Accolade fulfills a fine-arts dream

After 40 years of waiting, York University is finally building the fine-arts palace it has always dreamed of, combining state-of-the-art studio and performance venues with upgraded teaching facilities, wrote arts reviewer Martin Knelman in the Toronto Star Oct. 11. The Accolade project, slated to open in 2005, is a $90-million complex consisting of two new buildings, flanking existing fine-arts facilities. Already midway through construction, Accolade was given a kick-start by the Ontario government’s SuperBuild program, which provided $24 million.

“This has been part of the dream from day one, back in the 1960s,” said Phillip Silver, dean of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and noted stage designer. “It has been in the works since this University was founded and we started the first fine-arts degree program in Canada.”

Accolade shows promise of reinforcing York’s reputation for operating one of the strongest fine-arts training centres in North America, turning out not only some of the country’s creative stars but also the technicians, administrators, educators, curators and policy-makers who have helped turn culture into a major industry, said the Star. The hallmark of the York program is its determination to integrate all the arts, so that those studying, say, design, also learn something about theatre, music and dance.

Schulich design reconfigures ivory tower

In the past decade or so, the business school has emerged, along with the computer science centre, as the building type on campus, wrote Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star Oct. 10. Across North America, universities are rushing to cash in on the hordes of young people who go to classes hoping to get a job. At York University, the result is the Seymour Schulich Building, which is home to the Schulich School of Business. Designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects in a joint venture with Robbie Young Wright, this $100-million project is the ivory tower reconfigured for the 21st century.

The hierarchical qualities so characteristic of traditional academia have given way to a more egalitarian model. Now students and teachers mix and mingle in airy, light-filled spaces where everyone becomes part of a larger community. Schulich turns upside-down traditional ideas of the academic building, where classrooms were murky boxes in which teachers ruled with iron fists.

Despite the decline of Canadian universities, they still have a moral and intellectual obligation to be a model of enlightenment. That’s more difficult than ever, given the lack of government and corporate commitment to higher education, but at Schulich that obligation has been frankly acknowledged and lived up to. There’s much to be learned from this building; for students who are future leaders of Bay Street, it should be a reminder that beauty is good business.

Language skills limit immigrants

The first Canadian study of immigrant achievement in university suggests that non-white newcomers and those for whom English is a second language do not score grades comparable to those of Canadian-born students, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 11. Sociology Professor Paul Grayson studied data from 5,830 students who attended York University between 1996 and 2000. The students, surveyed by York’s Institute for Social Research, were identified as to their number of years in Canada, their ethnicity and whether they spoke English at home. Grayson then cross-referenced the information to the students’ university grade point averages. In his just-completed study, Grayson found that immigrants who arrived in Canada as high school students scored significantly lower grade point averages (GPAs) than the native-born. Male immigrants, for instance, earned marks more than 20 per cent below the grade point average of the typical Canadian-born student.

Grayson said the findings challenge the widely held notion that immigrant students need just five to seven years to become fluent in English. “I was surprised,” he said in an interview. “I’m thinking, ‘Holy smokes, despite the fact that these kids have been around for up to 15 years before they hit university, they still haven’t developed the level of communications expertise that is displayed by native-speaking English people.'”

Giving thanks like a Canuck

Peter Stevens, a PhD history student at York University, is studying why we celebrate Thanksgiving the way we do, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 10. He figures Canadian Thanksgiving – including family gatherings and turkey dinners – is a variation of what was already established in the US. “It was brought to Canada and Canadianized,” Stevens said. “It’s very much a Canadian holiday.” He also dined out on his research Oct. 11 on 680 News (CFTR-AM), Toronto.

Legendary coach started York’s hockey team

Two decades as a Toronto firefighter and there’s one smouldering ember Bill Purcell can’t extinguish – a passion for coaching that burns within, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 10. That obsession has brought him here, behind the bench of the Whitby Dunlops. “I can’t give it up. I’ll probably battle it right to the grave,” said Purcell of his obsession. “I love the game.”

In 1961, while working out of the fire hall at Dundas and Parliament, he started York University’s hockey program – “He really put York hockey on the map,” said current coach Graham Wise – and turned the team into a national power.

Toronto Trump tower developer sets sights on F1

A Toronto multi-millionaire developer behind the city’s future Trump condo-hotel has announced plans to own and operate a new Formula One racing team to debut at the 2006 Australian Grand Prix, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 9. Alexander Shnaider, 36, co-founder and chair of the Midland Group, a privately owned international trading and investment firm, said his start-up team – to be called Midland F-1 and based in London – will have a “Russian flavour.” Shnaider, a married father who has a BA in economics in 1992 from York University, is a Canadian citizen who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He and his family moved to Israel and later Toronto in 1982, although he would later return to Europe before settling here in 1997.

Councillors play meaningful roles

In an Oct. 9 letter to the Toronto Star, Toronto city councillor Norm Kelly responded to remarks by York University political scientist James Laxer: “As someone who has served the public in both the House of Commons and Toronto City Hall, I take strong exception to York University Professor James Laxer’s recent remark comparing Toronto council to a ‘den of dabble.’ The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines dabble as “a casual or superficial interest in a subject or activity.” That hardly describes the inner workings of a city hall whose budget is equivalent to half of Canada’s provinces combined.” He ended: “If Laxer’s remark is any indication of the calibre of York University’s political science department, I would suggest a little less Marxism and a little more empirical understanding of the way North America’s fifth largest municipal jurisdiction really works.”

Baseball’s Lions boast a ‘lioness’

In the red dirt behind home plate, bets and beer jokes are being tossed around as much as baseballs during batting practice. But the banter is put on pause when Sam Magalas, first baseman for the York men’s baseball team, hits a ball into the night sky, began a profile of the first woman to win a spot on the men’s team in the Toronto Star Oct. 9. “C’mon Sam! All right Sam!” “We probably cheer more for Sam than for anyone else on the team,” said Daniel Greenwald, the 23-year-old captain of the York Lions. The rest of the team agree with Greenwald; Magalas is a great athlete, a great player and a great girl. The 22-year-old psychology major from Burlington has been a welcome addition.

On air

  • Dr. Joel Lexchin, emergency physician and professor at York University’s School of Health Policy & Management, discussed the criticism directed towards Health Canada since Merck decided to withdraw Vioxx from the market because it discovered it raised the risks of heart attacks and cardiac death, on CBC Radio’s “The House” Oct. 9.