What is the Purpose of our Student Union?

Published 10 March 2014 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/what-is-the-purpose-of-our-student-union/

Though universities like Trent exist principally for the education of students, as students we have little input in the governance of this institution. We relate to Trent not as sovereign subjects but as clients, people being provided a service under set conditions. There is then no student government in the proper sense, but as students, though diverse, we do have shared interests, and our student unions – for most of us, the Trent Central Student Association – exist to represent and advance those interests. As its website tells us, “the TCSA represents the interests of its members to all levels of government and university administration.”

“In addition to its advocacy and lobby efforts, the TCSA also provides a variety of services and events for its members” {emphasis my own}. The precedence of representationis key here: fundamentally, the union exists to represent us in our relations to the university administration and other stakeholders. While it may (and does) provide other services, representation is the reason for its existence. Its duty is to advocate, serve and protect the interests of the student body.

I stress this point because I believe the TCSA is failing to fulfill its cardinal purpose. It busies itself with the details of providing services and planning parties, to the point of neglecting its most fundamental role.

Students, I think we can all agree, seem to have no trouble organizing parties – so would we really want or need to pay someone to be our Party-Planner-in-Chief? Yes, social events are an integral part of any formative experience and yes, it’s perfectly reasonable that our union might play a role in facilitating those experiences and ensuring they are positive and inclusive. Would these events stop happening if the student union were to focus its attention elsewhere? Not bloody likely … and sadly, as we’ve seen repeatedly in scandals on campuses across the country, a student union’s involvement in planning or organizing these events is no guarantee they won’t be rife with racism, sexism, rape culture and all the other bigotries prevalent among the student body.

To some what I’m saying here will no doubt come across as some grumpy old fart complaining about how things ‘ain’t like they used to be.’ Fair enough, I’ll take up that role – because the state of higher education is in crisis, and it is way past time people started paying attention. WAKE UP, we’re falling; you might want to think about how you’re going to land.

In this era of ballooning tuition fees, degree inflation, endemic joblessness and a plague of unpaid internships, what I want and need from my elected representative body is a strong defense of our common interests as students; to know that if I close my eyes for a moment (or, dare I say it, the summer), someone will still be watching to ensure I don’t get fleeced by an opportunistic university administration and politicians who already know you’re unlikely to vote for them. Yeah, I’m willing to pay someone to do that – and in turn I expect them to be a counsel, witness, advocate and defender of our shared interests to the best of their ability.

I don’t feel I’m getting that from this student union. I’m glad to see they’re undertaking a ‘campaign’ against rising tuition – but the way they’ve gone about it is sorta like bringing a twig to a knife fight. If this campaign is really a priority, we should undertake it with the same enthusiasm we have for our annual epicurean parties.

I personally do not know the incoming president-to-be; I bear no ill-will toward him. Nor do I know the current president. If someone knows the whereabouts of his list of accomplishments, do tell me; it’s not for lack of trying that I’ve been unable to find any.

What I have been told of, from multiple sources, is conduct that I would consider appalling in anyone, but particularly, perversely egregious in the person elected to be the chief representative of our interests as students. I’ve heard of the TCSA – and particularly the president himself – ignoring funding requests from new student groups; denying funding to Cultural Outreach, one of the most important events of the year for many international students, and which in previous years has received strong financial support from the TCSA; childish, cliquish behaviour that has had the effect of marginalizing a racialized member of the union leadership; gross negligence and insensitivity to the interests and concerns of racialized and international students. The list of offences goes on and on, but I’d rather it be told by those more directly involved and wronged.

At a university that bears so little institutional memory – something that’s particularly true of the TCSA itself – it means little to make sweeping blanket statements like ‘Ben Perry is the most apathetic student union president in the history of this university.’ But the bar of expectations has fallen so low that I could scarcely imagine that statement not being true.

With one foot out the door, Perry has made it widely known that he flat-out doesn’t care about fulfilling the duties of the position he was elected (and is paid) to perform. I sincerely doubt that he ever really did care much about the issues I’d want my union representative to care about – but nobody bothered to even run against him. For the third consecutive year, the presidency of our student union will go uncontested and acclaimed. In fact, most of the elected positions of leadership in the student union will go unfilled this year, or have a single solitary candidate acclaimed to the position.

You don’t need to look far back to find a time when things were very different. In 2008 there were numerous people seeking the presidency and entire teams of candidates contesting all offices. Trent is not by any means an apathetic campus, contrary to what our president has been heard to say. Just this past Friday more than 50 people, most of them students, were willing to gather for a spontaneous impromptu protest march in opposition to Line 9, taking over George Street in the downtown. What conclusions are we to draw, then, from the fact that for three consecutive years the most important executive position in our student union has been passed on uncontested? Surely it means many things, but most certainly it indicates the very low regard in which we hold our student union.

This is so despite the epic victories of students in Quebec, who pay a fraction of what we pay for school yet were still able to effect a province-wide freeze on tuition increases and a seismic reorientation of the terms of debate back toward ideal of free education – as aspiration so remote from our impoverished expectations that most students don’t believe it’s even possible… despite the fact that it exists in many countries just as prosperous and developed as our own.

So, I’ve made my concerns clear: I’m sure people are wondering to themselves why I don’t do something about it. You’re right, I should … and would were I not transferring to another university. It’s easy to say the system’s broken, and just saying it doesn’t accomplish much. But the problem is clearly larger than even the herculean efforts of some outstanding individual could fully remedy.

We distrust most student office seekers for the same reason many people distrust most politicians: because we suspect their ‘desire to serve’ has more to do with narcissistic ego-gratification than any benevolent vision of what they would actually do once elected. I don’t think this is true of all student officer seekers, but it certainly seems to be true of our president. His time in office, happily soon over, was frittered away, half-heartedly pursuing a middling, do-nothing agenda with ever-diminishing scope and credibility.

At the very least, don’t ever let another student election go uncontested. Run a fucking hamster for president if nothing else, if only to at least make clear how abysmally fucked up things have become.

I’m not sure exactly how we’ll get to where Quebec is at, but we sure as hell have a long way to go. There’s going to be a lot of hard work involved – but our collective success depends upon it. So let’s get started. Let’s give a shit again about the state of our education.

Unsettling Canada: The End of Immigration as Nation-Building?

Published 25 February 2014 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/unsettling-canada-the-end-of-immigration-as-nation-building/

A sparse but lively crowd was on hand this February 6 at the Market Hall for the annual Margaret Laurence Lecture, delivered by prominent human rights lawyer Audrey Macklin on the “the end of immigration as nation-building.”

Chair of Human Rights Law at the University of Toronto, a former member of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, and an observer for Human Rights Watch at the Guantànamo Bay military tribunals, Macklin is one of Canada’s pre-eminent legal experts on immigration, citizenship, and human rights.

Slated for 7:30pm, the talk started late, even by Peterborough time standards. (For those new to the area, our fair city exists in a temporal dimension of its own, habitually 15 minutes late.) Despite an eye-catching poster promoting the talk, promotion of the event had been lacklustre, failing to even make an appearance on social media channels. However, those who were in attendance were rewarded with a piercing dissection of Canada’s transformation from a global role model for immigration’s best practices to a country that exploits economic migrants as ‘temporary foreign workers,’ while denying them the rights and protections of citizenship.

(Before continuing, I must clarify, as Macklin does, that all ‘normative countries of immigration’ – “countries that embrace and celebrate immigration as constitutive of the nation” – have been ‘settler societies’, “built on the physical and cultural dispossession of indigenous peoples.” This remains an unresolved tension underlying Macklin’s talk and its subject matter.)
Macklin outlined three features that, historically, have been characteristic of ‘normative countries of immigration’: 1) permanent immigration as an assumed trajectory; 2) the family as a constitutive unit of immigration; and 3) the facilitation of citizenship acquisition for settled migrants. She then proceeded to demonstrate that none of these conditions remain true of current policy in Canada.

Of course, certain kinds of people have always been deemed unwanted based upon racist, ethnic, religious, linguistic or ‘cultural’ grounds. However, in the 1960s and ‘70s, Canada abandoned explicitly racist proscriptions in favour of a points system, requiring prospective immigrants to demonstrate their possession of desired skills and capital. Subsequent differentiation between ‘classes’ of prospective immigrants ensured that ‘humanitarian’ migrants and the families of existing citizens were not subject to these rigorous criteria. For those who made it here – for there were quotas – naturalization was relatively easy to obtain, and citizenship was conferred automatically to those born in Canada and born to Canadians, under the principles of jus soli (law of the soil) and jus sanguinis (law of the blood).

