CUPE ramps up job action

Sensing that the SFSS has little inclination to respect collective bargaining rights CUPE, representing the locked out SFSS staff, has started fighting the PR war.

According to the CUPEsfu twitter feed, their picket lines have moved to SFU Surrey today. They also report that an entire class walked out.

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Not only that, the CUPE staff working the SFU Surrey Registrar and Information Services centre have joined the lines today, shutting down the office where overdue students can pay their tuition (online and bank payments are still available).

j6ib.jpg

This latest action seems targeted at SFU – a neutral third party in the dispute – and its reputation. Perhaps CUPE hopes by spinning some bad press for the university that the administration will pressure the Student Society to return to the bargaining table.

Its a risky manoeuvre, given the tendency of many universities to outsource, downsize, and union-bust. Perhaps they’re hoping that new university president and former NDP MLA Andrew Petter may show some sympathy.

I’m sure there’s more news to come.

Right-wing takeover at SFU

Staff who operate many of the student services at SFU, including Out on Campus, the Women’s Centre, and the SFSS Print Centre, have been locked out, without a contract for 10 weeks.

The lock-out was initiated by a unanimous vote of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) board of directors, who decided that they had no more money and should blame the union representing 20 employees – five of whom are students.

A quote from SFSS president John McCann in Xtra! demonstrates their ideological commitment to hold out on any concessions to the union

SFSS president Jeff McCann says the society is broke and the cuts need to be made for the sake of all students.

“It’s kind of interesting when people say, ‘End the lockout because those services aren’t being provided,’” says McCann. “Yes, right now and for the last 10 weeks those services aren’t being provided, but every single year the budget cuts are reducing programming by 40 percent, year after year after year.”

He says that unless the union makes concessions, other cuts will have to be made.

“We need to be able to find that balance,” says McCann. “Otherwise we’re not going to have an Out on Campus. We’re not going to be able to afford it. We’re not going to be able to afford anything that we do.”

There’s several articles in The Peak about the lockout, but in each McCann provides quotes that show little compassion or desire to resolve the situation. In his world, the union has been fired without the awkward confrontation.

While I would generally oppose fee increases at university, student union fees are the one place where you can actually see where the money goes. The portion of the SFU undergrad activity fee used for operations has not risen in 15 years, despite the school expansion and inflation. Revenue for the SFSS is therefore dropping with respect to what they’re spending – so it’s little surprise that they’re running a deficit. The Board’s strict refusal to consider this avenue is further evidence of their hardline ideological stance.

Kelly Thoreson gives a decent run down of the numbers involved for The Peak, whose libertarian-leaning editorial board has had few kind words for the locked out workers.

The lockout is also happening against the backdrop of the potential SFPIRG eviction. SFU’s Public Interest Research Group is a student-run centre that supports environmental and social justice research, education, and action. The SFSS Space and Oversight Committee (a committee of the board), has decided that the space currently leased to SFPIRG would be better used by as student space, despite the fact that SFPIRG is student run and funded.

This move isn’t surprising to anyone who followed the debacle last year when conservatives on campus tried to force “democracy” and “accountability” into SFPIRG by hijacking meetings of the SFSS board. It seems their tactics have changed, but the goal remains the same: stamp out progressive voices on campus.

The one positive in the situation is that the Graduate Student Society is still on the side of students and workers, and voted unanimously in support of the union. The frustration for the GSS is that they partially fund these services – to the tune of $45 000 annually – through the SFSS. So while the lock out goes on, they are simply paying for services not rendered.

Further, the union organized an alternative clubs days for clubs that refused to cross the picket lines. I’m proud to say that the SFU Skeptics were among those who participated.

SFU has a history of being among the most radical campuses in Canada. These recent events threaten that spirit of progress and open debate.

While my time at SFU is coming to an end, students need to stand up for a campus that represents the world we want to see.

Hookahs at SFU go up in smoke

The Pakistan Student Association at my school, Simon Fraser University, was planning a party/fundraiser to build municipal spirit in the aftermath of the Stanley Cup riots. As part of their party they planned to have hookah smoking.

While possibly popular in the hipster/stoner crowds, the fact is that hookahs are at least as dangerous and carcinogenic as cigarettes, despite false beliefs that the water in the pipe magically filters the smoke (it doesn’t).

