A young woman of distinction to buoy the soul

At the greatly advanced age of 23, Osgoode Hall law student Michelle Dagnino is this year’s recipient of the YWCA’s Young Woman of Distinction award for 2004, reported Jennifer Wells on the front page of the Toronto Star March 7. The award recognizes work Dagnino is steering on hip hop culture, and how women are commodities within that culture. “I hear young women calling each other on the street. They say, ‘What’s up bitch?’ I really find that problematic, and I don’t think they see anything wrong with that.” The project will be run through the Youth Action Network, where Dagnino spends much of her time, when she isn’t attending to her first-year law courses at Osgoode Hall Law School. The end result, she hopes, will be an education manual on how to combat negative images of women. “I would like to see more idealism among young people. Not idealism about becoming movie stars. Idealism about changing the world. I don’t know how, at 15, 17, 18 you can not be interested.” These are words to buoy the soul, wrote Wells.

Dagnino already has a deep resume in this regard. Three years ago she was hired by the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as its first child labour campaign coordinator. The ICFTU, which represents trade unions around the world, shipped her off on a tour of duty that took her from Thailand to Venezuela. She met with local community organizations. With trade unions. With businesses. And had her eyes opened by poor-as-dirt families using one side of a mansion-guarding fence as a fourth wall to the family shack. “Child labour is a scourge,” she says. “It’s a disgrace and it exists in the world today.” Dagnino’s work with the ICFTU was, again, a double-track endeavour, as she worked to complete an undergraduate degree in political science at York University, and then a master’s, with a thesis focused on workers’ rights.

Teacher-writer published books of poetry

The Canadian poet and teacher Miriam Waddington has died in Vancouver at age 86, reported the Globe and Mail March 9. The author of 12 books of poetry, including The Price of Gold, The Visitants and The Last Landscape, Waddington first pursued a career in social work before taking a job in the English Department at York University. This year, an excerpt from one of her poems was included on a new Bank of Canada $100 note. Major broadcast and print media across the country carried her obituary, including CBC Radio’s “Arts Report” March 8 and the Toronto Star March 9.

Scientific research is big business

York University computer scientist John Tsotsos “creates robots to improve people’s lives,” reported the Toronto Star March 6 in a story, with photo, about how innovative, curiosity-driven research is big business in Canada. Corporate battles have been lost; others hard won, said the Star. Since 1980, only nine Canadian businesses have backed Tsotsos. “Only two or three corporations came to me when they heard about the research I was doing; the others I fought hard to get on board,” he said. Tsotsos, who is working on an “autonomous wheelchair” – a robotic form of artificial intelligence he calls the Playbot System whereby a child in a wheelchair can use a robotic arm to press, for instance, an icon on a screen that reads “toy pickup” and which prompts the wheelchair to deliver the toy to the child – hopes to have a working prototype by the end of 2005. Although Tsotsos has received $900,000 in federal funding from two separate granting agencies, he has had no corporate takers for the project. “Everyone agrees it’s terrific ‘socially’; however, they don’t see the payoff and, therefore, don’t invest,” he said. Tsotsos is looking for collaborative, rather than philanthropic, partners, suggested the Star. “I’m interested in working with organizations that really want to participate in developing interesting new products,” he said.

Tsotsos has teamed up with corporate partner Kelly Lyons of IBM’s Toronto Software Laboratory. A prototype robot camera, GestureCam, which replaces video cameras for both teleconferencing and distance learning, will be ready in 2004.

Auto pact protection stymies efficiency, says prof

York University economist Bernie Wolf argues against the kind of protection offered by the 1965 Canada-US Auto Pact Treaty, which allowed companies to import vehicles duty free to Canada as long as they also built vehicles here, reported the Hamilton Spectator March 8 in a story about steelworkers’ high wages. It only provides Canadian industry with an excuse not to become efficient. “Protection is only justified for a short time to allow an industry to become competitive,” said the Schulich School of Business professor. “Over the long run it only ends up hurting users and consumers.”

Varsity proposal pending

The Toronto Argonauts are eyeing York University‘s main campus as a stadium site if a deal falls through between the University of Toronto and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., reported the Toronto Sun March 9. U of T and MLSEL are about to huddle before forwarding a detailed proposal of the Varsity Stadium project to the federal and provincial governments. The Argonauts, whose new owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon have vowed to build a new outdoor facility, have held off on any plans pending the result of the U of T/ MLSEL proposal, said the Sun.

