Report on the Senior College Colloquium Is the existence of privileged groups essential to the functioning of societies? October 21, 2021

October 21, 2021, 2:00 -4:00 pm

Chairs: Daphne and Charles Maurer

Attendance: 18

Location: Zoom

Is the existence of privileged groups essential to the functioning of societies?

The discussion was lively and involved different approaches to inequality. The Maurers presented poll data that showed that most people thought equality was desirable, but in diverse situations, wanted leadership. Bernd Baldus summed his research on the origins of inequality. Martin Klein suggested that historical change has involved the ability of elites extract wealth from the masses, which they often used for their own benefit. There was no articulation of a belief if perfect equality, but there was generally it was desirable to limit inequality and exploitation.


Most modern societies are hierarchical, with an advantaged privileged class prominent in their governance. The same holds for groups of animals. What does this tell us about human nature? About modern societies? 

For a discussion of current western attitudes toward hierarchies, see: 

Starmans, C., Sheskin, M., & Bloom, P. (2017). Why people prefer unequal societies. Nature Human Behaviour, 1, 0082.

For a discussion of the ease with which hierarchies are accepted, see:

Koski, J., Xie, H., & Olson, I. (2015). Understanding social hierarchies: The neural and psychological foundations of status perception. Social Neuroscience, 10(5), 527-550.

For an historical perspective, see:

The original egalitarian societies: What human history tells us about human nature, 19 February 2016. 

Senior College, University of Toronto Presents the Art Show: Helen Lenskyj’s AUSTRALIA: TREES, MOUNTAINS, AND WATER on September 17, 2020 at 2:00-4:00pm

Art Show Opening with a Short Presentation by the Artist, Helen Lenskyj






Thursday, September 17, 2020, 2:00-4:00pm

The event is Free. All are welcome, but we do require registration by Monday, September 14, 2020.

Please register at:

The catalogue can be found at


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October 2021

SC Talk: Laura Cirelli, Psychology, U of T, “Dancing to Wheels on the Bus: The Social-emotional Context of Rhythm Perception and Production in Infancy”

October 13, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Speaker: Laura Cirelli, Psychology, U of T Title: “Smiling and Dancing to Wheels on the Bus: The Social-emotion Context of Musical Engagement in Infancy” Introducer and Host: Daphne Maurer Abstract: Around the world, caregivers engage musically with their infants. These experiences not only capture infant attention, but also have important implications for emotion regulation and forge social bonds. My research explores the social-emotional implications of these early musical interactions, and the active role that infants play in their own musical…

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SC Talk: David Novak, Religion and Philosophy, U of T, “The New World of Jewish- Christian Relations”

October 20, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Speaker: David Novak, Religion and Philosophy, U of T Title: “The New World of Jewish- Christian Relations” Introducer: Linda Corman Host: Linda Hutcheon Abstract: Until the middle of the 20th century, Jewish-Christian relations were generally acrimonious. Most Christians resented the refusal of most Jews to adopt Christianity, thereby abandoning Judaism. Jews in turn resented this Christian imposition on their theological-political independence. The fact that Christians held political power over Jews contributed to this mutual acrimony. However, due to the emergence of…

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SC Talk: Barrington Walker, History/ Assoc. V-P Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Wilfrid Laurier, “Blackness, Violence and Modern Canada”

October 27, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Barrington Walker, History/ Assoc. V-P Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Wilfrid Laurier “Blackness, Violence and Modern Canada” Introducer and Host: Marty Klein The link to register is The Zoom link will be sent to registrants only.

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November 2021

SC Talk: Candace Kruttschnitt, SC Fellow, Sociology and Criminology, U of T, “A Different Approach to Examining Prisoner Re-entry: Life as a Film”

November 3, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Speaker: Candace Kruttschnitt, SC Fellow, Sociology and Criminology, U of T Title: “A Different Approach to Examining Prisoner Re-entry: Life as a Film” Introducer: Peter Hajnal; Host: Jim Gurd The link to register is The Zoom link will be sent to registrants only.  