As the event was planned for the Highland Pub at SFU, my friend Nick was concerned that there may be an issue with SFU’s strict policy on tobacco:

3.1       A person must not deal in, sell, offer for sale or distribute tobacco within University Space.

He sent a few emails around the university and just received this back today:

We thank you for your concerns with regards to having Hookah. We decided not to have hookah at the event. Posters have been redesigned and redistributed. It is attached for your reference.

Score one for the good guys!

The Peak – Has Bill Nye sold out?

My article in the Peak that was published last Monday is finally online. My credit is missing right now, but hopefully it gets added…

This article is in response to Brian Dunning’s 22 April piece “Bill Nye selling out to the man?

The question being asked right now by many self-professed skeptics is: Has Bill Nye sold out? This comes after news arose that acclaimed science educator, Bill Nye, has endorsed a new water-based cleaning product called ActiveIon.

The invention claims to ionize ordinary tap water, which allows it to stick to dirt particles better than ordinary water. After a simple spray, dirt and grime can be wiped away leaving no more streaks than spraying with normal water. The company heavily touts their product’s environmentally-conscience credentials since it uses no chemicals.

Their new spokesperson is Bill Nye, who gained fame in the 1990s from his TV series, Bill Nye the Science Guy. Later, he starred in the single season of the show The Eyes of Nye, where he critically examined claims surrounding topics ranging from nuclear energy to pseudoscience to the evolution of sex. He is also a fellow of the committee for skeptical inquiry, which represents many skeptics.

Meanwhile, many skeptics have long been unconvinced by purveyors of products similar to ActiveIon’s cleaner, especially when one considers that it sells for over $150 per (refillable) bottle. Snake-oil salesmen for years have been claiming that ionized water can be used to do everything from increasing your energy to defeating cancer. So, it is unsurprising that many skeptics would take great exception to Nye’s ostensible turn to the dark side.

On SkepticBlog, Brian Dunning claims that Nye may be down on his luck and potentially took the sponsorship to bring in some much needed cash. In the comments, others suggest he may have been tricked into buying into this product for its green credentials.

Yet, only a small number of skeptics on the site actually propose that the product ought to be tested before it, and Nye, get tossed into the dustbin of credulity. One would think that the proper skeptical response to such a moderate claim would be to actually look for some evidence.

So what testable claims are being made here and what evidence is there to back them up?

From the ActiveIon website, they claim to electrically charge the water before running it through an “ion exchange membrane,” which creates “an oxygen-rich mixture of positive and negative nanobubbles.” Finally, the ionized water is attracted to dirt particles, which are then easily wiped away.

Despite the seemingly flagrant misuse of the prefix nano, a cursory literature search turns up nearly 2,000 articles describing nanobubbles in different forms. In one study at Penn State University, electrolyzed water was shown to create nanobubbles of ozone; the ozone is then able to sterilize food in a similar process to how chlorine in pools kills bacteria. These processes, like the ActiveIon sprayer, only result in ionized water for a short period of time, but it is potentially long enough to be used as a simple cleaning agent.

Several other studies also examine using electrolyzed water for cleaning during semiconductor processing. A few of the reports even show drastic improvements over traditional strong acid methods. This corroborates the claims by ActiveIon, which lists a study by the University of Massachusetts’ Lowell Toxic Use Reduction Institute Lab, that demonstrates its efficacy.

At first sight, this product seems to operate solely on pseudoscientific buzzwords and yet is being endorsed by an icon of the scientific method. However, with some digging, there appears to be less magic and some potentially legitimate evidence that the device may in fact work. It seems many of the self-professed skeptics are a bit more cynical than they would let on.

In this case, it seems more than reasonable to grant Bill Nye the benefit of the doubt in endorsing this product. Were the man to truly be in dire financial straits, he could very easily return to his work as a mechanical engineer. Despite the recession, his experience at NASA ought to count for something.

It is important for all skeptics out there to beware the temptations of cynicism. While this product likely is not all that it is cracked up to, few products are, it is at least supported by several related studies and independent confirmation. Being able to clean surfaces with water is not exactly an extraordinary claim, so treating it like a childish superstition is merely close-minded and arrogant.

