Letter to the Editor: Accommodations absolutely should not be optional

Re: The Varsity Magazine Vol. XII No. 1 Fall 2018 Seam

Letter to the Editor: Accommodations absolutely should not be optional

I picked up a print copy of The Varsity Magazine Vol. XII No. 1 Fall 2018 Seam and wanted to express a bit of consternation about the sad irony related to the “Seemingly optional: The problem with accommodations” article at the back.

Accommodations and accessibility are indeed significant issues, and print editions should be made available using 18-point font for readers with visual impairments. The overall font throughout the magazine is painfully small, but incredibly, this particular article’s font appears to be the smallest used in the entire publication, despite the ample margins surrounding the piece!

I had difficulty figuring out how to get in touch with someone at the magazine; there are letters from the editors but no letters to the editor! I could not see any contact information in the magazine. An internet search led me to staff email addresses and the online version of the magazine, which is certainly easier to read since one can zoom in as needed.

Please consider your assumption that people will realize that there is also an online version they can access. If you are continuing with print, please consider having a large print version available.

Accommodations absolutely should not be optional; inclusion and accessibility are human rights and need to be prioritized.

Thank you for your consideration.

S. B. Barak

Letter to the Editor: Government should not interfere with the media

Re: “Scarborough Campus Students’ Union moves to control media access to meetings"

Letter to the Editor: Government should not interfere with the media

As the 2018–2019 Southam Journalism Fellows at Massey College, we would like to join those who have expressed concern about the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) decision to establish a committee that would decide which journalists are permitted to cover student union meetings.

It is a basic tenet of democratic life that governments must not have the power to decide who covers public affairs. In moving to regulate media coverage, the SCSU is following the worst impulses of government to interfere with the media’s vital role in holding public institutions to account.

What we find particularly alarming is that while the SCSU accuses campus media outlets of “reporting falsely on what the Board of Directors have done,” it will not state specifically which coverage it finds objectionable.

This leads us to worry that the SCSU objects to public scrutiny in general, and not any reporting in particular. If the SCSU has problems with the coverage it receives, it can point out errors, ask for corrections, and give more interviews to help reporters understand the SCSU’s point of view.

We support our colleagues in the student media and we join the Canadian Association of Journalists in calling on the SCSU to immediately disband its unnecessary, unjust, and undemocratic committee to regulate journalists.

Sincerely,

Amy Dempsey

Richard Goddard

Lagu Joseph Kenyi

Richard Warnica

Chris Windeyer

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

Journalism standards at the University of Toronto Varsity newspaper need some attention in this day and age of misinformation campaigns using social media. The article discusses the termination of Dr. Shereen Ezzat’s position within the University Health Network (UHN), yet Dr. Ezzat is still listed as a member of the Medical and Community Care program in the Endocrine Clinic of the Princess Margaret Hospital, an institution within the UHN. The article interviews Dr. Sylvia Asa with regards to retractions listed in the Retraction Watch database, yet publishes no interview material with anyone from Retraction Watch, nor anyone involved with the internal investigation committee. A letter to the editor by Robert Haughian discusses the UHN paying “expensive lawyers,” yet it was Drs. Asa and Ezzat who initially hired a lawyer and submitted court challenges to this academic investigation.  The UHN had no choice at that point but to engage lawyers of their own. Robert Haughian states that “research in our rare and complex cancer has been terminated at UHN,” yet the UHN’s website discusses this issue directly, clearly stating that “the NETs program continues to be an integral component of UHN’s service offerings.”  Why was no one from the Princess Margaret Hospital interviewed and quoted in coverage of this saga? A disingenuous petition drive has also been started and addressed at the UHN web page linked above.

Nowhere in The Varsity’s coverage of this saga is any discussion of harms that can happen to patients based on inappropriate research. Effective treatment strategies are delayed and inappropriate treatment suggestions offered in journal articles whose primary evidence is not scientifically solid. To continually offer defence to scientific researchers with year after year of problematic publications well-documented in a public and court-reviewed document readily available at the UHN website linked above is a disservice to patients facing such challenging diseases.

— Steven McKinney

Editor’s Note (January 9): This collection of letters has been updated to include Steven McKinney’s correspondence.

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 Women’s and Trans Centre at UTSC do a substantial effort to push its 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 Women’s and Trans Centre on Ulife. 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 its 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

Letter to the Editor: The importance of the printed word

Re: “Books in blue bins is a bad look”

Letter to the Editor: The importance of the printed word

I was very pleased and heartened to read Amelia Eaton’s recent article in the November 26 issue of The Varsity informing us of the importance of the printed word and how it must be cherished and protected. The students who rescued the books destined for recycling are to be admired and applauded.  

I also have experience with the University of Toronto’s flagrant disregard for the value of books and what they represent. As the proprietor of the Ten Editions Bookstore in the building at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue, which U of T plans to redevelop, I am well aware of the university’s lack of appreciation of books.  

I was saddened and dismayed to read Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury’s comment in a recent issue of the Annex Post that a restaurant or a coffee shop would be a more valuable asset to the university than a bookstore.  I also hope that the students’ actions will “have a profound impact, not only in saving hundreds of books, but in showing the university how important the books are to students,” in Eaton’s words.

