is to get out there and see what the students really want. They should connect with all of us students to get our input as to how we want our money spent.

I do not think that the UC Lit money is being used to its fullest potential to enhance the student experience in a meaningful way, evident with the overspending on Fireball. A five-hour event that costs more than many Canadians make in a year is not the right way to go.

Athletic bodies confused over gender

In 2009, the South African runner Caster Semenya had her gender questioned after she became the 800-metre world champion. The International Association of Athletics Federation, the worldwide governing body for track and field, made Semenya undergo gender verification tests after other athletes complained. Australia’s Daily Telegraph reported that leaked results showed Semenya did not have ovaries or a uterus, and that she had three times the testosterone of an average female. An outraged South Africa embraced her as a national hero and has condemned the international community for invading her privacy. The IAAF has not released the report and has since allowed her to keep her medal and prize money.

Semenya’s case sparked further debate on gender testing in elite athletics. On Tuesday, Feb. 2, the Hart House Debate Club took on the topic.

Debaters were assigned a position. Arguing for the motion, George Trotter and Giorgio Traini argued that self-identification should be the only criteria for qualification, and everything else is arbitrary. “Your height is arbitrary and does not give you a greater advantage over a shorter person,” said Traini.

Erin Fitzgerald and John Ashbourne argued for gender testing. They posited that a fair game would be impossible without limitations and that Semenya had a biological advantage over other athletes, making it impossible for other women to compete. “In order to have a level playing field we need limits. […] Short people are functionally excluded in many sports and we don’t see a meaningful distinction between this and the other,” said Fitzgerald.

All four debaters represented U of T at the World University Debating Championships in December, where U of T ranked as the sixth-best university debating society in the world.

Attendees were asked before and after the debate whether they support the resolution that gender testing is an unjustified violation of athletes’ rights. Before the debate, 27 voted in favour while 15 voted against and 17 were undecided. After the debate, 32 voted in favour, 22 against, and six were undecided.

After the debate, sport sociologist Ann Travers led a discussion on the broader issue of gender injustice in sport.

“We should eliminate all male-only sporting but maintain women-only sports,” said Travers, a professor at Simon Fraser University. “Playing sports with men is not fun, they never pass you the ball and so in order to compensate for that discrimination, we need to maintain women-only sports.”

Straightening out the St. George Round Table

In the wake of David Naylor’s comments about the possibility that the administration will speak with the St. George Round Table if dialogue breaks down with the University of Toronto Students’ Union, some have wondered if the SGRT will usurp UTSU’s authority. The most public expression of this opinion came from Walied Khogali, a former president of the U of T Mississauga Students’ Union, who accused Naylor of “proposing an ‘alternative’ to a democratic students’ union” and suggested the SGRT “consists largely of failed candidates in past UTSU elections.” Such uninformed opinions overestimate the SGRT’s political ambitions and denigrate the good work they do on this campus.

The SGRT is neither a sinister shadow government nor a revenge council bent on exercising a political vendetta. Instead, it is a forum for the presidents of college and faculty councils to discuss ideas, share knowledge, and learn how they can improve the experience of St. George students within their respective constituencies.

As Tom Pinnington, Head of College at Trinity College, pointed out in his response letter to Khogali, the SGRT is made up of the democratically elected representatives of various college and faculty councils here at St. George, none of whom fit Khogali’s dismissive description. Also, any resolutions ratified by the SGRT are, according to their charter, non-binding, and any decisions made by the presidents need to be discussed and approved by their councils first. The SGRT does not set policy for the college and faculty council, which retain their independence and continue to be fully responsible for their own decisions. The SGRT has no budget and its sole mandate is to be a discussion forum, not to provide an alternative to UTSU.

Attached to Khogali’s false idea of failed candidacy is the notion that the SGRT consists of students who uncritically accept university policy. This is also false. Last year the presidents of colleges and faculties wrote a joint letter in which they expressed their opposition to flat fees. This was not forced on any of the presidents and was done with the full approval of their councils.