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SC Talk: Janet Rossant, Molecular Genetics, U of T; “Stem Cells and Gene Editing: The Science and the Ethical Debates”

November 10, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Speaker: Janet Rossant, Molecular Genetics, U of T Introducer: Bill Logan; Host: Michael Hutcheon. Title: “Stem Cells and Gene Editing: The Science and the Ethical Debates” The link to register is The Zoom link will be sent to registrants only.

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SC Talk: Trevor Levere, History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, UofT; “Science and Arctic Exploration from Ross (1818) to Nares and Feilden (1875-76)”

November 17, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Speaker: Trevor Levere, History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, UofT Title: “Science and Arctic Exploration from Ross (1818) to Nares and Feilden (1875-76)" Introducer: Bibhu Mohanty; Host: Daphne Maurer Abstract: From 1818 until the loss of the last Franklin Expedition, the Royal Navy undertook a series of expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage. Admiralty instructions always included scientific observations. After the loss of Franklin and his ships and men, the Admiralty was anxious to avoid further expenses and…

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Sali Tagliamonte, Linguistics, U of T; “Soakers, Slims and Other Expressions: Including Ontario Dialects in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)”

November 24, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Speaker: Sali Tagliamonte, Linguistics, U of T Title: “Soakers, Slims and Other Expressions: Including Ontario Dialects in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)” Introducer: Monique Nemni Host: Linda Hutcheon Abstract: In this presentation, I will discuss research I have been doing on the dialects of Ontario. The Ontario Dialects Project (ODP), as we refer to this enterprise, has been documenting the dialects of Ontario, Canada, by collecting linguistic data from Toronto, the urban centre of Ontario and the largest city in…

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January 2022

SC Talk: Peter Alberti, Medicine, U of T – “Victorian Doctor, Sir William Wilde, Otologist, Archeologist, Antiquarian, Author, Traveler, Philanderer, Genius. March 1815 – May 1876, Famous Father of an (in)Famous Son” January 5

January 5 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

SC Talk: Peter Alberti, Medicine, U of T Title: “Victorian Doctor, Sir William Wilde, Otologist, Archeologist, Antiquarian, Author, Traveler, Philanderer, Genius. March 1815 – May 1876, Famous Father of an (in)Famous Son” Introducer and Host: Michael Hutcheon Abstract: William Wilde was born at the end of the Napoleonic wars on the West Coast of Ireland, spoke Gaelic as a child before undertaking a surgical apprenticeship, in English speaking Dublin, at the age of 17. He was a highly talented but…

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SC Talk: Paul Frankland, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, “The Persistence and Transience of Memory”

January 12 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Host:  Jim Gurd Introducer:  Joanne Rovet Speaker: Paul Frankland, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto Title: “The Persistence and Transience of Memory” Abstract: The predominant focus in the neurobiological study of memory has been on remembering (persistence). However, recent studies have considered the neurobiology of forgetting (transience). In my talk I will draw parallels between neurobiological and computational mechanisms underlying transience. I will propose that it is the interaction between persistence and transience that allows for intelligent decision-making in dynamic, noisy…

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Kenneth Deer, Bear Clan of the Mohawk Nation of the Kahnawake Territory – “The Long Journey toward UNDRIP”.

January 13 @ 12:00 am

Speaker: Dr. Kenneth Atsenhaienton Deer, Bear Clan of the Mohawk Nation of the Kahnawake Territory Introducer: Peter Hajnal; remarks by Peter Russell Title: “The Development of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: A Haudenosaunee Perspective” Abstract: Like our Elders tell us, we start all stories at the beginning. This presentation begins with the establishment of the Haudenosaunee also known as the Six Nations or the Iroquois Confederacy. Then it moves on to taking our grievances to the…

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The Expanding Universe of Astronomy
By John R. Percy
Professor Emeritus: Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Science Education
University of Toronto

What an interesting project — to encourage our members to reflect on the evolution of their discipline!  I’m not a professional historian – far from it – but I’m actively interested in heritage.  I lead astronomical walking tours of our campus for Heritage Toronto, and give public presentations based on the walk.  I prepared the “Astronomy at U of T” page in the Senior College Encyclopaedia.  Toronto has a proud astronomical heritage, going back to — and beyond — the iconic 1855 Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory – now called the Stewart Observatory, and home to the U of T Student Union.

