York president is not a public official, Superior Court rules

Madam Justice Alexandra Hoy of the Ontario Superior Court ruled Monday that York University President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden is not a public official and cannot be sued as such, reported The Globe and Mail April 26. “Dr. Marsden is not a public officer in her capacity as president of York University,” Judge Hoy wrote in her judgment, one that had been widely awaited by Ontario universities because it would have broken new ground on the issue of the legal status of university officials if York lost.

If Judge Hoy had ruled against the university, Daniel Freeman-Maloy, a York student who was banned from the campus for three years last April and who is suing the university for $850,000 even though he was later reinstated, would have been able to include the grounds of misfeasance in a public office in the lawsuit. Freeman-Maloy’s lawyer had argued that, because York was created by a provincial statute that gave the university’s president the power to regulate student conduct, the president was, in effect, acting as a public officer when she disciplined Freeman-Maloy and could be sued for flagrantly abusing her power as a public official.

The judge rejected the argument in her six-page ruling. “The mere fact that a statute passed by the Legislature of Ontario provides for the office of president of the university, to be appointed by the board of governors, and accords the president so appointed certain powers in respect of the university community, does not make her a public officer,” the judgment said. While the law gives the president of York power to discipline students, the core functions of a university are non-governmental and “the government does not have control over how the president regulates a particular student’s conduct,” the judgment said.

Harriet Lewis, York’s secretary and general counsel, welcomed the decision. “I am very pleased to see that the court accepted our arguments, and upheld the position that we believe is correct in this matter,” Lewis said. “I think that this has a wider effect than on our particular lawsuit, and if we had lost, it would have been of particular concern to all Ontario, and perhaps all Canadian, universities.”

Peter Rosenthal, Freeman-Maloy’s lawyer, said the lawsuit against the University will proceed on several other grounds, including the allegation that his client was libelled by Marsden and other officials at the University.

York stadium has pluses

If they opt for Rogers’ rent-free offer at the former SkyDome, Argos co-owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon would be giving up a chance to reap the rewards that come from operating in a dedicated football stadium and with access to multiple streams of revenue, as sports economists refer to a team’s ability to squeeze every dollar imaginable out of fans and advertisers, said Globe and Mail writer Brian Milner April 26. Without knowing the details of the Rogers offer, including the Argos’ potential revenue from such sources as stadium advertising and concessions, it’s impossible to assess whether it makes long-term financial sense for the football club to stay put. Free rent is great when you’re a tenant. But in the sports world, stadium rent is only one part of the cost equation and typically not even the largest part.

Other media made similar arguments April 26:

  • The Toronto Star: “There’s no doubt that it would be harder for the Argos to develop their ancillary revenue if they stay at Rogers Centre,” a Canadian Football League source said. “Their revenue line going forward would be more troubled, with more asterisks. They’d certainly have an earnings issue and a valuation issue.”
  • Toronto Sun columnist Jim Hunt: The worst news of the week was that the Argos are thinking about bailing out on the new stadium at York University. Maybe the Rogers Centre is offering them a good deal. But even if it means free rent they should turn it down. The Argos always will be second-class citizens in the dome where the Blue Jays get the preferred dates. It’s also not a great place for football with too many seats offering bad sight lines. Their fans want and deserve something better. The York plan would offer it.

More than politics, this is a national crisis, says Laxer

“The leaders of all three opposition parties insist that what Canadians face is a crisis of the Liberal Party, not a national crisis. Formally, they are right,” wrote James Laxer, political science professor in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, in The Globe and Mail April 26. “The problem is that the imminent demise of the Liberal Party and government will trigger a fundamental national crisis that has been implicit in the structure of Canadian politics since 1993. Since the federal election of that year, Canadian political parties have been divided into two essential groups. First, there are the parties of what we can call the “Canadian system,” the Liberals and the NDP,” he wrote. “Then, there are the parties of radical decentralization, the Conservatives…and the Bloc Québécois. An immediate federal election, with Canadians fixated on the sponsorship scandal, is almost certain to put the federal government and Canadian politics squarely in the hands of the two parties of radical decentralization.”

US universities wooing more Canadians

Patrick Monahan, dean at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said Canadian academic leaders are becoming more sought after, which means Canadian institutions will have to work harder to attract and retain the talent, reported the National Post April 26. He was commenting on the University of Pennsylvania’s appointment of University of Toronto law dean Ron Daniels as vice-president and provost.

Canada’s African development money ‘minuscule’, says prof

“The current Canadian investment in Africa is minuscule,” says Bernie Wolf, an economics professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, reported the Toronto Star April 26 following Ottawa’s announced pledge of $100 million for the Canada Investment Fund for Africa. “Because the people there have low per-capita income, they don’t have much buying power. And there’s cheap labour in Asia, too.” The investment fund will help mitigate some of the potential shortfalls of investing in Africa, Wolf said. “CIFA offers risk-sharing with the government to get Canadian companies to give a second look at Africa,” explained Wolf. “It’s an attempt to get a chain reaction to get other investors interested.”

Tax system appears progressive

Bernie Wolf, economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, says the Canadian federal tax system may be becoming more progressive, as evidenced by the increasing share of taxes paid by high income earners, reported The Globe and Mail April 23. “The public perception generally that the rich are getting away with murder may not be the case,” he told the Globe. In a subsequent letter to the Globe printed on April 26, Wolf said he also told the reporter the data may also reflect that those in the very upper income levels earn a substantially greater share of income and therefore skew the income distribution. Unfortunately, with all high-income earners defined as those with incomes of as little as $64,500, it is not possible to tell, he argued.

Wolf told the Toronto Star that the thrust of recently published Conference Board of Canada panel discussion on Canada’s need for technology, and research and development was good. In an April 25 story, he praised the focus on enhancing commercialization, but warned that not many Canadian suppliers can meet procurement requirements of being among the “global best” in their field. The report should have put more emphasis on allowing highly educated immigrants to flourish, Wolf added. “We are certainly wasting people by not allowing them to use their skills.”

Business profs more widely consulted in US

Canada’s celebration of its business academics differs from the US example, Jim Gillies, professor emeritus at York’s Schulich School of Business, told the Toronto Star, in an April 24 story about reluctant superstar business academic Henry Mintzberg. “The phenomenon of using academics is just bigger in the US than it is here,” said Gillies, the first dean of York’s business school when it opened in 1965. Gillies said that when he lived in California in the 1950s and 1960s, the use of academics as consultants in organizations there was already established. It’s even an established practice with the US government. “When the Democrats are in power, Harvard is ‘in’ in Washington,” he said. “When the Republicans are in power, it’s the University of Chicago.” One possible reason for the different status of Canadian academics, said Gillies, is that Canadian business schools are considerably younger than their US counterparts.

Mascots should change with the times

“You’ve got to keep your character up to date,” says Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, reported The Globe and Mail April 24 in a story about how McDonald’s is changing Ronald McDonald. Middleton noted that cereal mascots Snap, Crackle and Pop and Tony the Tiger have gone through makeovers. So has Barbie, to phenomenal sales success. “The average kid isn’t looking at the old familiar Ronald they’ve known for 20 years, they’re looking at how Ronald compares with things in the world around them today. So this notion that you don’t change it is nonsense, especially when you’re dealing with a kids group,” Middleton said.

Middleton also advises bank executives to think of banking as a financial iPod, reported Computing Canada March 24. “Think of what iPod represents to the way we source music,” said Middleton, keynote speaker at a Toronto conference on multi-channel customers. “Steve Jobs has built the Apple brand around mobility. If you don’t meet that need, other people will.”

Dating the gay civil-rights movement

The Philadelphia Daily News April 25 published comments by Marc Stein, history professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, on a debate over when gay rights movements began. Stein, author of City of Brotherly and Sisterly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972, participated in the city’s Equality Forum. “It is completely inaccurate to describe [a 1965 Philadelphia demonstration] as the first gay-rights demonstration or the beginning of the modern gay civil-rights movement,” he said. He and others point to the early 1950s as the start of the “homophile” movement, when several groups were founded in California.

On air

  • Leo Panitch, political scientist in York’s Faculty of Arts, commented on talks between the NDP leader and the prime minister to keep the Liberal government in power, on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” April 25.
  • Debra Pepler, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed a violence intervention project on bullying, on Toronto’s “OMNI News” (Cantonese edition) April 25.
  • Penelope Reed-Doob, Chair of York’s Department of Dance, talked about character artists at the National Ballet of Canada, on TVO’s “Studio 2” April 22.
  • Ian Greene, political scientist with York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed predictions of what would happen after Paul Martin’s national address, on CBC Radio “News” in Sudbury April 22.