Letters to the Editor: On retractions in the scientific community

Re: “The double standard of retractions”

Letters to the Editor: On retractions in the scientific community

For several years, along with many other neuroendocrine cancer patients, I have been attempting to persuade the University Health Network (UHN) and U of T to rescind their extreme punishment of Dr. Shereen Ezzat and Dr. Sylvia Asa over minor problems in a handful of hundreds of their publications. While UHN paid expensive lawyvers to defense its decision, our patient community has felt abandoned by UHN and U of T. Research in our rare and complex cancer has been terminated at UHN. Since the doctors’ teaching privileges have also been terminated, local and international doctors can no longer experience their professional expertise. Neuroendocrine cancer is now thought to be the fastest growing cancer in the world. Because of the devastating results of its decision about such minor research problems, we are left with no other conclusion than that UHN and U of T had other reasons to demand retractions, shut down their labs, and fire Asa.

— Robert Haughian, neuroendocrine cancer patient

The great value of this article is to make clear the wide range of what may cause an essay to be ‘retracted,’ from the truly dishonest and plagiaristic to the trivial and easily rectified. It seems clear that the work of Asa and Ezzat falls in the latter category, but UHN’s relentless punishment of them does give substance to other commentators’ suspicions that UHN had its own reasons for wanting them gone. Not only does the entire episode seem shameful, but it also compromises the ability of two fine doctors to continue the full care of the many patients whose lives literally depend of them.

— Frederick Asals, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Letter to the Editor: Self-interest overthrows the will of UTSC students

RE: "Scarborough Campus Students’ Union disregards AGM consensus, votes to give more money to Women’s and Trans Centre"

Letter to the Editor: Self-interest overthrows the will of UTSC students

It’s unfortunate to hear the outcome of recent actions of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and it makes students’ wonder: does the SCSU actually work and serve the students they proclaim to do, or do they simply work in a narrow field prepping the advancements of their self-interested intentions.

 

The Woman and Trans Centre at UTSC do a substantial effort to push their cause forward. I have no questions or comments in regards to their efforts and these comments are in no way of target to their dedication and assistance to make a conference happen. However, at the recent SCSU Annual General Meeting (AGM), the failure of their proposed motion requesting $7,000.00 was a consensus decision made by students— not because of their cause, not because of anyone’s bias, but instead, simply because of an unrealistic amount being asked for. The will of the members was to donate $2,500, which the members agreed upon by way of amendment and voting.

 

Why is it so that self-interested individuals are able to over-throw the will of the members? At the November 27​ ​meeting, that’s exactly what happened, with Director of Political Science Raymond Dang proposing a motion to donate a further $4,500 to the Woman and Trans Centre notwithstanding and, furthermore, not respecting the democratic process that took place at the AGM. Let’s not forget Leon Tsai, Director of Historical & Cultural Studies, who has direct influence on the organization of this conference. Tsai is listed as the External Coordinator for the Woman and Trans Centre on the U-life Website. Tsai is apparently part of the organizing committee toward which the funding is going — can someone smell conflict of interest?

 

Director of Political Science Raymond Dang and each and every one of the SCSU Board Members who voted in favour of this passed motion considered their self-interested intentions over their members’ — putting disregard to the members who put them in office and an evident uncaring attitude to those who voted at the AGM to not have this motion in its original stance.

 

These are the elected officials sitting in the SCSU. My comments are not for them all, but, instead, for the slim majority who voted in favour at a meeting, away from the general public, and against the resolution formed at the AGM.

 

Where is the accountability and transparency? There isn’t any. There will never be any — not if the union continues to neglect their members and their voices.

 

— Sarkis Kidanian

Letter to the Editor: The Varsity broke an agreement at the UTGSU AGM

Re: "Graduate Students’ Union’s failed AGM puts organization at risk of financial default"

Letter to the Editor: <em>The Varsity</em> broke an agreement at the UTGSU AGM

As members of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) and department council representatives, we were disappointed by the decision of The Varsity to live tweet during the recent annual general meeting and general council meeting on December 3.

We think it is commendable that The Varsity is covering these meetings. We are supporters of the free press, and we think that The Varsity’s journalism has the potential to make an important contribution to the UTGSU by making the meeting proceedings more accessible and helping to hold our leadership accountable.

However, while we think it is a positive thing to have journalists present at these meetings, the meetings are for members of the union, and it is fully within the rights of the union to ask for conditions on their participation. Asking for prohibitions on certain types of media or requiring the chair’s discretion to be seated are not uncommon procedures.  

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM), the chair used his discretion to seat the Varsity journalists under the condition that they would not record audio, take pictures, or live tweet the meeting. This was stated publicly to the entire room. During the general council meeting that followed the AGM, council was made aware that The Varsity had been live tweeting during the entire AGM, and they were asked to leave by the chair.

We don’t fully understand why The Varsity chose to live tweet during the AGM, but in doing so The Varsity violated a publicly stated agreement. Being asked to leave was a direct consequence of the decision of The Varsity to disregard their agreement with the membership present in the room.

Readers of this letter may believe that the journalists should live tweet these meetings — we agree, and think it’s something that should be discussed in the future. At this meeting, however, the publicly stated agreement was that live tweeting should not take place, and The Varsity disregarded this. This type of blatant disregard for the will of UTGSU members fosters an atmosphere of distrust between members and The Varsity.

We hope that The Varsity covers future meetings. We think that this benefits the UTGSU and strengthens a democratic institution. However, whatever agreements are put in place need to be clearly communicated in advance to everyone in the room and then subsequently upheld.

Sincerely,

Robert Fajber, UTGSU member and council representative for the Physics Department

Anna Cwikla, UTGSU member and council representative for the Department for the Study of Religion

Aris Spourdalakis, UTGSU member and council representative for the Physics Department

Lisa Labine, UTGSU member and council representative for Graduate Student Association Scarborough (GSAS)

Qusai Hassan, UTGSU member President of GSAS and council representative

McKinzey Manes, UTGSU member and Faculty Council Representative for the Master of Information Student Council

Charlie White, UTGSU member and council representative for the Graduate Environmental Students’ Association

Planet, not profit

The university cannot waste any more time — it must divest from fossil fuels

Planet, not profit

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, raising serious concerns about the future habitability of our planet. The release of this report and the subsequent attention it received in the media and among world leaders has galvanized public awareness of anthropogenic climate change, and focused attention on the main culprits — fossil fuel companies.

The National Climate Assessment, a report published by 13 US federal agencies, concluded that the increasing severity of hurricanes and other weather events could cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars a year by the end of the century. On top of that, this year’s United Nations climate change conference, COP24, starts this Monday, December 3, with countries coming together to show how they plan to adhere to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The serious and sudden panic about climate change is warranted. It is not an exaggeration to say that climate change is an existential threat to our species and our planet.

Decisive inaction

U of T students are directly linked to the problem: our tuition is invested in fossil fuel companies.

In 2012, UofT350 was established to lobby the university to divest funds from those companies. Thanks to the activism of this group, in cooperation with students and faculty, the Governing Council convened an ad hoc committee to determine whether the university should divest.

In 2015, the committee returned a pro-divestment verdict. UofT350 had argued that the university could present itself as a leader among other Canadian universities and in the broader movement to fight climate change.

Instead, President Meric Gertler rejected the committee’s recommendation, penning a report titled “Beyond Divestment: Taking Decisive Action on Climate Change.” The actions the university proposed in that report pale in comparison to the contribution that divestment would’ve made.

When I participated in rallies for the UofT350 campaign, I was heartened by the dedication of those who showed up, but disappointed that more did not share that commitment. In an institution of over 90,000 students, a rally of a couple hundred makes climate activism on campus seem insignificant.

After all, if only a small minority of students show up for a protest, the university might feel justified in not listening. As it turns out, it didn’t matter that the university didn’t listen; the larger student body didn’t even know that UofT350 lost its campaign.

In the words of Andrea Budgey, Chaplain of Trinity College and climate activist, U of T is “obliged to a lot of corporate supporters on a lot of fronts and I think that often hampers movement.” The university is a conservative institution. It doesn’t like change.

That much is evident from the campaign to get the university to divest from apartheid South Africa decades ago. U of T held onto its investments there until it was the last university in Canada to divest. We as students have to hold the university to account for its almost obscene reluctance to change its ways.

A kind of consolation prize

Nonetheless, the university did some good when it created a committee to implement the initiatives it set down in its report.

I spoke to Professor John Robinson, the Presidential Advisor on Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability. One of these initiatives is to undertake six building projects across U of T to create “test beds” of sustainability, Robinson said. “We are going to treat each of them as a living lab,” he said, in order to “figure out how students can get involved in studying, or contributing to the retrofit.”

Another goal of the committee is to implement curricular changes incentivizing involvement in sustainability groups, and enrolling in certain courses, with tiered roles such as “sustainability citizen,” “sustainability scholar,” and “sustainability leader,” based off of a student’s involvement in environmental initiatives on campus.

U of T made concessions to activists by creating initiatives that distracted from its involvement with companies that actively contribute to climate change. While increased funding for climate research seems like a good thing, it fosters complacency about the university’s role in climate activism, and precludes real action.

Nonetheless, the programs the university seeks to introduce will likely increase student awareness and engagement with sustainability issues.

Speaking to Robinson, it was evident that these projects were very much in their beginning stages. It may take years before the report’s initiatives are fully implemented.

Cash for carbon

In July of this year, the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) published its first Carbon Footprint Report. It estimates that, as of September 2017, U of T’s investments are responsible for around 570,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, mostly in Asian industries.

China is responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s emissions, and a large portion of that is through coal. The report suggests that U of T is investing in the world’s worst emitters, a stark contrast to its rhetoric about promoting green technologies.

For reference, U of T’s entire downtown campus produced 92,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2015. This discrepancy may be why the administration is so willing to make changes on campus, rather than in its investments. The initiatives laid out in “Beyond Divestment” cost the university very little, and help much less than divestment.

UTAM currently manages almost $10 billion, and the money explicitly allotted to sustainable practices by the president’s report totals $3.25 million. Robinson’s committee has good intentions, but the university itself has been undoubtedly more cynical in terms of how it advertised its decision.

The “Beyond Divestment” report states, “We have embraced the spirit and followed the logic of the [ad hoc] Committee’s recommendations, while taking what we believe to be a broader — and ultimately, even more impactful — approach to the question of investment and fossil fuels.”

That approach is to evaluate the worthiness of investments based on environmental, social, and governance factors. While this seems an appealing, if vague, concept, it gives the university a get-out-of-jail-free card. Gertler’s report states that this approach is “consistent with the Committee’s recommendation in favour of… divestment.”

The Carbon Footprint Report indicates that this isn’t quite true. “It may take many years before conclusions can be drawn” from the initial carbon emissions estimates. If that’s the case, U of T could be far from divestment.

The climate of climate activism

In the wake of Gertler’s 2016 report, UofT350 encouraged alumni not to donate to the university, as a protest of the President’s decision. UofT350 then fizzled out, with its last Facebook update in October of the same year. Since then, climate activism on campus has been nearly nonexistent.

The only comparable movement is LeapUofT, founded in the fall of 2016. It bases itself on the principles of the Leap Manifesto, a Canada-wide movement that advocates for “a Canada based on caring for each other and the planet, moving swiftly to a post-carbon future, upholding Indigenous rights, and pursuing economic justice for all.”