In the 60 years since I was an undergraduate astronomy student at U of T, humans have flown in space and landed on the moon.  Space probes have explored all the planets in the solar system (including the ex-planet Pluto) and many of their moons.  Thousands of “exoplanets” have been discovered around other stars, including dozens of Earth-like ones.  Astronomers now understand the life cycles of the sun and stars, including their bizarre end-products: white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.  They have shed new light on the origin and evolution of galaxies and the universe itself, and even recorded the after-glow of the universe’s birth – the so-called Big Bang.  Science speculation and fiction has become science fact – in living colour.

These advances have come about through new instruments and techniques: giant telescopes on mountaintops in Chile and Hawai’i, telescopes in space, super-sensitive electronic detectors, observations across the electromagnetic spectrum from gamma rays to radio waves, and powerful computers and software to remotely operate our telescopes, analyze the “big data” from them, and model the structure and evolution of stars, galaxies, and the universe.  Canada is part of many of these projects.  The costs can be high, which requires either international collaboration (e.g. the European Southern Observatory in Chile) or a rich patron (e.g. the Keck Observatory in Hawai’i).  This research also requires an increasingly interdisciplinary approach: physics, engineering, mathematics, statistics, computer science, Earth and planetary science.

As is usually the case, such advances have led to new and deeper questions.  What is the “dark matter” that makes up most of the mass of the universe?  What is the “dark energy” which causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate?  How do supermassive black holes form at the centres of galaxies, including ours?  What is the ultimate nature of matter, anyway?  (Observations of the Big Bang can help.)  Is there any form of life on the dozens of newly-discovered Earth-like planets?   And more philosophical questions: what came before the Big Bang?  So awe and wonder continue.

The number of professional astronomers and graduate students in Canada has quadrupled since the formation of the professional Canadian Astronomical Society in 1971.  This is in part because of the steady growth of university enrolments, and exciting research opportunities, but also because of the popularity of astronomy courses – especially introductory courses for non-science students.  At U of T, there are two such courses with enrolments of 1,500 (and waiting lists).  They are taught in Con Hall by award-winning instructors, using best-practice pedagogy and technology, small-group tutorials, and a small planetarium.

There are also students in astronomy major and specialist programs, and 57 graduate students from all over the world.  Most go on to academic careers, but a significant number of these “highly qualified personnel” (to use the current terminology) now apply their skill set outside academia, to high-tech fields such as data science and artificial intelligence, as well as to public education, outreach, and communication.

To accommodate this growth, we are well-advanced in planning for a new building, to be built on the site of the present 50 St. George Street.  Among other things, it will include a planetarium, for students, and the public.  We still lament the unnecessary closing of the ROM’s McLaughlin Planetarium.

Astronomy research in Canada is carried out in the federal Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, based in Victoria, as well as in university departments and institutes across the country.  U of T has hosted the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics – a jewel in Canada’s science crown — since 1984.  There is a Centre for Planetary Science on the Scarborough campus.  In 2008, the University and the David Dunlap family established the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, funded by the sale of lands around the Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill.  The observatory is now owned by the municipality, and run as a public-education facility by volunteers.  The Dunlap Institute’s mandate is four-fold: building state-of-the-art astronomical instruments; making innovative observations; training the next generation of astronomers; and informing and inspiring the public about astronomy in general and the U of T’s work in particular.

Training includes a strong summer undergraduate research program, short courses and workshops in the summer and throughout the year, as well as through our undergraduate and graduate programs.  Defining our values, and improving our professional culture — equity, diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability — is an increasing priority for us and for astronomers across Canada.  Half a century ago, for instance, most astronomers were male — one exception being my eminent colleague Helen Sawyer Hogg.  Now, most of my bright young colleagues are women.

There is new attention being given to Indigenous rights and indigenous knowledge.  Mauna Kea is home to a dozen major observatories, some shared by Canada.  It is also sacred land for indigenous people of Hawai’i, and this has sparked local demands for “no more observatories on the sacred peak” – at least not without respectful consultation and agreement.

At the same time, universities encourage all academic units to incorporate indigenous ways of thinking and knowing in their courses, where appropriate.  At U of T, this has led to a course on Indigenous Astronomy, given by an Indigenous faculty member.

Astronomy is engaging to many members of the general public, and their interests range from the technological to the philosophical and spiritual.  Astronomers respond through communication and outreach.  We are greatly aided by enthusiastic amateur astronomers.  In 2003, the mostly-amateur Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, founded in 1868, won the prestigious Michael Smith Award for excellence in science outreach in Canada.  In 2009, professional and amateur astronomers and educators in 148 countries marked International Year of Astronomy, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo`s development and first use of the astronomical telescope.  We organized over 3700 events in Canada, reaching almost two million people.  There were also wildly-popular commemorative stamps, and engaging posters on buses and subway trains, and creative partnerships with new audiences — including, for me, Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and Heritage Toronto.

The RASC archivist (a mediaevalist by training) is a national leader in preserving Canada`s astronomical heritage – both professional and amateur.  This is a serious matter; as older observatories (such as the Dunlap Observatory) are “retired”, how can they and their history be preserved?  How can their science be preserved for posterity when much of it is on photographic plates, or on magnetic tapes?

Skilled amateurs contribute in other ways.  My own research on variable stars and stellar evolution depends critically on decades of amateurs’ visual and electronic measurements of the changing brightness of stars.  Indeed, “citizen science” is a growing trend in science and society.  A current example is the HowsMyFlattening project, which is giving us more and better CoVid-19  data than governments have been able to do.  Sadly, most amateur astronomers in North America are graying white males (like me); we need to increase diversity.

Despite scientists’ efforts, science literacy remains low.  Studies indicate that over one-third of Americans believe in astrology, space aliens, and young-Earth creationism.  Canadians do a bit better – but not much.  Very few people understand the cause of the seasonal changes in temperature (hint: it has nothing to do with the distance from Earth from the sun).  There is a gap between scientists’ knowledge and public knowledge, which we must try harder to close.

Why fund astronomy in these difficult times?   It may have no immediate practical value, but it has long-term applications and spin-offs.  Public interest is high, especially among young people.   This is important: for them, astronomy is now part of the school science curriculum, and it can be a gateway to STEM interests and careers.  Astronomy is as old as humanity; it’s part of our shared heritage.  The sky has provided a clock, calendar, and compass, and has been deeply ingrained in spirituality for cultures across the globe, and across time.  Now, it deals with some of humanity’ most fundamental questions.

Sport Studies: Evolving But Not Yet Evolved
By Helen Jefferson Lenskyj
Professor Emerita

The field of sport studies has changed dramatically since I first entered it as a graduate student in 1980. Some readers may not be aware of its existence, although others may recall my two Senior College presentations on the Olympic industry: the first in 2014 on Sexual Diversity and the Sochi 2014 Olympics: No More Rainbows (Palgrave Pivot, 2014) and the second, in March this year, on The Olympic Games: A Critical Approach (Emerald, 2020). I joke to people who know my history that the subtitle of this book is redundant: everything I’ve written about the topic for nearly three decades has been critical.

Olympic studies is an interdisciplinary area within the subfield of sport studies. By the 1970s, a few scholars from the social sciences and humanities – sociology, history, philosophy, anthropology and political science – were turning their attention to sport and to the preeminent sport mega-event, the Olympic Games. Research in exercise sciences, on the other hand, had a much longer history, with sports medicine dating back more than 100 years. The first conference of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport was held in Denver in 1980, and the first International Symposium for Olympic Research took place at the University of Western Ontario in 1992. My first experience of a sport studies conference was in 1982 at U of T, when one of the guest speakers, a Toronto Sun sportswriter, made a sexist joke, to the amusement of most of those present.

