Taking a closer look

This newspaper aims to inform us about UTM. Its right there in the nameplate — The Voice of University of Toronto Mississauga. That, more than ever before, is our focus this year. Weve concentrated on campus news as opposed to national and international news. Weve written about the RAWC.

Weve published student prose, featured ECSPERT and the CCIT Council, and lent many students a space in these pages — just look at the amount of contributors in every weeks masthead.

We have, in other words, written plenty about students, for students. Unfortunately, thats not all we have done. Forgetting that UTM is not just about students, weve treated UTM staff as if it were composed of faceless, robotic bureaucrats. They are most certainly not.

Theres Douglas Leeies at the Registrars office, who helps student after student with a patience and generosity that never fail to amaze me. Theres that polite grinning lady serving coffee in the CCT building, who once told me that I had something to do with horses in a previous life. Theres that gentleman of a shuttle bus driver — I wont mention his name — whom I overheard last week on the cell phone. He was talking to someone, possibly a relative who was ill, and his voice was full of concern. Yet many students who climbed onto that bus ignored his greeting. And theres Stephanie Sullivan with her charming accent out of a British movie, who accommodates professional writing students requests with ease, perfect manners and effectiveness.

Then, there are professors. Some, perhaps many, are boring. Others are just plain awful. (A certain Philosophy professor in the North Building was so rude and mean and produced such unfair tests that many of us dreaded that class, despite being seasoned third and fourth-year veterans.)

On the other hand, many UTM professors are excellent. Three of them changed my life. Others made me think, made me want to learn beyond what they offered in class. They all made me a better man.

I cant be alone in this. I know there must be students out there who admire and respect some of their professors. Yet we have never interviewed any of them at The Medium. Or rather, we never had. Not until two weeks ago, when we sat down with one professor to discuss his likes and dislikes, about what he wants to instill in students, about Dexter and Nazi Germany and jiu jitsu and how to teach kids to love broccoli.

There are quite a few reasons why we never did it before. First, we never thought itd be possible to persuade a professor to share personal beliefs. Second, professors seem reluctant to approach us, let alone write for us — I still remember how surprised we were last year when Philosophy Professor Paul Franks sent a letter to the then-editor. (By the way, Professor Franks, thank you).

Ive often scratched my head, wondering what the reasons were behind this reluctance. A general bias against media? A mistrust toward a student (read, amateur) newspaper? A fear that students will take too many liberties with whichever professor decided to step forward into the spotlight?
Only one way to find out. This is why I sat at my desk two weeks ago and wrote Professor Dax Urbszat a lengthy email, one in which I tried to anticipate every possible reason why he might say no to an interview and countered it with assurances that wed be professional and wouldn’t compromise his private life and on and on.

His quick reply? A simple Why not?

I first met Professor Urbszat in my first year, when I took PSY100. The course was fascinating, not just because the subject itself was fascinating, but because he made it alive and relevant and fun. So much fun, in fact, that I enrolled in a psychology as a major the next year.

My admiration and gratitude are not uncommon. Professor Urbszat is possibly the only professor ever to have a student-created Facebook group pronouncing him a superhero. (Seriously). Ask any psychology student about him and they will tell you they love him. They will tell you hes great. They will tell you he teaches in a practical way (he likes the term holistic ) and that he tries to make you see how you can apply it in your day-to-day life.

As for the interview itself, we decided to lay it out in a novel way, eliminating the questions themselves. Typical Q & A formats tend to bore readers. This way, I hope, will seem more interesting.

So, before you turn to page 8, let me ask you this: do you know any professor or cleaning person or UTM official or TA who, in your opinion, is doing an outstanding job? If you do, then let us know. We will do our best to profile him or her, much like we did with Professor Urbszat, so that we can all learn about staff and professors as human beings, about what drives them to come to work every day and make a difference.

Heres hoping that this will be the first of a long series of professor profiles.

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