Ivory Tower Atheism

Before I get to the crux of my commentary on this week’s Peak (which I have no article in for the first time in over a month since I didn’t get to submitting anything last week) – particularly Kate Scholz’s article “to tell the Truth”, I’ll copy here the positive TXT MSGS that appeared this week (all verbatim):

Buddha never claimed to be a god. Nor did jesus. Only ignorant forgets to say there is probably no god.

Re: Person wondering why nobody is bashing on buddhists are not tempermental pricks 🙂

Singled out? It’s one poster. There are a half-dozen Christian groups on campus. I’m tired of ignorant people confusing their paranoia for persecution.

‘ignorany ppl bashing christianity?’ the poster is merely saying that you dont need to believe in and kind of mage-up god. You made the connection to a specific religion. Hmmm…

Also, you can read Graham Templeton’s article about how atheists are stereotyped in television shows. He makes a few points but overlooks (arguably) positive atheist/skeptic TV characters like Brian from Family Guy. Regardless, it’s better to have some representation, especially among somewhat likable lead characters like House and Patrick Jane, than none.

But the main article that needs addressing is Scholz’s last word feature on the supposed polarization between Christian and atheist groups on campus. The article doesn’t actually seem to be in plain text on The Peak’s website, but you can find it on the last page of the pdf edition.

Basically, Scholz has a few arguments, with some targeted at my two atheist pieces. First, she argues that atheists are throwing a continual “hissy fit” and

…skeptics and anti-religious on principle are just as dogmatic, and that the natural sciences have no exclusive grip on truth and knowledge – the arts faculties, including Religious Studies, exist to fill that gap. Refusing to acknowledge any common ground is just naive and annoying rather than intellectual or persuasive.

She then goes on to point out that science has pushed back a lot of ignorance that religion perpetuated. She further is “astounded” by the fact that creationism calls for equal time with evolution and admits that biology only makes sense in terms of evolution (the whole point of my first article).

So I have no clue what the first two-thirds of her article does expect lambast me for saying exactly what she was saying, but for putting in stronger terms. Hell, go back and read my anti-creationist article. I’ll wait.

Did you finish it?

Did you see where I said religion is stupid or Christians are harming the world by pushing their creationism? And the point where I said all knowledge only comes from science?

No? Perhaps because I didn’t say that. In fact, what I actually said was:

Science class is the place to develop the tools to view the world methodically and skeptically. Science asserts that evidence is required before we can decide whether an idea has any merit to it.

There are countless Christians and theists who have no difficulty with evolution. In fact, they are likely in the majority. A small minority, however, remains committed that the only way they can reconcile their belief in a vengeful Old Testament God is to deny the fundamental basis of all modern biology.

I argued from secularism, the idea that no religion or non-religion should be state-forced, that creationism has no place in science classes.

Next, Scholz devotes a paragraph to responding to the “There’s Probably No God…” banner and states:

Inflammatory remarks, absurdity, and turning one’s back are not the only responses to the creationist and missionary challenge that religious clubs pose to more secular members of society. What about compassionate reasoning and persuasion?

Wait, I said the only ways to deal with religious clubs are burns, jokes and ignoring them? I thought that what I said was:

This banner serves as a response to the countless religious clubs who are pervasive at this school and in society. It seeks to counter the notion that you cannot be good without God.

Alternatively, when your ideological adversaries are increasingly vulgar, sometimes the proper response is ridicule. My favourite counter-protests to Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps’s picketing of funerals are the ones with absurdist signs

The only other approach to take with such content is to simply ignore it.

Perhaps it wasn’t clear that those last two options (absurdity and ignoring them) are in direct response only to those who’ve already tuned out reason and are instead just being assholes. If it wasn’t clear that I support dialogue with reasonable religious groups, than I apologize, let’s get together and sing kumbaya. Or at least have respectful discussions.

But wait, I do think that I said something like (because I did) “The proper response to a message that you disagree with is dialogue” or “Most of us come to university with an open-mind, ready to learn new things and hear different ideas.” Which seems to convey support for dialogue like Scholz calls for.

She also needs a dictionary, since she repeatedly calls the Skeptics “dogmatic,” which would be difficult for us to be since to be dogmatic, one would need dogma, or an “established belief or doctrine.” And I’m not sure that Demon Haunted World or God Delusion count as holy books.