Canada will remain, for the foreseeable future, a country of immigration, empirically speaking. That is, we will continue to admit a large number of immigrants and a large number will eventually become permanent residents. But Macklin persuasively detailed how Canada has turned away from a regime of permanent migration, and a narrative of immigration as defining the nation, and has moved toward what can best be described as a ‘guest worker’ system on the model commonly deployed in Europe. It is no longer the presumption that those who migrate to Canada for work will stay and become citizens. In fact, our immigration system is now designed to ensure that only the most skilled, educated, and/or wealthy migrants will ever be given the option to stay here permanently.

The shift toward temporary, foreign ‘guest’ workers began in 2002, with the Low Skill Pilot Project under the then-Liberal federal government. It was under the Harper government, beginning in 2006, that the program dramatically expanded to include not just skilled workers in high demand trades and professions, but also menial labour positions that would otherwise have been filled by Canada’s own under-skilled and underemployed working class.

Foreign workers have for years now been contracted en masse, under highly precarious conditions, to fill not just temporary skilled labour shortages but also companies’ routine employment needs.

Given that the managerial class (under basic capitalist economics 101) will always seek to maximize profit by extracting more labour for fewer wages, it is no surprise that businesses in nearly every industry latched onto this opportunity to drive down wages. By 2008, the number of temporary foreign workers entering the country had surpassed the number of permanent residents accepted, and this trend continues.

The patchwork system of temporary worker permit programs introduced by the Conservatives are characterized by two common features: 1) workers’ status in Canada is temporary, precarious, and insecure; and 2) much of the power of decision-making has been privatized, residing no longer with civil servants, but rather with employers, who consequently wield virtually unchecked control over their temporary foreign workers’ resident status in Canada.

A new law has been passed – the so-called ‘four year in, four year out’ rule – that will, when it comes into effect April 1, 2015, require all temporary foreign workers who have been working in Canada for four or more years to leave the country for a period of four years, after which they will be permitted to re-enter. Because arbitrary and callous proscriptions such as these are never actually effective in practice, the effect of this law will be to make thousands of workers’ presence in this country illegal effective April 1 of next year.

Many of these workers, rather than return to the countries from which they chose to migrate, typically for very compelling reasons, will instead filter into the illegal underground economy, subject at any moment to discovery and deportation. This result is so predictable that it is reasonable to ask whether the government explicitly desires to create a large class of illegal, precarious-employed foreign workers, willing to work undocumented and unprotected by labour laws because their alternative ‘legal’ choice is worse.

The consequences of these policies are catastrophic, not only for the foreign workers exploited and endangered by these laws, but also for society as a whole. In Macklin’s own words: “It corrodes the democratic character of a nation if a significant segment of the population remains on the margins of the polity, disenfranchised and voiceless.”

Watch Audrey Macklin’s Laurence Lecture in its entirety on YouTube: 2013-2014 Margaret Laurence lecture “Unsettling Canada: The End of Immigration as Nation Building?”

Prospects Dim for Telecom Shakeup in Canada

Published 27 February 2014 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/prospects-dim-for-telecom-shakeup-in-canada/

Last week was supposed to be a watershed moment for the future of telecommunications in Canada.

Currently Bell, Rogers and Telus—often referred to as the ‘Big Three’ or ‘RoBellus’—dominate the Canadian cell phone industry with a combined 94 percent market share.

But with the federal government having professed a desire to see a ‘fourth’ carrier option in every regional market, hope was running high that the imminent auction of the 700 Megahertz radio frequency spectrum would lay the foundations for the emergence of viable, competitive alternatives to the existing RoBellus triopoly.

The Big Three have been limited to each purchasing one of the four available spectrum blocks, leaving one block open reserved for other bidders.

Those hopes were dealt a serious blow when the parent company of Wind Mobile—the most successful of the new carriers created in 2008, when a large chunk of spectrum was set aside for new startups—announced its withdrawal from the current spectrum auction.

Though small regional networks from Quebec, the Maritimes, Saskatchewan and Manitoba remain among the bidders in the current auction, with Wind’s withdrawal it remains unclear whether there will be any serious bids for the fourth block of spectrum in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.

The 700Mhz spectrum, previously used for analog television, is considered the most valuable wireless frequency because of its superior ability to penetrate thick walls and underground, and to also carry over long distances with less distortion.

It is thus considered essential to any new telecom challengers looking to expand their regional cellular coverage, and equally essential to building the next generation LTE (‘long-term-evolution’) networks capable of supporting the massive data transmission required for activities like HD video streaming.

Without access to this crucial spectrum, Wind Mobile will be unable to expand its regional coverage or build a reliable LTE network.

Having announced in the latest Throne Speech their desire to encourage greater competition, or at least a fourth carrier in all regional markets, one of the central planks of the Conservative government’s ‘consumer-friendly’ platform leading into the next federal election now lies ashamble, due mostly to the Harper’s own indecisive fumbling of telecom policy and law.

From its founding Wind Mobile has always relied on foreign investors as its chief financiers, but the Conservative government has been ambivalent and conflicted in its position on foreign ownership of Canadian telecom operators.

After a multi-year drama involving the CRTC (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) in deliberations over whether foreign ownership of telecom businesses was legal in Canada, the federal government intervened at the last moment to approve Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris’ effective ownership of Wind (as its largest shareholder).

But the government has since rejected an attempt by Sawiris’ company to buy Manitoba Telecom Services’ Allstream division, citing unspecified national security concerns.

Harper has also refused to allow Wind’s current principle investor and largest shareholder, VimpelCom—headquartered in Amsterdam but primarily Russian-based and -owned—to purchase Wind outright, reportedly because of similar ‘national security’ fears.

This ambivalence toward foreign investors was cited by VimpelCom as the reason for its surprise last-minute decision to withhold the funding for Wind’s bidding in the current spectrum auction.

However, VimpelCom claims to still be interested in operating a national mobile network in Canada under less ambiguous conditions.

Meanwhile, the Harper government has aggressively courted Verizon, which operates the largest cellphone network in America, dwarfing the combined assets of Bell, Rogers, and Telus several times over.

Speculation about Verizon’s potential entry to the Canadian wireless market incited a massive publicity campaign by the Big Three, but Verizon has so far downplayed the possibility of expanding northward.

Nonetheless, the US telecom giant continues to lobby and privately negotiate with federal government officials.

Canadians’, and the Harper government’s, hopes for a fourth major carrier in Canada have now turned in desperation to Videotron.

The company is a subsidiary of the Quebecor Media empire that currently operates exclusively in Quebec, but is known to have also purchased some spectrum in southern Ontario in the 2008 auction, and is among the remaining bidders for the 700Mhz spectrum.

Only Videotron and the federal government know whether the company put down the deposit necessary to compete for spectrum in Ontario and other provinces, in addition to Quebec.

If so, the withdrawal of Wind has now given Videotron a golden opportunity to snatch up prime spectrum for cheap.

Videotron, which is also thought to be in negotiations to purchase Mobilicity, another 2008 startup, could plausibly deploy this spectrum to expand outside Quebec, presumably beginning with Ontario.

Equally if not more likely, however, is that they will purchase the spectrum now to gain leverage in future negotiations with the Big Three, or to sell or license the spectrum to other rivals – potentially including Wind.

It is possible that Canadians may still get the greater competition we’re clamouring for, but the prospects of this at the present moment seem slim.

Despite Overwhelming Public Opposition, Council Approves Bridge Over Jackson Park: But it’s Not Over Yet

Published 25 November 2013 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/despite-overwhelming-public-opposition-council-approves-bridge-over-jackson-park-but-its-not-over-yet/

Jackson Park Parkway bridge model

Co-written with Shannon LeBlanc

Another deflating battle in the 60-year saga of a debate concerning the fate of Jackson Park has been waged and lost, with Peterborough City Council voting to accept and endorse an Environmental Assessment of the proposed ‘Parkway’ road that includes a recommendation to build a massive bridge spanning over the city’s Jackson Park.

Three hundred residents were on hand for the presentation of the Parkway Corridor Environmental Assessment on November 13. More than 400 were on hand the next week, November 20, when city council met to hear public deputations from concerned citizens.

Some of the speakers included Rob Steinman of the Friends of Jackson Park group; young siblings Cameron and Kaia Douglas, whose father Jake Douglas also spoke; Mike Hendren, executive director of Kawartha Land Trust; and Ann Farquharson, a former councillor whose father was one of the councillors who originally passed the Parkway plan in the 1950s.

