Research: capitalizing on the eureka moments

In addition to commercializing research and hiring graduates, a new kind of non-commercial knowledge transfer is taking hold in Canada, with strong roots in Toronto’s York University, said Stan Shapson, York’s vice-president research & innovation, in a special report on commercialization of research in The Globe and Mail Oct. 10.

While York has set up a research services office in the IT hotbed of Markham,  the school is also at the forefront of matching academic research in the humanities and social sciences with external partners from government, social agencies, non-governmental organizations and other community groups, the Globe reported. The school has created “an institutional capacity to transfer knowledge” that can lead to socio-economic benefits for such organizations, said David Phipps, director York’s Office of Research Services.

There is no immediate return on investment from such sharing of knowledge, which is often funded by a patchwork quilt of grants from government as well as social agencies and the university. “It’s not about the money. The money is secondary.” Shapson said. When the community benefits from research in the social sciences, there is a return on investment through improved quality of life and relationships between communities. As this type of knowledge transfer accelerates, he said, universities, through research, might one day be able to quantify the return of investment.

With private investment and in partnership with the University, Prof. Vincent Tao established a geographic information systems company, GeoTango, in 2003. He sold the company to Microsoft Corp. in late 2005. York University has continued its research relationship with GeoTango.

Competitive environment raises likelihood of cheating

Not all cheaters go as far as the York University student who actually hired a stand-in whiz kid to enrol in a course for him, go to class all term and even write the exam – in the other guy’s name, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 30 in a story which was also distributed by Canadian Press. But there’s plenty of garden-variety cheating going on at Canada’s high schools and universities, says a new study of nearly 15,000 students across five provinces conducted by the University of Guelph and Rutgers University. And one York official warns it will only get worse if student stress climbs.

“Students cheat under pressure, not for the sport of it, and as they feel that pressure rise – it’s a very competitive environment – cheating will only get worse,” said Sheila Embleton, York vice-president academic, recalling the elaborate hoax years ago that used a stand-in scholar. “Cheating is not always black and white; we encourage students to work in groups,” said Embleton, “and then we’re surprised when they hand in the same answers. So professors have to make it clear that while students can work together, they need to go off and write up their assignments on their own.”

Many universities already use a computerized plagiarism-detector called, which scans a student’s work for stolen passages by comparing it with a data bank of research papers on the Internet. York professors, for example, submitted more than 13,000 assignments last year to the screening service and found about 170 were copied significantly from the Internet – about half as many as the year before.

York has also created an on-line “tutorial” to explain to students what sort of behaviour constitutes cheating and plagiarism. And more than 10,500 students took the voluntary crash course in academic honesty last year.

  • A story about the Guelph-Rutgers study and York’s efforts to counter cheating was aired on Toronto’s 680 News radio Sept. 30.

I want an education, not indoctrination

Professor emeritus Richard Holmes is dead-on when he writes (Sept. 13) of the proselytizing that students must endure from their university professors, wrote York student Britt Aharoni, in a letter to the National Post Sept. 30. As a fourth-year political science student at York, it has been extremely rare to come across professors who embody even a semblance of impartiality, said Aharoni. I often feel as if I am paying tuition in order to hear the diatribes and personal grievances that many professors feel they should be expressing in the classroom. What’s worse is the hostile classroom environment that can develop from this, where expressing an opinion that is not of the far left can be quite intimidating.

Inside look at nomadic academics

A story about nomads of higher education in the Toronto Star Sept. 30 included comments from two visiting York professors. Eric Bronson, a visiting professor at York from the philosophy department at New York’s Berkeley College, is teaching courses in the philosophy, sociology and humanities departments at York. Bronson, who is originally from Ridgewood, NJ, says: “That makes me even more of a rover than other visiting professors. I bring along my Bruce Springsteen CDs to make me feel at home.” Bronson had visited Toronto from time to time over the years but didn’t really know the city when he found a two-bedroom for himself and his wife in a Forest Hill house. Last academic year, Bill Idsardi, a distinguished professor of mathematical linguistics at the University of Maryland, taught there on Monday, flew to Toronto for classes at York on Tuesday and Thursday (staying in a colleague’s spare room), then flew home for the weekend.

Will you still feed me when I’m 94?

This year is pivotal for baby boomers, since the advance guard – those born right after the Second World War – are turning 60, wrote the National Post Oct. 2 in an ongoing series titled “The Boomer Effect”. That means Canadian boomers can take early, though reduced, retirement benefits from the Canada Pension Plan. Moshe Milevsky, finance professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, says North American mortality rates are improving by one per cent per cohort year. “Baby boomers can certainly expect to live longer (and healthier) than their parents,” he says.

Despite their hoped-for longevity, most Boomers have less financial protection against a long life than their parents. The latter enjoyed annuity-like defined-benefit pension plans provided by most employers. Like the CPP or Old Age Security, DB pensions cannot be outlived. As Milevsky says, DB pensions provided built-in “longevity insurance” and a guaranteed lifetime income. The boomers face a double whammy. Not only can they expect to live a few years longer, but they are retiring in an era in which DB pensions are on the decline. For those not covered, “it should be clear that new thinking is required,” Milevsky says.

Lions devour Varsity Blues for first win

Minutes before the end of the football game, a tape recording of “Taps” blared away at York Stadium, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 1. It was someone’s way of conveying a message that the University of Toronto Blues were heading for their 38th consecutive loss. But shortly after the York Lions had crushed the Blues 39-11 for a 12th straight win over their cross-town rivals in the 37th Red and Blue Bowl – securing the Argo Cup for another year – game officials decided to wave off the traditional player handshakes fearing that the mood could get ugly.

It was York’s 32 consecutive points, triggered by three Blues turnovers on downs and some questionable play-calling that led to Toronto’s second-half implosion witnessed by a crowd of under 1,000 fans. Fourth-year York quarterback Bart Zemanek had a career game, completing 26 of 45 passes for 339 yards. Despite dealing with a bad back and shoulder pain the past few weeks, Zemanek threw for three touchdowns in York’s first win of the season. Zemanek’s favourite target Ricardo Hudson, who was released by the Calgary Stampeders during the summer, said his teammates kept hearing how Toronto was going to end its losing streak at the expense of York. “You don’t want to be the one to lose to (Toronto),” said Hudson.

York leadership hopeful was a carpenter, then a law student

A light-hearted guide to the Liberal leadership hopefuls in The Winnipeg Sun Oct. 1 noted that York alumna Martha Hall Findlay is the only woman vying for the Grit helm. In a sports program-style rundown on the candidates, the Sun noted Hall’s comment that she is “a lot lighter than when we started this campaign” and that she worked a stint as a carpenter before she graduated from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Harper is creating a Canada for the rich

A column in The Daily News (Halifax) Oct. 1, taking issue with the federal Conservatives’ recent budget decisions, mentioned that Statistics Canada released a report saying 15.5 per cent of Canadians live in poverty. “Why does a wealthy nation such as Canada have 15 per cent of its children living in internationally defined poverty, while far less wealthy nations such as Denmark and Finland have fewer than three per cent of its children living under such conditions?” Dennis Raphael, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, asks in a recent article in the magazine Policy Options. His answer: “The high numbers result from governmental decisions on how to distribute economic resources among Canadians.”

Spitfire pilot and lawyer modest about his bravery

Spitfire pilot David Goldberg was a modest man, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Sept. 30. Personal courage, heroism and leadership were simply doing one’s duty, just what he was sure every other fellow would do. It didn’t matter he’d made a harrowing escape from occupied France or once brought a powerless P51 Mustang fighter into Mount Hope RCAF base in a tricky but perfect dead-stick landing. He didn’t want a fuss. He didn’t talk it up. But lately, Goldberg, 89, who died in Hamilton Sept. 17, would share his experiences with young people. “He wanted them to know these things and he was always gracious in accommodating them,” said his daughter, Mary. With war’s end, Goldberg returned to Hamilton and went to Osgoode Hall Law School. He was called to the bar in June 1949, and began a 50-year career in corporate and commercial law. He spent 20 years at Ross & McBride in Hamilton before he retired in 1999.