Hundreds gather for provincial assembly

CFS-organized conference seeks to strengthen bonds between student activists

Hundreds gather for provincial assembly

This weekend, OISE played host to a student activist assembly convened by the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O). Over 450 students from universities and colleges across the province registered for the event, which sought to foster conversation about topics ranging from the state of education to poverty and environmental issues.

“The activist assembly brings together students from across the province to participate in both information- and skills-based workshops,” said Sarah Jane King, chairperson of the CFS-O.

The assembly was attended by students from Toronto-area schools including York, Ryerson, and U of T, as well as Guelph, Lakehead, Laurentian, Carleton, and the University of Ottawa. College students were also in attendance from across the province.

Attendants participated in workshops ranging from “Education Inc.: The Rise of Corporate Interest on Campus” to “Building a Radical Disability Movement” to “Who’s Turning the Screws? Understanding Who’s Who in Post-Secondary Education.”

Campus media outlets were not permitted to attend the sessions. “We ask media not to be recording the sessions or taking notes, simply because we wanted to create space where everyone felt comfortable participating fully, where people can say whatever they wanted without fear of seeing something in the newspaper that they didn’t want recorded,” explained King.

Corey Scott, vice-president, internal and services at University of Toronto Students‘ Union, explained, “One of the strengths of having conversations with people from the different universities and colleges is that you get to hear about some of the things that have happened on their campus and you see it translated back onto your own campus.

“By having these conversations, we find out about these things in advance and we prepare ourselves as best as possible.”

Scott pointed to flat fees, a system already in place at U of T (in spite of intensive lobbying efforts by student government), now under consideration at other universities such as Carleton.

Scott also discussed the value of learning from the recent experience at Lakehead University, where, as Scott explains, the governing council “disallowed students from voting on tuition fee increases, because they said that it was a conflict of interest. We heard about how they challenged that, how they filed an injunction, how they were able to overrule that decision, so that students could eventually vote.”

Scott also explained that the assembly was a chance not only to prepare against moves from university administrators, but also from other student groups.

“There are anti-choice groups that are travelling around the country, and are talking about limiting women’s rights to choose,” said Scott. “We get to hear about what is happening on different campuses who have those organizations popping up and doing a lot of really sexist work on campus, and we’re able to think about how to ensure that we are creating safe spaces.”

King explained that the assembly was very timely. “We’re at an important time right now, because the government is trying to make a lot of really significant changes to our education system,” she said. “It’s extremely important to bring people together to talk about these issues and to make a plan for how we move forward and to really find out how we should be addressing the problems we face as students right now.”

Overall, the students in attendance had positive things to say about their experience.

“It’s been pretty cool to learn about what’s going on at Carleton, what’s going on at UTM, what’s going on at Scarborough and other universities across Ontario,” said Yolen Bollo-Kamara, vice-president, campus life for the UTSU.

The assembly also had a panel of student activists from around the world in attendance; on Saturday Ana Garcia from Spain, Panagiotis Louvros from Greece, Rodrigo Echecopar from Chile and Marianne Brenton Fontaine from Quebec gave keynote speeches in which they shared their stories and their countries’ experiences with student activism. The panelists also spoke about the differences and similarities between their struggles and the struggles that Ontario students are facing.

“All of the things we talk about here are interconnected,” reflected David Eaton, an international development major from the University of Ottawa. “One person’s struggle or movement can be directly related to someone else’s. You may not think that they’re related but in fact the struggles that we face are not that different.”

Gowned dinners at Trinity under the microscope

Low attendance leads administration to cut weeknight late dinners

Gowned dinners at Trinity under the microscope

An announcement by the Trinity College administration that formal late dinners on Mondays and Thursdays are to be cancelled has prompted an outcry from the college’s students and alumni, fueling debate about how best to address the difficulties confronting one of the Trinity’s most distinctive traditions.

Hosted Mondays through Thursdays, after the earlier and more casual 5.00 pm dinner concluded, late dinners required formal dress and gowns, and had staff serving meals to students, rather than employing the self-service typical of most dining halls on campus.

On Wednesdays, the dinners feature college faculty and alumni seated at the high table. Although these mid-week formal meals will continue, other late dinners that have been axed were beloved by some students as a way to foster a sense of community and provide an occasion for collective discourse.

“While these dinner had flourished in the past, recent years have shown them to be frequented largely by the same small group of regulars,” said Jonathan Steels, Trinity College dean of students. “Many attempts by student leaders have been made to increase attendance at the dinners, but the nature of their formal dress often serves as a disincentive for the college student looking for a quick meal between classes.”

Strategies to increase attendance included table francaise (for French speakers), wine receptions, hors d’oeuvres, and greater flexibility in dress code. The diverse efforts have largely failed to galvanize the student population.

Limited attendance, Steels argues, “taken in the context of Trinity College’s five million dollar-renovation to the dining hall” would exclude students with late classes from attending.