It should also be pointed out that all of the SGRT’s meetings are open to anyone who wants to attend, and all attendees are granted speaking rights. Notably, UTSU president Sandy Hudson, VP university affairs Adam Awad, and VP campus life Danielle Sandhu have all attended SGRT meetings to update the round table on their activities, provide their input, and learn what the SGRT is doing. If UTSU thought of the SGRT as an illegitimate and undemocratic organization, then its executives would not be attending their meetings or working with members of the SGRT on campus events like Winterfest. In fact, a body like the SGRT is not unprecedented in U of T’s history. In the 1980s a group called the Council of Presidents of the University of Toronto functioned similarly to the SGRT. In a later iteration, it would become the Council of University of Toronto Student Unions, and last year they were known as the Presidents’ Roundtable, made up of EngSoc, PHEUA, and other councils. However, this is the first year that this informal discussion group has been formalized with its own charter. This is so future college councils can continue the tradition of round table discussions about areas of mutual concern. College and faculty presidents meeting can only be a boon to students on this campus.

This year’s Winterfest can be taken as an exemplar of why the SGRT should continue to meet and share ideas. Over 35 club representatives—and members of the UTSU executive—met for over two months to plan Winterfest and make it a successful event. This was done with all of the colleges cooperating and working together. Such cohesiveness is possible thanks to the existence of a body like the SGRT.

Their next meeting will be sometime in the last week of February and I encourage St. George students to attend if they can. The SGRT is a great idea that should be replicated elsewhere in politics and business, demonstrating the effectiveness of conservation and shared knowledge over bitter division and ideology.

GSU exec claims discrimination

An executive member of the U of T Graduate Students’ Union says that she is being silenced and discriminated against because she expressed her views at the Canadian Federation of Students annual general meeting in Gatineau, QC last December.

Bodia Macharia, a PhD student in French, has been a GSU exec-at-large and co-chair of the women’s caucus since May 2009. In the 2008-09 academic year, she was a GSU representative for the French course union. Along with fellow executive Anton Neschadim and GSU staff member Rose Da Costa, Macharia was a delegate at the CFS AGM. Each issued separate reports during the GSU council meeting on Jan. 28.

“It became obvious at the [AGM] that I had my own views and opinions,” Macharia said. “After that, I became a pariah.”

According to a source within the council, Macharia and Ajamu Nangwaya, the GSU’s internal commissioner, have a tense relationship with most of the executive.

Macharia said she was being coerced to vote with other GSU reps during the AGM.

“[Rose would] make me explain, over and over, why I held a viewpoint,” Macharia wrote in a memo to the executive. “When I could not be swayed, Rose would make me leave the room.”

Macharia said she was pressured against speaking with delegates from McGill and Concordia universities, who came with a package of 43 motions intending to reform CFS practices.

“Members of other unions would follow me, for example, and report to Rose [Da Costa] about the nature of the discussion and to whom I was speaking,” Macharia wrote. “Rose attempted specifically to make sure that I don’t talk to the McGill students.”

The AGM’s controversial Motion 6 sought to raise the signature requirement for starting defederation campaigns from 10 per cent to 20 per cent of their membership. It passed.

“Many felt that Motion 6 was introduced to specifically reduce transparency, reduce accountability, and cripple the fair use of democratic processes,” wrote Macharia. “I told them I’m abstaining from voting in favour [of the motion].”

The reforms proposed by Quebec universities were mostly rejected, including Motion 48, which called for disclosure of salaries and benefits of executives and staff. Da Costa successfully fought for the motion to be withdrawn. When Macharia brought up the motion at the GSU council meeting on Jan. 28, she was repeatedly asked to restate her concerns, eventually leading Da Costa to say she did not understand Macharia’s statements.

“As students, we have a right to know [how money is being spent],” Macharia said of Motion 48. “Access to information is a very important thing for me. We need to know.”

“Everything I say is being met with ‘Its confusing, its not clear,’” Macharia continued. “There was no misunderstanding at the national general meeting. Why is there a misunderstanding now? This is a tactic they’ve been using.”

Macharia recalls one instance when she believes Da Costa specifically tried to stop her from speaking with the McGill delegates. “She told me where to sit to stop me from speaking with the McGill delegation,” she said. “There was an empty seat next to two McGill delegates, and Rose pointed to another seat and told me to sit there.”

“She was infantilizing me,” Macharia continued. “I asked if I could sit at the corner because I needed to go to the washroom a couple of times. She said no.”

Da Costa said that as far as she knew Macharia did not express her views against Motion 6. Da Costa also denied allegations of discrimination against Macharia.

With files from Samya Kullab

What did you do during the Great War, Billy?