Yours in solidarity with the preservation of the printed word,

Susan Duff
Owner, Ten Editions Bookstore

Letter to the Editor: You omitted context and misrepresented procedure

Re: “UTSU AGM 2018: Where’s the spirit of union democracy?”

Letter to the Editor: You omitted context and misrepresented procedure

I am writing to express my discomfort with your November 8 editorial, “UTSU AGM 2018: Where’s the spirit of union democracy?” The editorial omits crucial context when describing the events of the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and misrepresents several fundamental aspects of parliamentary procedure and corporate governance.

As the member who raised a point of order to ensure the meeting operated in compliance with the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA), I was not aiming to counter “the spirit of union democracy,” as implied in the editorial.

In fact, a member of the union attempted to use a quorum call to end the meeting before members could pass a motion with which he disagreed. In short, he attempted to use a procedural loophole to prevent the assembled members from making decisions they were permitted to make under the union’s governing legislation, its corporate bylaws, and its rules of order. Continuing the meeting was not anti-democratic shutting it down would have been.

The editorial also presented a number of factual inaccuracies.

First, while an AGM of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) did indeed adjourn in 2015 after losing quorum, that is not a valid procedural precedent for the UTSU’s general meetings. The SCSU is not a federally incorporated not-for-profit corporation and is not governed by the provisions of the CNCA.

Second, there is no question as to whether continuing the meeting without quorum was in order. The speaker correctly ruled that adjourning the meeting would require a motion supported by the majority of members present (rather than a quorum call from a single disaffected member). This ruling was in line with the provisions of the corporation’s governing legislation, corporate bylaws, and rules of order; there has been no serious argument to the contrary, whether at the AGM or after its adjournment.

Third, there is no question as to the validity of the motion to allow members to bring policy and bylaw changes forward at AGMs. The motion was carried by a clear majority of a general meeting of the members. While The Varsity may question the merits of the motion and debate whether passing it was the right decision, it is inappropriate to imply that the motion could in any way be considered invalid.

I hope that The Varsity’s editorial board will hold itself to a higher standard in the future.

Thank you,

Andrew Kidd

Andrew Kidd is a fourth-year Engineering Physics student. He was Speaker of the Engineering Society for the 2017–2018 academic year.

Letter to the Editor: Is our failure a sign of success?

Re: “UTSU AGM 2018: Where’s the spirit of union democracy?”

Letter to the Editor: Is our failure a sign of success?

On October 30, 2018, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the current term. I was in attendance that night, and I truly believe that the union accomplished goals that will make our campus, and our place in it better in the coming years long after we are gone.

The Varsity’s editorial talks about the progressive stance of the UTSU and how a more direct democracy could potentially be a good thing for the union in the future. However, I felt the need to clarify two issues from my perspective as a Board of Directors member.

The first issue is how the ability to submit policy is framed. In the past, the AGM has been a heated event, major reforms had been made, students were more involved in campus life, and the union had different rules. We don’t live in that era anymore, campus is thankfully not as polarized along certain student issues like online voting anymore, and we have seen reduced turnout for the AGM because of this.

I would argue that this is a good thing; it means that our union has actually listened to our membership but the drawback has been that we are no longer as engaged as a membership. The ability to submit new policy could potentially revive a student sense of being able to actually make change, instead of having to go through a long committee process filled with only “insiders.”

Critics use the example that ill-intentioned members of our community could use this as a way to hamper the union, to force us into a corner. These critics forget to mention that the items and motions for AGM must be approved by the Board of Directors, and we have a duty to protect the union and what it stands for. Yes, the “insiders” have the final say, but it is up to the students to elect good representatives too. I find the cynical view that students will take advantage of this new direction for the UTSU to harm the union very saddening, and, potentially, just plain wrong. If the membership wanted to, they could already enforce bad bylaws on the union, but so far, they have not.

The second issue, raised by the editorial, was that falling out of quorum broke the spirit of our student democracy. In a sense, I have to agree with you. When the quorum check was called, I was ready to pack up and leave, happy with the unanimous accomplishments of the night but that did not occur, and thus we continued. Falling below quorum is an issue our union needs to solve, and one that I plan on working to fix. It is a complicated issue. Having motions that are internally controversial brings out crowds, as the policy submission bylaw did at the most recent AGM. It also caused tensions in the room.

A quorum check was called in an attempt to ensure that the bylaw didn’t pass, something that I find to be also out of the spirit of democracy. Theoretically, this could happen in the future as well, should one side of a debate stage a walkout and force the AGM to adjourn early, despite a majority of students in the room being in favour of something. Just as you said that a group of friends could take over an AGM for their own agenda, they could also force an AGM to end on their own terms. These are the issues the UTSU must now play with, and we must look back at what made our meetings successful in the past, potentially adding new rules and requirements for the AGM.

This AGM proved one thing to us that we need to continue to review our bylaws to ensure that they best represent the membership. I believe that the motions we passed that night make the UTSU more democratic, not less. The motion for members to submit policy to an AGM puts more power into the hands of average, and I believe this is critical to the future of the union. To answer the editorial’s question, the spirit of our student democracy can be found again by setting up a future where our members can be involved in a more meaningful way.

To build on this future, we need to engage with our membership more effectively. Although I can only speak for myself, and the opinions in this letter are my own, I want to assure everyone that we have an amazing team working for the UTSU this year. I believe we can and will make the UTSU, and the University of Toronto, better for everyone.

Lucas Granger