The most notable speakers in favour of the bridge were local artist, art dealer and property owner Peer Christensen, and former mayor Paul Ayotte, who was the last speaker to address council.
Over 70 individuals presented—of which only six were supportive of the bridge, the remainder being in various degrees of vociferous opposition—forcing Wednesday’s session to adjourn and reconvene the following evening. At least 150 residents were on hand for the final night of deputations at Adam Scott Collegiate, after which council debated the report amongst themselves.

After a motion by Coun. Dean Pappas to remove the bridge from the proposed plan and revisit the design process narrowly failed 6-5, council ended its two-day marathon consultation session by voting 8-3 in favour of accepting the report. Councillors Pappas, Keith Riel and Jack Doris were joined by Councillors Henry Clarke and Lesley Parnell in the failed attempt to remove the bridge from the accepted plan.

Clarke and Parnell then joined Mayor Daryl Bennett and Councillors Bob Hall, Dan McWilliams, Len Vass, Andrew Beamer, and Bill Juby in ultimately voting to accept the report.
Couns. Pappas, Riel and Doris maintained their staunch opposition.

mayor bennett

The idea of building a ‘Parkway’ in Peterborough has been around for more than 60 years. In the 1950s it was envisioned as a freeway bypassing the industrializing core of the city. But as the city grew and the economic character of Peterborough changed so dramatically from the ‘70s to the new millennium, the Parkway’s purpose shifted: it is now conceived of as an expressway arterial road moving traffic from the southwest to the north of the city.

One essential characteristic has remained constant through all the Parkway’s iterations, however: it is a road prefaced on the dominance of the car as our chief mode of transportation.

“Dependence on the car leads to congestion, pollution and unhealthy lifestyles… The Parkway would literally cement our dependence on the car.”– Julian Tennent-Riddell from Sustainable Trent

The overall aim of the construction of the Parkway would be to act as a transit corridor connecting Fleming College and the Trans-Canada Highway in the southwest to Trent University and the north end of the city. Several stretches of the Parkway have already been built, but the majority of the proposed course has not yet been begun, and the idea of building another bridge over Jackson Park has always been highly controversial; a lightning rod issue dividing the community and generating a massive, well-organized citizens’ coalition in opposition.

Other parts of the Parkway have generated less opposition, though a smaller contingent of the community are opposed to any use of the city’s limited budget to build a major highway-like road spanning from suburb to suburb.

For most, however, the proposed bridge is the main point of contention. Three-hundred-sixty-six meters long in the section spanning the park and 26 metres wide – or as Coun. Doris cannily expressed it, three times as long as an NFL football field and wider than a NHL hockey rink – the bridge would loom 24 metres in the air as it passes over one of the most-used and loved sections of the Park.

“Jackson Creek is the heart of our community… If we don’t get what we want tonight, we’ll continue to fight.” – Coun. Doris

Proponents of the Parkway argue that the city’s projected growth necessitates the construction of a major arterial road, drawing traffic away from residential streets. The provincial government’s projections envision Peterborough surpassing 100,000 residents by 2031, while the city’s own Master Plan predicts more modest growth to 88,000 by that date.

Basing expected motor traffic patterns on current habits and these expected growth numbers, the city envisions that it will have serious motor traffic problems less than two decades from now, and so must build in anticipation of that traffic to avoid the kind of congestion that plagues most large North American cities.


Some residents in Peterborough’s north end already complain of excessive traffic on residential streets. That being said, Coun. Vass suggested that we “need to look in real time at where our transportation concerns lie today,” of which the most serious is congestion up around the Northwest end of Peterborough.

“No North American city has ever been able to build its way out of congestion issues with new roads.” – Yvonne Leicht

Critics of the Parkway both question its necessity and point to manifold deficiencies in the plan as proposed. One of their key claims is that it is impossible to accurately predict Peterborough’s growth over such a long period into the future.

In the 1950s it was estimated that the city would reach 100,000 residents by the 1990s; but instead the city went through a deindustrialization that has left the city with a serious lack of living-wage jobs.

As a consequence, Peterborough’s population has been relatively stable, with only modest growth over the past several decades. It is not without reason, then, that opponents of the Parkway question the reliability of Peterborough’s 20-year growth projections.

As Coun. Doris and other opponents of the bridge repeatedly emphasized, it strains credulity to say that Peterborough currently, as a whole, has serious traffic problems; and those that it does have would mostly not be addressed by the Parkway’s construction. According to estimates provided by AECOM, the engineering firm contracted to provide the Environmental Assessment, the proposed Parkway, when completed, would only save someone driving crosstown approximately two minutes compared to other possible routes.

Building the bridge over the park, meanwhile, would only shave 45 seconds off a driver’s crosstown trip.

Meanwhile, the main alternative to the bridge considered, which would involve widening Parkhill Road and Fairbairn Avenue to four or six lanes for several hundred metres, was deemed by AECOM to be only six percent less ‘efficient’ than the bridge in terms of its ability to move large amounts of traffic.

It would, however, require the purchase and destruction of 27 homes along Fairbairn, and it was estimated that this alternative would only resolve traffic congestion in the vicinity until 2031.

All of this depends, of course, on how many cars are driving on these roads.

Another one of the bridge opponents’ chief criticisms is that AECOM’s assessment assumes a relative continuity in the numbers of cars and drivers in the city per capita; it does not take into account the possibility that shifts in residents’ transportation habits toward increased use of bicycles or public transportation might over time obviate the need for larger roads.

Councillor Doris noted that 30 percent of Peterborough’s current residents do not drive, and numerous deputations pointed to the fact that ‘millennials’ are significantly less likely than previous generations to have a driver’s license or own a car.

The use of bikes and public transportation is up considerably among this same demographic, although obviously this is truer of urban populations than rural ones.

Critics also point to the outlandish cost of the proposed parkway. According to one city hall staffer, the bridge is the “least expensive option” (of those considered by AECOM), but the Jackson Park bridge crossing is by far the most expensive section of the proposed project, estimated to cost over $31 million; over a third of the total estimated cost of $78.9 million for the entire Parkway. In contrast, the Fairbairn-Parkhill widening would cost an estimated $14.9 million.

These estimates themselves are highly contentious, however. AECOM estimated a four to six percent annual inflation of the project’s costs of construction, which, given the 20 year timeline for the plan, could see the final cost of the Parkway rise as much as 80-120 percent just from inflation, not including other cost overruns.

bridge photoshopped into park inline

Construction projects of this magnitude frequently end up far over budget. Coun. Riel warned that the “100-million-dollar plan” will financially hamstring council for the length of the project, estimated to be approximately 20 years long.

The actual construction period of the bridge is expected to begin in the year 2021 (eight years from now) and finish by the end of 2022, while the design period is planned to begin in 2018 ending midway through the year of 2020.

With the projected $78.9 million it would take to extend the Parkway, those extra two minutes pale in comparison to the potential economic and environmental concerns raised by it, including the likely closure of the park for two years.

“This is a huge cost and an irreversible change on the overall character of the community.” – Dennis Carter-Edwards

For one, it has not been confirmed how the city will manage to pay for the project, or if it will end up going over budget. While much of the cost would be spread out over the long duration of the project, most of the funding will surely have to be borrowed, burdening the city with a huge financial debt.

Such a large capital outlay for the Parkway would also necessitate the delay or deferral over other infrastructure improvements throughout the city; at several points over the course of the three sessions Coun. Riel read off a seemingly endless list of projects pushed to the side by the proposed Parkway plan.

Pappas’ failed motion would have seen the bridge removed and the EA revised to factor in alternative scenarios. It was estimated that the revision of the EA would cost approximately $50-60,000, a miniscule expense in comparison to the cost of building the bridge.

“The value to the community is the green space and especially to protect that park,” Councillor Clarke cautioned that the bridge will destroy the protected green space of Jackson Park.
This will not be the only huge concern for the surrounding residents of Jackson Park and the north-west end of Peterborough; the expected noise pollution which would be produced during the construction period would also be a concern.

Another key concern is the actual construction of the bridge and how to utilise the most economical, safe and least environmentally-damaging methods possible. The Environmental Assessment is incredibly vague as to how the bridge would actually be constructed.


“We hear that this bridge is somehow going to be built from above, like magic bridge elves are somehow going to float it in. It’s not going to magically appear. It’s not going to somehow be environmentally friendly.” – Coun.Pappas

AECOM, the engineering firm specializing in road construction, has also been criticized for lacking environmental credentials to complete a credible environmental assessment of the plan.
“The EA is not done for the good of the environment, it is done for the client,” Alison Werger told council, suggesting that the Environmental Assessment was inherently biased towards the construction of the bridge.