LeapUofT lobbies for divestment from fossil fuel companies at the university’s three federated colleges: the University of St. Michael’s College, the University of Trinity College, and Victoria University. Clement Cheng, a member of the organization, spoke about what the group hopes to achieve through its advocacy. “Hopefully, one or all three of these colleges… can demonstrate true leadership on climate change and that they actually are looking out for the students.”

So far, LeapUofT hasn’t attracted as much student participation as UofT350 did, partly because it isn’t a branch of the multinational climate advocacy group that is 350.org. LeapUofT faces challenges in its lack of exposure and the fact that its lobbying efforts are still in their infancy.

LeapUofT leader Julia DaSilva reflected, “We’re still growing as a campaign, so there are a lot of students who aren’t aware of our existence, but considering where we were a year ago… I think we’ve done pretty well.”

Student activists have limited their ambitions considerably since “Beyond Divestment,” focusing on sustainable practices within their own colleges. Some activists on campus think only in terms of stopping things from getting worse. This is an unhelpful approach to climate activism. It is imperative for activists to push institutions towards tangible change, rather than letting them get the better of us.

People power

On divestment, Robinson noted, “I think it’s inevitable, ultimately, the whole issue is… time is passing. The consequences are getting closer.” The university’s efforts pursuant to its 2016 initiatives are still largely unknown to the student community, and sustainability groups consequently have low participation.

The IPCC report is a golden opportunity for the 66 student groups identified by Robinson’s committee to reach out to students — to become agents of change, effectively represent students, and challenge the university’s reticence on climate change. After all, as Robinson said, “Students often don’t realize how much influence they have on the university.” The opportunity has passed for U of T and its administration to be leaders in the fight against climate change. Now leadership must come from the students.

There are inherent problems with advocating for widespread public engagement with climate change. I have the privilege of writing this article and dedicating some of my time to climate activism. Many students do not have that luxury, whether it is because of the nature of their program, personal life, involvement in other groups, or employment.

But if you have a moment to spare, stand with climate activists and let them know they’re not alone. As DaSilva stated clearly, “We have a moral obligation… to challenge injustice, and the climate crisis is fundamentally a justice issue.”

Our university has a responsibility to ensure the welfare of its students. Investing in fossil fuels and polluting our environment is an abdication of that responsibility.

William Cuddy is a fifth-year Political Science and History student at Victoria College.

The recent UTMSU salary raise is justified

While criticizing student unions is easy, we should acknowledge the work they do and get more involved ourselves

The recent UTMSU salary raise is justified

Last month, the motion to increase the salaries of the executive members of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) from $28,500 to $31,600 was passed. This is in accordance with the UTMSU’s Operation Policy, which states that the salaries should rise with inflation.

In 2016, Western University’s student newspaper The Gazette, the University of British Columbia’s The Ubyssey, and The Varsity compared student executive salaries across Canada. The University of Waterloo Federation of Students came first on the list, with an executive salary of $46,532. Despite having the largest undergraduate student population of all six Canadian universities compared, the University of Toronto Students’ Union was fourth to last on the list, with an executive salary of $30,060.92 at the time.

Some people have expressed discontent at the UTMSU salary increase, saying that it is unjustified due to the campus’ smaller size. UTM has a comparatively smaller student population than most, at 14,190 undergraduate students for the current academic year. However, the University of Saskatchewan has a student population of around 17,000, and their student union executives have salaries of over $40,000.

Student unions at U of T lag behind when it comes to remuneration. Regardless of student body size, there should not be significant differences between student union wages. Student union executives work full-time, with similar fundamental responsibilities as other student unions. As such, they should be paid the same for their time.

A common complaint among UTM students is that the union does not do enough for them. While this is a valid concern, it is important for students to realize that the result of student union advocacy is not always immediately seen. Policy changes can take years, and the student union will go back and forth with the university to implement such changes.

A recent example is the course retake policy that was passed at UTM. Under this policy, students can retake a course and have the second attempt included in CGPA calculations. This is clearly a big win for the student body, providing numerous advantages for current and future students. The retake policy had been in the works for years, and reflects the zealous attempts of not just the current executives, but past executive teams as well.

Additionally, benefits that students already possess, such as the U-Pass and the Credit/No Credit policy, have also been the result of what must have been gruelling efforts on the part of the student union. Personally, I cannot imagine university life without the aid of the U-Pass, which allows me to travel anywhere in Mississauga.

Student unions also have the responsibility of ensuring that they are actually representing the needs of the student body. The UTMSU has been criticized for not considering student opinions or not having the right priorities. It should therefore ensure that it can effectively communicate with the student body in order to fully represent it. Students should be given platforms for expressing their opinions on what issues are important to them. Similarly, students need to be more proactive if they have opinions.

Complaining about the student union does not mean anything unless students are willing to become involved themselves, and bring important issues to light. I have seen plenty of students who are not even aware of issues happening on campus, let alone involved in them. But student involvement is essential for any kind of change. While the student union could put change into action, it is the students themselves who need to recognize their role in facilitating it.

Student unions play an important role in the university: they organize, represent, and advocate for a diverse student population. While there is plenty of debate to be had around improving their role, there is no question that their work matters — and they should be paid fairly for it.

Sharmeen Abedi is a fourth-year Criminology, Sociology, and English student at UTM. She is The Varsity’s UTM Affairs Columnist.

Decolonizing by the pen and tongue

Language representation in postsecondary education must prioritize Indigenous peoples

Decolonizing by the pen and tongue

Two weeks ago, public indignation followed the provincial government’s announcement that it would not be following through on plans to fund a French-language university.

Critics of this decision are understandably angered by the government’s lack of accountability towards the needs of the approximately 600,000 Franco-Ontarians, who would have been significantly empowered by an entirely Francophone educational institution.

However, if the core of the criticism is that linguistic groups should be adequately represented and empowered in postsecondary education, then the Francophone community is only one of many minorities in Ontario.

In fact, Francophones are outnumbered: over 600,000 Ontarians speak a Chinese language — such as Mandarin or Cantonese — as a mother tongue. There are also sizable Italian- and Punjabi-speaking communities. Yet there is no clamour to open postsecondary institutions based on these languages.

In reality, the necessity of upholding French as a unique language in Canada is grounded not as much in demographic representation as it is in a colonial mentality. French is thought to hold a rightful place in the nation because of the intertwined history of the language and the country.

But if we are upholding the integrality of French for historical reasons, then this justification should be extended to certain other communities, namely, those that speak one of the many Indigenous languages that have existed on this land for thousands of years.

These languages, more than any others, can be said to hold a rightful place on this land. It is interesting that there is no equivalent uproar for their representation in postsecondary institutions.

Ontario is home to a rich network of six Indigenous language families: Anishinaabek, Onkwehonwe, Mushkegowuk, Lunaape, Inuktitut, and Michif. These families include over 18 different languages and dialects.

The province has made efforts to revitalize and integrate these languages in the context of postsecondary education in the last decade. A key way is through the provincial funding of several Indigenous postsecondary institutes.

Ontario is home to nine Indigenous-owned and operated postsecondary institutions that offer programs in partnership with other colleges and universities. A year ago, legislation was passed that gave these institutes the ability to independently award degrees, certificates, and diplomas without negotiating with their non-Indigenous partner schools.

This legislation is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, in line with reconciliatory aims to grant the Indigenous peoples of Ontario further autonomy over their communities and affairs, as well as power and influence over the affairs of the country in general.

But these institutes have rather small circles of impact. Combined, the nine institutions offer programs to around 4,000 students. This number pales when compared to the over two million postsecondary students in Canada. U of T alone has over 90,000 enrolled students.

Indigenous language revitalization is a critical issue. Some of the key ways the violence of colonialism inflicts itself upon Indigenous peoples are the suppression and erasure of their ways of communicating, and the replacement of their languages with those of their colonizers — whether English or French. This process was facilitated through the residential school system.

Integration of these languages in education can be an important way of acknowledging the validity and necessity of Indigenous languages, to ensure that these languages continue to be learned and passed on to future generations.

Most of us are settlers in this country and benefit from colonialism by enjoying the use of the land and its resources. As such, we have an ethical obligation to support Indigenous peoples’ efforts to revitalize and sustain their cultures and ways of life. Language itself is a key site of power and control — and by making efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages, we can help empower these communities in a major way.

For education in Indigenous languages to have a wider influence and impact, larger colleges and universities ought to expand their curriculum to be more inclusive of them. Integrating Indigenous languages within an academic context would validate these languages as legitimate and important ways of communicating. Indigenous students would also have the ability to participate in their culture within these institutions.

Moreover, integrating these languages within educational institutions could help reverse some of the erasure wrought by residential schools — Indigenous students who were not brought up with knowledge of their communities’ languages would have opportunities to reclaim them. Non-Indigenous students would also have the opportunity to learn these languages, which would widen the scope of efforts to revitalize and sustain them.

Since 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call for more programs in Indigenous languages has spurred attempts by universities to integrate these languages into their course offerings. But the selection is still sparse. The most exhaustive offerings are those from the smaller, Indigenous-run institutes, like Six Nations Polytechnic in southwest Ontario, which offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in Mohawk and Cayuga.

Other schools have been moving toward offering more courses in Indigenous languages. Queen’s University, McMaster University, and Lakehead University now all offer some courses in Indigenous languages. U of T’s Centre for Indigenous Studies offers courses in Inuktitut, Iroquoian, and Anishinaabemowin.

These selections have yet to compare to the exhaustive curriculums that these schools offer in languages like French. It can be argued that an expansive curriculum in Indigenous languages is of even greater importance, since there is no threat of French dying out. With Indigenous languages, that is a very real possibility.

As students, we can contribute to the revitalization of Indigenous languages on our own campuses. We have opportunities to take courses in an Indigenous language offered by U of T, and in that way we can make a concrete effort to spread and sustain the language.

Debates around French representation in postsecondary education illuminate that language is a locus of power and control. And while being mindful of the needs of Franco-Ontarians, we should be aware that the representation of Indigenous languages in our colleges and universities is of equal, or greater, importance.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College. She is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.

Damn the exam cram

Screw ‘term tests’ and final assignments due during the last week of class

Damn the exam cram

As we arrive in December and the semester draws to a close, U of T students are forced to grapple with the ramping up of classes, the approach of exams, and the intensification of winter.

The brutality of this time is particularly felt by students with final assignments and exams that are due during the regular class period. They have to juggle their regular class schedules, readings, and smaller assignments with huge final assignments and ‘term tests’ in the very same week. This puts an unfair amount of pressure on students to constantly perform, without being given any downtime.

The unfairness of it all

This pre-exam period practice only further renders students overworked, overwhelmed, or even hopeless, and adds to the stress and anxiety that they already feel as the exam period arrives. As mental health awareness rises, it seems contradictory to allow the practice of in-course finals or assignments while supposedly supporting students’ well-being.

There’s a reason why the exam period was established as a separate entity from the regular schedule of classes: to help mitigate the intensity of studying for final exams while trying to keep up with regular classes. While professors have a right to enjoy their Decembers, students should not have to pay for it.

Professors also have to adhere to having the final due date of all papers and term tests by the last day of class. This means that if a paper is due this late in the term, students with accommodations may not be able to implement their extra time, because the university gives professors very little freedom to grade papers once school has finished for the semester. This often results in students struggling to finish papers, while also having to start studying for their finals.

Furthermore, this practice puts students with final assignments and term tests at a significant disadvantage to their counterparts who are tested solely in the exam period. These students are given much more time to prepare, organize, and even take a break.

Are we human, or are we robots?

