Former students remember Professor Vincent Shen for great empathy

Shen was beloved by his students for his humour, emphasis on leading a fulfilling life

Former students remember Professor Vincent Shen for great empathy

Vincent Shen, a beloved professor of the Departments of Philosophy and East Asian Studies (EAS), died on November 14 at the age of 69, surrounded by family after suffering from a major stroke, wrote his spouse Johanna Liu, also a professor at EAS. Shen is remembered for positively changing the lives of his students, both undergraduate and graduate.

Commemorating his life, seven former students of Shen spoke to The Varsity about how he made a positive impact on their lives.

Shen’s approach to teaching

Lincoln Rathnam, an assistant professor at Duke Kunshan University, recalled that Shen “had a very rich sense of humour,” despite his reputation as an internationally renowned professor.

Like most of his other students, Rathnam expected Shen to be a “very serious guy who was just going to solemnly lecture about Confucius for two hours” each session.

But instead, Rathnam explained that during “very serious lectures on different topics,” Shen would “always just interject with funny asides and jokes and things to lighten the mood a little bit.”

Xiaoman Chen, a graduate EAS student, said that “most of the professors will go just through lots of text and then just ask us to read enormous material. But how Professor [Shen] approached his teaching was to teach us sentence by sentence. And even one word, he can explain for 20 minutes — even for half of the class.”

Majoring in EAS, Carlos Arceo said, “He cared about your education, but that is — that was — his life’s goal. He wanted students to learn. He wanted students to improve. He wanted students to be reasonable. And I think he achieved what he wanted to do.”

Shen’s philosophical principles

Eric Ma, a Master of Arts student in EAS, remembered that Shen emphasized that to live a fulfilling life is “not just about making money.” Instead, it “has a deeper meaning,” he recalled. “It’s about realizing your potential and learning about life.”

Now a sessional lecturer in the Department of Language Studies at UTM, Derong Chen related three specific principles that he’s kept in mind throughout his career.

“First,” wrote Chen, “do not pull up the rice shoots with intention of helping them to grow (勿助勿忘); second, [think] of the topic and [work] on it all the time (念兹在兹); and third, [take] accuracy, [appropriateness,] and consistency as your final goal (唯精唯一).”

Yvonne Yo, a PhD candidate in EAS, wrote that Shen’s lifelong project was to “promote dialogues between the East and the West.” In his lectures, he strove to remind his students that “each of us has our own responsibility, and each of us could contribute something to this world,” explained Yo.

Shen’s empathy toward his students

Gabriel Weng, a PhD student in EAS, said that Shen went above and beyond in supporting his students. “In the summertime, I was working on my prospectus for my PhD program, and I was supposed to send him my draft, but I was a procrastinator.”

“I sent him the email maybe at 9:00 pm. He replied me at midnight. He just spent three hours to read my draft and then give me detailed feedback,” said Weng, expressing his gratitude.

Doil Kim, now a professor at Sungkyunkwan University, wrote that Shen connected his students with “visiting scholars from all over the world.” After discussing research papers, Kim remembers sitting around “a large round table in some of the Chinese restaurants in Toronto for dinner,” and engaging in “much deeper discussions about various topics related to Chinese philosophy.”

By doing this, wrote Kim, Shen encouraged his students to learn from scholars from different cultural perspectives to better understand their own views and also check if their views made sense to others.

Shen’s plans after retirement

According to Weng, Shen’s death was especially shocking to his students because “he [had] already submitted his retirement document to the university,” at the time of his passing.

Shen had told Weng in late September that he wanted to “reciprocate back to society” by volunteering at the National Palace Museum of Taiwan as a tour guide.

“He told me he spent too much time in the academia,” said Weng, “I think he also wanted to spend some time with talking with the general populace.”

Shen also wanted to travel abroad, said Weng. While Shen had already traveled widely, “he just went from the airport to the conference centre or to the university,” continued Weng.

“He didn’t spend too much time on looking at the landscapes, at the cities, so it’s kind of regretful thing for him. So he told me that, after his retirement, he wanted to travel abroad with his wife.”

Internal disagreements arise at UTGSU General Council meeting

Lynne Alexandrova removed as chair of committee, prevented from giving report

Internal disagreements arise at UTGSU General Council meeting

Tensions rose at a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council meeting on November 20 when Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova was prevented from giving a report on the Policy and Operations Committee. The reasoning given was that she had been removed as chair of the committee.