“It needs to be redone, to consider all the small remediations suggested by the public and the broad scope questions of all aspects of urban transportation.”

Without that, the course chosen would be based on politics, rather than on the real needs of Peterborough’s transportation system.

Coun. Pappas echoed public sentiment in suggesting that residents are particularly angry because council has not been honest with the public. Nearly all the councillors had been saying that their preference was to not build the bridge, and there was no discussion during the last election to suggest that the construction of the bridge would be included in the city’s official plans.

Members of the public, thus with reason, claimed that this council did not have a mandate to push forward the Parkway bridge.

With cheers from the audience, Coun. Riel repeated that “council did not run on a ticket of building the Parkway … We have now made this a referendum issue for the next municipal election.”

“Mr. Mayor, you don’t have a mandate to push this Parkway through.” – Ann Farquharson

Coun. Hall described the debate as “passionate, with reason and emotion mixed in.  It’s been a very democratic debate. The amount of community engagement in this process has been outstanding.”

Each councillor in turn proceeded to enthuse about how proud they were with this consultation process, and how passionately and intelligently the public had expressed their views—especially those amazing precocious children. Then a majority of councillors reiterated that despite the overwhelming public input they had not changed how they would vote.

Jackson Park bridge image small

Despite great opposition from members of the public, including groups like Parks Not Parkways and Friends of Jackson Park, the go-ahead for the construction of the bridge is still in place.

There is no question that the bridge over Jackson Park will be one of the defining issues of next November’s municipal election in Peterborough.

As Coun. Hall reminded the assembled citizens, “ultimately it’s the people that will decide,” to which the members of the crowd responded by shouting out “we’ve decided.”

What remains to be seen is whether the public’s anger and outrage today will be sustained enough to sway the results of 2014’s elections.

In 2010, less than half of registered Peterborough electors voted; Bill Juby, the councillor who received the fewest votes, was elected by only 1273 ballots. It is not known yet which councillors will be running for re-election, but an upward surge of voter rebellion could certainly change the makeup of Peterborough’s elected Council.

“Maintain the Peterborough we love and not what engineering is being imposed on us.” – Roy Brady

Trent Presidential Search: University in Search of an Identity

Published 25 November 2013 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/trent-presidential-search-university-in-search-of-an-identity/

Trent University’s Presidential Search Committee has released a Position Profile(1) and advertisement(2) for the ensuing hunt for a new university president and vice-chancellor. These documents are the culmination of months of consultations, the latest stage in the long Presidential Search process, and must be understood in the context of Trent’s perennial search for an institutional identity.

Amrop Knightsbridge, a high-powered “Global Executive Search” consulting firm, has been contracted to manage the search process, in concert with the Presidential Search Committee composed of faculty, staff and members of the University Senate and Board of Governors; with the latter – the Board – constituting the majority on the Committee.

The Search process has been in full swing since mid-September, and aims to have selected a final candidate by February – to be publicly announced in early spring.

Invested by the Board of Governors last March with a ‘Mandate’(3) to find a “transformational leader,” the job posting sets a high bar for its envisioned ideal candidate: that person will have “graduate and scholarly credentials;” “executive level experience in a postsecondary institution;” will be “articulate, consultative, strategic with a commitment to action;” and have “demonstrated competence in financial management.”

Encroaching on Trent’s fiftieth anniversary – and having been instructed by Queens Park to present a clearly ‘differentiated’ education model in order to justify its own existence and need for sustained funding(4) – Trent is in search of a vision, and will expect the incoming president to be the acolyte and proselytizer for that vision. “Internal leadership will be needed to ensure that Trent’s identity is clear” – so sayith the Mandate.

What is that vision? We’re not so clear on that, but we’re hopeful our new president will be able to tell us: the “President will provide inspiring internal leadership that supports academic excellence and clearly defines Trent’s identity.” Just so we’re clear on that, the Mandate repeats that the President’s chief responsibility will be to “clarify, articulate and celebrate the University’s distinctive identity and promote its brand of student-centred education and research excellence.”

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that at Trent it’s all about the students. (Am I being sarcastic? I’m honestly not sure.)

What does the brave soul who might take on this Herculean presidential task have to look forward to? The “opportunity to lead this illustrious institution at a time of challenge and complexity”, and a mandate that is “decidedly transformational.” David Marshall, the university president who shepherded both Nipissing and Mount Royal University through the process of becoming universities, was brought in by Amrop Knightsbridge as a consultant in the formulation of this Position Profile – so be advised: the prospect (and specter) of transformation is saturating the air.

The idea of a powerful, assertive, ‘transformative’ university president will no doubt be received by many in the Trent community with a great deal of trepidation, as the last President that might have warranted that designation managed to close the beloved downtown Peter Robinson College, undermined the autonomy and authority of the Colleges and Senate and have several students arrested, to mention just the highlights from the sordid, lengthy tally of Bonnie Patterson’s gruesome and/or dubious achievements.

Transformation is nonetheless what Trent must achieve to survive. With Ontario running a deficit for the foreseeable future, Queen’s Park has made it clear that provincial funding for education will not be increasing enough to even keep pace with inflation: thus “the sustainability of postsecondary education may be at risk.”(5) The government has latched on to the idea of differentiation as the silver bullet that will (somehow) allow the province to maintain its standing as an educational powerhouse while contributing significantly less funding to its institutions, cumulatively.

At the beginning of next semester (because yes, I too have essays to write), I’ll explain in depth the province’s proposed Differentiation Policy Framework and Trent’s proposed Strategic Mandate Agreement. In the meantime, ye have been warned: the times are (constantly) changing.


1)      Amrop Knightsbridge. “Position Profile.” http://www.trentu.ca/administration/pdfs/PositionProfile-FinalNov2013.pdf

2)      Amrop Knightsbridge. “President and Vice-Chancellor,” advertisement. http://www.trentu.ca/administration/pdfs/PresidentialSearchAd.pdf

3)      Trent Board of Governors. “The Mandate for Trent’s President 2014-2019.” http://goo.gl/dVXMC5.

4)      See Matt Rappolt’s interview with President Steven Franklin in last week’s issue (#10) for more information on the differentiation model and its implications for Trent.

Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. “Ontario’s Proposed Differentiation Policy Framework: Draft Discussion Paper.” www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/publications/Differentiation_PolicyFramework.pdf

Spotlight on Research: The Collapse of Tropical Civilizations

Published 18 November 2013 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/spotlight-on-research-collapse-of-tropical-civilizations/

Dr. Gyles Iannone is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, and is the recipient of a $74,720 SSHRC Insight Development grant. His two-year pilot study will evaluate the quality of archaeological data which elucidates the reasons for the collapse of a number of tropical states during the period CE 800-1400.

So, your research concerns, roughly speaking, are about the decline or collapse of tropical societies?

If I were pressed to explain [my research] very quickly to somebody, it would be trying to understand the collapse, particularly of tropical civilizations, and of some of the great ones that we know of, like the Maya and the Khmer. The longer version is that [I’m looking to] understand why these civilizations became vulnerable, and why they ran into issues. You have to actually go back in time, and [try] to understand the whole set of issues related to living in the tropics. You have to understand environments and all these sorts of things, so collapse kind of ends up being the last chapter.

But to understand that last chapter, you have to understand the whole book. Earlier on when I was doing some of this research, I talked about studying the collapse of complex societies, whereas now I would say I study socio-ecological relations in the tropics … of which one of the topics ends up being the collapse [of societies].

I understand that there’s a comparative element to the project—you’ll be comparing South and Southeast Asian states to Mesoamerican states? Can you explain how that comparative analysis will be done?

The comparative analysis is sort of a different way of doing archeology now. For 23 years, I’ve been in the Maya area, and my archeology has really been focused on doing what people traditionally think of archeologists doing. The comparative approach now is much more about working with extant data sets. We’re trying to look at certain data sets that we think are relevant to understanding resilience and vulnerability in an environmental relationship.

For example, one of the things we’re all attracted to is what we call the epicentres, the ‘downtowns’ of the capitals of all these places. These are the parts of these ancient states that are now reconstructed or consolidated. We’re interested in looking at those investments in labour and surplus that went into constructing those things. They tethered these societies to a certain part of the landscape, which ties into resilience because it’s much harder to move once you’ve invested.

We can compare epicentres: how big were these epicentres; how were they planned; what kinds of building techniques did they use; what kinds of buildings are there? We’re also interested in looking at water management. For example, all of these societies are what another colleague of mine, Roland Fletcher, calls Monsoonal. They developed in regions where you have fairly marked wet and dry seasons, and that means that you have to somehow, if you’re going to have larger populations, learn how to control, store, and manage water resources.