Finally, Scholz mentions that she is an unbeliever (in God), but I think I have to classify her as an “Ivory Tower Atheist.” I’m not sure if this term has really been used before, but it does follow alongside the accommodationist idea that PZ Myers has specifically advocated against. I propose that at least some of the following characteristics apply to the Ivory Tower Atheist:

  1. Believes in belief

    This phrase is borrowed from Daniel Dennett and is emphasized in his book, Breaking the Spell. The idea is someone who may or may not believe in God, but sees some value for those who do believe. Perhaps it makes them happier or provides them some solace.

    A read through any of the New Atheists books (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris or Hitchens) will provide several debunking of this argument, among them are the support of often immoral institutions and the danger of greater credulity of believing something without evidece.

  2. Is against organized atheism

    Often they see no reason for non-religious to organize, and criticize those who do organize of making atheism into a religion. This however is to deny the very social nature of our species (which becomes especially important for minority groups) and the desire of many to resist growing extremism in religion.

  3. Sees belief as something unnecessary for the educated, but useful for the rest

    This goes along with belief in belief, but furthers it to suggest in an elitist way that atheism is too intellectual for the simpletons, but we wise intellectuals can understand that this is how the world works. This is a very anti-humanistic view that is at least class discrimination if not in some cases racism or otherwise.

  4. Thinks atheists ought to keep quiet

    They agree with religions that criticism of religion ought to be banned or kept down, since offending people is not a civil thing to do. Meanwhile they seem to ignore the fact that the Pope and countless religions call atheists the scum of the Earth and the reason that evil perpetuates (although to be fair sometimes its homosexuals or other faiths).

  5. May be “spiritual but not religious”

    This tends to be used as a holier-than-thou sort of response that spiritualism is positive while religion is negative. Meanwhile, spirituality is either a very nebulous term meaning anything from Carl Sagan’s love of the universe to sorcery and witchcraft.

  6. Sees educated, liberal religions as the norm as opposed to fundamentalists
  7. Often they fail to realize that a lot of homophobic, end-times Christians still exist, and are very powerful in this country right now. They may have theologian friends who confirm this bias, and it tilts their view of religion to be one that is progressive and accepting as opposed to fire and brimstone.

  8. Has never been to an atheist meeting

    The most common response of critics in print and otherwise to atheist groups when they finally meet us in person is how nice we actually are. I’m not sure if they think we should be breathing fire or something, but perhaps actually seeing what we’re about and not trying to base your entire view of our club on our cheeky and provocative advertisements (that are working since they got your attention), would be a way for you to practice the dialogue that you preach. At the very least, check out our website which hosts a forum and tons of other ways you can contribute.

So that’s my rant of the night. I’m not totally sure how to combat these misconceptions beyond working harder to get these people to try to come out and meet some of the nice people who attend our meetings.

Regardless, I’m still trying to decide how much I’ll contribute to The Peak this summer since it’ll be running weekly but with a very small audience. At least the rumour is that the GSS may have failed the Peak funding referendum that was leaning toward ending funding but lacked quorum. In other words I may still be giving $4 per term in the fall and allowed to write for the paper.

Peak excerpts: Grad referendum and anti-vax is dangerous

I guess my blog went down over the weekend. I figured out that it had something to do with my database breaking, but a quick repair seemed to have fixed it. Not exactly good timing as I was enjoying my holiday in Edmonton.

So things are back online now and there’s a bunch of new stories from the Peak.

First, we have two articles standing up for The Peak in the upcoming Graduate Student Society referendum that is asking students to discontinue funding to The Peak. “Grads must vote to keep their voice” is by Brian Labore, and “The question is biased” is by one of my friends from SFU orientation Kristen Soo. Meanwhile, Gary Lim submitted the humour/feature article “Support your student paper” which lists three creative uses for The Peak besides actually reading the paper.

The Peak also featured two news articles about the GSS elections, including on the cover page: “GSS 2010: Meet your candidates” and “GSS candidates square off in debate.”

Also on the topic of the referendum, the Teaching and Support Staff Union, which represents all TAs sent out a letter endorsing the No side of the referendum – telling students to vote to continue funding The Peak:

Dear Members,

We are writing in regards to the upcoming GSS election, and specifically the referendum question in regards to The Peak. We are asking that you vote “no” to the question and support the GSS’s continued funding.

