Rankings overload, debating the use of fur in clothing and the pros and cons of fracking
Do you realize how many times the Winter 2015 issue referenced U of T’s international rankings?
There was Meric Gertler’s column, which said the university needs more public money if it is to retain its “top-20 global standing.” There was the comment in the Ian Hacking article: “If you were to try to list the top 10 philosophers working today, Ian would be right in the thick of it.” And there was the infographic, “U of T: Canada’s Best University,” which said the school “has consistently placed in the top 25 internationally.”
Ours is indeed a thrilling institution but why this obsession with stature? It makes the university (and its magazine) look insecure – as if it doesn’t quite believe it’s worthy and has continually to prove it. But more than that, this quantitative approach is unimaginative. It’s the thinnest way of thinking about a university. U of T is a hub of creativity, freshness and playfulness yet the lens of numerical rank is the very opposite. We need to discuss U of T in a manner that’s as original as the place itself.
BA 1987 Victoria, Toronto
In the Pink
I am fascinated by the photo on the cover of your Winter 2015 issue, and especially by the Escher-like stairway. I am sure there was nothing like this around the campus in my time at U of T in the 1950s. I should like to see it the next time I visit Toronto, and therefore should be most grateful if you would let me know in which building to look for it.
Maurice H. Brush
BA 1956 UC, MA 1957, Toronto
Ed note: That eye-catching pink stairway is located in the Rotman School of Management’s new building, at 105 St. George St.
Respect for Animals
Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss says his company uses coyote fur in its jackets because the animals are “overpopulated” (“The Reluctant CEO,” Winter 2015). Coyotes aren’t overpopulated; people are. Over the course of 10,000 years, we’ve taken over this planet and brought it to its knees. Mr. Reiss’s company is a clean-up crew, nothing more, eking last profits from the scattered remains of non-human land life. Respect for opinion ends where another being’s skin begins.
PhD 2003, Toronto
Dani Reiss responds: This is the kind of discourse that made me love my years at U of T. We are fortunate to live in a great country where debate like this can happen freely. My response isn’t an attempt to change anyone’s beliefs, but to clarify what we believe, because I think it’s fair, balanced and respectful. Some people think killing animals for any reason is wrong. I respect that opinion, but I don’t share it. I would not allow Canada Goose to use fur in our products if I couldn’t look myself in the mirror every morning and believe we were doing the right thing, for the right reasons. According to the Fur Council of Canada, coyote populations are indeed highly abundant. The practices governing hunting coyotes in Canada are strictly monitored and enforced, and are based on international regulations. Finally, coyote fur is one of the only types of fur that works against freezing winds. When you make jackets for people who live and work in the coldest places on earth (including many of our great Canadian cities), functionality is not something we will ever compromise on.
Fracking “Hysteria” Unwarranted
The public debate over hydraulic fracturing is marred, like so many other debates over natural resource extraction, transportation and use, by focus on various concerns and feelings, with little regard for scientific facts and true expert opinion. Many statements in “On Shaky Ground” (Winter 2015) are simplistic, out of date and out of context.
In particular, the “concerns” about water usage and contamination are largely uninformed opinions not backed by facts. Expert work, led by Maurice Dusseault at the University of Waterloo, shows that the fracking process itself presents little danger to potable aquifers. Faulty or degraded wellbore containment systems (or “casings”) in all wells, not just those that are fracked, present the greatest dangers – and must be systematically addressed. We need to rise above name-calling and the generally uninformed hysteria that characterizes mainstream media discussions.
BSc 1978 UTM, Calgary
Fracking Concerns Understated
“On Shaky Ground” badly understates the concerns about fracking. It fails to mention, for example, the growing evidence that fracking triggers earthquake activity. It fails to talk about the massive leakage of methane gas – a powerful greenhouse gas – from fracking operations into the atmosphere. It mentions fracking’s effects on the sage grouse, but not any of the other species of flora and fauna, because the fact is that no proper environmental assessments have been done on the biological impacts of fracking. Ultimately, fracking is simply another way of extracting fossil carbon from the earth and releasing it into the atmosphere, driving global climate change, while postponing the necessary rapid transition to fully renewable energy sources.
LLB 1981, Toronto
Levelling the Playing Field
Please allow me to suggest another perspective on Bruce Kidd’s call for PanAm/ParapanAm Games volunteers (“Dive Right In,” Autumn 2014). Considering the Games’ excessive executive pay and bonuses, along with continuing cost overruns being billed to taxpayers, I wonder why anyone would willingly work for free when those at the top are being paid handsomely for their work? Either everyone should be paid fairly, or else maybe the Games executives can lead by example by taking a 100 per cent pay cut and becoming volunteers themselves. Of course it’ll never happen, so maybe potential volunteers should boycott the Games and give their time to a more worthy charity where everyone is a volunteer and nobody lives off the public trough.
Will Steeves Mancini
BA 1991 UC, Toronto