And so, there’s another area where we can compare: how did they deal differentially with managing and storing water? You can go from small reservoirs in the Maya area that might be the size of a swimming pool, to Cambodia, where we can see multiple reservoirs, some of which are eight kilometres long and two kilometres wide.

We’re also interested in agriculture. These are all agrarian societies, and all of them had to deal with the fact that tropical soils tend to be fairly nutrient-poor. Most of the nutrients in the tropics are in the biomass, they’re in the trees and they’re in the litter mat on the surface, but once you start clearing land and you just get down to the soil, there’s actually not a lot of nutrients, and they get leached out very quickly when the rains come. So they all had to learn how to make their land more productive over time if they wanted to create surpluses. In some cases like the Maya area, they built terraces. If you get into South and Southeast Asia, they eventually develop irrigation systems and various forms of wet rice farming, rice patties, these sorts of things.

We’re also interested in other things, like did they or did they not build road networks? What kinds of mechanisms were out there that integrated the centres with the peripheries? In some cases, if you go to Cambodia for instance, you see that they built roads, bridges, hospitals, rest houses, different temples and monasteries … so that’s what the comparative approach is all about.

The overarching question is to try to understand tropical societies and adaptation to the tropics, and the different (or similar) choices that they made. They all started with similar initial conditions. As they grow and expand they start to have to make decisions. What decisions were the same? What patterning is there? But also, what did they choose to do differently, and, therefore, what made these societies successful, but also, in the end, vulnerable to things like climate change, the predatory nature of states on their borders, that kind of thing. That’s the comparative aspect. We’re working with data that’s out there already, but trying to pull it together into this one thematic overview.

You have a number of graduate students working with you. Is this research going to be the basis for their theses or dissertations?

The SSHRC Insight Development grant we have right now is like a large seed grant. It’s money that’s not there for actually going out and doing what we would we would consider full-on research. Instead, what they’re meant for is to help new scholars, or to help established scholars such as myself to switch gears. I applied as someone who’d been digging in the Maya area for 23 years and now had very new ideas about what I wanted to do, so the seed grant then allows me now to do some of this background research.

A lot of this is about data evaluation: what can we compare, what can’t we, what’s out there. There’s five students that will go on a series of four trips that will take us from south India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, north and central Vietnam, and Java. [Each student] will then have, as part of their Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation, a particular focus. … We’ll have a range of theses and dissertation topics that are part of the broader research, and then my job is to synthesize some of these preliminary findings.

The idea behind the seed grant is to take the results of this data evaluation, and, as we’re moving through that process, make linkages with researchers in these different areas so we’ll then be able to apply for a larger grant, which will actually allow us then to mobilize knowledge. This means we might build a team of 10-15 people who are all experts in these different areas, and we’ll get together at these different locales and talk about the data sets we have. [The broader goal] would be trying to understand what can we learn about the past, which is going to have some broader implications for today.

Tropical societies are really up against it when it comes to things like climate change, poverty, and growing populations. We can sit here and think that, “Well, that’s got nothing to do with us,” but it does, particularly if we want to think about rising sea levels, climate change, and migrations of people out of the tropics because things are not good there. That’s going to affect everybody in the world.

So, what I always try to instill in my students now is that we get the inspiration for our research from what’s going on around us. Archeology’s a great tool [that] does not necessarily answer the questions about how do we deal with this now, but instead, provides us with [examples of] possibilities of what we can do, or that, if we don’t do something, then this something that might happen to us later on. If you sat in Angkor in the middle of the 13th century, or you were sitting in a Maya site around 800 AD and you were a big king or part of the royal court, you had no idea that things were going to go the way that they did.

I think sometimes we sit in denial as well, that this could never happen to us. There’s a certain egotism we have that, somehow, we’ll always solve our problems. But the past, the strength of it, is [to show us] that we don’t always solve our problems.

That’s really the ultimate goal, to try to understand tropical societies in general by looking at it through the lens of the past. [We are] awe-inspired by the grandeur of some of these early states, but we also know that, when we’re walking around the ruins of these places, things did go horribly wrong at certain points in time. There are lessons there that we can learn from.

Want to Make Education Less Expensive? Support the Freedom of Knowledge

Published 4 November 2013 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/want-to-make-education-less-expensive-support-the-freedom-of-knowledge/

open access words

There are fundamental problems at the heart of academic knowledge production today, reinforcing the inequality of a world order that concentrates the predominance of power, wealth and influence in the hands of a minuscule few. When knowledge is held as a proprietary possession, it becomes a tool wielded by those who control it to maintain their own artificial dominance. Academic institutions have always been bastions of the lucky few, but the ascension of ‘knowledge economies’ makes the consequences of limiting access to knowledge more perilous for us all.

The cost of staying current with contemporary academic research has been increasing dramatically: between 1986 and 2004 the cost of journal subscriptions rose nearly four times faster than inflation. The amount of research being produced is increasing almost exponentially. Even the largest research libraries cannot afford to provide access to all the proprietary journals disseminating important research, while small universities and, even more so, scholars and institutions in the developing world must beg and plead for even inadequate access to the knowledge locked away in these walled-gardens.

Meanwhile, the cost of being a student is already an impediment to personal and human advancement; the cost of all those course texts is merely another added deterrent, adding insult to injury.

The principle of ‘open access’ aims to make knowledge freely and openly available to everyone. The concept is a recent development that would have been impossible prior to the advent of the Internet, yet it has the potential to entirely transform the nexus between power and knowledge and every individual’s personal relationship to knowledge and information. As the source of most of the world’s knowledge production, universities can push forward the liberation of knowledge by mandating that the fruits of research conducted under their employ be made freely accessible, as some of the world’s greatest universities – UC Berkeley, MIT, Columbia – are already beginning to do.

Open access journals and research databases are available in their entirety free, online and downloadable, with the costs of publication covered not by user fees but rather in most cases by either large endowed universities or by governmental research funding bodies. This has the potential to save smaller institutions like Trent millions of dollars while giving our students and researchers the same quality of access to knowledge as their peers at the largest universities benefit from.

Open access learning materials, meanwhile, reduce the cost of education per student by hundreds to thousands of dollars, an idea so obviously appealing that quality open courseware, particularly at introductory levels, is already available in many fields and is rapidly being developed wherever it doesn’t yet exist, often with direct funding from governments – in California, in France and innumerable other places – that have caught on to the fact that everyone wins – except the private publishing industry – when publicly employed teachers and researchers create free, Creative Commons-licensed learning material that can be customized to suit each class’ individual needs. The MIT-lead OpenCourseWare Consortium is only the largest and most publicized development in this movement liberating education from its proprietary shackles.

mit courseware

Neoliberal ‘free-market’ apologists will continue to claim, based on their inaccurate psychological model of humanity as myopically self-centred, that open access will never succeed because it eliminates the profit motive (or at least makes it more indirect); just as they claim that open source software will always be inferior in spite of the blatant fact that it runs the vast majority of the servers of which the Internet consists. So I will take this opportunity to briefly dispel this line of criticism.

If knowledge was free, would people stop producing it? No, people who care passionately about something will continue to disseminate their ideas. What you will get less of are derivative works produced more for monetary reasons than from a sense that the world really needs to hear what the writer has to say. Scholars publishing in academic journals and anthologies generally aren’t paid for their contributions, and even the most influential academics rarely make a considerable sum from the dissemination of their works. Knowledge-production would continue its accelerated expansion, and, given the pressure placed on scholars to ‘publish or perish’ in the (unsustainable) tenure treadmill, we would not likely see a decline in the proliferation of scholarly texts either.

Research is part of what is expected of academics, so it should be a component of what they are paid for, rather a gratis after-hours duty to be profited from by publishing houses. Editors and proof-readers employed by profit-oriented academic publishing houses may have to find work elsewhere, but that’s a small price to pay for the global liberation of knowledge. Most might well find new employment with university-affiliated publishing centres funded by public and/or private endowment.

There is a danger that a merely-partial adoption of open access principles could create a two-tiered hierarchy of knowledge, with some knowledge open to all while certain exclusive knowledge is accessible only to those who ‘own’ it or can afford to pay for access to it. But even this would be vastly preferable to the current status quo of extreme hierarchy, with near-total access for a few, partial access for many and little or no access for most. In any case, all that is needed to make sure this doesn’t happen is for governments and major research institutions to mandate that all research they fund be made accessible in the public domain – to ensure that the neoliberal dream of a world where all research is ‘owned’ by private corporations never happens.