At our last general membership meeting, a number of members expressed concerns with the potential of pulling The Peak’s funding. While we all share the GSS’s concerns with the The Peak’s content and decision-making structures, we wanted to see if the staff of The Peak would be willing to work with graduate students to make improvements so that we could continue our relationship.

As such we formed a committee and in the last two weeks, we have engaged in a fairly broad dialogue with The Peak. The main concerns we outlined to them were

1. Issues of accessibility, which included concerns we had around both the transparency and access to information in terms of how the newspaper was run, how articles were vetted, and the process for article submission. We requested that they post far more information on the website about their structures, submission guidelines, etc. and that they begin to open up the process by which students can write and get involved.

2. Graduate Student Involvement, which included our concern that graduate student voices were not being given adequate space in the newspaper or on the board and that graduate student issues were not being discussed. We requested that they create a graduate issues section, a graduate issues position, and that they begin to actively work with graduate organizations (the TSSU and the GSS) to solicit submissions and tackle graduate student issues.

3. Issues of discrimination and/or oppression, which included concerns around questionable content including potentially racist, sexist, or homophobic articles. We requested that they make anti-oppression/facilitation training mandatory for their editorial staff and, ideally through this training, start to effectively and responsibly think about how to better deal with questionable material and how to better run their meetings to ensure there is space for people who are uncomfortable with offensive material (even if it’s humorous) to express concerns and to motivate discussion on how to deal with it with sensitivity and respect.

The Peak has agreed to work with us on creating a more accessible structure, on targeting more graduate students (whether that’s just through increased content or in a dedicated position), and has indicated an openness towards anti-oppression training.

Given that we had less than two weeks to reach an agreement with The Peak, we can obviously not promise any structural change immediately, but we feel that they have taken our concerns seriously and are willing to work with us to move forwards.

In light of their commitment, and in light of our belief in the necessity of graduate students having a connection to the only student newspaper on campus, we ask that you vote “No.” Especially with bargaining coming up, which increases the importance of our continued communication and connection with undergraduate students, we feel that it is necessary to continue working with The Peak and ask that you help us make it a platform that graduate students can use as a tool of information, advocacy, and change.

The Social Justice Committee

Finally, The Peak also published another opinion piece by myself, probably my last until the summer term starts (since I’m not sure how many serious issues are left this term), this one on the anti-vaccination quackery that’s been spreading. I don’t know if any TXT MSGS were left since I haven’t been to campus yet to pick up a print edition; we’ll find out tomorrow I guess.

Anti-vax is dangerous, dishonest
By Ian Bushfield

Nineteen children in the B.C. interior contracted whooping cough in February, and just recently another 14 people in Vancouver were diagnosed with measles. Both of these diseases had been nearly wiped from the developed world by modern medicine and vaccinations; however, almost none of these people had been properly vaccinated.

This negligence can be explained by a growing anti-science sentiment among practitioners of so-called complementary and alternative medicines. This movement is fed by superstition and conspiratorial beliefs. I have little respect for supposedly harmless beliefs in naturopathy since children are getting unnecessarily sick and in some cases dying.

Despite some legitimate complaints about the unscrupulous behaviour of many pharmaceutical companies, the basic scientific fact remains that modern medicine and vaccinations work. You can thank modern medicine for life spans past 40, child mortality rates below 20 per cent, and many more advances. Our government is not out to poison us; vaccines are tested and drugs are regulated for a reason.

This backlash tends to be due to ignorance. For example, one pseudoscience specialist in the whooping cough outbreak claimed that vaccines contain “muck.”

Her argument is basically that it is okay not to vaccinate children from deadly diseases that we know exist because modern medicine involves spooky chemicals. I am not sure where on the periodic table muck is or from what molecule it is derived, but I will take my chances with it over whooping cough, cholera, tuberculosis, and any number of other diseases that we have essentially defeated through the use of vaccines.

Many of these naturopathic “doctors” further subscribe to homeopathy — the idea that diluting a toxic substance until you just have water will make it more effective in curing the disease that it would normally cause in full dosage. For example, if you got bit by a rattle snake; the homeopath would bring out a vial of water that represents the dilution of snake venom.

The water you drink is supposed to have a memory that recalls having snake venom in it and will therefore purify your body.

