Comment in Briefs: Month of December

Students react to the final News stories of 2018

Comment in Briefs: Month of December

Comment contributors discuss: student unions’ attempt to shut out student media outlets like The Varsity; the federated colleges’ response to U of T’s smoking ban; the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) General Council’s ousting of its Internal Commissioner; the New York Times’ Art of the Book Review panel at U of T; and the firing of U of T President Meric Gertler from the board of Waterfront Toronto.


Obstructing the press serves to delegitimize student unions

Re: “Canadian Association of Journalists rebukes student unions’ attempt to manipulate media coverage”

It’s heartening that the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has taken efforts to defend the freedom of the U of T student press, including The Varsity and The Underground.

The general situation, however, is a dismal one, as representatives from multiple student unions have attempted to limit the press’ ability to inform students about how they are being governed. While the representatives may believe these Trump-esque practices benefit short-term policy aims, they are actually extremely detrimental, maybe even self-destructive, to student unions and advocacy.

If the student press is unable to write about student union developments by being barred from meetings, student readers will be less informed about decisions affecting them. Over time, they will likely view student unions as merely corporations providing services, instead of democratic organizations that contribute student perspectives to education policymaking.

CAJ President Karyn Pugliese took a stance on a student union’s purpose by describing U of T student unions as “governments,” as opposed to non-profit corporations.

If student unions are microcosms of society, the student government versus student corporation debate illuminates their unique political spectrum. On the right, there are those who prefer corporate structures, not unlike the university administration that used to dominate student affairs. Those on the left view student unions as democratic governments that need to overcome the constraints of current corporate legislation.

The attempts to exclude the press are likely from the corporatist end of this spectrum. However, some may situate themselves on the left in conventional politics in an ironic reversal that would be a textbook case of bad prefigurative politics in other words, the means not justifying the ends.

Student unions are not merely corporations that provide services. Saying that “student media have been abusing their positions as disseminators and aggregators of information” is synonymous with calling them fake news. Obstructing the dissemination of political knowledge makes it harder for students, especially marginalized students, to participate in politics. This won’t help voter turnout and definitely won’t inspire students to mobilize behind their union when collective action is needed. At that point, the very purpose of a student union would become questionable.

If student representatives think the press’ reporting is inaccurate, perhaps they should establish a better dialogue with student journalists instead of shutting them out.

Justin Patrick is a first-year master’s student in Political Science. He is a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union Council Representative for Political Science.


Balancing the smoking ban

Re: “Proposed smoking ban will not affect federated colleges”

Student vaping. Jenna Liao/THE VARSITY

The university has finally implemented its decision to ban smoking as of January 1. While the policy does not apply to the federated colleges, it seems to be only a matter of time before they follow suit with their own policies. Personally, like many others, I do not enjoy walking through clouds of smoke to get to my destinations on campus.

However, I agree with Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council’s plan, as it looks to have smoking areas on its campus. Understandably, many students smoke to cope with stress and anxiety, and it seems unfair and unrealistic to institute a ban across the entire campus. Indeed, it will be almost impossible to enforce.

The University of St. Michael’s College is taking a more public approach and is currently going through consultation and creating a public survey. On an issue that concerns such a personal life habit, it is crucial to hear and take into account the voices of the entire faculty and student population.

It is important for the smoking ban to take into account and balance students’ health and cultural practices. For instance, the policy still allows for ceremonial and medicinal uses. Nonetheless, the ban is justified given that smoking is addictive and linked to numerous health issues. New research has suggested that tobacco smoking causes over 45,000 deaths each year in Canada.

While I do recognize that smoking is an individual choice and is legal in Canada, it is a source of pollution that harms our air and environment. As institutions independent of the university, including federated colleges, look to develop their own policy, it is crucial to respect students’ autonomy to do what they want while considering how their activity imposes on others.

Gabrielle Cotton is a fourth-year Equity Studies, Political Science, and Urban Studies student at Woodsworth College.


Conspiracy or not, leadership means taking action

Re: “Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council”

Branden Rizzuto, the GSU’s Finance Commissioner, moved the motion to vacate the Internal Commissioner position. ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

As the drama within the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council unfolded last month, one thing was certain: the council has had rough team dynamics throughout ex-Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova’s tenure. While it may be difficult to see the truth objectively in this very much he said, she said battle, a broader perspective makes it easier to see the landscape on which the battle was cultivated.

The UTGSU’s executive committee seems to have differing views about and plans for its Internal Commissioner, and has apparently been cultivating a movement against her for some time before proposing her exit, citing a violation of Article 9.1 of the UTSGU bylaws. Much like an impeachment, most of the discussion and plotting happened out of the public eye, which would explain Alexandrova’s confusion and lack of strength to “stand up to ungrounded anxieties causing confrontational measures.”

