Cutting the flab

With files from The Globe and Mail and the National Post.

Mayor Rob Ford is encouraging Torontonians to combat rising obesity rates and join his “Cut the Waist Challenge.”

The mayor, all “300 pounds of fun” of him, was weighed in at 330 pounds on Monday. He hopes to  shed 50 lbs. by June 18.

Ford is spearheading the weight loss program with brother Councilor Doug Ford, who will also drop pounds to promote good health in the city. The brothers plan to significantly decrease Toronto’s obesity rate and get the city to lose more weight than the whole North America. According to Statistics Canada, 24.1 per cent of Canadians over the age of 30 are overweight.

The initiative is under fire, however, as some citizens feel there are more pressing matters like tthe closing of several Toronto daycares, and other impending city budget cuts.



The Varsity brings you the breakdown of U of T’s hits and misses. We may have harassed you on Facebook to complete this survey, but the results were well worth it.


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City budget cuts collapse

With files from Toronto Star.

Toronto city councillors defeated Rob Ford and saved $15 million in proposed cuts to services on Tuesday.

The cuts would have hit daycare centres, homeless shelters, pools, and arenas that were threatened with closure and shortened hours, as well as TTC service.

The surprise omnibus motion to prevent $15 million in cuts was brought forward by Councillor Josh Colle on Tuesday morning. Progressive, centrist, and even a couple conservative councillors like Councillors Gloria Lindsay Luby and James Pasternak, who usually ally with the mayor, rallied behind Colle’s motion.

The amendment passed 23–21, resulting in one of the biggest defeats Ford has ever seen in office. A series of other proposals followed, meaning an extra $5 million will be drawn from the $154 million surplus.

Colle’s motion, however, only involved “critical” services, so other issues like Councillor Sarah Doucette’s efforts to save High Park Zoo, had to be put forward separately.

Information stolen from 150 SFU students

With files from Maclean’s.

A couple was deported after stealing the information of 150 Simon Fraser University students.

Siyuan Gu and Jing Wang, both 31, pleaded guilty in December to using stolen student ID cards to get U-Passes.

U-Passes allow students unlimited access to Vancouver public transit for $30 per month, compared to the regular price of $151 a month.

Gu and Wang acquired 128 U-Passes between September and November and had 47 fake SFU student IDs on them during their arrest. To steal 500 pages of student information, the couple made use of campus computers. They used keystroke loggers, which are small hidden devices that copy everything that is typed on the computer.

BC transit police officer Jim Garnett told Maclean’s that students should be wary of using campus computers or putting private information on any computer they do not trust.

Number of university applicants steadily climbs

With files from Global.

The number of high school students applying to Ontario universities has risen 2.2 per cent from last year, according to the Council of Ontario Universities.

Statistics showed that student applications for the fall semester have increased consistently for the past 11 years, with 90,373 high school students applying by the January 11 deadline.

Applicants, however, face the danger of competing against mature students for spots in university classrooms, as the recession held back many mature students from pursuing a university degree. There was also a three per cent increase in the number of mature students applying for the fall semester.

Due to students’ increased prioritization of completing degrees, president of the Council of Ontario Universities, Bonnie Patterson, told Maclean’s that governments need to invest more in universities to meet the demand. This is “to ensure that the quality of the learning experience is not undermined by taking more and more students on board,” said Patterson. ­

Move over ROSI — make way for NGSIS

$15 million makeover set to integrate with old system over the next 10 years

Move over ROSI — make way for NGSIS

ROSI, U of T’s age-old student web service, has reached the end of the road, making way for a newcomer — the Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS).

ROSI is receiving a makeover to reduce wait times and create more efficient functionalities. The changes will gradually integrate with the old system over the next 10 years.

$15 million will be spread out over five years with another $15 million being allocated to fund staff and resources.

“The student interface, the way information is presented to students, and the variety of functions and services made available, are quite limited,” said Jill Matus, vice-provost, students.

Many of us experience that when we try to log in to ROSI and it shuts down each night so the server can be reset.

Matus said that students want a more user-friendly system that allows them to access services and information resources easily and hassle-free.

“The collection of services should do the running around in the background so students needn’t go from office to office, re-entering information to perform the transactions they are required to do,” said Matus.

Because NGSIS will contain more than 90 different services, she added that round-the-clock availability and real-time updates to course selections and enrolments are being considered.

Services such as the degree audit utility, which speeds up awards payments, and the “Wayfinding” project, which uses an interactive map to help students find campus services, have already been introduced under the NGSIS banner.

“The objective is to make visible all kinds of important information related to getting around the university such as ‘Where are the accessible entrances to buildings?,’ ‘Where can I find a place to eat?,’ and ‘Where are my classes located?,’ she said.

Matus stressed, however, that the NGSIS is not a replacement system, and the database and function outcomes will remain largely the same as ROSI.

The technical implementation and solutions of the NGSIS will be overseen by the office of the chief information officer, with input largely being sought from the student body, as she said was the case with the recent email services project.

To augment this, the vice-provost, students’ office will launch a tri-campus student contest to determine the name of the new system.

“ROSI was named by staff on behalf of students. This time we would like to see students name the new ROSI,” said Joan Griffin, special projects officer for the office of the vice-president and provost.

She added that more wide range initiatives involving students would be held in the future.

Corey Scott, vice-president internal and services for the UTSU, said that he was excited about the prospect of the new integrated system creating stronger social bonds among students but hoped many of the complaints raised by students will be resolved.