Never mind that homeopathy has never been shown to be more than a placebo effect or that most mixtures are so diluted as to not contain a single molecule of the active ingredient; the question is, why would you waste your money on something that shows no efficacy?

Now consider the hypocrisy of the natural medicine movement. They claim that their potions of herbs and supplements are on par or better than evidenced-based medicines. Further, natural medicine is supposedly more pure than what the supposedly evil pharmaceutical companies are selling.

Yet when the government introduces modest legislation to regulate alternative medicines, to ensure that they live up to the claims they make, Big-Natura gets up in arms and claims that government agents are going to break into your house if you give your children ginseng. If their drugs do what they say they do, they ought to have nothing to fear from rules that protect consumers from crooked practices.

It is worth remembering though, that nothing spells profit like sugar pills and snake oil. It is no surprise then that major pharmaceutical companies have already moved into the under-regulated naturopathy market, looking to score a quick dollar off the hippies who try to boycott them.

Modern, science-based medicine brought us out of the dark ages. To make ignorant assertions that witchcraft and sorcery can take us forward borders on the absurd. If there were actual evidence supporting many of the claims being made, doctors would have no quarrel with prescribing homeopathy, acupuncture, and Reiki; however, real doctors are not in the business of giving false hope.

When evidence supports an alternative medicine, it’s just called medicine.

Update: I also just noticed that The Peak picked up an Opinion piece from The Manitoban on Simon Singh winning some ground in the libel suit filed against him by the British Chiropractors Association.

Two more Peak excerpts

A great double-feature in The Peak this week. First almost two-thirds of a page was dedicated to letters defending evolution and rebutting Isaac Seo’s poor arguments for creationism. Give it a full read.

The following TXT MSGS were also submitted in response to my article last week:

Poor Ignorant Ian Bushfield

I’m a committed atheist and even I found the skeptic’s banner offensive and tacky.

I’m not totally sure if this one was pointed at me, but either way:

Go study world religions bro, christianity ain’t the only worldview with ideas about sin.

Next, I submitted the following piece defending The Peak against the upcoming GSS referendum to cut student funding to the paper. I enjoy that they listed me as an “Associate Staff Contributor” in the issue, but I’m not sure if that’s a typo or if the job requirements are merely having x number of articles published. Either way, I’ll take it.

Grads need The Peak
By Ian Bushfield

I like being published as much as the next person. Most people enjoy seeing their words in ink. Perhaps the only thing better than having your own words published is having someone else quote you or report news about your mundane life. And yet, these are the exact privileges that graduate students at SFU are now in the position to give up.

The relatively new Graduate Student Society is holding a referendum with their upcoming elections that asks their constituents if they would like to remove their per-semester funding for The Peak, and thereby lose, not only their voice at the campus level, but also any chance to promote their views to their community.

There are several reasons that some graduate students feel they should no longer support The Peak. The first is that it currently does not represent their views. Very rarely in the past year has the GSS been mentioned in the news, although this may have more to do with the lack of controversy or scandal surrounding the organization. Also, little press has been given to all the various forms of research that is being done on campus. Few graduate students publish comics or editorials, and even fewer write specifically on topics relating to graduates.

Naturally, much of the blame for this graduate neglect rests on the shoulders of graduate students themselves. It is not difficult to get an article published in The Peak. Much like those who find it to be too “right-wing” or poorly written, the best way to change the paper is to fire up your computer and send in an article. The big challenge that is facing every graduate student’s involvement in The Peak is very simple: time.

Almost every graduate student is strapped for time. Between work ing their thesis, TA-ships, courses, and other work they are committed to, finding the time to write an editorial, let alone research and write a full article, is almost inconceivable. In undergrad, it is possible to extend one’s degree from one to an infinite number of years, so as to spend a bit more time writing for a student newspaper; whereas in graduate school the pressure is on to finish one’s degree and get on with your life.

With so little time on their hands, it is somewhat ironic that some have suggested that graduate students could instead publish their own newsletter in place of funding The Peak. It makes little sense that if students are unable to commit the time to write for The Peak that they would instead write for a newsletter with a much smaller audience. Every paper needs a minimal readership to stay interesting and viable; The Peak has those numbers, and I highly doubt that graduate students would be able to achieve anything similar.