In this era, sport was seen as a predominantly heterosexual male preserve, as reflected in the small number of female scholars involved and the limited attention paid to women’s sport in the research literature. When my own interest was evolving in 1980, I read a colleague’s statement that accurately claimed one could read all the research on women and sport in one weekend. So I did… and then, as a Ph.D. candidate, I decided that this would be my research focus and the topic of my 1983 dissertation. The rest, as they say, is history.

As a subfield, sport studies was slow to address the underrepresentation of women and people of colour in the ranks of scholars, as well as the dearth of research on women, and on ‘race’ and racism. At the plenary session of a sport studies conference in Brisbane, Australia, in 1995, I presented figures on the very low number of female presenters and topics related to women at that event. As you might imagine, my observations were not well received, with one male organizer labelling them ‘below the belt’. At the same conference, a sportswriter (again) was one of the guest speakers, and his take on the Chinese women’s swim team was predictably sexist and racist.

While women’s issues were marginalized in sport studies, sport was similarly marginalized in women’s studies. Many feminists of that era tended to see sport as so thoroughly masculinized that efforts to redeem it were a waste of time when the bigger equality issues demanded attention. Another ‘elephant in the room’ of sport studies in the early days was the assumption that women’s sport, especially team sport, was dominated by lesbians. According to this logic, sport attracted so-called ‘masculine’ women or, alternatively, playing sport ‘masculinized’ female participants. References to ‘feminine’ soon became code for ‘heterosexually attractive’.

Sexual and homophobic harassment of female athletes posed a serious threat to their wellbeing and created a chilly climate for women of all sexual orientations. It was not until the 1990s that sport governing bodies began to address the issue, which persists today despite the strength of feminist and LGBT movements around the globe. The recent tragic case of sexual abuse experienced by hundreds of young American gymasts at the hands of the team doctor provides ample evidence that much work still needs to be done.

Against this backdrop, most female sport scholars who addressed Olympic-related issues did so from a liberal feminist perspective. They called for greater female participation as athletes, officials and administrators, and more sports and events for women in order to level the Olympic playing field. Few asked whether women wished to join this ‘procession of men’, to borrow Virginia Woolf’s apt phrase, and if so, under what conditions? A more radical approach asks how sport needs to change so that all members of society, across genders, ethnicities, social classes and abilities, can enjoy its benefits. Some, myself included, call for the complete dismantling of the Olympic industry.

Over the last decade, a growing body of literature in Olympic studies has taken a critical approach. In 2012, my co-editor Stephen Wagg, Leeds Beckett University, and I had no difficulty assembling a 35-chapter collection, Palgrave Handbook of Olympic Studies, to which 45 international scholars contributed. Every chapter presented incisive critiques of various aspects of the Olympic Games. If we were to repeat the process today, we could readily produce a two-volume collection.

Equally significant, resistance movements around the globe are scrutinizing every aspect of the Olympics, in particular the iron rule that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) exerts over host nations. Tokyo, for example, was bound by the 2020 host city contract even in the face of the Covid pandemic, and next year’s Tokyo Olympics organizers may find themselves in a similar predicament, at the mercy of the IOC. As is the case with other global social justice movements, a number of Olympic scholars and public intellectuals are active participants in these challenges to Olympic hegemony.

There are, however, some practices that threaten the academic credibility of Olympic studies as a scholarly project. The IOC contributes to the funding of a large number of university-based centres for Olympic studies around the world, and in some cases this poses a threat to academic freedom. I have documented examples from Australian and American universities where representatives from Olympic-related organizations have attempted to prevent the publication of critical research. While I have not experienced this myself, I can definitely attest to the ostracism that Olympic critics face both inside and outside the academy.

Another problem is blurred line between academic and professional activities, evident in the practice of inviting high-profile Olympic athletes, coaches, administrators and journalists to participate as keynote speakers or panellists in sport studies conferences, whether or not they have academic credentials or research experience. Predictably, these women and men try to avoid any critique of the Olympic industry, in part because of legitimate fear of repercussions. On a more positive note, there is now greater awareness and an ever-increasing body of critical literature, grounded in empirical research, that challenges Olympic industry mystique and mythology, as well as documenting and exposing the material costs to individuals, communities, and environments.