Tag Archives: U of L

University of Lethbridge and the Wildrose Party

Earlier today, the Wildrose Party released information that accused the University of Lethbridge of illegally donating money to the Progressive Conservative party through golf tournaments and Premier Dinners.

This is following the recent allegations that different public organizations, such as municipalities and other academic institutions, have illegally donated through political fundraisers; as well as accusations that MLA’s are soliciting donations from sources that are illegal under the Election Finances and Contributions Act.

A serious issue to be sure, and one that many have noted is sadly unsurprising due to the way politics is in Alberta and the dominance a massive party 40 years in power has over the entire province.

The University of Lethbridge has responded to the allegations made by the Wildrose Alliance Party:

The University of Lethbridge responds to today’s allegations by the Wildrose Party as follows:

1.    In the fall 2005, the University of Lethbridge was notified of changes to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

2.    As soon as the University of Lethbridge was notified of changes to the Act, University Administration, the Board of Governors and the Board Finance and Audit Committee took immediate steps to ensure the University was in compliance with the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

3.    There is a Board of Governors Policy in place, which reflects the Act’s guidelines and prohibits the University from purchasing tickets to political party fundraising functions where the cost per ticket exceeds $25.

4.    This policy was implemented upon notification of changes to the Act and was discussed at the first opportunity with the Board of Governors.

5.    The University has strictly adhered to this Policy.  Individuals who attend functions hosted by any political party are not reimbursed by the University.

6.    The October 2007 expense referenced in the Wildrose release complies with the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act in that it was not a contribution to a political party.  It was an event organized by a student group.

7.    There have been no expenses that violate the University of Lethbridge Board Policy or the Province of Alberta Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act since the policy and Act were implemented six years ago.

At this time, this statement is the University’s immediate response.

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A life of service, an impact one person can make

For my last Meliorist features piece I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Dez Kamara, a student and a friend. Since meeting him at CKXU radio station in 2007/2008, I have grown to better understand the incredible person he is and admire his never ending compassion and care for all people.

Born and raised in Sierra Leone, Dez Kamara’s memories of his childhood brings out a huge smile, a glint of a happy life full of love and support. He describes his home life as, “growing up as this Catholic family, our dad was the head master, our mom is a teacher. We grew up in a very conventional way, we are very grateful today. The time and the money, it was tough, but they really worked hard to educate all five kids.”

The family’s Catholic faith was an instrumental factor in their later involvement in the conflict, which confronted Dez and his family in 1991, as the rebels crept closer to the capitol, and the fighting and raids became more unpredictable and progressively violent. “Our parents, and people around us, society, we’re so homogeneous that when something happened they made sure they informed people on what was happening. Especially when they started conscripting children. At the time I was 13 years old. Growing up as a kid, and then all of a sudden there was this conflict. It’s hard to imagine, it’s really hard to imagine.”

As the conflict progressively engulphed the country, Dez and his family worked with an aid organization, Catholic Relief Services, to distribute desperately needed food and items to IDPs – Internally Displaced Peoples. Aside from aid distribution, CRS also worked to register displaced peoples and communicate information about persons safety to relatives inside the country and outside.

In 2000 Dez joined CAUSE Canada, an organization that provides support and aid to under-assisted areas throughout the world. It was through CAUSE Canada that Dez began with high schools throughout the country to empower students to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and stop the spread of misinformation. Dez explains the challenges to this campaign: “In our culture, sex in not discussed publically, so it is a challenge to get the students to take up the issue of sex, because we cannot talk about AIDS without talking about sex, so it was so important, there was so much impact. We were doing HIV/AIDS rallies, and HIV/AIDS TV competitions, radio talk shows.”

While he was working with high school students in Sierra Leone through CAUSE, Dez was asked to join St. Michaels Lodge, an organization that provided rehabilitation to former child soldiers by providing skill training, educational prospects and psychological counseling to begin preparing these children for the outside world. “We helped the kids to acquiesce skills.