Many of us have had the conversation which begins with a question posed to an aging veteran: What did you do during the war? Whether you’ve been fortunate enough to experience the answer in person, or have simply imagined the story a lost relative might have told, it’s clear when Eric Peterson comes onstage at the Young Centre that this was the very question asked prior to the opening line of Billy Bishop Goes to War. What subsequently unfolds is a generally engaging piece of theatre that, while not awe-inspiring nor directly relevant, still maintains itself as a uniquely important piece to see.

Billy Bishop opened in Vancouver in 32 years ago, and like this production, it starred co-writer Peterson as the eponymous character. Based on the story of the decorated Canadian hero, Billy Bishop has since been incarnated countless times. This time around, Peterson is clad not in military garb, but in a set of flannel pajamas and a housecoat. He is surrounded by trunks on various angles and levels, all marked faintly with Bishop’s name. A worn armchair sits at stage right and one feels as though this is Bishop’s living room. The set’s minimalism, with its scattered prop pieces, is also reminiscent of a museum display. The object given most scenographic importance is Bishop’s uniform jacket, displayed for the majority of the play on a mannequin upstage centre. The jacket suggests not only Bishop’s past, but the history of the production itself: if not the same costume worn by Peterson in 1978, it is most certainly a conscious replica. As the play progresses, Peterson pulls out framed photos of people, places and things embedded into the narrative. The photos are then placed variously onstage, illuminated with soft, focused light. The result of the scenography is haunting: the domesticity of the armchair and the housecoat immediately evokes the intimate, familiar, and in a sense, familial as Bishop becomes grandfather to his audience. At the same time, the “museum” elements to the staging also create an ephemeral ambience—a feeling that, like the light, this “living” story has the very distinct possibility of fading away unless it is itself guarded.

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The story of Billy Bishop begins at the outset of Bishop’s military career, ending with his eventual honorary discharge. The first act begins with the exuberant energy of a new recruit, and is, for the most part, lighthearted and comedic. By Act Two, however, the tone takes a turn for the melancholy, allowing Peterson to explore the darker colours of war stories. Overall, the script remains somewhat conservative in its emotional breadth, and operates as a series of historical anecdotes structured chronologically. What should be a climactic recounting of Bishop’s favourite battle is limited by its staging atop the onstage piano, with Peterson clutching a toy airplane that he manoeuvres as he narrates the battle’s highlights. Peterson is a vocally gifted performer; in contrast with his dynamic aural delivery of the scene, the awkward effect of the physical limitation is only amplified, rendering one of the play’s final and most climactic moments somewhat unsatisfactory. Peterson himself, though, is by no means an unsatisfactory performer. He artfully renders each character, and moves seamlessly and effortlessly through each one, from a domineering aristocrat to a passive-aggressive recruiting sergeant.

At the end of the play, the lights fade on one final, framed image—that of Bishop’s uniform lapel, decorated with medals. The sombre tone of this dramatic last image is ambitious for a production that at times feels more like a well-made evening special on the CBC than a stirring historical drama. That said, one is also left feeling curiously haunted. This is a play that itself has a great deal of history, and this production does not deny the age of the work, nor that of its writer-
performer. Instead, it uses the passage of time to great advantage. While not necessarily timely, Billy Bishop is still a vital story to tell, and Soulpepper, a Canadian repertory theatre company, might just be its ideal venue. The image of the aging performer in pyjamas and bathrobe performing, 30 years later, what has arguably become a canonical piece of Canadian theatre does not simply remind us of the potential loss, without conscious preservation, of Bishop’s story and war stories like it. It also shows the need for preservation of the very works of art themselves, works that still preserve a sense of life well after their subjects—and their artists—are long gone.

Billy Bishop Goes to War runs at the Young Centre through February 27. For more information, visit

UTSU accused of misdirecting funds

Two students say there are irregularities with the U of T Students’ Union’s budget. Jack Phelan and Mike Maher have filed a report with UTSU, arguing that students’ health and dental fees are funding other projects. UTSU denies the claim, insisting that their finances are in good health and that there is nothing wrong with the budget.

The report estimates that UTSU is spending around $160,000 on the administration of the health and dental plan, out of a total $360,000 earmarked for administering the service. The authors surmise that UTSU must be using the remainder to finance other projects, because they have a balanced operating budget.

Health and dental plans cost $54.84 and $46.71, respectively, per semester. Out of these fees, administration fees account for $3.16 per semester from each plan (around $12 per year for a full-year student), which goes to UTSU. The report argues that using health and dental fees for other purposes violates the university’s Policy on Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees.

“The money has simply been placed into general revenue, providing no reliable means for constituents of the Union to determine which projects and services the fee has funded,” the report reads. The authors say that since students can opt out of health and dental plans, those who paid the fee are disproportionately funding activities for the whole campus.

Maher unsuccessfully ran for VP internal of UTSU last year, as part of the Change slate. He is VP external of the Innis College Student Society. Phelan, VP finance of the ICSS, also wrote a report on last year’s UTSU election.

The two noticed a discrepancy in the budget earlier this year. “When I was looking through the UTSU’s operating budget, there was a revenue line that struck me as odd,” Maher said. “Adnan [Najmi] basically said something to the effect of well, sometimes you get a surplus in one area, and a deficit in another, and you just balance it out.”

UTSU rejected the report’s conclusions. “There are a lot of assumptions in this report that are false and the allegations that are made are made on false assumptions,” said Angela Regnier, UTSU’s executive director.

“A lot of the realities of how the health and dental plans are administered are unknown to these authors who are purporting to be experts on the plan and [on] budgeting.”

Phelan and Maher responded that they had no choice but to make estimates for information, as none of this information is available through UTSU. For example, they used 20.5 per cent—the proportion of all UTSU revenue generated by health and dental administrative funds—as their “golden ratio” to estimate roughly how much HR, supplies, and resources the administration of health and dental would require.

“For a $1.8-million budget they’ve released a three-page document,” said Maher. “This had to be uncovered by sifting through a very limited body of documentation.”

UTSU does not have a document showing any breakdown of the $360,000 allotted to health and dental. Najmi, Regnier, and president Sandy Hudson said there is no surplus.

Najmi said this practice is the industry standard, and that it is neither irregular nor inappropriate.

“You’re asking me, if I put three boxes of Smarties in a bowl and distributed the Smarties, which came from which box,” said Najmi. “[It] wouldn’t make sense to present in our budget a specific breakdown of what goes where.” Such a breakdown would involve tracking the hours each staff member spends on health and dental, and portioning their salaries accordingly, he said.

Phelan and Maher sent the report to UTSU on Jan. 19 and requested a response within 10 days. They say the lack of response is symptomatic of a larger problem. “It’s a culture of secrecy,” said Maher. “If this wasn’t an issue of secrecy, I would have gotten an email on Wednesday saying ‘Hey, this is what we do.’”

Hudson called the report malicious. “To ask us to make a report within 10 days is completely unreasonable,” she said. Hudson added that UTSU is in good financial health and that they passed their annual financial audit.

Waiting for ROSI

Perennial frustrations swirl around ROSI. In January, hundreds of students complained to the Arts and Science Students’ Union about waiting for their marks. The Faculty of Arts and Science tries to upload marks within 10 days of the last day of class or the final exam. ASSU president Gavin Nowlan has suggested that this timeframe was compromised.

“It started last year because there was some sort of delay that wasn’t really explained to us. A bunch of marks didn’t get up from Spring term until very late after the deadline,” said Nowlan. “We had the same problem in first semester. Graduate programs need transcripts to grant preliminary re-enrollment, and you can’t submit transcripts with grades missing.”

Professors currently have the option of submitting student marks online or with a paper form. This document is then sent to department and upon approval is sent to the Faculty of Arts and Science, which also signs off on the suitability of the marks assigned. Using the paper form means more lag time, as a staff member then has to type in the marks.

“By next year all marks will come in electronically,” said Glenn Loney, assistant dean and faculty registrar of arts and science. “We’re definitely over the 50 per cent mark at getting them electronically.”

Loney said the wait time for marks on ROSI has not increased. “I think it’s a bit of a misperception. I think it’s a gap between how soon they hope they’ll be up and when they normally are. There is nothing unusual about these rounds of uploading marks,” he said.

Nowlan disagrees. When he began receiving complaints, he sent out a message via the ASSU listserv and Facebook. “We got hundreds and hundreds of responses across all years and across all divisions of the faculty of students who said they hadn’t gotten any marks up until mid to late January,” he said.

“The faculty has been slow in addressing the fact that the system is not satisfying the needs of students right now: marks are getting in too slowly and there is no good reason for it.”

