February 25, 2002



The University of Toronto Varsity is the largest-circulation student newspaper in Canada. It's also, this week, a fascinating set of snapshots of how low Canadian student protest has sunk since my salad days, that I can't resist commenting on. Full disclosure: in addition to being the former editor of the Varsity in the early 90s, I currently collect a paycheque from the university, just so you know. (Warning: some articles may require free registration to read in full).

In "U of T financial report 'dishonest'", the Canadian Federation of Students tells reporter Graham Scott what to think about of U of T's latest study of its student aid situation. CFS is Canada's largest national university student lobby group, and is always after more money for need-based aid, and lower tuition rates. Obviously they're mad at the report, which paints a fairly positive picture, but Scott doesn't tell you why, instead focussing on some rather minor concerns about the methodology.

You see, the report establishes fairly conclusively that the mean student debt for U of T undergraduate students is around $7,000 Cdn. upon graduation. For years, CFS has been using the figure of an average Canadian undergraduate debt of $25,000, which they more or less seem to have pulled out of the air. Certainly their study doesn't have the rigorousness of this one, which pretty much means every press release they've sent out in those years was a lie. Oops. It's not the pot calling the kettle black... it's the pot calling the toaster off-hue, surely.

In "New student code a major threat", Kaisa Walker again uncritically quotes a leading student activist, this time the frequently arrested Elan Ohayon, who for some reason didn't bother to offer both sides of his beef:

Many students who have been disciplined or threatened with suspension or expulsion under the code, said Ohayon, "have historically been the most socially aware students on campus." During the teaching assistants' strike of 2000, Ohayon said, some members of the T.A. union bargaining committee were charged with violating the code and threatened with disciplinary action. The administration later withdrew these threats, but Ohayon claims they affected the outcome of the strike.

Sounds draconian, doesn't it? What Ohayon conveniently mention was what really happened during that strike. In fact, no teaching assistants were "charged with" anything. On one occasion, when a mob of student strikers blockaded the doors of a teaching awards presentation at Hart House, and refused to let any of the attendees leave for several hours (they wanted to confront the president, who was inside), Toronto police had to be called to get the attendees, many of them elderly friends of the profs being honoured, out safely. Afterwards, the then president said forcible confinement was not permissible free speech under the Code of Student Conduct, and that those who organized the protest should beware. (Previously, Ohayon and his friends had been told they could also run afoul of the code if they continued to vandalize the portraits of dead university presidents in the council chambers, too... some had apparently felt they were too white and male.)

That's the kind of "socially aware" hooliganism Ohayon's clique wants to protect from reprisals. As you can read from the story, their latest protest this month completely disrupted the very meeting called to pass the new student code of conduct amendments, forcing the student and staff governors to evacuate to a new location under a campus police escort. That pretty much guaranteed the new amendments would pass... and gave a taste of the mob rule that would ensue if they didn't at the same time.

Finally, student politician Mona Ahmad's letter (bottom of this page) conveys her deep sense of outrage at being at a student council meeting where another student councillor brought a case of beer to pass around. Apparently that offended her as a Muslim: she twice calls the action "racist and chauvinistic." Since there's no evidence anyone tried to force the beer down Ahmad's throat, that apparently now means it's a sin for Muslims to even be in a room with alcohol, let alone drink it. I can't say my Muslim relatives have ever mentioned that prohibition... I apologize to them all, I guess, for keeping a liquor cabinet all these years. But this sentence is still classic:

While I do not expect SAC [U of T's student council] directors to follow the traditions and faiths of other SAC directors and their constituents, I demand respect for my culture and faith and that of other students.

Thanks, Mona, for keeping your expectations of the rest of us heathens so limited. It's so nice to see a Muslim who doesn't feel forced conversions are necessary, at least for the moment, isn't it?

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM