Mixing disciplines has unique results

Third-year York University student Melody Louie’s not alone in custom-mixing her degree – math and theatre – reported the Toronto Star Nov. 18 in a special section on higher education. More students are combining disciplines to earn a unique degree in less time at less cost. From undergrad degrees to an MBA combined with medicine, law, engineering or even Russian studies, the concept of interdisciplinary studies is melting faculty silos and establishing new, and sometimes unusual, fields of study.

York University positions itself as a place of interdisciplinary study, exhorting prospective students to “explore every angle” in its current ad campaign. After earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and masters in English, Marisa Victor, 27, returned to York for combined degree in law law and master’s-level environmental studies. “The interdisciplinary approach attracted me,” said Victor, in her final year of the four-year LLB/MES program. Her studies on the environmental side blend sociology and political science, she said, exploring issues around policy-making and the law.

“We see a lot of undecided students unsure of commitment when faced with a breadth of offerings,” said David Huckvale, associate director of recruitment at York. “Being able to explore different disciplines allows them to express themselves.”

Melissa Romanin, 20, said combining her studies in geography with dance was easy at York. “I was at Quinte Ballet School,” said the third-year student. “I realized a career in dance wasn’t for me. I came to York for geography and philosophy, but I missed dance so much I applied to the dance program in second year.” The third-year student plans to go to teacher’s college where geography will be her lead to a teaching position where she can also, perhaps, express her love of dance.

Canada has right to ban Bush entry

In response to a Toronto Star column, Michael Mandel, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote Nov. 18: “Thomas Walkom makes an impeccable case for President George W. Bush’s status as a war criminal under international and Canadian law, but he is wrong to suggest that our only choices are to indict Bush (and violate his immunity as a visiting head of state), or to welcome him with open arms. We are certainly not helpless when a notorious war criminal wants to visit Canada, even if he is the president of the United States. For instance, Canada has the unfettered right under international law to declare Bush ‘persona non grata’ – a status he has already earned for himself in the hearts of most Canadians – and ban him from entering our country.”

Give him the cash

In a letter to The Globe and Mail Nov. 18, Nandita Sharma, professor in York’s School of Social Sciences, responded to a Nov. 16 story about how the fight over cash dismayed an Afghan boy’s benefactors. She wrote: “The response of the Muslim Association of Hamilton demonstrates how charitable giving bestows upon the giver a righteous power over those who don’t have the ability to refuse philanthropy. Given the well-reported circumstances in Afghanistan – ongoing war, rampant poverty, precarious farming and employment opportunities, etc. – it is shocking that anyone would question why Shafiullah Popal, father of Djamshid, would wish to ensure that his son remains healthy once back in Afghanistan and instead portray him as greedy. Are we supposed to simply wash our hands of Djamshid once he leaves Canada, all the while feeling like his saviours? Do we really want his father (and the rest of his family) to have no say over what happens to the money collected for his health? It is time that we question our reasons for giving and remember that if it wasn’t for gross inequities the world over, no one would have to rely on charity to survive.”

Nortel had to start advertising again

Nortel’s new campaign features its first television commercial in three years, reported the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 18. The campaign, which is targeted at chief executives, chief financial officers and other corporate decision-makers, highlights the way Nortel technology greases the gears at stock exchanges, airlines and large government institutions worldwide. Amid its accounting crisis, Nortel has admitted that sales are growing slower than the market, meaning it is losing share to competitors. “They’re already late to the party. Their competitors are out there bashing away. So they couldn’t leave it much longer,” said Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business.

Banking on philanthropy

With government support for social services dropping, there’s a growing role for ordinary citizens – and their banks – to play in making up the funding shortfall, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 18.

The Toronto-Dominion Bank launched the Private Giving Foundation last month as a way for customers to direct some of their wealth to charity. The money is pooled and invested in TD’s Balance Income Fund and the returns are then donated to charities as designated by donors to the foundation. Susan Mullin, president of the Toronto chapter of the Association for Fundraising Professionals, said such initiatives by the banks will introduce new people to philanthropy, and get more money to where it is needed. “That would be fabulous for everybody,” said Mullin, director of development at the York University Foundation. “We would like to increase the pie.”

Vaughan mayor promotes subway to York

The report cards are in and Vaughan Mayor Michael Di Biase has ranked himself at the top of the class of 2004, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 18. Di Biase said he has delivered on promises to expand Vaughan’s network of roads, lobby for the Highway 427 extension and promote subway expansion to York University and Vaughan. “We need the subway extension to Steeles Ave. and ultimately to the Vaughan Corporate Centre,” Di Biase said.

Canada’s top soldier takes NATO role

Gen. Ray Henault, the chief of defence staff, has been selected as chairman of NATO’s military committee, beating out a Danish army general, reported The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) Nov. 18. Henault’s appointment will boost Canada’s role in NATO at a time when its military contribution to the military body is running at near record lows, said Martin Shadwick, a defence analyst with York’s Centre for International & Security Studies. “It will raise our profile at a juncture where the direct Canadian visibility in NATO in terms of troops is the lowest it’s been almost since the inception of NATO,” Shadwick said.

Tattoos as marks of tribal belonging

“To get a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of body art, I turned to the excellent doctoral thesis my friend Richard Gilmour [MA ’96 and PhD ’04 in history] recently completed at York University,” wrote Jeet Heer in his National Post column On Culture High & Low Nov. 18. Titled “Imagined Bodies and Imagined Selves,” Gilmour’s thesis examines the stories of Europeans who were captured by native tribes from 1520 to 1763. Seeking to integrate their captives into the tribe, many native groups used elaborate rituals to transform European bodies, including tattoos. Groups like the Iroquois defined themselves not in biological terms through bloodlines but culturally as a people that had undergone certain rites of passage. It’s a marker of how things have changed that tattoos don’t scare people as much as they used to. Yet all good history takes us to a foreign land, where things are very different. On that level alone, Gilmour’s thesis is a great success, for reminding us what tattoos once meant, wrote Heer.

Delivering a book and a baby

Getting her first novel written, edited and published while conceiving, carrying and giving birth to her first child were absolute labours of love for former Hamiltonian and York grad Bryna Wasserman, reported The Hamilton Spectator Nov. 18. “I sold the book and found out I was pregnant the same week,” said Wasserman, a single mother by choice. The Naked Island is an eclectic story that’s been described as The Wizard of Oz meets Romeo and Juliet. Reviews have called her writing style nimble and capricious, and described the story as “a delicious Gothic travelogue” and “a strange and beguiling tale.” Wasserman earned a BA in English literature from York in 1995.

On air

  • Charles McMillan, professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed China’s economic clout and its effect on Canada, on CBC Radio’s “The World at Six” Nov. 17.
  • Bernie Wolf, international business professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed why Stelco has attracted potential buyers even though it is going through bankruptcy protection, on CBC Radio’s “World Report” Nov. 18.