York to review land sale

York University will bring in an outsider to probe its sale of land to a developer, major media in Toronto reported March 1. The announcement Monday by York Board of Governors Chair Marshall Cohen came after a 90-minute closed-door session of the board, which followed stories in the Toronto Star questioning York’s sale of land to Tribute Communities. The University board said “publicly expressed concerns” prompted the decision to review the deal, while stressing that the board has “reaffirmed its belief in the appropriateness, transparency and fairness of the process” that resulted in the sale of University lands. Cohen, in a brief handwritten statement, said the person will be “independent and respected,” according to the Star. The report would be made public, he said.

At the same time, Premier Dalton McGuinty rejected an NDP call for the provincial auditor to look at the York deal. While his government recently gave Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter the power to look into the finances of universities, McGuinty said he would not order such an audit. “I believe this is a matter that ought to be fully considered by the Board of Governors,” he said in the National Post. The premier told The Toronto Sun that his government has “a tremendous amount of confidence” in York’s governors. He also showed reporters a letter to him from York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. “We emphatically reject the thrust of these articles … and believe that we have followed all the appropriate steps in approving the land developments, which have been in the planning for more than eight years,” wrote Marsden.

York spokesperson Richard Fisher said later that York checked with in-house legal counsel and learned that the auditor-general would not have jurisdiction to examine the deal, according to the Star. “The provincial auditor would have no jurisdiction because it is not a grant (of money) that is the issue,” said Fisher, the University’s chief communications officer.

The Toronto Sun reported that Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Mary Anne Chambers said York has assured her it followed proper procedures, and she is comfortable with an independent review set up by York. Stories on the issue were also carried in The Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen and CBC and other radio and television newscasts.

Was fighting Holocaust denier worth it?

“As you read these words, Ernst Zundel, crackpot Holocaust denier, may already be on an airplane bound for Germany and the obscurity he so richly deserves,” wrote The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente March 1. “He never was worth the oceans of ink we spilled on him, or the hours of air time he sucked up. And yet, he managed to keep himself in the headlines for more than a quarter of a century. And because of that, I can’t help feeling that even though he lost, he won,” wrote the columnist. “Was all the effort to get rid of this public nuisance worth it? Irving Abella, Shiff Professor of Canadian Jewish History at York, says yes. ‘These groups can do enormous harm,’ he argues. ‘All it takes is one of these crazies to do something violent. They can form alliances with other groups, with neo-terrorists or al-Qaeda-related groups that are dangerous not only to Jews but to society.’ Zundel’s legal battles, he argues, significantly hurt his ability to spread his poison. And in the end, public exposure did far more to hurt than help his cause. ‘There have been some unforeseen positives,’ says Abella. Holocaust survivors who had kept silent became so enraged that they began to speak out, and today millions of us, including school kids, have heard their stories.”

A golden moment for film students

It was meant to be a little white lie – not a promise – when Seneca College animation co-ordinator Larry DeFlorio told students in 2003 that if they pitched in on an unusual film being made at the college by Chris Landreth, a two-time Oscar nominee, they might win an Academy Award, reported the Toronto Star March 1. “It was a joke – I actually never dreamed we’d finish it,” laughed DeFlorio after Landreth’s spellbinding short film Ryan won the Oscar for best animated short. It took 18 months of digital wizardry to create the 14 minutes of Landreth’s tribute to fellow animator Ryan Larkin, now an alcoholic beggar living in a Montreal shelter. The animators used the snazzy new technology at Seneca’s Animation Arts Centre on the York University Keele campus, a shared cutting-edge facility that opened in 2003. 

Guinness Day is on the horizon

Few consumer-product makers can claim – or would consider it a good thing – that more than 10 per cent of their annual sales occur on a single day. Not so for Diageo PLC’s Guinness, reported the National Post March 1. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1.8 million pints of the chocolate brown brew are served to Irish and Irish-for-a-day types across Canada – an enormous kick to annual sales of 16 million pints per year. “They have been quite smart in the way they have marketed it” in Canada, said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing with York’s Schulich School of Business, who professes that Guinness is “my favourite brew.” “Get it in with youth, get it positioned as young and up-and-coming rather than the traditional strategy they had a few years ago which went very much for the ethnics, the Brits and the Irish which I don’t think at all is the right strategy,” he said. “If you want to get imports into the mainstream here you better start at the young-drinker edge.”

Forward Minds started at York

Working at York University’s student counselling centre in the summer of 2002, Kathy (Katalin) Toth knew there was next to no information for students coping with conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues, reported the Toronto Star Feb. 26. In fact, she realized, many young people are not even aware of psychiatric disorders – even though it is in young adulthood, during the college or university years, that these conditions first appear. How do you reach out to young people who shy away at the first sign of interest? Toth’s solution was Forward Minds, what she calls “a neutral space” where students can get information on mental illness. Through a Web site, a small office and pamphlets on mental health issues, the group gives students access to a whole range of resources. Forward Minds started last year at York but the idea is spreading to other postsecondary institutions. University of Toronto has started a group. Ryerson and Brock universities are interested. “Every campus is different,” says Toth, who has BAs in philosophy (2003) and psychology (2004) from York.