Many graduate students, regardless of the upcoming referendum, will continue to read The Peak week after week. Rather than essentially stealing the paper, the honourable thing for graduate students to do is to vote to continue supporting the independent voice on campus, so that we can continue to have our issues discussed and represented.

The Peak may not be the greatest newspaper ever written, but it remains a strong link between all the constituents of the greater Simon Fraser community. We should vote to keep it that way.

I’m still trying to decide if I want to submit a piece on humanist ethics, homeopathy and anti-vaxxers or something else for next week. Any preferences?

Update:

I almost forgot that SFU Skeptic member Chris Lonergan got a photo of our banner published in the Community Photos section, with the title “Conflicting perspectives.”

conflicting_perspectives

Update-2:

I just noticed that The Peak also reposted the above article on their “Since 1965” blog. This blog has lots of links challenging the GSS referendum.

Getting the run-around

In my continual efforts to air my grievance about the upcoming SFU graduate student referendum over funding to the student newspaper, The Peak, I have a few more pieces of (mis?)information.

I left off having asked the president of the GSS why the question is phrased in the negative (“Do you agree that the Society discontinue collecting…”) to which he replied:

Hi Ian,
It was decided that we would use the same referendum question as the 2007 referendum that asked the same question.  This question is identical to that one.
I hope that clears it up.
Josh

However, such questions tend to be documented and the GSS, being a relatively open organization, has all of its minutes on its website for the perusal. A quick search finds two references to this 2007 referendum. The first, in September 2007 [pdf] states:

11. New business

a. Referendum endorsement

MOVED that council endorse “yes” votes for referendum questions on membership fees and levies for the Society’s general membership fee, capital levy, health & benefit plan levy, UPass levy, Peak fee, SFPIRG fee, CJSF fee, Student Refugee Program fee, and First Nations Student Association fee.

CARRIED (Schroeder opposed)

And the results are reported in the February 2009 AGM [pdf] (see page 15/16):

October 2007: Referendum to set all initial membership fees of the Gss, including… Peak fee… Council endorsed a “yes” vote for all of these fees. Polling occurred online on October 29th and 30th. Between 584 and 591 votes were cast for each referendum question and all referendum questions passed.

Both of these quotes imply to me that the referendum of 2007 was not worded the same as this current one at all. I’ve sent these notes and the questions they raise back to Joshua Newman, in dwindling hopes of discovering much more from him.

Meanwhile, my council rep reported to me that most of the council discussion revolved around whether to have a referendum, and 40% of council was against any Peak referendum. Also, one of my friends on Facebook has taken to this issue too and reports from her rep a similar vote but “quite a bit of discussion regarding the wording” occurred.

While I’m pessimistic that this question will be changed, I think some noise needs to be heard so we can demand better from our council and that people realize that they need to read the questions before instinctively voting yes (especially if they read “Do you agree… the Peak funding”).

On the positive, I will have another article in the Peak on Monday that deals explicitly with this referendum, however I didn’t indulge the phrasing issue so my conclusion was to endorse voting to continue funding the Peak.

Changing questions

Not too long after I sent my grievance to the GSS elections committee, I got a reply letting me know that the referendum is under sole control of the President and GSS council, so my letter was forwarded to Joshua Newman. Here’s his reply, which also came very quickly:

Hi Ian,
The referendum question regarding The Peak was developed by the GSS Council, an elected body of 35 grad students representing every department at SFU.  Council determined that this was the most fair way to ask this question.
Thanks for your concern.
Joshua Newman
President
Graduate Student Society at SFU

To which I just replied,

Thanks for the quick reply Joshua,

I noticed that the agenda for the 6 March council meeting [pdf, see page 15] indicate that the proposed question was:

"Do you want to continue paying $4.90 per student per semester to support The Peak?"

May I ask, since the minutes aren’t available online yet (I assume they won’t be until after they are approved at the next council meeting at the end of April, well after the election), what discussion took place around changing the wording?

Ian Bushfield
MSc. Physics Student at SFU

I continue to urge all concerned graduate students to email Joshua Newman at president@sfugradsociety.ca and also contact their caucus reps to find out why the question was changed.

Vote NO to discontinuing funding from the Peak!

Live Blog: Jesus 2 Perspectives

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The following is a play-by-play of the Jesus: Two Perspectives that occurred at SFU today.