University is supposed to teach students how to think critically and engage with new material. Students are told that this is their chance to expand their horizons, learn more about themselves, and explore different ways of thinking.

But cramming assignments and exams in the last two weeks of November and early December teaches students to be robotic and mechanically pump out content that they know their professors want. Ultimately, they are driven by the need to produce and the mission to get a high grade.

The sheer volume of responsibilities heaped upon students inhibits the genuine learning, growth, and development that they want to derive from the classroom in the first place. While time management is a vital life skill that is developed at university, there is a difference between being responsible and being overwhelmed. Students aren’t given Time-Turners with their admission letters, and shouldn’t be expected to perform as if they had.

Grades over happiness

There is also the added pressure of taking part in extracurricular activities, maintaining a social life, and, for many, the added burden of having to focus on finances. The unspoken rhetoric that ‘if you aren’t doing everything, then you aren’t doing enough’ is heightened during the exam period and, typically, something ends up falling through the cracks. Unfortunately, it’s usually mental health.

At any university, particularly one as academically rigorous as U of T, it is difficult for students to feel as though they are excelling simply by having high grades. Therefore, they often balance feelings of inadequacy with other creative outlets. However, grades will almost always be the main focus of their university careers.

When there are term tests and papers due before the exam period begins, it is difficult for students to escape from the monotony and pressure that comes with being examined, and they therefore stop prioritizing other aspects of their lives that make them happy. After all, there is nothing more important than that A-grade.

Being kinder to students

Going forward, professors should be held to a higher standard of course organization. If professors prefer to assign a final paper instead of an exam, but they weight the paper as if it were an exam, then that paper should be due in the exam period — not during regular classes. Furthermore, if a ‘term test’ is used as a metonym for a full-year course midterm or a half-year course final, it should likewise take place in the exam period.

In other words, the expectation should be that any assignment, test, or paper that is being marked as if it were a final exam should be due when an exam would be. If one is being swapped for the other, the swap shouldn’t carry repercussions for students.

Students should also be given time to breathe between the end of classes and the beginning of the exam period. They should not be burnt out before they have sat their first final.

Grades and exams can themselves be relatively arbitrary, but they can also have a significant impact on the rest of a student’s academic career, especially in upper years. In a world where employment is increasingly precarious and undergraduate degrees seem to matter less, students are constantly worried about their futures. They should feel supported by their university, not hindered by it.

U of T prides itself on being the leading university in Canada. However, if the institution wants to maintain this high standard, it needs to start being kinder to its students. U of T students are doing their best, but they also need to be provided with a secure safety net. Unfortunately, the brand name just isn’t going to cut it.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Toward a decent, dignified masculinity

The St. Michael’s College School scandal shows that we need to shape a healthier culture for boys

Toward a decent, dignified masculinity

Content warning: discussion of sexual violence.

In mid-November, videos surfaced on social media that showed an alleged assault and sexual assault at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) — an all-boys private school just a few kilometres away from U of T. Hearing this news left me feeling physically ill. Six boys connected to the incidents have been charged, while the police continue to investigate other separate incidents. Recently, both the principal and president of the school have resigned.

The scandal compelled me to question what hazing entails, which is the common thread between all the incidents. The practice refers to the initiation of students into a group through humiliation.

Hazing and toxic masculinity

Professor Michael Atkinson of the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education describes hazing as “a physical, psychological and emotional gauntlet [that] new members of [a] group must endure to be respected as legitimate insiders.” He notes that the practice occurs regardless of the respective gender of the team, group, or club, which is usually sports-related.

While Atkinson recognizes that this behaviour is not exclusive to men, it is essentially boys and men who undertake a larger risk when performing these said “rituals,” taking it to the “proverbial next level.” I now recognize that there is a spectrum of hazing, which I believe is synonymous with society’s understanding of bullying: public shaming and degrading, abusive behaviour, and varying degrees of violence and assault.