Post-9/11 business students aware of social issues

Social awareness in business schools in the United States has assumed a higher profile following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and corporate scandals at companies such as Enron, reported the National Post March 8. Patricia Bradshaw, director of the Schulich School of Business MBA program at York University, said students are looking for more balance in their lives. “They are not so ambitious in the traditional sense; people are really thinking outside the box.” She said there has been a shift with business schools, students and corporations all appreciating the significance of social issues. “We are looking at a bigger social trend.”

Schulich received Hewlett-Packard’s biggest gift

Corporations are raising their level of support for Canada’s postsecondary schools, reported Terrence Belford in his National Post series on corporate social responsibility March 8. As an example, Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Co. of Mississauga, Ont., has made its largest single gift in Canada – $2 million to create a Chair in corporate social responsibility at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “The gift reflects our commitment to corporate social responsibility,” said Paul Tsaparis, president of HP Canada. “Corporate social responsibility is built right into the culture here and has been since Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard built their first equipment in their garage. We did our due diligence and found Schulich was a world leader in corporate social responsibility. It has been part of the course for more than a decade.”

Don’t believe the hype about cash for the TTC

Heard the big buzz about the TTC getting a $1-billion transit boost from the pro-transit Liberal gang in Ottawa and Queen’s Park? Don’t believe it, warned Toronto Star columnist Royson James March 8. We get all the wonderful promises of transit aid, yet the TTC is cutting back on service and raising fares, petitioning the city for money just to maintain operations, and planning to cut back on the most modest plans to increase the number of riders, said James. How can this be when there’ve been so many announcements of TTC funding? By now the subways should be riding on gold-lined tracks and the subways to York University and to the Scarborough Town Centre should be nearing completion. In fact, the front-page headline last Thursday should have read, “TTC promised $3 billion, Liberals deliver only $1 billion.” The so-called big boost, to be announced March 30 on the TTC’s 50th anniversary, is a repeat announcement of earlier funding from the province and the city. The federal government’s money is new, but is way less than was promised. And the total is not nearly enough, said James.

Riding the rails to success

The first time Moya Greene (LLB ’78) crossed paths with Paul Tellier, they sat on opposite sides of the table, began a National Post profile March 6 in a special business report on The Power 50. He was the president and chief executive of Canadian National Railway Co., preparing to privatize the federal Crown corporation. She was Transport Canada’s senior bureaucrat on the file, representing the shareholder. “There were a lot of issues in the privatization of CN, and a lot of people felt it would not be successfully completed,” she said. Not only did Greene successfully represent the government, she made a good impression on the tough-to-please Tellier, formerly Ottawa’s top civil servant. He liked the way she asked tough questions. And she thought she would one day like to work for him. Nine years later, that is a reality. Last fall, Tellier, in his role as chief executive of Bombardier Inc., called Greene – by then senior vice-president and chief administrator of retail products with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce – to ask if she would help him turn around his company. Greene, 50, earned a degree in classics at her hometown Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., and a law degree at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School before joining Immigration Canada as an adjudicator in 1979.

Law alumna appointed OSC’s vice-chair

Susan Wolburgh Jenah, the Ontario Securities Commission’s general counsel, has been appointed its new vice-chairwoman, reported the National Post March 9. The appointment, effective Feb. 18 for a five-year term, is the latest step in Jenah’s 20-year career with the commission. She joined the OSC in the summer of 1983 after receiving a law degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1980. Since then, she has held various positions, ranging from manager of market operations to director of international affairs.

Women outnumber men 3-2 at university

Anyone watching convocation at York University last year may have noticed something in short supply among the thousands of cap-and-gowned students receiving their diplomas: men, reported the National Post March 6. Indeed, 68 per cent of undergraduate degrees awarded that day went to women. Also, women picked up the majority of academic prizes, including three out of the four gold medals for academic excellence from the Faculty of Pure and Applied Science. The convocation scene was not unique to York in Toronto, one of Canada’s largest schools. The first-year class at McMaster is 64 per cent female, York 62 per cent, Guelph 63 per cent and Ottawa 60 per cent. Queen’s and Western are not far behind, with women making up 59 per cent of the new students.

