Remembering Betty Oliphant

Among the experts paying tribute to Betty Oliphant, co-founder of the National Ballet School who died at 85, was York’s Penelope Reed Doob, Chair of the Department of Dance in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Oliphant worked closely with Celia Franca, director of the National Ballet of Canada, at its founding in 1951 and they started the school in 1952. In The Globe and Mail July 13, Doob said of Oliphant: “She and Celia Franca really did bring Canadian ballet to a level where national ballet students are now very highly sought after by ballet companies all over the world. She was a very fine teacher, although in some ways rather idiosyncratic. She recognized excellence in students and in applicants. She went after Rex Harrington for example, she knew she wanted him and got him when he had no idea really if he seriously wanted to be a dancer.” 

There was no real Oliphant technique, although she adapted the Chechetti style for a “safety-oriented” method, the hallmark of which included not raising the legs above 90 degrees, Doob said. Oliphant would also bring in Russian teachers for work on the dancers’ upper body.

Onetime York prof steps down as leader of Alberta NDP

Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu was due to step down July 13 as leader of the Alberta New Democrats, the Edmonton Journal reported. The popular 71-year-old former university professor was scheduled to make the formal announcement at a legislature media conference. Pannu was born in India in 1934 and moved to Canada in 1962. He was a high-school teacher in Whitecourt before entering a graduate program in sociology at the University of Alberta. He was a professor of sociology at York for a year before accepting an appointment at the U of A in 1969.

Lauding ‘the guy who said this is for the birds’

An Ontario man has won a victory for air passengers by forcing the discount airline Jetsgo to reimburse the added fees that more than quadrupled an advertised seat price, after he cancelled a non-refundable airline ticket, the National Post reported July 13. Graeme Dore paid $167.02 for a $38 ticket after the airport, security, fuel and NavCanada surcharges and the sales tax were added. The Canadian Transportation Agency sided with Dore, who had demanded all but the $38 base fare back. Other airlines should pay attention to the ruling, said William Jordan, a professor emeritus of economics with York’s Schulich School of Business who is writing a book on the airline industry. He suspects the ruling could also affect Jetsgo’s competitors and spawn copycat claims. “More power to the guy who said this is for the birds and decided to dig in and fight this. He spent a lot of time and effort to pursue this. He deserves commendation,” Jordan said.

An essay helps gain a York scholarship

Acccording to The Sun Times of Owen Sound July 13, local student Amanda Davy of West Hill Secondary School has won a prestigious York University entrance scholarship worth $5,000. As part of the scholarship process, she wrote an essay on sustainability. Teacher Carl Raynard says her goal is to become an environmental lawyer. Davy wrote, in part: “Sustainable development activities can increase the capacity of the environment to meet human needs, improve the quality of life in developing countries and protect and maintain the earth’s ecosystems. To reach this sustainable future, humans need to change their thinking and see themselves as part of ecosystems and not above them.”

York grad named director of Hamilton’s public schools

Former B.C. Lions running back Chris Spence jokes that when friends heard he’d been signed up by Hamilton, they asked if it was with the Tiger-Cats, said the Hamilton Spectator July 13. Spence is about to become a key player in the city, but in the education system, not on the football field. He will be director of education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board this September, replacing retiring director Merv Matier. Spence, 42, got his bachelor of education degree from York in 1991. He also has a master’s degree from the University of Toronto and a doctorate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.  

Bilingualism research noted in multilingual Malaysia

Malaysia’s largest newspaper, the New Straits Times, picked up the widely printed story about York’s research into bilingualism and ageing. Studies show that people who spoke two languages the majority of their lives focus better during difficult tasks, the paper reported July 13. Ellen Bialystok, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, said that in the elderly, “bilingualism appears to offer widespread benefits across a range of complex cognitive tasks.”