With this in mind, I believe that now is as important a time as ever for all of us to reflect on our complacency in a culture that breeds toxic male behaviour. The notion of toxic masculinity is a controversial one, and in this context it is not meant to be a targeted, gender-oriented criticism on men. My intent is to shed light on its very real existence, as shown by the SMCS scandal.

The boys in question are trapped in their own culture of what it means to be male. Misogyny, chauvinism, vehement toxicity, and the deep-rooted subversion of ‘emotion’ facilitates a lifestyle that many young boys observe, learn, and thus embody. Internalization of such beliefs stems from something much larger than the boys who committed these horrific acts.

Institutions like SMCS must be held accountable for histories of abuse and perpetuation of hypermasculinity, enforced by implicit values that are in turn modelled by teachers. Sports is the locus of pride and glory at SMCS, and after the story broke, alumni have spoken out about their high school experiences, noting that it is not just students that exhibit cruel behaviour, but also teachers and coaches.

But whether your coach slaps you in the face at football practice or your principal withholds videos of a gang sexual assault for a few days, being a boy in high school today means staying silent, complicit, and petrified.

My heart is with the survivors of these senseless, torturous crimes. I’m sorrowful for those boys and for the persistent neglect to acknowledge men and boys as survivors of sexual violence — not just perpetrators. The media attention and panic that have ensued do not help either.

Survivors are indeed subject to shame and trauma, the psychological aftermath that has the power to debilitate or disguise itself in various ways. It creeps and seeps into anything; it does not discriminate. But even more, being a boy in this context has an added stigma.

While it is crucial that the perpetrators are held responsible for their actions, it is important to acknowledge the bigger picture here: they are products of society. It is important that we do not simply dismiss bullies as the isolated ‘bad guys,’ because that doesn’t solve the problem. Their behaviour is one that is taught, learned, and assembled by culture — and society must take some responsibility for this.

What is important to consider is that what happened at SMCS is not unique: it could happen at any educational institution, including U of T. It has simply come to public awareness now. Any institution that covertly or overtly allows or ignores signs of humiliation, torment, and verbal abuse is one that can house crimes such as the ones at SMCS. It starts with the consistent normalization and lack of questioning of truly toxic behaviour.

Moving forward

I must admit, however, that bullying cannot be eradicated entirely, for I believe it is an exploration of power dynamics expressed by and through children. But there can and must be change within our schools and homes. Temperaments and conduct must be monitored exhaustively by the gatekeepers of our youth’s success: parents, educators, and mentors.

Even more, school policy must position visible tools and resources to navigate such situations at its forefront, and this begins at the top. As U of T students, professors, and leaders, we should ask our institution what it’s doing to combat a culture of silence.

The SMCS events should act as a wake-up call to all board members and educational leaders. We need to break the stigma. We need to show that it is an act of courage to reach out for help. An anonymous voicemail service that will be implemented at SMCS is a start that other institutions should follow.

Universities and schools should also strongly enforce a zero-tolerance policy for hazing rituals and any kind of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, while also implementing clear, non-negotiable consequences for such behaviour.

Additionally, school and university boards should implement curriculum surrounding emotional literacy. Equating sensitivity with weakness is outdated and needs to be challenged. Rather, learning how to manage emotion can help youth make rational decisions.

Inhabiting a healthier culture

The fact of the matter is that I’m a student and aspiring teacher who has no formal training in the field of education yet. Although I don’t have the answers to the issues of hypermasculinity and bullying in schools, I hope that our education system invests in the work, planning, discussion, and commitment required to find solutions. When I become a teacher, I will do everything in my power to realize and inhabit a healthier culture in our schools.

The goal is show boys how to be decent, dignified men. Parents, teachers, leaders, and adults: we can do better, for the sake of our succeeding generations and our youth. Let the events at SMCS serve as a reminder to take personal responsibility for our actions, and to question the behaviour we embody or witness.

Melanie Cohen is a fourth-year Book & Media Studies, English, and Religion student at Victoria College.