The General Council is the main governing body of the UTGSU, composed of representatives from each of the course unions that make up the union’s constituency. Consisting of seven commissioners, the Executive Committee is the executive governing body of the union, implementing policy and pursuing goals set by the council. The Internal Commissioner is usually the Chair of the Policy and Operations Committee.

During the meeting, Finance Commissioner Brandon Rizzuto pointed out that because Alexandrova is no longer chair, it would be out of order for her to present a report on the committee. The point was carried by the speaker of the meeting.

Alexandrova officially objected to the decision on the grounds of accessibility, saying that she had wished to continue her “experiment in student governance.”

Executive Director David Eaton addressed Alexandrova’s concerns, saying that another meeting to be held on November 26 would specifically discuss the vacancy of the Internal Commissioner position.

On the agenda for the irregular meeting next week are items “3. Executive Committee – Vacation of Internal Commissioner (in camera)” and “4. Executive Vacancy (contingent upon outcome of item 3).”

In a statement to The Varsity, Alexandrova expressed her passion for restructuring the UTGSU.

“[If] the proposed re-distribution of [Internal Commissioner] duties gets legalized by Council on Monday, that would legalize the [Internal Commissioner] position erosion for the past couple of years that I’ve tried to slow down as benevolently as possible.”

The council also voted to donate $1,000 to the OISE Decolonizing Conference, ratified Moses Cook as Vice-Chair of the Board of Appeals, and filled vacancies in the Elections and Referenda Committee, Women and Trans People Caucus, and Professional Graduate Student Caucus.

MPP Aris Babikian speaks at UTSC Campus Conservatives round table discussion about youth, politics

Scarborough—Agincourt MPP on importance of volunteerism, Chinese population

MPP Aris Babikian speaks at UTSC Campus Conservatives round table discussion about youth, politics

In an event organized by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) at UTSC, MPP Scarborough—Agincourt Aris Babikian spoke at a round table discussion on November 19 revolving around youth engagement in politics.

Babikian, a Progressive Conservative (PC) MPP and Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, dove into his journey as an immigrant in Canada over 40 years ago to his role in the parliament today.

A short Q&A session included questions about the difficulties of campaigning, the role of media in politics, and the importance of networking.

“I always tell children, you should go out and volunteer. Choose whatever field you want, but go out and volunteer,” Babikian said while talking about networking. “Volunteerism is also very important for ourselves — you are building up your network and you’re learning something new. You’ll never know who you’ll meet or when you’re going to need those set of friends.”

Babikian also talked about how politics affect everyone in some way and why he decided to get into it. “The bureaucracy don’t care about what we go through… they sit on their ivory towers and don’t care about what we go through. This is one more reason why I wanted to get involved.”

He continued, “I always tell young children that instead of all those people making decisions for you, you should make those decisions for yourself.”

When asked about the difficulty of campaigning and running against a well-known persona such as former MPP Soo Wong, he discussed the importance of recognizing the weak points of the opponent’s platform and doing good research.

“You need to choose your battle very carefully,” Babikian said. “You need to study the riding, the weaknesses, and the strength of your opponents. I knew her weak point was other [demographic] groups.”

He gave insight into why and how he targeted the Chinese population in the area: “Because of my connections and networks, I started building relationships and I calculated that if I could get 10 per cent of the Chinese population in my riding, I could be in a good place.”

To elaborate, he talked about how he used WeChat as a tool to get more involved in the Chinese community.

“WeChat is an amazing tool to reach out to the Chinese community. It’s like Chinese Facebook. I created three to four WeChat groups, and I started attending Chinese events — I went to these events because I knew these events will be covered by Chinese media.”

“All my literature was in two languages — Chinese and English,” he added. “I always took a Chinese volunteer with me. If I went alone, they would not talk to me. But when I took a Chinese person, they would suddenly open up to me and start becoming friendly.”

When asked about the role and the impact of media during campaigning, Babikian expressed a strong disdain for media and said that it is something he stays clear of. “Media is always a dangerous affair. As conservatives, we don’t win with the media. The media is generally negative towards us.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff speaks at UTSC round table on youth, politics

Niagara West—Glanbrook MPP on being the youngest MPP ever, role of faith in politics

Progressive Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff speaks at UTSC round table on youth, politics

MPP Sam Oosterhoff spoke on youth engagement in politics on the second day of a two-part event organized by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) at UTSC. The event, held on November 21, followed an earlier one with MPP Aris Babikian.

As Parliamentary Assistant to Minister of Education Lisa Thompson and the youngest MPP to ever be elected to parliament, Oosterhoff shared his journey into politics and of campaigning as such a young Progressive Conservative candidate. He was elected to the riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook in 2016 at the age of 19.

Oosterhoff spoke about the lack of youth involvement in parliament, and engaged in a short Q&A session about global warming, the role of faith in politics, and the role of media.

When talking about why he got involved in politics, Oosterhoff said that the Loyola High School v Québec case was what made him want to get into politics.

This case refers to a 2015 religious freedom case that saw the Supreme Court rule in favour of a Catholic high school that wanted an exemption from Québec’s law, which states that religions must be taught from a secular perspective. The case was a controversial battle between religious freedom and the need to follow the law.

“I was about 14 years old at that time,” Oosterhoff said, “and my family is religious and I’m religious. And I thought it was so incredible. It was really shameful that the government had that much impact on people’s lives.”

Oosterhoff strongly believes that young people, no matter their political background, should be involved in politics. “I got involved in politics for a really simple reason: I believe in freedom,” he said.

“I believe that government has a role also to promote virtue and that it’s important that we have a compassionate and caring society for our most vulnerable.”

When asked if he’s treated any differently in parliament because of his young age, Oosterhoff spoke about his tough experience trying to get a foot through a door.

“There are unique challenges but there are also unique opportunities,” he said. “When I was first elected, there was definitely sort of this air of, you know, this kid, he’s going to come in, he’s going to trip over his shoelaces… he’s going to fall flat on his face and it’ll be hilarious and we’ll get rid of him and have a real person in there.”

“So what ended up happening was that it really set the bar low, so it wasn’t that hard to go ahead and win this thing.”

Oosterhoff also discussed the role that faith plays in politics. While he believes in the separation of the church and the state, he also said that it would be naïve to assume that his faith doesn’t have an impact on his political values.

“As a Christian, I believe Christ called me to love the most vulnerable in our society and help people with passion and to look after the poor and the sick and the lonely,” said Oosterhoff. “To say that you want me to leave those values at home would be naïve.”

He also acknowledged the negative impact that his faith has had on his political career. “I’ve had interactions where I’d say people mischaracterize my faith, and turn that into a weapon against me, like, ‘Oh you’re a Christian so you must be a bigot.’”

“So, I found that very detrimental, because you can sometimes try to have a conversation with someone and they just view you through this very narrow lens of stereotypes,” said Oosterhoff.

Oosterhoff has received backlash from the public over his unclear views on whether homosexuality is a sin, though he has asserted that he is “absolutely not” a homophobe.

While talking about the role that media has played in his life and his political career, Oosterhoff recalled an interviews he had with the Toronto Star while he was campaigning, and talked about how media has played an interesting role in his life.

“They did a Toronto Star article on me, and they had a lot of outright false stuff. They called my niece by the wrong name, they had this whole thing where they called my father a soy bean farmer — he does poultry. They got all these things wrong about me, and so it’s very difficult to not to be cynical when you see these things,” said Oosterhoff.

However, he did acknowledge how social media also has a lot of positive aspects. “A lot of the media is actually trying to do a lot of good work, and we have to be gracious about that and not just name them malicious. Social media also gives us a valuable tool.”

Ending the discussion, Oosterhoff encouraged everyone to contribute to politics in whichever way they can. “Everyone can contribute, but the ways you contribute can be different. Different people have different strengths, but you can always contribute.”

Premier Ford rejects Ontario PC Party motion to debate recognition of gender identity

Critics call resolution “devastating” to transgender, non-binary students

Premier Ford rejects Ontario PC Party motion to debate recognition of gender identity

A motion to debate the recognition of gender identity and have it removed from the Ontario sex ed curriculum passed at a convention for the Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party on November 17. Two days later, Premier Doug Ford announced that the non-binding resolution would not go through the provincial government.

The motion was introduced at the convention by Tanya Granic Allen, a former MPP for Mississauga Centre, who was removed by her party as their candidate in the riding in this summer’s election after a video of her making homophobic remarks was released online.

The motion called gender identity a “highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology.’”

Earlier this year, the Ford government scrapped plans for a new sexual education curriculum introduced by former Premier Kathleen Wynne, opting to revert to a curriculum that was last updated in 1998. Wynne’s abandoned curriculum included education on gender identity, consent, and same-sex marriage.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Lauren Bialystok believes that the policy, even without being implemented, can still do harm.

Speaking with The Varsity, Bialystok said that the majority PC provincial government passing such a resolution could validate hostility toward transgender and non-binary students, and would be “devastating” to everyone trying to create inclusive spaces, especially educators.

Bialystok said that many transgender and gender nonconforming students face harassment and erasure of their identities, citing a 2011 study from the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

“While [Ford] has stated that he will not table the resolution from the policy convention about gender identity, there is no reason to trust that Ford will make fair decisions about future policy matters,” Bialystok added.

“He has displayed loyalty to some of the most radically conservative voices in Ontario,” Bialystok continued, “some of whom appear to believe that religion should dictate public policy.”

In an email to The Varsity, Matthew Campbell, President of the U of T Campus Conservatives, a group officially affiliated with the Ontario PC Party, said that despite the group’s respect for “opinions founded in faith and moral conviction,” he believes that the issue was “distorted” by Allen and supporters of the motion.

He saw the resolution as a political stunt for Allen and believed that few party members were actually awake to vote for the motion due to the “youth wing Christmas party and hospitality suite programming that went past midnight” the night before.

“Political parties are like families. You can’t pick your relatives, and [everyone has] got a few whack jobs,” Campbell concluded.

Data reveals extreme gender imbalances among faculty

Women make up less than 26 per cent of full-time professors

Data reveals extreme gender imbalances among faculty

Data released by the Office of Planning and Budget shows a disproportionate overrepresentation of men in both tenured and non-tenured professor positions at U of T. Women make up only around 26 per cent of total full-time tenured and tenure stream Professors — a less than five per cent improvement from data collected in 2007.

This data goes along with an analysis by The Varsity of the Ontario Sunshine List, which showed clear gender pay gaps among the university’s top-paid professors.

In a breakdown by rank and gender, both full-time tenured and non-tenured Professors were overwhelmingly male in 2017.

Of 948 tenured and tenure stream faculty, 26.05 per cent were women. Of 1,091 full-time staff of professor rank, 26.12 per cent were women.

This aligns with historic trends, as the 2007 Facts and Figures book shows the same tenured and tenure stream faculty had 795 professors with 21.26 per cent women — the representation of women from 2007 to 2017 has increased just 4.8 per cent.

Nursing and the Rotman School of Management have the largest disparities in gender balance among tenured faculty. Out of 21 full-time tenured faculty in Nursing, 19 were female and two were male. Conversely, at Rotman, 87 out of 102 total tenured faculty were men.

The faculty with the largest number of tenured faculty, Arts & Science, was 34.32 per cent female among 679 professors.

Assistant Professor and Associate Professor positions have a better gender balance than the higher rank of Professor. Among tenured and tenure stream faculty, 46.64 per cent of Associate Professors and 37.54 per cent of Assistant Professors were women.

University responses

In a statement to The Varsity, Heather Boon, Vice-Provost Faculty and Academic Life, admits that the low percentage of female tenured and non-tenured Professors is due to historical hiring practices. However, Boon expects the number to increase as more women move up the ranks.

Boon also lists a number of initiatives that the university is working on to improve gender equity, including funding from the provost, appointment of a Provost’s Advisor on Women in STEM, and establishing mentorship programs for new faculty.

Also listed is an updated employment equity survey. While the university has committed to demographic surveys in the past, ambiguity still remains around their timeline.

Associate Professor in the Department of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources Management at UTM Sonia Kang isn’t surprised by these results. Kang explains the systemic issue of gender imbalances where fewer women make it into traditionally male-dominated top ranks in many institutions. Expounding on her research, Kang describes the major hurdle that exists between the rank of ‘Professor’ and ‘Assistant’ or ‘Associate Professor.’

In her research, Kang describes how women have low rates of participation when put into opt-in competitive environments, such as tenure streams. However, when that same choice becomes an opt-out, meaning the decision has to be made to not apply, women reached an equal number of tenure into competitive environments as men.

Whereas tenure at U of T is an opt-out system, promotion to the full rank of Professor is opt-in. Kang suggests that an opt-out system for promotion from “Associate” to full-rank “Professor” could help in U of T’s underrepresentation of women in the higher ranks of academia.

“[Women] tend to display as being more risk-aware so they’re more aware of the risks of certain decisions so they might not take them. It can also be… women are socialized maybe to be less confident, but there’s a whole bunch of different reasons why you might lose women at that juncture.”

While these problems may be conditional to competitive fields like academia, Kang also thinks that there are greater societal issues at play creating large disparities in gender representation.

Editor’s Note (November 26, 6:51 pm): An earlier version of this article misstated Sonia Kang’s title. It is Associate Professor, not Assistant Professor. This article has also been updated to provide additional context on tenure streams at U of T. 