While some students were apathetic about the change, others, including those more interested in the college’s traditions, have sent letters requesting the dinners be reinstated. Some members of the college’s Faculty of Divinity have protested the change by wearing their gowns to normal dinners.

When pressed, the dean acknowledged that the administration was open to change should enough people want it. Steels stands by the decision though, and says it “was in the best interest of both the college and its students.”

Fourth-year student and treasurer of Trinity College’s student government Christopher Hogendoorn says he understands the difficulties of maintaining the tradition, but stressed that the dinners should be reformed rather than removed.

“As a regular attendee, I’m not ignorant of the obvious attendance problems,” wrote Hogendoorn in a letter addressed to the administration. “But with the enthusiasm of the first year class, and the new kitchen amenities in Strachan Hall, I had very high hopes that late dinners would become, as they have been in the past, well attended, and a social fixture of college life.”

Hogendoorn and others have also been critical of the process leading up to the cancellation as well. Hogendoorn says the decision was “largely unilateral” and didn’t adequately involve notifying or consulting the student body. He is also concerned by the fact that the decision was made before the current incoming class had a chance to truly experience the dinners and make up their minds.

“Students at the college, had they known that late dinner was on the chopping block, would have been very supportive of its continuity,” said Trinity College Dramatic Society president and frosh week co-chair Bryn Orth-Lashley.

Pointing to Trinity’s system of student self-governance, Orth-Lashley says that the college prides itself on its commitment to student involvement and autonomy, and believes that the decisions should come from the students themselves.

“People don’t have to go to late dinners to support it,” said Orth-Lashley. “It is faulty logic to assume that those who don’t attend late dinners support its demise. Many people enjoy the mere fact that the tradition exists and that the student body is somehow a part of it.”

Former head of non-residents at Trinity College Jonathan Scott disagrees and says, “for at least the past five years, the college’s senate has discussed changes to meal plans and service options at its community affairs committee. These changes have been on students’ radar all that time.”

But some, like student head of Trinity college Sam Greene, believe these arguments are largely unnecessary and that blaming the decision-making process simply “obfuscates the issue.”

“I think all of us would have preferred better communication and more clarity on this. Ultimately, though, very little is being changed. Instead of being upset about phasing out the parts of a tradition that have faced rapidly declining participation, let’s focus on improving the remaining dinners that are a valued hallmark of the Trinity experience,” said Greene.

Law faculty prepares to decamp to Victoria College

Extensive renovations to begin in 2013 prompts search for temporary home

Law faculty prepares to decamp to Victoria College

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law has announced that it will be utilizing Victoria College as a transitional space, while the faculty prepares to undergo a dramatic renovation that will expand its current Falconer Hall location. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2013, and the faculty will be based in part out of Victoria College until at least 2015.

A town hall meeting held Wednesday was an opportunity for all students to better understand the use of Victoria College as a transitional space, and raise any questions or issues directly with the administration.

Alexis Archbold, assistant dean of students, explained how the renovations would work, including plans of the building and new facilities. She also explained that the spaces used within Victoria College would be convenient to access. Most of the classrooms to be used are in Old Vic or around the Victoria quadrangle. Law students will be able to access all libraries and common spaces.

Archbold also emphasized that making the transition easier for students and encouraging student involvement at every stage is a priority. At the town hall Wednesday, many expressed concern over whether the sense of community felt by U of T law students would be affected by the move.

Archbold says she is committed to ensuring that sense of community is not endangered. “I’m personally invested in this,” she said. “It’s important to me that we get it right.”

Another prominent concern raised at the town hall was library access. “The transitional library compared to the old one gives us less space than what we currently have,” said chief librarian John Papadopoulos. “We’re going to mitigate that by also using Emmanuel College Library and E.J. Pratt.”

Papadopoulos also said the law library plans to move a number of volumes over to Birge-Carnegie Library, using Emmanuel College Library and Robarts for the rest.

Papadopoulos’ solution to maintain access to research and reference information is to provide access to 90,000 digitized volumes, an idea welcomed by the attendees.

A student committee has been established to meet monthly with law school administrators to address concerns about the temporary space and renovations.

The Student Law Society (SLS) is also involved in the process, and has expanded its executive this year to be able to organize more activities, including tours of the transitional space. The SLS also helped organize the town hall meeting where the move was discussed earlier this week.

Victoria College was chosen because of its proximity to the law faculty, especially to Falconer Hall and Flavelle House. Both will remain open during construction.

Law faculty students will have access to Victoria College classrooms and receive priority-booking arrangement for event and extracurricular spaces. They will also have access to the new Goldring Student Centre being built on Charles Street, due to open in January 2013.

A lack of common student space at Victoria may be compounded by the law school’s migration. Archbold says the issue will be discussed with students as the renovation draws closer.

The renovations will focus on enlarging the Bora Laskin Law Library while keeping the historic Flavelle House mostly intact, as well as constructing a new building between Hoskin Avenue and Flavelle House.

The changes are expected to provide a new entrance on Hoskin Avenue, more dedicated study rooms and common spaces, and a café, among other benefits. Toronto-based architecture firm Hariri Pontarini was chosen in 2007 to design the building after students and faculty voted in a competition. Archbold also explained that students would be able to make suggestions and small changes to the design later in the year, as minor details come up for review.

A fundraising campaign to help finance the renovations has been ongoing since 2011, with many dedicated contributions coming from private firms, foundations and alumni. Over 90 per cent of the $54 million goal had been met as of early October.

A $11 million gift was announced earlier this month from Henry “Hal” Jackman, who has previously served as chancellor of the university and is a former lieutenant-governor of Ontario. The gift is the largest ever received by the law faculty, and the new building will be named the Jackman Law Building as a result.

The motivation behind the project is feedback from three external reviews — in 2001, 2006 and 2010 — which suggested that the faculty’s space constraints are one of few hindrances to student and faculty satisfaction.

“The lack of physical space creates a problem in terms of innovating, growing and responding to student issues,” said Archbold.

Students have indicated that booking space to host extracurricular activities, club meetings and other events has proven difficult in the past. Students and administrators say they expect this will be remedied by the renovations which will be providing general event and conference space, better access to student service offices, more student commons spaces and more classrooms. The faculty’s current space is being increased by 66 per cent, which enables them to offer a wider selection of upper-year courses and solve scheduling conflicts while retaining current class sizes.

The Business of Education

In less than two decades the Rotman School of Management has gone from a new name for the University of Toronto’s business school to a globally-renowned institution. MURAD HEMMADI explores how the school began, where it’s going, and what it means for the university.

The Business of Education

Roger Martin believes in teaching students to think critically. “I’m worried [about] what’s happening in business education generally: that they’re leaning all sorts of apps, all sorts of models and apps, but the foundational thing that they need to understand is how to think in a broad, holistic way about how the world works.”

Martin has implemented a very different model for business education in his 14 years as dean of the Rotman School of Management. The dual concepts of “integrative” and “design” thinking, buzzwords for a curriculum focused more on creative solutions than rote answers, have been lauded and emulated by industry leaders and institutions far beyond the school’s St. George enclave.

The school’s philosophy goes beyond teaching students how to manage assets and read stock charts. “From [the design] world, it’s that ‘create stuff that doesn’t exist’ piece of the puzzle, and from liberal arts it is ‘teach people this fundamental, foundational skill level,’” Martin says.  “And my reason for that, what motivated me, is that I worry that business education had — writ large — become too much at the applications level.”

That philosophy, or at least the results it seems to produce, has led to a very competitive global standing: Rotman ranked forty-fourth in the Financial Times 2012 Global MBA Rankings, outperforming other prominent Canadian management institutions including York University’s Schulich School of Business (59) and Western University’s Richard Ivey School of Business (68).

In his understated office in Rotman’s old North Wing, I suggest to Martin that a lot of Canadians don’t seem to realize how Rotman stacks up against its domestic competitors. He disagrees. “If you just look at the statistics of who applies to us, if they get accepted at us, Ivey and Schulich, what you describe does not play out,” he explains. “Not that we’re arrogant about it; we have to do everything right, and do admissions terrifically and make sure that we’re taking care of the students.

“But I do not go to sleep any night worrying about there being some schism between the rankings and how we’re perceived by students. We’re doing just fine on that front.”

The Financial Research and Trading Lab nestled on an upper floor of the North Wing is one of the tools Rotman students use to stay competitive in an increasingly difficult job market. “We see it a lot like a flight simulator,” Marco Salerno, the manager of the lab, tells me. “Students have to practice before going into the industry — it’s like a pilot has to practice on a flight simulator.

Varsity Vignettes: A Walk Through Rotman from The Varsity on Vimeo.

“It’s basically the same in the lab — we show them risk management strategies, different aspects of the market, and then they can go into [the work world] and apply what they’ve learned.”

The lab itself is a disarmingly plain room — dimly lit, with rows of computers stretching from end to end. It’s only when you look up to the ever-changing symbols and numbers of the two LED stock tickers in either corner that you realize this isn’t just a computer room.

“We have two boards, and they show you real-time indexes,” Salerno explains. “We have the Nikkei, the Japanese index, the S&P500, NASDAQ — so the main ones. And on the other board we have commodities and foreign exchange rates.”

Other universities have similar facilities, but Rotman’s lab has a few tricks of its own. “We’ve developed RIT [Rotman Interactive Trader], which is a market simulation software,” says Salerno. “It allows professors to simulate the market and show students different aspects [of the market].”

Financial software development is one way the lab gets its funding. “We started up initially with one of the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Funds, but now it’s primarily part of our school budgets,” explains professor Tom McCurdy, the lab’s founding academic director. “We have some revenue-generating activities and products that help fund it for the data services and the classes that we provide for students.”

I consider asking if I can play with some of the software, hoping to discover some hidden talent for playing the stock market that might supplement the journalist’s salary I’m destined to make. But I look over to the weird and wonderful combinations of letters and prices on the ticker boards that mean nothing to my untrained eyes, and I quickly reconsider.