Students not facing graduate program deadlines can still be affected, as they can’t reflect on past performance when they’re picking courses. “I don’t know what my marks are,” said Helenaz Hajifattahi, a first-year student at Trinity College, “I can’t make my plans for next year.”

With files from Jane Bao

Don’t be hatin’ Channing Tatum

“Hi, I’m Chan,” says Channing Tatum, entering a suite at the Park Hyatt where he will be participating in a roundtable conversation with student journalists. It is almost noon, and Tatum has spent the morning in a nonstop series of interviews for Dear John, his new romantic weepy.

“So, Dear John is a romance, which is perfect for Valentine’s Day, which is coming up,” asks a student. “Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day?”

“Uh…” Tatum leans forward and clasps his hands together. “Not really, other than…I mean, promoting a film is a 24-hour job.” He chuckles slightly. “I don’t think I’ll have Valentine’s Day off—I’m pretty sure I’ll be having to do something with the film.”

He leans back. “But, I’m sure I’ll have something planned, set aside a little part of the day to do something…sweet.” He raises his voice and a single eyebrow. “It’s not that hard, guys, to do something sweet for your wives and your girlfriends! Figure it out!”

Dear John is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (author of The Notebook) and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat.) I suppose this makes it the ultimate romantic film. Tatum plays John, a hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside soldier who falls in love with Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) on summer holiday, but must soon leave for a year-long tour of duty. They resolve to keep in touch, but over the better part of a decade, their love is tested through a variety of obstacles—not the least of which is 9/11. Tatum is so huge and muscled in the film that Amanda Seyfried looks in danger of being crushed whenever they hug. In real life he appears leaner, with his famously broad shoulders mounted precariously over thin legs. Dressed in an ultra-chic grey casual ensemble and with a little wisp of a goatee, I daresay he is almost dandy-ish.

“So, the movie Dear John is all about love,” asks a student. “Can you tell us something about your first love and how it helped you to get in character for this film?”

Tatum leans forward again, clasping his hands together and twiddling his thumbs. “Umm…” He smiles. “I think my first one was in kindergarten—Sarah Cook. I’m pretty sure I was in love with her. But…I won’t tell you about that one ’cause I don’t think it’ll…I dunno, it’s a bunch of finger-painting, and, uh, things like that…”

Another student reads a question: “How has this movie changed your awareness and views on the topics brought up in Dear John, such as the situation in the Middle East, and autism?”

“I didn’t know that much about autism at all,” he says, looking at the floor and rubbing the pads of his thumbs together. “I know it’s a really hot topic and debate right now, but I challenge anyone that wants to get involved in the debate to go and meet some of these kids. Like, Braeden [Reed, his autistic co-star], he is one of the most beautiful little kids I’ve ever met in my entire life—people, not just kids. He has such a wonder about him…when he looks at things you can tell that he’s looking at it to really want to know about it, which is more than I can say about me when I was a kid. I just wanted to run and climb trees and, I don’t know, push little girls down or something.”

“I know that they use ‘typical’ and ‘non-typical’ for labels for them and I just don’t like those. As far as PC terms for them, I think they just learn different. I don’t think they’re ‘special’ or ‘special needs,’ I just think they’re really unbelievable children that take in life differently. And, I dunno, I think we should just be a little more sensitive to that.”

Another student asks, “What were some of the funniest moments that happened to you on the set?”

Tatum hunches forward and claps his hands together. “It’s always funny doing a scene with Braeden, because you never know what he’s gonna do in a scene.”

“One of the funny scenes was that he started to say everyone else’s line with them. It would have been like telepathy if you saw it in real life, but it was so funny because he’s used to doing repetition, and in his treatment, where they try to work with him, they do repetition drills. So he would start to say Henry Thomas’ lines, and my lines, and it was hilarious, crackin’ everybody up, and then he thought it was funny, and everyone else was laughing, and then he wouldn’t stop it, and it was really cute.”

Just as the session is nearly up, Tatum is asked about what research went into playing a soldier. “I don’t think an actor will ever know what it’s like to be a real soldier—actually, I know that they won’t. You can talk to me about being a soldier and I can watch the news, read books, newspapers, you can surround me with soldiers, I can even go there and visit them and I’ll still never know what it’s like to be a soldier. I don’t think any of us will, and I think that we need to be a little more sympathetic to their needs.”

Dear John opens in theatre on February 5.