Proposed smoking ban one step closer to full approval after passing at University Affairs Board

Ban described as “educative” over disciplinary, few details on enforcement

Proposed smoking ban one step closer to full approval after passing at University Affairs Board

The University Affairs Board (UAB) voted to pass the smoking ban at its November 19 meeting, moving the policy one step closer to full approval at the next Governing Council meeting on December 13. Cigarettes, cannabis, and vaping will all be covered in this ban, but certain smoking areas will be designated in the interim.

One area of concern that many attendees raised during the meeting was how the ban would be enforced. Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat said that the ban would be primarily an educative policy, not a disciplinary one.

A primary focus of the policy is to address the issue of secondhand smoke, and the effects it can have on students, even ones who don’t smoke.

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin agreed that the policy was a step in the right direction, but urged the UAB to take more time to review this policy.

Last week, Grondin created an online forum where students can give feedback on the smoking ban. One major concern that students had, according to Grondin, was its effect on marginalized students.

Many people were concerned that Campus Police would target students by their ethnicity. Grondin also pointed out that many students smoke cigarettes or cannabis as a stress reliever, and vaping should not be dismissed as an alternative to cigarettes.

Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS) Vice-President Internal Susan Froom also had many concerns about the policy.

She pointed out that the UTSU, APUS, and possibly many workers’ unions had not been consulted about the policy, and recommended that Governing Council take more time to review areas in which the policy could be improved.

She also pointed out that the designated smoking areas at UTM and UTSC were few and far between, and that students and workers may have to walk up to a kilometre just to smoke. These concerns were also raised at the UTM and UTSC Campus Council meetings.

The next stage of approval will be at the Business Board meeting on November 26.

U of T student calls for Disability Studies program

Online petition has garnered over 200 signatures

U of T student calls for Disability Studies program

In response to U of T’s lack of a dedicated disability studies program, a student has started a petition to establish one that would be on par with those of universities across the country. The petition has received over 200 signatures in less than two weeks.

UTM student Marianna Figueiredo began the petition on November 15 in an effort to get Governing Council’s attention. Governing Council is the highest decision-making body at the university.

Figueiredo explained in the petition that she has cerebral palsy and decided to enrol in courses focused on intersectionality.

“But, I noticed that disability was absent in nearly all of them at UofT, but not for my friends at other universities whose courses considered disability in both the sociological and [criminological] respects,” wrote Figueiredo.

According to U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church, the university offers “a number of opportunities for students interested in studying disability issues.”

“The Faculty of Arts and Science has an Equity Studies program offered in association with New College, where undergrads can take a core group of disability studies courses,” wrote Church in an email to The Varsity.

For Figueiredo, the petition is a way to demonstrate to Governing Council and the provost that there is a need for a designated Disability Studies program through numbers and support.

According to Church, proposals for any changes to programs or new programs emerge from discussions within departments or faculties.

“There is a rigorous development and approval process, which includes consultation with programs and units, students, and others,” wrote Church.

Course offerings at U of T

The Equity Studies major or minor programs offer courses such as NEW240: Introduction to Equity Studies and NEW341: Theorizing Equity.

While there is no separate disability studies program, there is a disability studies stream within the Equity Studies program. The university also offers a few disability related classes, such as JNS450: Sexuality & Disability, NEW349: Disability and Representation, and NEW448: Advanced Special Topics in Disability Studies.

UTM offers courses like PSY442: Practicum in Exceptionality in Human Learning and PSY345: Exceptionality: Disability and Giftedness, which explore various aspects of mental, physical, and learning disabilities. Similar courses also exist at UTSC, such as WSTC40H3: Gender and Disability.

The Social Justice Education program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education also offers disability studies opportunities for graduate students.

Other Canadian universities with disability studies programs

The courses offered at U of T pale in comparison to disability studies programs at other universities in Ontario.

“Ryerson, York, Western, Brock and Carleton offer major and minor programs,” wrote Figueiredo in the petition. “The top school in the country is obviously out of touch. This needs to change.”

On a part-time basis, Ryerson University’s School of Disability Studies offers 17 courses at the undergraduate level.

King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario has a Disability Studies program, with major and minor options, that offers 20 courses. Brock University’s Applied Disability Studies program within its Faculty of Social Sciences offers 35 graduate courses and nine elective undergraduate courses. Carleton University undergraduates can enrol in a Disability Studies minor that offers five different courses with two offered by other departments.

Editor’s Note (November 28, 12:28 am): This article has been updated to clarify that there is a disability studies stream within the Equity Studies program.