The kids who did not want to go to school, who were too advanced in their ages to go to school, they learned soap making, tailoring, and other skills. There were also kids who still wanted to go to school, so we helped identify the schools for them and talking to the institutions so they could accept these kids, and understand the plight they found themselves in.”

It was at St. Michaels that Dez first worked with the documentary crew that he would later travel back to Sierra Leone with, three years after he left the country. The crew wanted to capture the wake of destruction the conflict left on the children who were, most often forcibly, conscripted as child soldiers; as well as document the rehabilitation efforts of six former child soldiers who were residents at St. Michaels. Dez was instrumental in the documentary’s success, as he was able to speak to the children and act as both a mediator and an interpreter.

It was also through CAUSE Canada that Dez would get his first opportunity to visit Canada as a G8 youth delegate for 2002 Kananaskis G8 summit. As the representative of west Africa, Dez led a team of five other delegates though the G8 agenda which featured a hope to develop a strategy of sorts that dealt with peace and security, governance issues, economic growth, sustainable development, improving health care particularly that which dealt with HIV/AIDS, and improving access to food and water.

In the spring 2003 Dez wrapped up his work with CAUSE, and was offered a position with the UN backed court created in Sierra Leone to “try those who had the greatest responsibility.”

Dez worked with the outreach department, representing the northern region of the state to prepare community meetings, and act as a mediator between the community and court, “we informed people so they knew what was going on.” Dez worked as a liaison for the civil court for a year, and then in August of 2004 he came to Canada to study, having been accepted at St. Mary’s University College in Canada.

Dez ended up at the University of Lethbridge to pursue a degree he couldn’t get at the college he started from in Calgary, Alberta. “When I came to Canada in 2002, I visited the university and got my acceptance letter and went back home and started working hard to come over here to study. Officially I arrived to study in 2004.”

After a year at St. Mary’s, Dez transferred to the University of Lethbridge, majoring in Anthropology, where he continued to work within the Lethbridge community to raise awareness about conflict and peace in Africa. His weekly radio show on CKXU features African artists carrying peaceful political messages.

Then in 2007, once again he was contacted by the documentary makers from the first St. Michaels film about doing a follow-up film to find the six children originally focused on. However, once the crew got to Sierra Leone they quickly realized that the first challenge would be to find the children in a country still struggling to maintain a rule of law and amongst thousands of young people who would be unlikely to confess their past as child soldiers.

Going back to Sierra Leone was difficult, and it left an impression of hopelessness on Dez; there is a long way to go still and precious little resources available to get there. Despite the challenges, Dez sounds hopeful for his place of birth and when speaking of Canada’s involvement with the reconstruction and peace efforts, pride seeped into his words and the hard frustration slowly ebbed away.

Shooting the documentary confronted Dez with many of a worst realties modern Sierra Leone has. A huge homeless population in the capitol city where there was once almost no one without a home.

In a conversation with an aid worker in the film, it is discussed how there is one psychiatrist and two psychiatric nurses in the country. Only three people equipped to deal with the emotional and psychological trauma of millions as they return to their homes and cope with the atrocities they had experienced.

Aid organizations have pulled out to go elsewhere, and meanwhile hundreds of thousands of people are in desperate need of support. The film, The Kids of St. Michaels, shed much needed light on the continual plight of Sierra Leone’s people and the support that is still needed there.

Dez Kamara’s strength is inspiring and is the kind of quiet and lasting strength that will leaves an impact on anyone he meets and any organization he works for. With more people like him, and more people who recognize the benefits of serving others, there is hope for Sierra Leone and for communities and individuals suffering worldwide.

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Take to the streets: Student activism rises again

This year, budget makers in America and Canada seemed to have forgotten their humble beginnings. Post-secondary education saw massive cuts, both to operating grants for institutions and in research dollars, maintenance funds, and student funding. Scholarships, grants, bursaries were all depreciated, leaving low income students little choice but student loans, third party loans, or dropping down to part time status to be able to work while obtaining an education.

Students across North America are not taking these cuts lying down. In effect, they are causing a perfect storm. In America, students across the states are protesting to their elected assemblies. Monday March 15th, students in Georgia came together to tell lawmakers that they vote, they are educated, and they are articulate. Georgia has 35 public institutions, and some students awoke at 5 a.m. to drive to attend the rally at the capitol city.

Idaho students are being hit hard. Tuition increases of 50% in just one-year means greater stress on economic resources and of course all the ill effects that come with. By the current 2010 budget, state funding remained $78.8 million, while student fees climbed to $84.5 million. This is a sharp contrast with Alberta PSE practice, which is that student tuition cannot make up any more than 30% of the total institutions operating budget. The keyword there is tuition, other fees can increase by as much as the institution or the students will allow. Idaho students came out to protest on March 11th, a small but vocal contingent.

Florida and California are the states setting the bar for university activism, with Florida universities pushing students hard to make their voices known on March 24th, a day of action to be held on the steps of the Capitol. California, though, is where the jam is really happening. Students are working with faculty and staff members, shutting down their campuses and basically throwing a highly sophisticated and intellectual tantrum.

Every lawmaker, be they Canadian or American has issued very similar public reactions. Yes, cuts are being made but that does not mean that students will have to bear the brunt of the cost saving measures. It does not necessarily mean increased tuition; it means that institutions will have to re-evaluate their spending habits. Alberta’s own Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Doug Horner, has said something very much to that effect both to the public media and to students in private meetings. This is an incredibly short sighted and irresponsible response, in this writer’s opinion.

By cutting research funding, universities are forced to find ways to fund expensive but well publicized research projects, such as our own $20 million man. If that funding dried up, I would be hardly surprised to see the U of L make cuts somewhere to ensure Dr. McNaughton could carry on with his work at the CCBN. U of L’s name is riding on the success of high profile academics such as Dr. McNaughton and the many others who are well published and academically visible. Sometimes, this comes at the cost of providing support to professors who are less funded, and have more trouble receiving the increasingly elusive grant funding.

I’ve been in university for six years this April. In six years I have seen tuition increase, fee referendums pass and fail. I have seen buildings built, a much-needed daycare open, and countless student organized and directed events.

I have also had the amazing opportunity to work as a student advocate, representative, and activist. Campus – community radio was and has been my dig for the past six years, and I have seen the power the medium of radio can employ. I have hosted a sex talk show, a news program, and a music program featuring independent artists locally and across Canada. Most visibly, I have been elected to serve as a public official to represent students within the university community and to the provincial government. I have also had the great pleasure of writing for the on-campus publication, The Meliorist, since 2006. All of these experinces have thrust me, sometimes unknowingly, into student activism.

Students are notorious for their activist ways. Despite the increasingly used label of “apathetic,” students are proving this month both in Canada and the U.S. that this is far from the truth. Here in Alberta, students province wide will be attending a rally planned by the University of Alberta on the steps of the Legislature building March 18th to physically show the government that these cuts are hurting students, and students are no longer going to be able to handle the burdens they are forced to bear. This comes after months of individual protests at institutions across the province, and several Alberta wide campaigns planed by organized advocacy groups.

Students are whipping up a perfect storm, the question is though, what will they do with the commotion they created after the winds die down? How effective will this protesting, rallying, and general rabble rousing be? Will lawmakers in the U.S. and Canada hear the cries and reverse their cuts? Will institutions recognize that without students, they are reduced to commercial research entities pumping out name brand pharmaceuticals?

Student activism has led to revolutions in the past, but this is not the generation of the 1960s. We are students, in the here and now, facing issues in the here and now: climate change, student poverty, lack of housing, and de-prioritization of post-secondary education.

War protests still occur, and some get a great deal of media attention. However, protesting is only one part of student activism now. After the protest, students must keep going, keep trying to meet with their MLA’s and their MP’s, their congressman, and their political leaders. They must keep sending letters, and they must keep talking to institution’s administration. Students must keep working, because it is not a solitary action that will change anyone’s mind.

If all else fails, students and activists need to run for office and turn it inside out. Forget trying to work within the system, change it.

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De-smoging the press

Is it the media that’s ruining the environment? With climate scientists worldwide constantly communicating to the global population that climate change is indeed occurring and that it is undoubtedly in part due to humanity’s incessant consumption, how is it that reputable papers and well-trained journalists continue to claim that there are two sides to the climate change story?

Richard Littlemore, co-author of the DeSmog Blog and Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming is clearly the right individual to debunk the climate change myths. Intelligent, articulate and relatable, he presents information clearly and in a way that gives his audience the context needed to understand why it is that the press and public relations firms use these climate change deniers, and why people can’t help but believe them.

Regardless of what journalists may claim, they (the media) are usually not experts in a specific field. Journalists may have done extensive research and may have covered that subject for years but they likely do not have training in scientific methodology or have been exposed to the primary research that is transformed into accessible charts and documentation.

Littlemore understands this better than most. His long history in journalism and public relations gives him the background to decode the climate deniers’ convoluted logic, and his close relationships with climate scientists, notably with Dr. Dan Johnson, a tenured and extremely well regarded environmental science professor in the University of Lethbridge, gives him the information necessary to prove that although the media can be deceptive, the facts are irrefutable. Littlemore explains that, “It is all about being skeptical. Being skeptical isn’t about standing back from the information, being skeptical means doing your homework. You look hard at the people who are telling you things.”

The DeSmog Blog has a three-part test, a test that anyone can and should use before they take in information and believe it as fact. Firstly, are they really experts? Second, are they doing work in the field? Thirdly, are they self-interested in some way? Littlemore and James Hoggan – the other author of the above mention blog and book – recommend this test as a way for the average media consumer to decode the agendas behind controversial climate change statements.

Between 1993 and 2003, out of 928 articles discussing climate change in academic, peer-reviewed articles, not one mentioned a possible controversy regarding the scientific data or opinion available. Compare this to 636 articles written and published in mainstream media, by journalists who may or may not have a significant scientific background, of which 53% claim that a controversy over the validity of the climate change argument exists. Littlemore explains that, “it is a complicated issue, and you do have to do a little work to understand the science, but once you understands the science you are harder to swindle.”

The science though can be left by the wayside when political interests become more prevalent that scientific fact. Nothing exemplifies this better than the Copenhagen Conference. The discussion about climate change and the need for immediate action was greatly overshadowed by the political nature of the conference and the poor country versus rich country dilemma that overtook all ability to reach a consensus on action. As Littlemore stated, “If you look at what’s been happening over the past year, we have been losing, and losing badly.”

Bringing this issue even closer to home, a U of L professor and the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Grassland Ecosystems, Dr. Dan Johnson recently underwent a painful and drawn out legal battle with a well-known and unfortunately oft-cited climate change denier, Dr. Tim Ball, who is described as a “renowned environmental consultant and former climatology professor.” Dr. Ball is a former faculty member of the University of Winnipeg and currently works as a scientific advisor for the International Climate Science Coalition, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and the Friends of Science.

In April of 2006, Dr. Ball wrote an article for the Calgary Herald expounding on his views of climate change and denying the human involvement in this phenomenon. Dr. Johnson wrote a letter to the editor, exposing some of the inaccuracies of Dr. Ball’s statements regarding his term at the University of Winnipeg, as well as the claim that he was the first climatology PhD. In response to Dr. Johnson’s letter, Dr. Ball sued him, claiming defamation of character.

This is the kind of deus ex machina that climate chance deniers work with. When their credibility is questioned they use the overarching authority of the legal system, instead of the basic law of science. While they cannot prove they are right, they argue, and given enough money and time they can beat what is clearly the truth.

All of this looks bleak; it looks like the media will be humanity’s downfall and that good people like Dr. Johnson and Littlemore will not be listened to, as they should be. However, change is truly possible. When asked how we as a society move on, Littlemore responded with, “We really need to shut down the people who have now come to dominate the conversation, and we need to do that by pointing out how thin their information really is. Then, we have to get socially active. We need that kind of 1960’s style activism. That needs to start in the demonstration of the public appetite for action from government.”

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