“The ROSI system quite obviously needed an overhaul. It cannot meet demand and use. Many of us experience that when we try to log in to ROSI and it shuts down each night so the server can be reset,” Scott said.

“This project involves a considerable investment from the operating budget of the university, and so we hope that administrators will continue to consult students to help shape the system so it will meet the needs of our members,” he said.

Academic misconducts exposed?

Policy threatens to reveal names of scholars

The names of Canadian university and college researchers found guilty of academic misconduct may be publicly displayed, according to a new joint policy by three federal research agencies.

The 17-page document, entitled “Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research,” was released last December by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It outlines various procedures on addressing misconduct allegations to ensure the accountability of public funds, and inspire responsible research.

Associate vice-president, research Peter Lewis described the new framework as a complex system.

“[The system] balances the need for transparency and accountability in the use of public money. It instills public confidence that research is being conducted appropriately.”

“The subject of responsible of research involves many facets,” he said. “This framework involves a number of policies that are all put together in a single document. It covers quite a wide range.”

Researchers applying for grants from the agencies are now required to sign a consent form disclosing their personal information. In the event of a serious research infraction, the agencies may publish the researcher’s name, employer, and the nature of the breach.

The agencies will also post statistical information on the number of allegations considered and their outcomes on its websites.

“Most developed countries have similar systems in place which permit names to be published,” vice-provost, faculty and academic life, Edith Hillan wrote in an email. “[The system] balances the need for transparency and accountability in the use of public money. It instills public confidence that research is being conducted appropriately.”

All full-time and part-time faculty, staff, and students at U of T who seek grants or financial support from the agencies are subjected to this new measure.

It does not, however, apply to students who participate in researches for credits or are employed as research assistants.

The obligations of these students are outlined separately in U of T’s “Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters.”

According to Lewis, the additional consent form, however, shouldn’t surprise U of T’s research community.

“When you apply for a grant through the University of Toronto, you sign the bottom of the grant and by signing the grant, you are implicitly acknowledging the rules and regulations that govern the grant,” he said. “‘[The Consent to Disclosure of Personal Information]’ is a separate document to highlight what that signature used to mean.”

Lewis added that U of T discovers “just a few” cases of research misconduct every year.

“It’s not a huge number when you think we have thousands of scientists at the University of Toronto,” he said. “This is a fairly rare event.”

Plagiarism — such as recycling data from one’s earlier researches without attribution or copying other research — is the most common type of research misconduct. Others include publishing false results, fabricating research data, and misusing research funds.

The framework also suggests that breaches of research policies are “extremely rare” in Canada. Between 2000–2011, Canadian Institute of Health Research received 97 allegations but only 34 were found to be actual misconducts. CIHR only took recourse in 14 of the 34 confirmed misconduct cases.

The Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research (PRCR) based in Ottawa will oversee the implementation of the new tri-agency framework and consider allegations. Members of the panel, who are all volunteers, are drawn from across the country representing a range of disciplines.

On the inside looking out

New prison exchange program offered at UTM this fall

Imagine learning about the Canadian criminal justice system from inside a prison. Next fall, Inside-Out, a new program offered at UTM, would allow students to do just that.

Inside-Out was founded at 1997 by Lori Pompa, a criminal justice professor at Temple University, and a select group of incarcerated individuals and students from Pennsylvania who had the common goal of studying crime, justice, and social issues that affect society at large. The program quickly spread to other Pennsylvania and out-of-state universities. Recently, it has started taking root in Canada.

According to its website, Inside-Out is built around the idea that “incarcerated men and women and college students might mutually benefit from studying crime, justice, and related social issues together as peers.”

Professor Simone Davis, development coordinator for Inside-Out and visiting English professor at U of T, has been involved in bringing the program to Canada. She has held information sessions about the program for faculty from universities in Ontario and Quebec, including U of T.

“One thing about Inside-Out in Canada is that it’s clear we want to move toward the collaborative design of a customized Canadian training — not only is the Canadian criminal justice system different from the U.S.’s, but both the challenges and the possibilities are distinct,” she said.

Davis added that the “think-tank” — comprised of Inside-Out alumni — that was just formed at the Grand Valley Institution, a federal prison for women in Kitchener, will ultimately be trained as trainers to help co-facilitate Canada-specific instructor trainings.

The Inside-Out program aims to help students in getting information about issues surrounding the criminal justice system. By interacting with real inmates, students are believed to gain a deeper understanding of the system and social issues surrounding crime, as well as the psyche of the inmates themselves.

The program also promises to benefit the “inside” students, as post-secondary education for those who are incarcerated. It contributes to helping those leaving prison to stay out of prison.

“Inside students and outside students both report experiencing these courses as transformative experiences — they really involve a kind of collective, student-owned learning process that revitalizes the educational experience, helps people see themselves as problem solvers and strategists, and gives people a new sense of community connection and accountability,” said Davis.

The program initiative also seems to be well received by other U of T faculty members.

“It’s a really exciting initiative, and the kind of thing that many of us should take as an inspiration in terms of really shifting our pedagogy and connecting with community in very substantive ways,” said professor Judith Taylor of the women and gender studies program.

An Inside-Out course that would be taught by professor Philip Goodman has been included in UTM’s fall 2012 calendar under the sociology department, but the course is still contingent on finding a partner institution.