Open access to knowledge will not by itself solve universities’ funding crises: Trent’s annual budget is greater than $100 million, with the library budget being only a very small fraction of that. Nonetheless, the open access revolution will be an essential aspect of any just and sustainable vision for learning and knowledge production in the twenty-first century.

Let us know in part, but let that part be ever greater.


This has been a polemic, albeit a well-argued one. In future issues, I will address some of the challenges and tribulations that the emerging open access model of knowledge dissemination faces – and there are many.

One more thing. Until all publicly-funded or -subsidized knowledge is made available to all the world’s learners, intellectual piracy may well be a defensible response to a system that would seek to horde the world’s knowledge behind lock and key. You may well find your next course text is available on The Pirate Bay or other clandestine sharing sites like avaxhome.ws. Unless, that is, your professor makes the smart and ethical decision and chooses to teach open access courseware.

Agent of Change: An Interview with Vice President – IT, Tariq Al-idrissi

Published 7 October 2013 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/an-interview-with-vice-president-of-i-t-tariq-al-idrissi/
Photos by Andrew Tan.

Your position at Trent – Vice President for Information Technology – was newly created in 2012. Would you say that its creation was a recognition of the increasing importance of IT to what we do in academia?

I certainly would say that … I was very discerning in coming to Trent, I didn’t need to just take any job, I’m a person that loves a good challenge. I’m a problem solver and a change agent. That’s my defining word, I know what I am is a change agent and a very strong change agent. When I interviewed for the job, there were a number of things that indicated to me that Trent was ready for the IT transformation that it needed. One is there was a strong calling from the Board, the Board itself said we fear IT is not going well at Trent, we fear that Trent is scoring low on IT nationally, and we feel that there’s something that needs to be done about it, and I think that’s a very important thing. The second part which came in the Academic Plan of the institution, was a call not only to hire a new VP, but the call to actually create an IT Strategic Plan[1]. I think both those things were a very important signal to me that, not only on the academic side that the Plan actually talks about it specifically, but on the corporate side, the Board side, the governance side, there was actually a thirst for change.

There was no lack of a need to invest at Trent: I think the Board was very serious about improving the technology aspects of Trent – I think there was a lack of clarity to them about what needs to be changed, and how it needs to be changed. They needed a certain level of assurance that if we were going to spend 4 million dollars doing something, that we were spending in the right place, that it is where the people want us to spend it, and that it’s well worth the return. We did a very close examination, we did surveys, we talked to our students before doing the strategic planning process, we had Town Halls, we talked to faculty and staff, and we gathered a large amount of information that went into the IT Strategic Plan – but at the same time we looked internally at ourselves. Our network cores are significantly old. They’re at a stage where we do need to actually replace them, at a significant cost.

Right, they’re no longer supported…

Yeah, they’re no longer supported by the vendor who holds them, so that is a scary situation for us.

Can I ask about that? Did the Strategic Plan Funding Report[2] say that the Core changeover will not happen in 2013 now? Has it been delayed?

No, the Core changeover will happen in 2013, we’re planning it for the Christmas shutdown. We’re focusing on the Cores this year […] and we’re focusing on ResNet. We’re doing two things towards the network for next year, so it’s a multi-year plan for our networks. On the wireless side, we’re doing a site survey this year, that’s our major focus, we’re actually dedicating dollars to that – so we’re actually looking at where’s our WiFi, how strong is it, is it sufficient, where isn’t our WiFi? I would like to see WiFi in any Trent building … that is something that I will work with faculty on. It’s not that technologically we cannot do it … I have to work arm-in-arm with the academic groups to ensure that we move together with one voice on this, because I’ve been through this before. There may be faculty that feel that WiFi has no place in the classroom. But saying that, there are faculty that are at the exact opposite end of that spectrum, so I need to hear all the sides to see how we’re going to equip it. No doubt though, there is a significant amount of money over the next three years starting in 2014 and moving on, to do a WiFi expansion.

Right, and looking at the budget you received from the Board of Governors, Storage Enhancement and WiFi were the two things where they gave you more money than you initially asking for.

Yes, so with WiFi we did actually change our estimate, we did go through a funding exercise after the strategic Plan, as you’ve seen. As we looked at the Strategic Plan and looked at the funding they’d given us, we did a prioritization exercise with a group that had student, faculty and staff representation, we went through as objectively as we could to actually rank these projects and initiatives, and we started to eliminate the things that people did not feel we needed to do. But what we’ve heard as we were doing that, we’ve heard more about WiFi, we ran some of our numbers again and decided that we did not allocate enough in the Strategic Plan to do a complete WiFi expansion, to include classroom space. Whether we include classroom space is something that we’ll have to work out. I would like to.

The Storage Enhancement project that we’re doing is twofold. There’s a product called Filer, that we’ll be making available late this year or early next year, and what it will allow students to do, from their iPad or their computer, is actually access their H: Drive from anywhere. It’s basically [like] you’re Dropbox, it uses a sync model rather than a connected model, so once you install that client you can reach your H: Drive from anywhere, you can reach it from any device.

That’s a big change, I know in the past it’s not been easy to reach your H: Drive remotely…

Yes, and the reason again, the reason we make some of these shifts, there’s a pattern to our madness – we’re recognizing that our users are a lot more mobile, our users have a lot more varying devices that we need to cater to, so a lot of these moves are toward that. So that’s part of the Enhancement project. Another part of it specifically for the staff and faculty is we’re increasing some of the storage spaces itself. We didn’t invest in actual storage enhancement on the student side, and the reason we didn’t is Google Apps for Education provides a large amount of space as well, and when we did go to that, we heard from a lot of students that they’d rather be using that method to store their documents.

Right, the school has gone for Google Apps for Education in a big way, and I think that’s been very popular with students…

Yes, and I have to recognize the TCSA did play a part in bringing that need to the IT department.

Right, now one of the main concerns that has been raised about that has been the privacy question – is Google able to data-mine students’ uses of the Apps system and use that information for their commercial business?

Right, that’s a good question. We have a number of privacy arrangements with Google. Google is able to – whether they’re able and whether they will are two different things. Google is able to mine our data. What we have is an assurance that Google actually respects our privacy through the Google Apps. It’s not the same as your Gmail account. You’ll find that in your Gmail account you may reading an email, say I’ve just moved to Peterborough and I’m reading an email from my moving company, and on the side of the frame there’s an ad for AMJ Campbell [a large moving company], and you’re thinking ‘How did they know?’ They’re not reading your mind, they know exactly what you’re doing and exactly how. So, we do have an assurance and a privacy statement from Google that says that our data will be kept private, our data is owned by us – which is a very strong tenet – any information requests for our data will actually, when possible – and I want to use those words – will come to us first to contest. The only time that we’re aware of that it is not possible to actually tell us, is when it’s what’s called a National Security Request through a National Security Letter.

So, it’s interesting because we just went through some research around this area, specifically because we’re actually moving our staff and faculty to [Microsoft] Office 365, so we took them in a different direction – but we did a lot of research around privacy and data. What we did get from Google is, Google and Microsoft and a number of other large companies started to publish what are called Accountability Reports in the last number of years. In those reports they actually talk about how many requests they receive, what types of requests and so on. So what we did find, from looking through the Accountability Reports, is US government requests for data last year for all of Google’s products were around the 12,000 request mark … only 0-999 of those requests were related to National Security Letters. So, worst case scenario, we can assume 999 requests actually were related to the Patriot Act and so on. This is out of 288,000,000 accounts.

So, is there an inherent risk? I would say, there’s a risk in everything. But we actually have to weigh that risk against the magnitude of the risk, the likelihood of the risk happening. The other flipside to that is, email as a communications medium was never a secured way to communicate in the first place. It’s wasn’t created to be that. Email as a protocol exchanges plain text – in itself as a protocol of communication it is not secure. There’s a report I was reading from the Lakehead arbitration regarding the Google Apps case brought by the faculty, and the arbitrator ended up this humongous report by saying ‘Email is no more secure than a postcard.’ I think [there needs to be] an educational process. If we do anything other than that, put an encryption system – which we do, we encrypt the data between us and the providers – but if we go a step further than that, and we start exchanging security keys, it’s no longer email, it’s something else. It’s electronic communication, but it’s no longer what email was or is. I think we do as much as we can within our contracts to ensure that we can protect – and the contract that we have was actually not the vanilla one but one that was made for Canadian institutions and was negotiated by McMaster. Because we’re a small institution, you wait until the big institutions make those negotiations and you ride their coattails.


Someone’s surely going to complain if I don’t ask a question about Macs – so just briefly, what’s new with Macs at Trent?