However, it also appears that her claims that the executive committee had not given her sufficient warnings are not well supported. The committee had warned her in October, yet she failed to circulate a report against the allegations, or at least submit a viable argument. Alexandrova said that, had she been at the meeting, she could have prevented the committee from invoking Article 9. She blamed the culture of the union, which she claimed favoured returning executives over outside perspectives, underlining a conspiracy to vacate her from her position.

The overall issue however, with or without a conspiracy, is that Alexandrova seems to have not been as active in the union’s meetings and activities as she should have been. Despite the somewhat shady politics and longtime internal problems and misunderstandings, she should not make excuses for why she was ousted from her position. If there is cause for concern against one’s leadership, one must not wait for a formal warning. Rather, one must jump into action to rectify the situation.

Varsha Pillai is a first-year Social Science student at University College.


Forget reviews — go to the source

Re: “The New York Times hosts Art of the Book Review panel at U of T”

“There’s news value in these books,” NYT’s nonfiction book critic Jennifer Szalai said. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

While the panel suggested that book reviews should be artfully intertwined with news value and the broader world surrounding the work, I think of the book critic’s vocation in this framework instead.

It’s rather disturbing how book critics get away with publishing emotionally charged critiques. This weakens their cause and ability to produce a valid and objective analysis. Furthermore, the news value is often irrelevant and undermines the public trust and credibility of media.

Book reviews are a centuries-old persuasion architecture rife with hidden agendas. Undisclosed but fermenting personal motivations, financial interests, and professional relationships have left a rancid aftertaste.

The book reviewing vocation is coming to an end as yet another casualty of the information age.

Today, opinions of book reviewers like those found in the New York Times are as, if not less, consequential to those of Amazon’s verified purchasers. Reviews shouldn’t inform you before you’ve acquainted yourself with the work firsthand.

A truly endearing and distinguished U of T alum, Josh Hough, who it deeply pains me to say tragically passed away recently, taught me to remember that nothing can take the place of one’s firsthand study of the work itself and to cherish and treasure the great primary sources. For example, Charles Darwin’s The Origins.

Imagine formulating an opinion on the music of Bob Marley or John Lennon, not through listening to the artist, but from a secondary source like a review. What kind of experience and quality of opinion would that be? Now, it’s true that a song may take only three minutes to hear and a book takes much longer to read. Still, it’s better to forgo one’s urge to read a book review before reading the book itself.

Go to the source and don’t let others meddle in between. The pleasure of a book comes through reading the book and not someone else’s reaction.

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.


Gertler is a true Varsity Blue

Re: “Meric Gertler fired from Waterfront Toronto board of directors amid Google deal”

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Every Varsity Blue knows the feeling: during enrolment, you’re scouring classes and you find one you know you’ll crush. You prepare, do research, go to lecture, finish the readings, work hard — and then get blindsided by an errant bell curve or bloodthirsty teaching assistant (TA). Forces larger than you sail and zip and thrash around, and you end up getting slapped with a subpar grade — a blemish on an otherwise respectable transcript.

Four weeks ago, an ambitious, hardworking Varsity Blue walked into this very trap. After a big welcome and high praise, U of T President Meric Gertler was laid off from the Waterfront Toronto board, two years after being appointed.

Letting go of Gertler was a mistake — he is vastly overqualified for the position. He has ogles of degrees, decades of experience, and has been hailed as one of Canada’s foremost thinkers in urban design. His departure has more to do with partisan politics than rational decision making. It was foolish to let him go and the province, in its search for scapegoats, is shooting itself in the foot by doing so.

Gertler’s situation isn’t a novel one. Whether it be a bloodthirsty TA or an insecure, impulsive government, we’re often beholden to the questionable opinions of others. But failing a class, getting booted off a board — these aren’t calamities or revelations of character, but opportunities for growth and self-reflection.

President Gertler has been respectful through the ordeal and has set an example for the 90,000 other ambitious, hardworking — and occasionally unfortunate — Varsity Blues around him.

Ted Fraser is a third-year International Relations student at Victoria College.

Comment in Briefs: Week of November 26

Students react to the off-campus Trinity Saints Ball, Ford’s rejection of the controversial gender identity motion, and MPP Oosterhoff at UTSC

Comment in Briefs: Week of November 26

Saints Ball no longer protected by Trinity’s saints

Re: “Trinity Saints Ball held off campus for first time”

Last year, there was an alleged assault at a Trinity College party by a campus police officer. This was followed by a vote of non-confidence by the student body in the administration, and the administration temporarily banning alcohol at campus events. Finally, it forbade paying for alcohol with student fees, effective September.

Rather than finding ways to prevent assault, the college administration put a band-aid over a massive wound. Previously, the handling of a sexual assault case by U of T and Trinity led to the survivor filing a human rights complaint. It seems like the college and university alike are keen on administering quick fixes rather than seeking to solve deeply rooted issues, which would take much more effort to address.

In the case of the alleged assault at the party that forced the move of big campus events to properly licensed venues off-campus, a campus police officer was alleged to have physically and verbally abused a student and behaved unprofessionally — much like the drunk and disorderly youth that police goes out of its way to discipline.

The young woman who alleged that the university and Trinity mishandled her sexual assault case claimed that the Assistant Dean of Students at Trinity told her that many had negative experiences with Campus Police — and, therefore, going to them would be a futile effort. There is a much deeper problem here, and that is not only the proper training of Campus Police, but also employing the best-suited people for the job.

Moving Saints Ball is a temporary fix to a massive underage drinking problem, but it doesn’t confront the bigger issue of those in authority using their power unjustifiably. Students are going to consume alcohol either way. Shouldn’t the administration be more worried about the students’ safety and host the ball under the watch of the college? Instead, it seems as if the college and university are more concerned about liability issues and lawsuits, which could easily be avoided if the people in authority were held accountable for their actions.

Varsha Pillai is a first-year Social Science student at University College.


Human decency defeats intolerance

Re: “Premier Ford rejects Ontario PC Party motion to debate recognition of gender identity”

The motion was proposed by Tanya Granic Allen. TIB2700/CC FLICKR

Doug Ford’s rejection of his party’s motion to debate recognition of gender identity is welcomed province-wide. To many, including me, it is a saving pivot from a dangerous path set out by more fringe elements of the party. The motion politicizes sexuality, invalidates identities, and ostracizes minorities in our province by calling gender identity a “highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology.’”

There is also an irony to be noted here. Conservatism calls for small government and the protection of the private life of the citizen. However, this motion cracks into the private sphere to define their humanity. That is hardly respecting either small government or the private life of the individual.

I am a supporter of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and welcome debate where necessary. The party is a big blue tent. We encourage members to speak their minds on various topics. When their opinion may harm others, we say something. But I have never been one to support muzzling another’s voice before they have the chance to speak.

However, once they speak to motions like the one Tanya Granic Allen proposed, there comes a time for common sense and human decency to defeat ignorance and intolerance. Ford did just that, and I am glad to see him reject transphobia in this way. Well done, premier, on this decision.

Andrea Chiappetta is a second-year Political Science, American Studies, and History student at Woodsworth College.


Why we should all try to be a little more like Sam Oosterhoff

Re: “Progressive Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff speaks at UTSC round table on youth, politics”

ABHYA ADLAKHA/THE VARSITY

Sam Oosterhoff is the youngest MPP to have ever been elected. In his recent visit to UTSC, he attended an event with the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association, in which he discussed the importance of youth engagement with government.

A lot of young people have a flippant approach to politics. In this new technological era, there’s a sudden shift of importance. While there are still students interested in the governance of this country, too many youth simply don’t care because ‘it’s all politics.’ Some claim that we should ‘leave it to politicians.’ But politicians are just normal people with fancy titles and big vocabularies.

As a young person, I can’t stress the importance of student involvement in politics enough. It’s tiring to see most policymakers as extremely educated, older people. Those politicians convince young people you must have a Harvard education to be considered reputable. Therefore, it is inspiring to have a 21-year-old MPP in power representing Niagara West—Glanbrook.

Oosterhoff was just a kid with a passion for politics and a desire to make a difference. He took his ideas and found a platform to promote them. In his discussion with UTSC students, he talked about those who thought he would “trip over his shoelaces” and “fall flat on his face.”

What those people don’t understand is that a powerful voice comes from within; it is not mined from a good pedigree or numerous accolades. A person’s voice cannot be stifled by their age or lack of experience. Oosterhoff proves that anyone can contribute to the politics of this country. ​There aren’t enough youth engaged in political discussion.​ Everyone should aim to contribute in their own way, and let’s start with the students at U of T.

Grace Meany is a third-year English, Political Science, and Professional Writing & Communications student at UTM.

Comment in Briefs: Week of November 19

A student reacts to the APSS gun violence panel and delayed A&S exam schedule release

Comment in Briefs: Week of November 19

To address violence, we need to build an inclusive future

Re: “Association of Political Science Students hosts panel on gun violence in Toronto”

The recent panel, organized by the Association of Political Science Students, brought different perspectives and experiences for a much-needed conversation about the record levels of gun violence plaguing Toronto.

Despite much agreement between panelists, especially on the fact that policing alone isn’t a sufficient response, potential solutions remain open for debate.

What’s really needed is an approach beyond addressing gun violence symptomatically. There should be more commitment toward understanding and supporting communities most affected by it if there’s to be any hope for building bridges and restoring trust.

Disadvantageous socioeconomic conditions and opportunity gaps present significant challenges for communities and contribute to the marginalization of individuals to the perimeter of society. This is where the most vulnerable are at risk of falling over the edge. Also unhelpful are cuts to social programming and gaps in program accessibility. These issues require remedies that go beyond mere band-aid approaches to resolve because, frankly, these problems are not self-resolving.

Social programming is a long-term initiative that isn’t the domain or initiative of any one government’s term of office. It requires a greater societal commitment toward building a more inclusive future that encourages the participation and contributions of all its members.

This includes the Toronto Police Services (TPS). According to its mission statement, the TPS are committed to reflecting and growing because they don’t have all the answers. Therefore to seek and act on input from the communities they serve means acknowledging and learning from their mistakes and successes.

In order for the TPS to fulfil its greatest potential for the benefit of all society, it’s necessary that it listens to the voices of those whom it’s sworn to serve and protect.


Short-sightedness or their own worst enemy? 

 Re: “Arts & Science exam schedule takes longer to complete due to large size, unclear central planning body”

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

It seems that a lack of central administration is undermining U of T’s reliability to efficiently provide students with a final exam timetable, a problem seemingly unique to U of T.

While the process and combinatorial problem underlying the dynamic nature of scheduling exams intends to minimize student conflicts and is difficult and undoubtedly complex, I question whether the university’s excuses are really just a deferral of responsibility.

The university didn’t suddenly find itself underprepared to deal with larger attendance, since, after all, it promoted and oversaw the implementation of policies for its expansion. Is the university’s administration a victim of its own short-sightedness, or is it its own worst enemy because it plans for exponential and unsustainable growth?

I believe that the university, in lieu of hiring a central staff for this process to avoid overburdening its current staff, should stand to benefit by reaching out to more counsel and demand solutions to alleviate its administerial woes.

Otherwise, it should feel encouraged to get creative and, while not overextending itself, could ask faculty to chunk large courses and provide students with a variety of date and time options by making different exams for different sections of the same courses. This would allow students themselves to avoid conflicts by selecting between available sections. This is, perhaps, a better way that administration might defer responsibility and is surely better than delegation without a central command.

I once heard a common problem troubling many leaders likened to the problem a carriage might face when its ten horses are all travelling in different directions. Perhaps that’s the real issue underlying the administration’s difficulties with scheduling exams.

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.

Comment in Briefs: Week of October 29

Students react to the Munk Debate protests, the minimum wage freeze, Toronto’s global cityhood, and UTM vending machines

Comment in Briefs: Week of October 29

Free speech emerged victorious

 Re: “Arrests, violence at protest against Munk Debate hosting Steve Bannon”

Violence is the state’s last resort, and was, unfortunately, necessary to maintain order outside of the recent Munk Debate. While peaceful protest is permitted, the demeanour of some protestors quickly exceeded the boundaries of legal conduct. This made the police’s response appropriate.

Nonetheless, the entire event — both inside and outside of Roy Thompson Hall — was a microcosm of liberal democracy, with free speech emerging victorious. The debaters presented their convictions, while those outside exercised their rights to oppose them. No party was restricted. The expression of such contrasts is a positive sign of diversity and contributes to intellectual discourse, where citizens hear all opinions and make holistic decisions thereafter.

However, the cold wasn’t the only bitter presence that evening. Individuals ought to be civilised while exercising their rights. For some protesters — especially those shrieking at queued guests and using four-letter epithets — this was certainly not the case. These individuals seemed to be more bent on suppressing Bannon’s speech than merely opposing it.

This behaviour was fundamentally illiberal, given liberalism’s elevation of individual rights above all else. It speaks to an alarming trend of constitutional speech being contemporarily subordinated to subjective feelings and emotions, which have no basis in law.

Consider how students across college campuses demand ‘safe spaces’ for restricted speech — which is rather contrary to universities’ objectives of holistic education embracing diverse perspectives. These demands are made under the guise of ‘political correctness,’ with the definition of ‘correct’ favouring the liberal left more often than not.

Mick Hume rightly said that “there is no right not to be offended.” In a democracy, the definition of ‘correct’ speech is ultimately in the Constitution, given the subjectivity of morality. As such, Bannon’s speech was neither incorrect nor suppressible, and deserved a fair hearing.

To listen and disagree with civility is crucial, for the opposite furthers polarization, which prevents cooperation and breeds further suppression in a vicious cycle. While protesters were justified to oppose, they ought to have done so in line with liberal democracy’s code. Only then, perhaps, will society be improved.

Arjun Singh is a first-year Political Science student at New College.


The minimum wage freeze isn’t the end of the world

Re: “Provincial government to repeal Bill 148, targeting minimum wage, workplace legislation”

Labour group protests repeal of workplace legislation at Queen’s Park. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

When the previous government announced that it would raise the minimum wage a couple of years ago, I thought it would be a great idea. I was working at a small, privately-owned fast food franchise at the time, and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to buy that Big Mac combo for 50 per cent, rather than 90 per cent, of my hourly wage.

But what a lot of people missed was the fact that the second that wage went up, so did the price of everything else — sometimes to absurd levels. The franchise I was working at was overwhelmed almost immediately by the newly rising wages, and within mere weeks I found plenty of employees cut off the payroll.

Some friends of mine didn’t have the luxury of seeing their hours cut. Their Christmas gift was a layoff, not a healthier paycheck. Suddenly, we had fewer employees, dealing with the same rush.

And that Big Mac combo? Within a week, it wasn’t only back to 90 per cent, but in some cases, rose to the full weight of that newly raised check.

So, I am not necessarily upset over the freeze of the minimum wage at $14 an hour. Yes, it definitely helped pay some bills — car insurance isn’t necessarily dependent on wages — but it didn’t have the impact that some wished for. Within a couple of months, a few of my neighbourhood pharmacies and eateries had to close their doors, being overrun with costs.

Don’t get me wrong, as life gets more expensive, the minimum wage does need to go up. And in my opinion, $11.40 an hour was definitely too little. But, the sudden jump to $14 an hour was problematic and instead, a better balance of wages to inflation is necessary. The big jump is done. From next year onwards, we’ll hopefully see it grow organically.

Arik Portnov is a first-year Political Science student at Trinity College.


Making Toronto an inclusive global city is tough, but vital

Re: “‘Global City for Who?’ event addresses inclusivity in world’s top cities”

Toronto Star reporter Sara Mojtehedzadeh moderated a discussion on inequality. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

If you have been tuning into talk in Toronto for the past few years, you know that breaking into the housing and job markets has proven notoriously difficult. In a panel held by U of T’s Geography and Planning department, Hashi Mohamed and Kofi Hope discussed strategies of ensuring that cities remain inclusive and accessible to all of their residents as they grow globally.

The divides seen in Toronto and many other cities highlight the fallacy of the ‘North American’ dream: the barriers present in our so called ‘global cities’ make it unfairly difficult for disenfranchised individuals to achieve their goals.

The class divides that make cities inaccessible then feed into racial and ethnic divides, which leads to the troubling segregation trends we see developing in Toronto. This creates a vicious cycle in which class divides are both the cause and consequence of ethnic division.

As Hope pointed out during the talk, “equity and inclusion” for everyone is the first step in making global cities inclusive for all residents. For Toronto, where nearly half of the residents were born outside of Canada, making an accessible global city is vital. Equity and inclusion may perhaps seem like too abstract a solution for such a pressing issue, but there is no quick and easy fix.

By taking steps in every aspect of city living to promote equity and inclusion, starting from education and going into corporate practices, Toronto can ensure that it is accessible to all.

Ori Gilboa is a first-year Humanities student at Victoria College.


We need better student health, not profit-driven vending machines

 Re: “Four new branded vending machines added at UTM since summer”

A UTM spokesperson said the new vending machines have built-in anti-theft features. ZEAHAA REHMAN/THE VARSITY

In light of prolonged on-campus hours, UTM installed four new branded vending machines this past summer. Regardless of the good intentions behind the new vending machines, these additions evade legitimate changes to a troubling phenomenon in student life. Namely, overworked students are unable to afford themselves the time to meet their own needs, mental or physical.

In an expansion of what an administrator called “a second tier of products,” more luxury items have been introduced than legitimate necessities. Machines intended to replace campus food services for late nights and weekends aren’t focused on nutrition or satiating students’ diets, but rather on unnecessary specialty food items. And when it comes to school supplies, the trend continues — simple items like pens or notebooks are absent to accommodate expensive electronics.

Items like these allow students to spend money, but not to take care of themselves. Student life has become a state of personal neglect, and offerings like these do nothing to better campus quality of life. The age group most vulnerable to addiction and mental illnesses is not given adequate time to address nutrition, exercise, and sleep, all of which affect the progression of mental disorders.

Vending machines like these seek to profit from, not rectify, the unhealthy lifestyle of the student: late nights, short breaks, and long hours. Our hallways have become commercialized with metal boxes and the appeal of specialty coffees, Fitbits, and instant cameras. Instead, our university should focus on much-needed reforms to schedules and resources to help us live healthier student lives.

Ashley Manou is a first-year Humanities student at New College.

Comment in Briefs: Week of October 1

Students react to price tag for writing surfaces in Daniels Building Main Hall, UTSC Al Berry lecture, and university policy on student-professor relationships

Comment in Briefs: Week of October 1

Intentional design flaw reflects ableist ignorance

Re: “$30 price tag for writing surfaces in lecture hall stirs controversy at Architecture & Visual Studies town hall”

It is appalling and absurd that the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design (FALD) intentionally designed a lecture hall without writing surfaces. It seems like the FALD is trying to make the lives of students more difficult.

Dean Sommers asserted that the decision to exclude writing surfaces was, in part, because it provides pedagogical value by discouraging students from using their laptops during lectures. He ignores the fact that a laptop, by definition, can be used on one’s lap without a surface.

Professor Jeannie Kim seemed to reiterate this pedagogical value excuse, claiming that it is better to take notes by hand. She ignores the fact that taking notes by hand is a lot easier when there is actually a surface to write on.

