Scandal ‘undermines’ civil service

CBC TV turned to Professor Wesley Cragg, director of the Business Ethics Program at York’s Schulich School of Business, when it was looking for informed comment about the Quebec sponsorship scandal exposed by the auditor general’s report. “This is very extensive wrongdoing, a failure to respect regulations, a form of corruption which Canadians aren’t used to and have a right to expect not to happen,” he told Dan Bjarnason in a news feature aired Feb. 10 on “The National”. “We have a good civil service of dedicated people, and what this does is to undermine morale, but it also undermines reputation in quite serious ways.” But, he added, “I think you’re always going to have problems. You’re never going to create a system that’s absolutely perfect and that rules out all possibility of these kinds of things taking place. But you can certainly build systems that discourage it, and you can build systems that ensure that people of integrity can take action.”

France could learn from us

Canadians may find it hard to understand why a new French law will prevent students from wearing religious symbols in school, wrote Harvey G. Simmons, professor emeritus of political science at York, in the Toronto Star Feb. 11. Why does the majority of the French population, including teachers, support this law? One reason has to do with France’s long history of conflict between religious and secular authorities, argued the professor, who is associated with York’s Canadian Centre for German & European Studies. For nearly a century and a half after the 1789 French Revolution, the Catholic Church did everything it could to bring down the Republic and restore a monarchy. This bred a fierce strain of anti-church sentiment among those who supported democracy and the Republic. Although the Catholic Church lost out when a 1905 law separated church and state, the revival of religion today, especially among Muslims, but also among Jews and Christians, has rekindled anti-clerical sentiment among those who fear the secular and democratic values represented by the public school system will be undermined as religion encroaches on the school system.

But, there is more to the debate than defending the secular nature of the French state and its school system, wrote Simmons. For supporters of the law, the headscarves Muslim girls wear symbolize oppression.

The government commission that prepared the new law took a cursory look at how the English, Germans, Italians and Dutch handled the question of students wearing religious symbols in schools. It’s too bad they didn’t come to Canada, wrote Simmons. Whatever our continuing problems of trying to integrate religious students into a secular school system, we have at least avoided steaming full speed ahead toward the conflict and chaos the French now seem certain to have created for themselves.

Pessimistic over democratic reform in Iran

In The Globe and Mail Feb. 11, two York University professors commented on the 25th anniversary this month of the Iranian revolution.

Saeed Rahnema, political science professor at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, wrote in an opinion piece that “as the fundamentalists tighten their grip, jailing students and marginalizing liberal members of government, their actions refute Washington’s claim that its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have begun to transform the Muslim world. For many Iranians, President George W. Bush’s words, ‘Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better,’ ring hollow.”

Haideh Moghissi was interviewed about her recollections of the Islamic revolution. She had vivid memories – especially the news that shocked her out of the excitement roiling in Iran over the end of Shah Reza Pahlavi’s despised monarchy. Within weeks of the triumphant return from exile of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomaini and the collapse of the shah’s government on Feb. 11, 1979, the ayatollah issued a declaration ordering all “naked women” – anyone not observing hijab – to cover up. “I remember his words vividly because it created a huge response from women, a spontaneous response from women,” recalled Moghissi, now a sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. “The suppression started very quickly in the spring of 1979, by the closing down of independent newspapers [and] taking over the dailies – the most popular and well-established – and basically by taking over all instruments of power.” Now, watching the political turmoil in Iran, Moghissi is pessimistic. She said Iranians had high hopes for President Mohammad Khatami, who represented a reformist movement within the Islamic regime, when he was elected in May of 1997. “But he has been unable or unwilling to respond to the aspirations of the people who elected him.”

Arbour pegged for top UN rights post

Former United Nations chief war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour is Secretary General Kofi Annan’s top choice to be the new UN high commissioner for human rights, reported Associated Press in stories carried Feb. 11 by the Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail and National Post. Arbour, a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, taught at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School from 1974 to 1987.

Transit needs cash, not amalgamation again

The Globe and Mail’s John Barber bemoaned the province’s plan to amalgamate transit in the Greater Toronto Area in his Feb. 11 column. A new agency will likely placate Toronto, which doesn’t benefit from a transit amalgamation, by promising to fund an extension of the Spadina subway to York University, Barber suggested.

Discourse on a Descartes treasure

The latest addition to the University of Toronto’s rare book collection is an unassuming tome bound in goatskin and nearly 400 years old – A Discourse on the Method by French philosopher René Descartes, which lays out the foundations of modern science, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 11. “You’d get this idea that this is a likable, readable chap, who starts off very plain, and then all of a sudden you don’t understand what he’s saying,” said Joseph Gonda, a philosophy professor at York University’s Glendon College. “For me, it would be an object of reverence,” Gonda said. “This is one of the most important books ever written.”

A CEO understands temptation

Toronto Star business columnist David Olive opened a story about bank mergers with a quote by John Hunkin, CEO of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, in a 2002 speech sponsored by York University’s Schulich School of Business: “As a business leader, I understand the pressures that can tempt someone to start down the continuum from ethical to unethical behaviour.” Hunkin is a York alumnus (MBA ’69) and, since 1994, has been a member of York’s Board of Governors.

On air

  • Sports news on CFTO-TV’s “World Beat News” and CKPR-TV’s “Late Edition” in Thunder Bay Feb. 10 featured an item about the construction of the new indoor tennis facility – expected to be completed by May – at York University.