Companies resort to training programs to fill leadership gap

One of the largest in-house management training facilities among Canadian firms is the Bank of Montreal’s Institute for Learning located on the northeastern border of Toronto, reported the National Post March 8. The bank made a $50-million investment in the institute more than a decade ago, and it has since become the hub for most of the company’s local and long-distance learning. The bank has recently partnered with the Schulich School of Business at Toronto’s York University to offer a six-course certificate program in advanced risk management.

Two poets, two late bloomers

Two retired York University professors and poets have just published books of note. Don Coles, who taught humanities and creative writing at York more than 20 years ago, has just published his first novel, Doctor Bloom’s Story. And Suzanne Collins, who taught in York’s Humanities Department, has published Wonders At The Corner.

The Ottawa Citizen’s review of Coles’s book March 7 began: If you sit down, as we did this week, and ask 76-year-old Don Coles what he’s been doing all his life, this in light of his just-released and very fine first novel, Doctor Bloom’s Story, you might think, upon hearing the answer, that you were a lunkhead for not being familiar with his work, that you were a person with no taste for the finer things in life. This would be wrong. Because the truth is, if Coles kept his profile any lower, he’d be as recognizable to the reading public as your great aunt Zelda, said the reviewer. The problem, it seems, is Coles. A Governor General’s-Award winning poet, and one of Canada’s very best, he eschews publicity, preferring that his work speak for itself. Which means, he’s one of Knopf Canada’s New Face of Fiction writers, an honour he is sharing with Esi Edugyan, some 50 years his junior. This is not Coles’ first foray into fiction. Though he is best known for his 10 volumes of poetry, including the GG-Award winning Forests of the Medieval World (1993) and the Trillium Prize-winning Kurgan (2000), he wrote two novels in his 20s, though they were never published. “Deservedly so,” he said. He taught humanities and creative writing at York University and spent 10 years as the senior poetry editor at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

The Toronto Star printed an essay about Collins by admirer Barbara Carey March 7. Carey wrote: More than a decade ago I taught a poetry workshop, and Etobicoke’s Suzanne Collins was among the writers attending. She was talented, but that was the last I had heard of her until now. Not long ago, she retired from teaching at York University and devoted more time to writing. Wonders At The Corner is the result. The collection is centered on memory and the passage of time – Proustian territory, of course; in fact he makes a cameo appearance in several poems.

I don’t think he’s needed as spiritual guide, though it’s amusing to see Proust’s madeleine, and its talismanic power to engender recollections, replaced by a missing sock. As the title suggests, Collins is inclined to see the extraordinary in the commonplace. She makes the reader see it, too. In one poem, she humorously contrasts a family canoe trip with Cleopatra’s excursion down the Nile “Cleopatra’s barge of beaten gold running – the Nile was long as a stately epic simile. – Mine on the Humber is a green plastic canoe, – five metres of free verse and slow leaks.” Collins finds inspiration, and the opportunity for existential musing, in unlikely places, like the waiting room of a car repair shop, say, or as a patient in a dentist’s chair. In fact, unexpectedness is the collection’s greatest strength – and that quality is as evident in Collins’ crisp phrasing as it is in her penchant for looking at life from an offbeat angle. It makes for a witty, disarming debut.

Break for open house

For high-school students, March break is a good time to visit universities they’re considering attending, suggested the Toronto Star March 8. Many schools, including University of Toronto, York University and McMaster University in Hamilton, hold open houses during the week.

Relationship sparks creative energy

If you don’t like to kiss, then Love, Sex & Eating The Bones probably isn’t for you, said the Toronto Star March 8 in a section cover feature including photo. That’s the natural demographic for the romantic comedy, which is now in theatres, according to writer/director Sudz Sutherland, who attended York University’s film program (1989-1991), and producer and York alumna Jennifer Holness (BA ’92). The film’s $2.5-million budget is 33 times that of their previous best, 1999’s Gemini-nominated short film My Father’s Hands. Through their production company Hungry Eyes/Film Food, the couple, who met while attending York University and have two daughters, have completed dozens of music videos, documentaries and short films.