The pedagogical value excuse used by the FALD is laughable, and once again exemplifies the ableism embodied in the university’s mindset. Many students struggle to keep up with the pace of lectures as it is, and not everyone is an expert at shorthand. Some students may have a disability that requires the use of a laptop. A student’s level of dependence on technology does not, and should not, reflect on their academic abilities.

Adding insult to injury, the FALD opted to sell lap desks instead of offering a rental program, showing a blatant disregard for the inequitable economic context of student life.

Ultimately, the dean chose chair stackability over the best interest of students.

Madeleine Kelly is a fifth-year Ethics, Society, and Law and Environmental Studies student at New College.


Development comes at the monumental expense of equality — and it shouldn’t

Re: “‘Development or Justice?’: Jeremy Adelman speaks at annual UTSC Al Berry lecture”

Adelman is a professor at Princeton University. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Jeremy Adelman’s recent remarks at the sixth annual Al Berry lecture are now, more than ever, essential to keep in mind. Speaking about the unequal distribution of wealth, Adelman pointed out that the current drive for international development may further divide the global community.

With increasing nativist and nationalist movements at home and abroad, Canadians must remember that to consider ourselves a nation that truly stands for equality, we must care to leave no one behind. While traditional forms of global divide, such as colonialism, have been gradually disrupted, the innate competitiveness of capitalism has quickly replaced tangible partitions with less visible ones.

The development of one group inevitably comes at the vast expense of the other. Neocolonialism, especially at the hands of international fiscal institutions, tends to put non-western countries at severe disadvantages. As Adelman describes it, development is simply a “new form of empire” that serves to divide the globe into its northern and southern hemispheres.

Reconciliation with Canada’s past must also play a part in lessening the divide. The liberal Canadian government tends to focus on the more social aspects of reconciling with our painful history of colonization. However, it seems to forget that the western model of development is not a universal one. The traditional drive for profitable trade has seen Indigenous peoples all over the globe being “excluded from their land that was made valuable to the public.” This lack of integration is seen all too well in First Nations reserves, where over 80 per cent have a median income below the poverty line.

To settle this global crisis, countries must look beyond their local interests and ensure the redistribution of wealth across and inside their borders. This work begins with education. Adelman aims “to keep the global horizons open and to teach that to students” at Princeton. U of T and other Canadian universities would do well to adopt those principles of teaching in their classrooms.

Ori Gilboa is a first-year Humanities student at Victoria College.


U of T’s current disclosure policy regarding student-professor relationships is sufficient

Re: “What are U of T’s policies on student-professor relationships?”

TIAN ZHENG/THE VARSITY

Discussion surrounding student-professor relationships has never crossed my mind, as I have always just assumed that they were not allowed at U of T or at any university. However, while examining student-professor relationships at face value may indicate inappropriateness, we do need to remember that university students are in fact adults and may choose to have a relationship with any other consenting adult.

The student-professor dynamic does spark the issue of having a conflict of interest, such as the professor giving the student an unfair advantage in comparison to the rest of their students. There are also more extreme cases that raise questions, such as the case of the UBC student who accused her professor of sexual assault. He has denied this allegation although he did admit to having an affair with said student.

Nonetheless, U of T’s current policy of requiring professors to disclose their relationship to the chair of their department seems to be sufficient without being too constrictive. Consenting adults should be able to be in relationships with whomever they choose. In cases where sexual assault come into play, investigations and punishments concerning that case should be handled appropriately. These particular cases should not be the sole influence on whether or not students may be in relationships with their professors though.

With any relationship, when sexual assault or any form of abuse occurs, it should be addressed appropriately by the authorities. As long as student-professor relationships are consensual and are disclosed, I do not find any immediate issue with the matter.

Areej Rodrigo is a fourth-year English, Professional Writing and Communications, and Theatre and Performance student at St. Michael’s College.

Comment in Briefs: Week of September 24

Students react to ableism at test invigilator training sessions and law professors’ opposition to Ford’s notwithstanding clause

Comment in Briefs: Week of September 24

Our education system needs to do better for disabled students 

Re: “‘Ableist and discriminatory content’ described at training sessions for test invigilators”

The recent revelations coming out of Test & Exam Services (TES) are genuinely frightening for the many students who depend on TES and Accessibility Services for essential academic functions. TES has demonstrated an astonishing lack of care for the student population for which they are supposed to provide. This lack of care seems to be part of a larger, just-as-foreboding trend, which treats students like numbers, or ‘customers,’ rather than essential participants in an ever-changing institution.

While this trend may seem benign to many ‘abled’ students, it is destined to hit disabled students particularly hard. The idea that students are simply customers of a business produces a dangerous drive to optimize student results, particularly quantifiable, academic ones. Of course, this is never a good idea, and goes directly against the premise of modern higher education, but it is especially harmful to students who do not fit an optimizable academic ‘mold’ — namely disabled students.

The content present in the TES employee training material demonstrates a disturbing lack of understanding of disabled students’ basic needs. They ignore the scientifically-validated truth that many disabled students are capable of exemplary academic function with the right tools. Focusing on correcting ‘problematic’ behaviour indeed, focusing on this behaviour at all, rather than the environment that brings it about is dismissive of the truth that disabled students live every day.

Our education system should not be leaving disabled students behind. It should be finding more holistic ways to include them. Whether or not the individuals behind the TES training intended to focus on behaviour rather than identity, their approach is wrong from a human rights standpoint. The focus on optimizing behaviour rather than understanding it is cruel and will only leave deserving students behind.

As a student registered as disabled, I have used TES many times. My life at university would be much worse without them. The invigilators at TES have always been nothing but kind and understanding. They have always catered to my needs and the needs of those around me. But our understanding of the needs of disabled students must continue to grow as the education system becomes more humane and interdisciplinary.

If the repressive and discriminatory environment at TES continues to exist, these invigilators will not be able to provide for disabled students, and a large, deserving population of students will be left in the dark.

Arjun Kaul is a fifth-year Neuroscience student at St. Michael’s College.


Ford should heed the advice of U of T law professors

Re: “U of T law professor pens open letter against Ford’s threat to use notwithstanding clause”

The letter was written primarily by U of T law professor Brenda Cossman. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Over 80 Ontario law professors have signed an open letter directed at Premier Doug Ford’s threat to invoke section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms, also known as the notwithstanding clause, in order to pass legislation that would cut the size of Toronto’s city council in half.

The legislature’s ability to waive sections of the Charter without explanation is unnerving, and as such should only be considered when all other avenues have been exhausted. The purpose and power of the Charter would be undermined if section 33 was invoked any time a Premier was frustrated with the limitations it imposes. Ford’s actions reflect a troubling view that the Charter is simply a set of suggestions that can be overruled when desired. However, the role of the judiciary is to be a non-partisan actor and to make sure that legislation is in line with the rights and freedoms granted in the Charter.

The letter warns that if such a role is to be challenged, it could lead us down a slippery slope further and further away from Canada’s democratic principles. While the notwithstanding clause exists in writing, it should not be used in practice without careful consideration. If the rights granted to Canadians can be so easily thrown away, what point do they serve?

Yasaman Mohaddes is a fourth-year Political Science and Sociology student at St. Michael’s College.

Comment in Briefs: Week of September 17

Students react to derogatory language at SMC, tensions at the UTSU board meeting, food quality at UTSC, and the School of Cities Alliance in India

Comment in Briefs: Week of September 17

What happened at St. Michael’s College is systemic, not isolated

Re: “St. Michael’s College registrarial assistant has history of derogatory posts on social media”  

The recent discovery of the derogatory language used by St. Michael’s College (SMC) registrarial assistant Philip Hicks-Malloy’s social media may point to a larger, more systemic issue regarding inclusion at the college. As many will remember, this is not the first time SMC representatives have made insensitive comments with regard to minorities.

Consider the Snapchat videos posted by SMC Student Union executives that included Islamophobic comments back in 2016. Then-SMC president and vice-chancellor David Mulroney responded, “Be sure that your use of social media doesn’t hurt the people that you serve and doesn’t hurt the institution that you serve.” However, it appears that these lessons were not taken to heart by SMC staff.

The fact that these derogatory posts were made on social media belonging to Hicks-Malloy, an individual who has worked at SMC for over 29 years leaves me, yet again, terribly disappointed as an SMC student.

Mulroney’s comment on the Hicks-Malloy case that, “The University of St. Michael’s College deplores any use of language that fails to acknowledge the dignity, respect and worth of every person and that is inconsistent with the values of the University, which are rooted in the Gospel,” appear half-hearted. SMC has been opaque on what measures have been taken to hold Hicks-Malloy accountable for his claims.

His social media is shown to be supporting white nationalist groups and asking his followers to “boycott” brands that offer halal options, which he labels a “symbol of treason.” As a Muslim-identifying woman, these comments, while discomforting, do not surprise me. During my four years at U of T, it appears to me as though SMC has been in one controversy after another, all pointing towards a lack of inclusivity being present at the college.

More work should be done by the college to demonstrate that it is here to represent all of its students. Press statements or apologies are no longer satisfactory in explaining the actions of these individuals who are supposed to represent mine and my fellow students’ interests.

Yasaman Mohaddes is a fourth-year Political Science and Sociology student at St. Michael’s College.


The SCSU needs to do better with food quality

Re: “Scarborough student union apologizes for food quality issue at frosh”

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

The “food quality issue” during the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) three-day orientation, in which what appeared to be an insect was found in a first-year student’s meal, yet again raises the question: does the SCSU lack attention when it comes to food?

In this case, the issue was evidently the responsibility of the food vendor’s supplier. Nonetheless, there should be extra scrutiny toward SCSU’s oversight for next year’s orientation week.

Unfortunately, food quality as an issue at UTSC is not a first. There was another case of poor food quality distribution last March, when a UTSC student found an insect in her meal from Asian Gourmet, located in the UTSC Student Centre. The incident at this year’s frosh week will only increase distrust in the SCSU’s food quality maintenance.

Food quality is paramount to students’ health, especially those who pay costly student fees for not only an exceptional education, but also campus services that are supposed to attend to their basic needs. In the defence of the SCSU, food vendors in the UTSC campus that operate in the Student Centre are licensed in separate agreements, in which the SCSU is merely the landlord. However, the SCSU and their Food Partnership Department must act to ensure that food safety does not raise concerns for the university community.

It seems that atonement for the issue has already occurred, with the SCSU saying that administrators will attend Food Handling courses for future events.  Let’s hope that this is enough to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Michael Phoon is a second-year Journalism student at UTSC.


UTSU members should act more responsibly when addressing issues with each other

 Re: “Tensions abound at September UTSU board meeting”

ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has — as mentioned on its website — the responsibility for advocacy on behalf of the student voice and service provision, and both of these objectives seem to be missing in its recent discussions.

At the most recent board meeting, there were plenty of accusations that reflected a lack of organization and communication. Board members referring to others as “liars” or indulging in arguments due to a lack of communication is an inappropriate representation of the role of the UTSU, damaging the image of the student union and putting into question the sincerity of executives and directors in their roles as our representatives.

In the future, the board members must remain attentive to the objectives of the student union and their meetings. Executives and directors should work to better communications and clarity within the organization, for students expect their representatives to work in a manner most effective for students at-large. Issues that they may have with one another should be investigated and resolved before being introduced at meetings to avoid confrontations that are unnecessary, such that meetings remain serious with regard to their objectives.

As a representative body of more than 50,000 students, the UTSU must focus on resolving issues of miscommunication and shift their attention back to addressing the needs and concerns of the student body, rather than repeatedly indulging in quarrels.

Abdul Ali is a second-year student studying Political Science and History at St. Michael’s College.


Global action benefits us all

Re: “U of T to open research centre in India as part of School of Cities Alliance”

TROY LAWRENCE/THE VARSITY

It should be anticipated that this research endeavour will come back full circle and help us back here in Canada. Many achievements have come from India, some of which sadly are underappreciated and taken for granted in our everyday lives. Take, for example, the concept of zero and its symbol, or the ingenious decimal positional notation for numbers, otherwise known as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.

Today, many problems are layered, multi-faceted, and require a multitude of different perspectives in order to confront and solve them. It is reassuring that this research initiative is in the great spirit of multidisciplinary and international collaboration. Together, we can work and help each other and dream of solving the big problems.

I hope that, from the differing scales of problems facing India and Canada, much can be learned, and new knowledge and solutions can be brought back to Canada to help alleviate the problems that Canadian cities face. Toronto faces aging infrastructure, poor urban planning, and criminally long delays in public transportation and the delivery of essential services.

We can both improve and become better together. That is the hope. Someone once told me, in exasperation and frustration with one of the problems here at our university, that in order to solve such a problem, we do not merely need a university; we need a ‘multi-versity.’

In the same spirit, I hope that this initiative is not merely seeking to bring different worlds together, but to unite the one world that we all share and call home.

Oscar Starschild is a Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.

U of T should pay heed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission

Re: “Ontario Human Rights Commission releases new policy on accessible education”

U of T should pay heed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission

While clearly the new policy on accessibility in education released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is meant to apply to all schools across Ontario, it appears as though it was in part a specific response to U of T’s Governing Council, following Governing Council’s approval of the discriminatory University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP) in May. Even if this were not the case, it certainly would not hurt Governing Council to pay attention to this new policy.

For a start, the OHRC policy itself should be a reminder for institutions like U of T as to how they should make special consideration for students with mental illness, disabilities, and other accessibility needs. It is the responsibility of the university to help, accommodate, and respectfully treat students with such needs. It is hardly respectful to focus energy and resources on forcibly removing students with mental illnesses, as is the case with the UMLAP, instead of first and foremost addressing their needs and improving the structure of treatment for such students.

The UMLAP shows us how the university views students with mental illnesses. The OHRC policy, on the other hand, shows us how universities ought to view such students, and how all students with disabilities, mental illnesses, and accessibility needs ought to be treated: respectfully, and in good faith. The OHRC policy includes things like expanding definitions of disability and reaffirming the rights of all students to achieve an education with the support of the Ontario institution of their choice.

It is not up to students to try and force themselves to fit into outdated standards and policies in sacrifice of their health, mental and physical. Instead, it is the obligation of the institution, including U of T, to support all students and meet them where they need.  The goal should be to keep everyone in, not kick them out.

Adina Heisler is a fourth-year University College student studying Women and Gender Studies and English.