Yeah, so with Macs we actually put in BL 210, which used to be an older Windows computer lab, we just changed that into a Mac Lab. We’re also going to be putting more Macs in the library, we’re actually creating a bistro bar of Macs at one spot, just walk up stations. We want to support both environments, Windows and Macs, and the Journalism Lab was actually our first foray into Macs… a lot of the infrastructure on the backend we have to figure out and it’s good we’re not the only ones, we relied on other institutions – if you know OCAD University, because they’re an architecture and design school a lot of what they’ve done is only in Macs, so we’ve shared experiences and so on.

Now, both in PCs and also in general the kind of devices that are found in academic use are so much more diverse then where it was a few years ago…

It’s changed, and I think, certainly what we’ve been doing in the last year, especially with the advent of the IT Strategic Plan and the work and the initiatives around the student plan, is to actually meet those changing needs. If we look, you know, ten years ago, concepts like consumerization [of electronics] didn’t exist. Usually when people came to a work environment, they got a computer, usually a desktop from their employer, they sat down and they worked. Very few students came with laptops, those that did only came with that as their mobile device, there really wasn’t much more. I remember residences in the mid-1990s and moving in with your desktop and your big CRT monitor, times have significantly changed. We did a survey of residents this year before we just revamped the residence networks not too long ago…

Is that because you took on the ResNet Internet service provision?

We did, but when we took it on, we actually sent out a survey and we said ‘What devices are you using? What are you bringing into residences?’ 7 out of the 1,100 that responded used desktops, it was flabbergasting, I couldn’t believe the number! It was extreme – everybody came with a laptop, but what we also found is there was a lot more than that. People were coming with their PS3s, their WD TV devices for TV and Netflix, their mobile devices, their iPad and smartphones … There’s a centre called the EDUCAUSE Centre for Applied Research that actually estimates that the average resident student comes to university with about 12 devices, between their printer, their phone, their iPad, their two computers and so on, it’s uncanny.

So we’ve had to respond to that. And I think… we took a very good look at ourselves in the IT Strategic Plan, we said are we really where our users expect us to be – so we’ve become a lot more user focused. We’ve decided to take the approach that we are, as a vision, we are who we are because of the users that we service. We just established a baseline for that, we did a first annual IT satisfaction survey. And the response rate was again, 1,108 students, faculty and staff responded to our user satisfaction [survey], we’re just compiling the results now, but that’s going to establish our user satisfaction baseline. So our aim, and we’re going to learn a lot from that, we’re going to learn from our students what works and what doesn’t, what they’re happy with, what they’re not happy with. We’re going to learn from our staff and our faculty exactly those very same things. And we’re going to embed those [lessons] into our planning through IT Steering [Committee] and some of the groups that actually guide IT within the organization.

We have a three-year strategic plan based on feedback, and there are fundamentals in that Strategic Plan that deal with our infrastructure, our network […] when we did the residence survey we found out for example that students were truly unhappy with the service they were getting [from ResNet]. The hours, the response that they were getting from the provider, there we’re things like, you know, ‘We’ll get back to you’ and nobody ever does. There was actually a lack of accountability of whom the problem was owned [by]. So when the students weren’t getting the answers from the provider of course they were calling us. And we tried to help as much as we can but it wasn’t our network. So we decided to take that in-house and say, we can do a better job.

We’ve extended our hours – we announced in a tech bulletin not too long ago our extended Help Desk hours so we’ve not only helped our residence folks, we’ve helped everybody else that needs IT support with longer hours of operation at our service desk. We’ve revamped the look of our service desk – if you go up to the library we’ve actually made it bigger, we can fit more people in there, [and] there’s an adjoining room right across from there where all our service staff are going to be located.I don’t want people to be hiding in the back rooms, I want IT to be right where the people need IT.

So that’s changing. Our service attitude, our user satisfaction’s changing. We’re actually in the next number of weeks introducing Chat support. So you’ll be able to go to our website, you’ll see if an agent is logged in, click the button and chat live with an agent. The product that we want allows us to, as we’re chatting with somebody on their computer that they may have an issue with, if we can’t resolve the problem with just chatting we can actually escalate to a LogMeIn session, where we can actually, with their permission, take over their computer and help them out that way. So we’re changing our support, we’re saying we know not everyone will run, during their 15 minute break, to Bata Library to get support – what if they can just start a chat session with us and we’re able to help them that way.

Taking that on is a fairly significance increase in the scope of your department, have you expanded?

We have expanded our numbers, in the last year we’ve seen three new service desk positions, front-line positions […] We’ve added to our web complement and mobile device support in the backend, we haven’t seen the fruit of that but that’s coming very soon: this fall we’ll be releasing a mobile app for use by students, it’ll integrate directly with our back office system; so either they’re going check their grades, look at announcements, they can do that through their mobile device and there’ll be a Trent U. app that they can do that on.

Will it be available for Android and Apple?

It’ll be available for Android and Apple but not Blackberry…

Poor Blackberry… [laughter]

… other mobile devices will be able to access the service through the web client but native apps for Android and Apple for sure. […] So we’ve made some major changes. We’ve spun off a completely new department with the Dean [of Arts & Science] called Distance Education – it’s a dual-reporting team that reports to IT and to [the Office of the Dean of Arts and Science.] We’ve an increase in distance ed. courses almost 600% since last year; we can’t in IT take [full] credit for it but this certainly has been a joint effort.

According to the Strategic IT Plan report, in comparison to other university Trent’s traditionally been near the bottom in terms of money spent on IT per student/staff member, and also as a proportion of overall revenue. Having said that, you did get a budget of 3.8 million over the next few years – do you feel like you have the money that’s needed?

So we have seen an increase in staff and an increase in funding, that’s a strong signal of support from senior management and from the Board. Those numbers are going to increase. September 30th of this year we’re actually submitting our new benchmarking numbers to the CUCCIO[3] organization, and at that time we’ll find out where we are nationally – I suspect we’ve moved up, to where the average is or even a bit above the average. We actually a lot better than some of our East Coast counterparts anecdotally. Trent is fortunate enough to have this much money to invest in technology … a lot of schools our size are very much struggling to gain those dollars.

The IT Strategic Plan identified innovation as a key priority. Is there anything you can point to, either in the future or presently, that evidences that?

Right. We talk about in the Strategic Plan, innovation not only in the technology, but in the methods. We’ve seen new technologies come out – we’ve started to utilize BlueJeans web video conferencing for meetings within the staff, we’ve seen those sort of innovations. We’ve actually made available Qualtrics across the board, our survey tool that’s available to any[one]. I’m a huge believer in survey tools – people say ‘it’s just a survey tool’ but it’s not, it’s the ability to ask a question! It changes the dynamics. I can ask a question of a group of people and collect information. I think our move to Filer and to sync mode, although people will say there’s Dropbox and what’s innovative about that, but institutionally, in academia this has not happened at other institutions, you’re not really seeing those technologies being pushed out to students or end users in that way. We’re trying to push the envelope in that as well.

In terms of being innovative in our methods, we’re seeing a huge focus shift within our service desk and our team about service and centralizing ourselves around the user, and I think that’s innovative – it doesn’t sound like [much] but it truly is, you’re changing human behaviour. The same individual that walked in for years and assumed that this is what brought value to them in terms of how they do their work […] they walk into their environment and they say ‘if I walk in today and I do X then I’ve done a good job’, but then you tell them, ‘that’s okay, but you really needed to do Y’, you need to be more user focused, you need to be more service-centric. That’s a very different way of thinking; it’s a human resource change.

[1] Strategic IT Plan, Trent University – trentu.ca/it/documents/StrategicITPlanFINALmay2013.pdf.

[2] Strategic Plan Funding Report, Trent – trentu.ca/it/documents/2013_05_29ITStrategicFunding.pdf.

[3] Canadian University Council of Chief Information Officers – cuccio.net.

Snowdrifts and Staircases: We’re Neglecting the Needs of Others

Published 13 January 2014 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/snowdrifts-and-staircases-were-neglecting-the-needs-of-others/

man with caneWhile I’ve always been conscious of accessibility issues, the recent experience of someone very dear to me has hit me like a revelation of the magnitude of our callous neglect with which we collectively dismiss the needs of those with mobility issues. As I walked next to my loved one, at a pace somewhat slower than I was used to, I suddenly felt all the innumerable little impediments encumbering the path of anyone with less than perfect mobility. Not as mere inconveniences – no, this is malice by indifference. I look all around me now appalled at the myriad barriers preventing our fellow citizens from participating fully in public life, because of our disregard for their needs.