In what seems like a metaphor for the huge role that technology and to-the-second data play in financial trading, the lab will soon be expanding into space created by the shifting of the school’s library to the new South Wing. “We’re going to be constructing a new lab which will open next fall, and that’ll start construction in the spring,” McCurdy says.

But there will be a slight change in the lab’s identity: thanks to a $1.75 million donation, the new facility will be named after the BMO Financial Group.

Money from corporations and corporate donors has always played a significant role at Rotman, with the school’s name the most obvious example. Although the University of Toronto offered courses in management from as early as 1902 and the Faculty of Management has existed since 1971, it wasn’t until natural resource and financial magnate Joseph L. Rotman’s $15 million donation in 1997 that the modern School of Management was born.

Rotman’s contribution was very controversial at the time. In a January 1997 cover story, The Varsity detailed the terms of the donor agreement, which included several clauses that opponents claim severely limited the university and faculty of management’s academic freedom.

The agreement required that that “U of T [rank] the faculty of management as one of its ‘highest priorities’ for the allocation of university funding, ensuring to its ‘best efforts’ that business education receives continuing focus.” Rotman’s foundation also had the right to receive yearly reports from the faculty detailing its progress and adherence to a “vision” document constructed at the time of the agreement.

Philosophy professor-emeritus Bill Graham was president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association at the time, and one of the agreement’s most vocal opponents. “There was a document called “the ‘vision,’ and it talked about non-qualified support for and commitment to the values and principles underlying the ‘vision’ by the members of the faculty of management, as well as the central administration. And such language we felt blatantly violated the university’s policy commitment to academic freedom.”

In response to the outcry from faculty and some students, the agreement underwent substantial revisions. But some controversial provisions remained, including one that allowed the foundation to bring in an outside expert from the Association of American Universities to recommend policy changes if it was felt that the school of management was failing to live up to the criteria set out in the agreement.

“What we were concerned with of course was despite the fact that it had gone through all the university committees — three academic committees — the items about academic freedom were never brought up in those committees,” says Graham. “And we were quite horrified.”

The donation was to be paid out over 14 years, ending in December 2011. That time span coincides almost exactly with Martin’s term as dean, and he tells me that the provisions that caused so much controversy in 1997 were never exercised. “It didn’t feel like a sword hanging over my head,” he says. “So much so that I’ve actually never read the entire agreement. I probably should have, but in fourteen years Joe Rotman has done nothing but be unbelievably supportive.”

Martin believes that Rotman was only trying to look out for the faculty’s best interests. “All he wanted was the business school to aspire to high levels. That’s it. And there were things, some of which I’m aware of — as I say, I never read the thing cover to cover — but there were some things in the agreement that they could insist on but that were only about quality standards.

“So things like, he wanted to make sure that the searches for the Rotman chairs were international searches.”

Martin acknowledges that academic freedom is a serious concern, but he doesn’t believe that Rotman’s approach impinged on that. “I don’t dispute the notion that we should be careful… But as I say, it is a fact that not once in 14 years has any such thing even been hinted at, mentioned, anything.”

Graham emphasizes that academic freedom and high standards are not incompatible. “Of course we wanted to see the school of management succeed, but not at the expense of academic values,” he says. “We’re happy that the school has done well, but we certainly need also to have full protection for academic freedom and the freedom of appointment.”

Rotman’s donations — he made a second, $18 million contribution in 2007 — are of course not the school’s only source of income. And Martin emphasizes that while donors play an important role, it’s a relatively small one. “What’s great about the donations is that they add to your capacity to do things, but there’s this huge base load of expenditures that have to be made.”

Running the School of Management is a very expensive undertaking. Rotman’s academic expenditures for 2011, according to figures published by U of T, were in the order of $71 million — almost as much as those of the whole of the U of T’s Scarborough campus. Part of those costs are the high salaries paid to faculty; six of the top 10 salaries paid to University of Toronto employees for 2012 went to Rotman professors and administrators, according to the Ontario Ministry of Finance Public Sector Salary Disclosure (more commonly known as the “sunshine list”).

Martin believes you get what you pay for. “It’s extremely expensive to have a good business school. So the salaries are higher; in order to get world-class faculty you have to pay those salaries. Student services are greater.

“The nature of competition in the business school space means you have to spend every cent you can get.

And Rotman does spend a lot on its students — $71 million for approximately 1,500 students, compared to about $7 million for some 400 students at the Faculty of Architecture, another faculty primarily focused on graduate studies.

But Rotman students’ tuition fees, some twenty-six to forty-eight thousand dollars per year depending on length of degree and immigration status, reflect this. “It’s a lot of money at Rotman, almost $85,000 for the program,” says Rudi Morvan, a part-time MBA student who moved from France but counts as a domestic student because he has permanent residency. “So you basically cannot fail, because you cannot after the three-year program … be in the same position as you were before the program, making the same amount of money.

The payoff, though, can be substantial. The Financial Times figures show that Rotman graduates see an average salary increase of just over 100 per cent after finishing their degrees. The average salary for a Rotman MBA graduate three years after finishing the program is some $96,000, and 85 per cent of the most recent graduating class had jobs within three months.

Morvan finds those figures are very encouraging. “Those statistics, for me, it was a really important factor. [It was] the thing that I compared with all the other schools, basically the — let’s call it the ‘return’ that you can get out of your MBA. Because I view it as an investment, an investment in yourself.”

And Rotman’s figures are even more impressive given the state of the job market today, according to Morvan. “An MBA is always good in all types of economic scenarios — downturn or growth —  it’s always good to have, I believe, an MBA.”

There’s value to an MBA beyond the financial, of course. “It was a way to be the same as everybody else — having graduated from a university in Canada, instead of having graduated from a university in France only,” says Morvan, explaining that the program has prepared him for work in Canada. “So there was a mingle factor for me.”

Many of his fellow students seem to agree. Forty-eight per cent of the incoming full-time MBA class of 2014 are international students. That’s a change from when Martin arrived in 1998. “Was it purposeful? Yes. When I got here we had a class of about 130 students per class and there were about 10 international students. Now its 300 and there are a close to 150 international students. And that’s a completely different experience.”

Students clearly believe a Rotman MBA will help their careers — the school’s recently-achieved doubling of its capacity suggests there is no shortage of prospective applicants. But does Rotman have a wider purpose beyond training the next generation of Canada’s entrepreneurs and industrialists? And how does it work with the rest of the university?

Sure, U of T students now have a sparkly new building to enjoy. And the flood of press releases that clutter The Varsity’s inboxes suggest that Rotman professors’ research interests stretch far beyond money-making (“Joint study by Rotman School researcher shows signature placement curbs cheating”; “Blood drives do better with incentives, says University of Toronto study”). But Martin suggests that one of the school’s biggest contributions is to the greater economic health of the area.

“I think the Rotman school is doing the province of Ontario, the GTA, a huge service because what happens is we track in about 50 per cent international students and a large slug of them stay.

“And so we’ve just imported fantastic human capital from around the world to stay in Toronto.”

New statue commemorating Northrop Frye unveiled

Centenary celebrations include presentation of collected works, three-day conference

New statue commemorating Northrop Frye unveiled

The centennial anniversary of Northrop Frye’s birth began last week at Victoria College with the unveiling of a statue in Frye’s honour.

Frye’s complete collected works as published by the University of Toronto Press were also presented for the first time. The events marked the beginning of a three-day conference hosted by the Department of English honouring Frye and his accomplished academic career.

The collection of Frye’s works was presented by Drs. Alvin Lee, Jean O’Grady, and Ron Schoeffel. “The collection is in 30 volumes, and was completed in 16 years,” said Schoeffel. All three editors shared stories of years of labour on the volumes, and their personal connections to Frye. “I think I am the only person that is able to say my wife was actually stuck in an elevator with Northrop Frye,” Schoeffel joked.

The ceremony began Thursday evening with a presentation in the Isabel Bader Theatre led by Paul Gooch, president of Victoria College. Guests were serenaded by two Bach pieces played on the piano by William Aide, a professor emeritus from the Faculty of Music. Frye had been known to love the work of Bach, said Aide, and the pieces were chosen accordingly.

An hour later, the audience exited the theatre to witness the unveiling of the statue of Frye for the first time. Angela Esterhammer, a former student of Frye and the new principal of Victoria College, removed the white cover along with Dr. Alvin Lee, revealing the life-size statue of Frye.

Darren Byers and Fred Harrison, the two artists who created the sculpture in Elliot, Maine, were on hand for the unveiling. Standing, the statue would be around seven feet tall, and it weighs approximately 300 pounds.

The statue is located to the west of Northrop Frye Hall on the Victoria College campus, and its gaze faces eastward, towards the E.J. Pratt Library, founded during Frye’s tenure as principal of Vic. The sculpture depicts Frye seated on a bench, his legs crossed, with a book in hand and more surrounding him.

Byers and Harrison, who previously designed a statue of Frye for the city of Moncton, NB, altered the statue in order to best represent Frye’s time at U of T. The images in the book that Frye holds include an angel, the Leviathan, the divine creator, piano keys, his first wife Helen, a typewriter, and a train, which the artists say were selected to represent his life, his imagination, his passions and his accomplishments.

The stack of books that are placed beside him are representative of Frye’s work as well. One book includes a stained-glass recreation of a window Frye was fond of from St. Mary’s Church in Gairford, Gloucestershire. Another book is decorated with the same design that enclosed the first edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost. The third book shows a section of William Blake’s face looking upwards. Included in the stack of books is Frye’s class planner and his personal journal, placed under his left elbow.

Byers said that Frye was at the apex of his career during his time at Victoria College, at his “most recognized and most recognizable.” Byers and Harrison say they sculpted Frye in a balanced, relaxed pose to portray a sense of warmth and contentment that Frye had with himself and his surroundings at this point in his life.

“I hope students see him as a wise scholar, and a very humane person, because that’s what he was,” said Lee. “He was a little shy, but he was prodigious and a world influence. He had a very warm smile. I hope a lot of students and others have their pictures taken sitting beside him.”

As the unveiling concluded indoors at a reception, guests looked forward to the presentation of dozens of scholarly papers, various lectures and a pub night in the upcoming days of the conference. Guests from China, Budapest and the United States were also in attendance.

“We’ve had a lot of great scholars,” reflected Lee, “but there’s none greater than Northrop Frye.”

Chancellor weighs in on Romney–Obama campaign

Former US ambassador Michael Wilson hedges his bets on outcome of November election

Chancellor weighs in on Romney–Obama campaign

In one of his first public speaking engagements since his appointment as chancellor of the University of Toronto, former ambassador to the United States and ex-finance minister Michael Wilson spoke at Hart House last Wednesday.

Wilson, who was invited to speak by the student-run Hart House Debates Committee, discussed Canada–US relations and the potential outcomes of the November 6 election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama for about 45 minutes, speaking to a capacity crowd in the Great Hall. Wilson served as ambassador to the United States from 2006 to 2009.


For the most part, Wilson painted a rosy picture of cross-border relations. “I would say that the current relationship with the United States is very good,” he said. “Prime Minister Harper and President Obama have a good personal relationship, the chemistry is good, they talk frequently and they meet at a variety of international events.”

“There are no burning, high-profile controversies, nothing causing us any real difficulty here,” said Wilson, adding that Canadian involvement in Afghanistan and more recently in Libya have also garnered significant diplomatic good-will.

“I don’t think that there will be a lot of difference between a President Obama and a President Romney,” predicted Wilson. “Romney is much more familiar with Canada than Obama, but on the other hand, a Romney administration might have some of the hardliners that I had to deal with when I was in Washington [under George W. Bush].”

Wilson also offered some inside knowledge on current issues.

The controversial pipeline Keystone XL was the focus of many attendees’ questions. Although President Obama declined to approve the pipeline’s route in January, a final decision was punted to beyond election day. The decision is, in Wilson’s estimation, “quite likely to be reversed.”

“Romney is absolutely going to [reverse the decision] and the vice-presidential candidate has said that as well,” said Wilson. “Quietly, we are getting that same message from the current administration.”

Wilson says the furor surrounding the pipeline has led Canadian business leaders and the federal government to take “a long, hard look” at energy relations between the US and Canada. According to Wilson, there is a growing realization north of the border that a critical decision like Keystone was “dependent on [American] domestic politics” and the Canadian energy sector was “held up to ransom for political reasons” because the United States was “effectively our only customer.”

Wilson also suggested that the consensus many were reaching is a pivot towards potential customers in Asia, although he also stressed that such a pivot would not detract from the strength of US-Canadian relations.

Discussing the border agreement signed a year and a half ago, Wilson hinted that it might undergo some alterations in the aftermath of the election. Wilson said he was told that specifics about the changes would have come this past summer, but due to some “awkwardness” there will be nothing forthcoming until after Americans have gone to the polls.

Wilson discussed a range of other topics, including impending free trade agreements — he said he believes the Trans-Pacific Partnership will succeed, along with an agreement with the EU, making Canada the first country to trade freely with three distinct trading blocs — the new Detroit–Windsor bridge crossing, and how best to “reinvigorate” the security relationship after successes in Afghanistan and Libya.


TV: Describe your job as chancellor to a student that doesn’t know what it is exactly that you do. 

MW: The chancellor’s position is the most senior position in the alumni. My job is to be the broad link to the alumni, all 500,000 of us, in many countries around the world. I’m also a link to the students. At Convocation, I’m the one handing out the degrees. I think the chancellor in some ways has a responsibility to convey to students what the university is, and what it can mean to students. This is the largest university in the country, it is arguably the best university in the country, it has a very high calibre of faculty members, very high calibre of students, a record of research successes across a very broad range of disciplines. And our alumni are leaders in many different fields in this city but also in the province and in the country. We are fortunate to have outstanding students, but I feel it is in some ways my responsibility, when I have the opportunity, to remind students that they are fortunate to have that experience of being in a lively place intellectually and academically, but also lively in terms of culture, sports, different nationalities. Canada has already begun to appear more and more global in our orientation. This is a great place to start developing that global orientation.


TV: You’ve been an spokesperson for a group that promoted public-private partnerships. What do you think is the role of the private sector on university campuses?

MW: That group’s efforts were more related to infrastructure. After the election in 2003 [fought largely over the role of the private sector in two hospitals], both the Liberals and the Conservatives recognized the private sector’s role in the partnership was to finance, design, and build a building according to the requirements of the public sector. The management, the operation, all the medical activities, that was the responsibility of the public sector, not the private sector.

I say to universities or hospitals or transportation departments: why do you want to have your money tied up in bricks and mortar? Shouldn’t you let the private sector own those things, and have them financed in ways that are more appropriate to their interests (pension funds, life insurance) financing those fixed assets long term.

So it’s what goes on in the asset that’s important, not what the asset is. If we’re going to put a new building somewhere, should that be owned by the university? In my judgment, there’s got to be a very strong reason why the university would want to tie their money up for 40, 50, 60 years in a fixed asset. But the university has got to be totally in control of what goes on inside that building. That’s the distinction.


TV: Do you feel like online education has the potential to disrupt the traditional model of bricks-and-mortar universities?

MW: I’m not an expert in online learning. But I see online learning as a way for us to expand on what the university can deliver through its fixed assets on campus. If we can take courses to people that are working 8 hours a day and have a family, they can go online and improve on their own education. I say that’s terrific. If we can take online learning to more rural communities and teach people in those communities some of the skills they haven’t been able to learn, or those that didn’t have the resources to move away to university, again, I think it’s a terrific way of expanding the reach of education. The more we can expand that reach, the higher our standard of living will be.


TV: You’ve been a longstanding advocate for mental health issues. A recent report in Maclean’s detailed what appears to be a worsening situation when it comes to student mental health on campuses all across Canada. How do you stand on this issue?  

MW: I’ve spoken to both the AUCC and the Association for Community Colleges on this very point. One of the points I make is that when students come from high school, they’re in classes of 25 people. They know practically everybody in the classroom, the teacher knows everybody. Then they move into a much bigger community and they get lost in the crowd. Universities and colleges have got to find ways of making sure that people don’t get caught between sources of support, between the cracks so to speak. If you have a buddy and you suddenly realize he’s not coming to class, he’s getting a little lethargic, he’s losing interest – well, you can give students a sense of responsibility that if a good friend of yours is starting to demonstrate these types of personality changes, find out a little bit about them. If he started limping, you’d be asking: ‘what’s the limp for? Should you go and see a doctor, get that put into a cast?’ You wouldn’t think twice about that. But because it’s happening in someone’s head, you tend to shy away from that. You’ve got to get the sense that you shouldn’t shy away, but reach out and help a friend that appears to be suffering.

Two out of Seven Psychopaths

Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell chat about their new film and share some thoughts on their reputation for weirdness

Two out of Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths, the latest film by In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, is a hilariously wacky, gleefully over-the-top and unabashedly gory meta-fest with enough plot twists to make M. Night Shyamalan’s head spin.

In just under two hours, Seven Psychopaths bounces from self-referential reflections on the art of screen writing, to the raging fits of a Shih Tzu-loving mobster, to heartfelt conversations between best friends, to ridiculously bloody shoot-outs in a Californian desert. Tom Waits even makes a cameo as a lovelorn killer with a penchant for bunnies and a Dexter-esque sense of criminal justice.

Basically, Seven Psychopaths is one weird movie. So it might not come as a surprise to learn that Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, who play two of the film’s titular characters, are among Seven Psychopath’s roster of big name stars. Between them, the actors have amassed a considerable repertoire of oddball roles: a sex addict, an alien, a Charlie’s Angels villain (Rockwell), a headless horseman, an unhinged teacher and a husband to John Travolta (Walken). Roger Ebert even went so far as to say that Rockwell “seems to have become the latter-day version of Christopher Walken…When you need him, he’s your go-to guy for weirdness.”

But when Walken and Rockwell met with a small group of journalists during the Toronto International Film Festival to discuss their roles in Seven Psychopaths, they were quick to dismiss this perception of their work.


“It’s great, but it’s a funny thing,” Rockwell said of Ebert’s comment. “People have said that I’m quirky, or that Chris is quirky or eccentric. I think a lot of good actors are eccentric… When I think of Chris, I think of The Deer Hunter and The Dead Zone, and those actually are very dark leading men, anti-heroes like Hamlet… To me that’s not so much eccentric or quirky, it’s just darker.”

“I’ve been [acting] since I was five years old,” Walken added. “I was in a sense raised by musical comedy people: gypsies, comics. And there [are] very few actors who … come from that kind of background. It makes you like almost from another country. It makes you foreign.

“I think that in movies, that strangeness almost easily translates into menacing, or malevolent. It’s the Other. If it’s strange, it’s probably a little bit dangerous, which of course is not necessarily so.”

Perhaps, then, the two actors were drawn to Seven Psychopaths because there is more to the film’s characters than their wacky — and often absurdly violent — antics. Walken and Rockwell play Hans and Billy, leaders of a dognapping ring who return the dogs they have stolen and collect reward money from the pooches’ grateful owners. But Hans uses the money to pay his wife’s hospital bill, and the gun-happy Billy is devoted to his best friend, played by Colin Firth. Even Woody Harrelson’s mobster turns to mush when he finds out that Hans and Billy have nabbed his beloved Shih Tzu.

“[Seven Psychopaths] is a comedy,” Rockwell said, when asked whether he sees his character as a good guy or a bad guy. “You know, [our characters] are not bad guys at all.”

“Somebody said that the violence is kind of Wiley Coyote, Roadrunner violence,” Walken added. “I think that’s kind of true. You know, it’s a certain kind of … cartoon violence.”

Walken and Rockwell were familiar with McDonagh’s particular brand of black comedy before they began working with the director on Seven Psychopaths. In 2010, both actors starred in a Broadway production of A Behanding in Spokane, one of McDonagh’s plays, in which the main character has been in obsessive pursuit of his missing hand for 27 years.

But when it came to Seven Psychopaths, the actors were drawn not only to the film’s twisted sense of humour, but also to the unpredictable nature of its script.

“[McDonagh] writes a wonderful dialogue,” Walken said during the interview. “And so unexpected.”

Seven Psychopaths certainly has its fair share of plot twists, and McDonagh’s appreciation for the unpredictable seems to have shaped his directorial style. Walken and Rockwell told the group of journalists that the director incorporated the cast’s innovations into the film (a few of Seven Psychopath’s best lines, which I won’t spoil here, were apparently improvised) and gave the actors some freedom in shaping their characters. And according to Walken and Rockwell, this is exactly the approach that a good director should take.

“You’re a bit like kids and you’re in a sandbox, and you’re making it up,” Walken said of acting on a film set. “And the good director is really kind of like a lifeguard. He sits on a big, high chair and he’s got all these crazy kids in the sand box, and they’re playing. And every once in a while, one of them slips and falls out of the sandbox… And the good director just picks him up and puts him back inside.”

“And the bad director yells at them for falling off the slide,” Rockwell added with a laugh.

“But definitely, on a good movie set, there is that aspect to it,” Walken continued. “It’s a little bit wild.”

“Invaluable” copper art stolen from university storage

Anonymous tipster helps campus police recover four of 30 missing works

“Invaluable” copper art stolen from university storage

More than 30 copper plates created by George Hawken, a lecturer and printmaker in the University of Toronto’s Department of Fine Arts, were reported stolen from university storage space late last week.

The mystery deepened Friday when campus police received an anonymous tip around 7.00 am. Three hours later, they arrived at a designated drop site to find four large pieces, one of which had been badly damaged.

For Hawken, it is a bittersweet victory.

“I’m so relieved to have them back but still shaken by the vulnerability and the loss of what may be gone forever,” he said.

Sam D’Angelo, campus police operations manager, told The Varsity that the investigation is ongoing. Although police have a description of a person of interest, they have yet to determine if and how the person is connected to the case.

“It’s a good lead, but the more time passes, the less likely it will be that we recover all of the stolen objects,” said D’Angelo.

The artworks had been stored in a second-floor space at 1 Spadina Crescent.  The unidentified suspect got past the heavy steel door of Hawken’s storage room and walked away with a chunk of his work.

“After I had finished a meeting, I noticed the door to the storage room was slightly ajar. I thought that was pretty unusual, and when I went to go check it out, my artwork was gone,” said Hawken.

Hawken immediately contacted Toronto police and campus police, who began working on the case.

Copper theft on campus is uncommon, said D’Angelo. Last summer two individuals were arrested for stealing copper downspouts at various U of T buildings.

More rare still, says D’Angelo, is the theft of valuable art on campus. “Valuable art is kept in high secured places, guarded by security cameras and other precautionary measures. Copper thefts that occur off of campus grounds are usually a lot more easily accessible,” he said.

Hawken says he was fairly certain he locked the door before he last left, but says there is a possibility that he may not have. Hawken says the copper value of his artwork was only about $500 in total, but the pieces had great sentimental value. Made about twenty years ago, the small plates were an outlet for Hawken to play with imagery in a light-hearted way.

“I feel very wounded by this, because the plates were special to me in a lot of ways,” Hawken says.

The Department of Fine Art at U of T has expressed sympathy for Hawken’s predicament. Elizabeth Legge, chair at the department, said that Hawken is invaluable to the department as both an artist and teacher.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Lynne Wynick, whose gallery once represented Hawken, said that it was “quite difficult to place a value on the plates, which are almost invaluable.”

“The copper is definitely worth a lot, but the value is more in the fact that they’re a work of art,” Wynick told the Star.

The person responsible for the theft could face criminal charges of theft under $5,000. This, D’Angelo said, could result in a sentence ranging from probation to jail time, according to the verdict of the judge. If the culprit is a student, he or she could also face charges under the non-academic code of conduct.

Hawken feels that the odds are not in his favour when it comes to apprehending the suspect. He says he thinks the person who did it knew what they were looking for.

“I figure the person responsible will remain anonymous, and that definitely bugs me,” said Hawken.

In light of this incident, campus police recommend that anything of sentimental value be kept in a secure area and locked with a deadbolt. D’Angelo also adds that if it is extremely valuable, it should not be kept in the university.

Hawken agrees. “Until I was stolen from, I thought the storage room was a safe place to store my artwork. It’s up to me to put my artwork in a secure place, and I’ll be looking into more intensive storage units to do so.”