Many people have commented on the horrendous state our public sidewalks were left in during the extreme weather events of the past few weeks, and indeed, they were horrendous – I saw mothers whose walkers repeatedly got stuck in the patchy, trammelled, snowed-over sidewalks; I saw elders struggling to lift walkers over snow drifts; I saw my own loved one stumble on icy paths. More pervasive, but invisible, are all those individuals who were effectively trapped in their homes throughout this period, unable to make routine or even essential trips because of the impassibility of sidewalks in their neighbourhoods.

Sadly none of this struck me as surprising: the majority of Peterborough’s City Council bask in contentment at their own miserliness. Inhumane and preventable suffering of individuals in the wake of the storms was an inevitable consequence of their impoverished view of the responsibilities of government.

Contrary to the Peterborough Examiner’s recent editorial, I don’t believe it should fall to ‘property owners’ to ensure that sidewalks are clear: why should a public sidewalk be treated differently than a public road, which we rightly regard as the purview of government to keep clear? Of course Council (and many residents) clearly do view sidewalks and roads differently, but should they? Both are simply paths for conveying people. The fact that people privilege car over pedestrian traffic is precisely the problem.

I could continue at length in admonishing City Council – but that would be too easy, and there’s a larger, slightly different point that needs to be addressed. Equality does not entail sameness. In order to ensure real equality of opportunity we need to acknowledge and accommodate significant differences in our abilities. Just as much as Peterborough has failed to give equal weight and consideration to the needs of all travellers this winter, so Trent has failed in giving equal consideration to the different mobility needs of all its community members.

snow removal more like no removal

Take a moment to imagine yourself differently abled – requiring the use of a wheel-chair, say – and now think of all the areas on campus that would be inaccessible to you. The myriad nooks, tucked away rooms and quasi-secret study spaces that make Trent’s campus so unique, and rightly cherished, are mostly inaccessible to persons with reduced mobility – and that, I believe, is a failing of our collective humanity. We’re a community of thousands of intelligent people: are we really, seriously unable to come up with creative ways to make these spaces accessible to all? No, we’ve simply dismissed it as unworthy of our attention.

Budgets are already austerity-famished, I know, and accessibility retrofits can be expensive. But every space left inaccessible to all of us is a diminishment of the democratic character of public space; every impediment is another barrier barring the already marginalized from participating fully in public life.

No matter how beautiful Trent’s architecture may be – and it is – if it were the case that it couldn’t feasibly be reworked for universal accessibility I’d rather see it torn down and replaced than tolerate the invalidation of the principle of universal accessibility. Fortunately I don’t think it’s really necessary to tear down current infrastructure – but in many places it does need to be substantially altered to ensure full accessibility. That will be expensive, no question. But there is no humane alternative: we either choose to make accessibility an essential principle underlying all we build and design, or we make a mockery and travesty of our pretenses to universal access.

Tools of the Trade: Making Hardware Easy

Published 3 September 2013 ~ http://trentarthur.ca/tools-of-the-trade-making-hardware-easy/

Supplemental Insert for Hardware Article 1The question of having the right tools to excel in your education used to be a simple one: got pencil and paper? Library card? Maybe a calculator? In the 21st century things are a tad more complex.

If you think you’re going to be the last noble holdout who doesn’t own a computer, think again – or at least prepare for an extremely bumpy educational experience. Particularly in your upper years, even humanities students are going to be spending a large chunk of your life working with computers. So for your own mental well-being, I suggest you make peace with this inescapable fact, and if you haven’t thought much about what kind of computer(s) would best serve your needs, this column’s aims to point you in the right direction.

I’m not going to run through all your options (see below, and hit up the web version of this article for more useful resources) – but I will make some recommendations based on my own experience through 7+ years of post-secondary education. If you’ve already got a computer and won’t be buying another any time soon, don’t fret: ultimately it’s what you do with it that counts, and in next week’s issue I’ll run through all the software you’ll need to rock your education, even if your laptop’s got that old and wizened look.

Having said that, in my experience the laptop + tablet route is really a killer combination for education purposes, so if you don’t have a usable one of each (or one that does both), it’s time to put that at the top of your wish list and exploit your relations’ kindness for all it’s worth: it’s for the sake of your education, after all.

The first thing to consider: you’ve got a choice of platform you need to make, and be aware once you’ve made your choice it can be very difficult – or at least extremely inconvenient – to switch platforms.

If you want a premium laptop that ‘just works’ and allows you to be highly productive, and you can afford it, by all means buy a Mac, just understand what that means: that you’ll likely be an Apple/iOS person for the foreseeable future, and it’ll cost you more than just the initial sticker price.

Much as I may loathe Apple for the atmosphere of classist smugness they consciously cultivate and for their restrictive, locked down approach to computing, I’ll admit their products are very effective from a productivity perspective: the Mac and iOS interfaces are designed to sort of fade into the background and let you Get Things Done®. Because there are so many iPads out there, and because Mac/iOS users are statistically more willing to pay for apps than Windows or Android users, they almost always get the crème de la crème of software (to my perpetual envy). This is especially true for creative niche demographics like artists and academics. So if you can afford to go the Apple route (for Macs that can mean a markup of several hundred dollars above equivalent PC hardware; iPads are a little less exorbitant), then by all means go for it, you probably won’t regret it. Just be prepared to pony up again for all that amazing software.

If you’re not rolling in bling and don’t have a generous relative willing to buy you that shiny new Mac for school, you can be just as productive with a little extra savvy and know-how. There are lots of advantages to being a Windows user: you have an immense variety of customizable computers to choose from, your hardware is significantly cheaper, and yours is the most widely supported platform, the de facto standard (except in those darn niche markets). Because it’s been the standard for so long, other platforms like BlackBerry and Android are also built to play well with Windows.

Windows tablets have been around a long time, but Windows wasn’t really built with them in mind – until now. Windows 8 tablets are a whole new ball-game, and when paired with a keyboard Win8 tabs are the only tablets that can also do double-duty as a serious full scale computer. If you’re in the market for a new laptop I strongly advise you to consider some of the touchscreen ‘convertibles’ available, like the Lenovo Lynx, ThinkPad Twist or HP Envy X2 – you can get the benefits of both for not much more than a regular laptop would cost. There is some disadvantage compared to owning to a separate laptop and tablet – basically you’ve got one screen to work with rather than two – but the advantages of having a full-power computer in a tablet-size package is definitely worth it. In my daily workflow as a Computer Science/Journalism student I use a Windows laptop (a workhorse ThinkPad) and an Android tablet, but I’m looking to get a light Win8 convertible soon so I can spare my back the pain of lugging 5+ pounds of hardware to and from school every day. In August, September, and October there’s going to be a flotilla of next-generation Windows tablets/convertibles arriving for both the low (Bay Trail) and high (Haswell) price scale. The new Bay Trail devices in particular are massively more powerful than the previous generation of low-end Atom laptops/tablets – unlike your pokey ol’ netbook these computers should be powerful enough to handle anything the average user can throw at them while offering twice the battery life, so the upgrade is well worth it if your present computer isn’t getting the job done.

Android is the newest contender for your computing attentions, but having tried for over a year to use Android tablets as a laptop substitute, I can tell you Android hasn’t yet reached the point where it can completely supplant the need for a more conventional computer. The same goes for the uber-cheap Chromebooks Google’s hawking: however alluring they may be, they don’t give you the full flexibility of a Windows or Mac laptop. Depending on your field, there may well be specific software you’ll be expected to install and use on your own computer; for that reason alone I’d advise you to stay any from supposed Android/Chrome ‘laptop replacements.’ The same goes for those cheap but crippled Windows RTdevices: if it can’t run any common program written within the last decade, it’s not a suitable choice to be your primary computer. As a secondary device, they might be useful.

That said, Android tablets do have many uses, particularly when it comes to ‘consuming content’ – which in the context of your academic career means READING, not YouTube. Likewise for iPads. If you’ve already got a laptop, a low- to mid-range Android tablet (10 inch are best for reading PDFs, the most common academic format) can be a worthwhile tool that doesn’t cost a fortune.

By no means have I covered all your options here – if you’re shopping for a computer there’s still a ton of research you need to do to make the right choice (see below) – but if you’re not a techie person, you should at least now have a basic understanding of where to start if you need a new tablet or computer. Next week, I’ll run through some essential programs that will save you time and raise your game to the next level academically.


Useful Resources

Before you make any hardware purchase you need to do some research to make sure you pick a quality product, with no glaring defects, and the right one for you. Here are some of the best hardware review sites around: