York University charts a new course

Nearing 50, York University is at a crossroads, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 13. Long derided as the remote windswept home of Soviet-style buildings and students who couldn’t get into a better school, York’s reputation – and its looks – are much improved. Dramatic growth in recent years has meant new architecture, expanded programs and more research dollars for the University. But the architect of that change, President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna Marsden, is preparing to step aside next year, with her successor to be named as early as [next] month. It’s a time of much reflection on the impact of her decade at York and the path her replacement should take at the helm of Canada’s third-largest university.

“The profile of the University has grown and that growth has been impressive,” said one long-time York faculty member. “Physically, it’s much improved. It looks like a university, finally. But there’s a sense the focus on marketing and fundraising may be distorting the academic mission. We almost need to catch our breath a bit.”

Marsden, 64, has certainly overseen big changes since coming to York from Wilfrid Laurier University in August 1997, said the Star. They range from new buildings to a new logo and even the promise of a subway link. Many argue she has gone a long way to taking York out of the shadow of its bigger, richer and older downtown counterpart, the University of Toronto, which housed York’s first classes before it moved north.

York has undergone a construction boom – glittering structures for the Schulich School of Business and the Accolade Project in fine arts, another for technology, a student residence, administration and parking, as well as major redevelopments of older facilities. “I don’t think there’s ever been a crane off that campus while she’s been there,” said Seneca College President Rick Miner, who has worked with Marsden in the establishment of a series of courses jointly offered by both schools, as well as an $88-million technology building opened at York in 2004.

Miner credits Marsden with bringing “a sense of stability” to York at a time of great upheaval in the postsecondary community that included coping with provincial funding cuts and preparing for the student influx from the double cohort that followed elimination of Grade 13. He said her “understanding of the politics of the beast” also benefited the University with infrastructure and research money.

One of Marsden’s biggest coups is one that’s still years away from realization – extension of the Spadina subway line to York, the Star said. While the $2-billion project, announced in the provincial budget earlier this year, has yet to get a final okay from Ottawa, it would be a big shot in the arm for the university by raising the value of its land which in turn can be used to increase its endowment income. “Lorna has done a superb job of getting the subway commitment and the subway will be enormously important to the long-term strength of York,” said Robert Prichard, president and chief executive officer of Torstar Corp., which owns the Toronto Star, and former head of the University of Toronto.

During her tenure, Marsden made a significant shift in emphasis toward research by appointing the University’s first vice-president of research & innovation. She also chased funds across disciplines, including research involvement in a NASA mission to Mars, and has overseen the realignment and addition of health programs. The Board of Governors was also beefed up and a fundraising foundation formed to tap the broader community and a 190,000-strong alumni, more than two-thirds of whom live in the Greater Toronto Area. Last month, it announced plans to raise $200 million by the 50th anniversary, which – while modest alongside U of T’s $1 billion campaign from 1997 to 2004 – is the most ambitious in York’s history, noted the Star.

Marsden, a sociologist and former Liberal senator who once headed the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, set out to raise the profile of York and lure more dollars and students to campus. It’s difficult to argue she has not succeeded, as York has attracted government and private funding and its student body has grown by nearly 25 per cent to about 50,000 on her watch.

Despite criticism, few dispute her dramatic impact. “She’s played a key role in helping to modernize and reshape the University in a way that makes it competitive,” said Terry Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of Cancer Care Ontario, a York graduate and former faculty member. “But she’s preserved York’s culture as strong and progressive. She’s to be acknowledged for that tremendous effort.”

Revisiting same-sex marriage

In a story on same-sex marriage in the Toronto Star Nov. 12, Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said the Supreme Court might permit lawmakers to revert to the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage so long as gay and lesbian partnerships are legally recognized with civil-union status or some other designation. Allan Hutchinson, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, responded that giving gays and lesbians “a second option doesn’t make up for the fact that you still left them out” of marriage. “So, I think the courts might well strike that down.” But, he says, “nobody can be 100 per cent sure.” In this way, a legal challenge to same-sex marriage is possible, if not winnable. “I think they have some room,” Hutchinson says. “It is absolutely true the Supreme Court has not definitively said, ‘You can’t do that.’ They’ve clearly given signals they’re not keen on that, but in that sense, the door remains slightly ajar.”

Hard work wins respect: Author Maria Tippett

Maria Tippett has retired, but at age 60 the historian is devoting the next four years to one of the most far-ranging biographies of her career, wrote the Times Colonist (Victoria) Nov. 12.  Tippett, who lives on Pender Island with husband Peter Clarke, has written many books, including biographies of two B.C. icons: Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian and Emily Carr: A Biography, for which she won a 1980 Governor General’s Award. Her book By a Lady: Celebrating Three Centuries of Canadian Women Artists is considered the best survey of the work of women artists in the country, and her 12th tome, a biography of Yousuf Karsh, is due out in 2007.

The prolific author, scholar and biographer will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Victoria on Tuesday.  Armed with a master’s degree from Cambridge and a PhD in history from the University of London, she has taught at Simon Fraser, the University of British Columbia, Emily Carr School of Art and York University, where she was Robarts Professor of Canadian Studies. She was also a senior research fellow and tutor at Churchill College, Cambridge from 1991 to 2005.

A burning issue heats up

Critics charge Mayor David Miller’s views on the environmental costs of burning trash are decades out of date, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 12. “That’s a story that was accurate 20 years ago. It’s completely out of date now,” Lewis Molot, a York University professor and waste management expert said, about Miller’s view that incinerators aren’t safe and burn products that should be recycled. “These kinds of spins coming from our politicians are a deliberate oversimplification designed to keep the public from actually thinking through the details,” he said.

The city’s newly acquired London area landfill, Green Lane, won’t last forever and since the province is running out of landfills, this could well be the last time the city gets to buy an existing landfill, said Molot. There’s no room for a landfill within Toronto’s borders, leaving the city with no other option than an incinerator type facility, he said. “I hope that the city council does start preparing the public for that.”

York alumna plays character in ‘Day Break’ series

Remember the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day?, asked The Toronto Sun Nov. 12. The one where the main character kept re-living the same day, over and over again, until his life finally worked itself out? Well, that’s sort of the premise behind “Day Break”, a new ABC series. Except it’s a life-and-death drama, not a comedy, and it stars Taye Diggs (Kevin Hill) as a cop. Diggs plays Brett Hopper, a narcotics undercover police officer, apparently trapped in this bad day until he can figure out why his life is a mess and how to fix it. In the meantime, he not only has to try and save himself but also those around him.

Among many people caught in the crossfire is his current police partner, Andrea (Chesley, Ont. native Victoria Pratt). A York University grad [BA ’94], Pratt used to conduct fitness tests for the Toronto Maple Leafs before she went on to acting in shows like “Mutant X” and “Cleopatra 2525”. She told critics that the female characters on “Day Break” each had “a very special relationship with Hopper. We each have a little part of him that the others don’t have. And I think that you’ll find that my character has a secret. And other characters might too. It’s a lot of fun to play for that reason.”

Autism program makes ‘huge’ difference: study

Ontario’s program of intensive behavioural intervention for young autistic children is so effective that nearly half – 41 per cent – of the mild to moderate autistics left the program as non-autistics, according to a new analysis, reported the National Post Nov. 11. “Children are clearly having a lot more skills after the program than when they came,” said Adrienne Perry, a York University psychologist who prepared the review independently with funding from the province. She presented the results Nov. 10 to a conference in Markham, calling the success rates “a huge, huge effect size.”

In her report to the province, Perry described it as “the largest (and one of the only) studies which demonstrates the effectiveness of IBI in a large and diverse community sample [as opposed to in ideal conditions with ideal candidates].” Perry acknowledged that her analysis of IBI’s effectiveness has several shortcomings. It did not include a comparison group, for example, such as children who received no treatment or a different kind. It was based only on the first and final evaluations, and did not chart progress during the treatment. And because the results are new, there has been no long-term follow-up.

905-area candidates snub developer donations

It isn’t easy being developer-free, but dozens of municipal candidates in the Greater Toronto Area are cleaning up their campaigns by voluntarily refusing to take contributions from builders, reported CBC.ca News Nov. 10. In an area where residents are increasingly concerned about urban sprawl, candidates are trying to put an end to the politician-developer relationship, which many consider improper. A study by a York University professor [Rob MacDermid, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts] found that the majority of 905-area campaigns in the last municipal election were funded by corporate contributions, mostly from developers. Vaughan had the highest per cent of money raised from corporations, at 80 per cent.

Municipal races to watch

A trio of candidates with high- profile endorsements lead the pack to replace Sylvia Watson as councillor for Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park, reported the National Post Nov. 11. Gord Perks, a longtime public transit advocate and Toronto Environmental Alliance head, has earned the endorsement of Mayor David Miller. Rowena Santos (BBA ‘01), executive director of a philanthropic organization, boasts several high profile backers of her own, including RBC Financial Group executive Charlie Coffey and NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo. Santos holds degrees from the Schulich School of Business at York and the London School of Economics as well as a black belt in Taekwondo.

Working smarter not harder

It is ironic that the former premier of Quebec wants employees to work harder and longer, a view of Ontario workers expressed a few months ago by a think-tank attached to the Ontario government, wrote Ronald Burke, professor of organizational behaviour at York’s Schulich School of Business, in a letter to the National Post Nov. 11 about comments by Lucien Bouchard. Yet the Financial Post Working section chronicles the success of Canadian companies in getting their employees to work productively – and smarter, not longer. We don’t need more people working more hours. Instead, we need managers who are held accountable for performance and hold others accountable, who provide a compelling sense of direction and purpose, and who build a culture based on openness and trust. We know how to build more effective organizations; burning the mid-night oil isn’t part of this.

Banks dust off the toaster giveaway idea – with free trips and iPods

The free toaster is back – with a 21st-century twist, reported The Globe and Mail Nov. 13. Banks today are giving away everything from free trips to iPods in an effort to boost market share in the increasingly competitive world of retail banking. The nineties’ focus on long-term brand-building activities led banks to abandon the product giveaway, popularized in the fifties when they passed out toasters and other small appliances to new customers who opened accounts.

But younger consumers are less loyal and unlikely to be swayed by traditional branding techniques, according to Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “You’ve got a new generation coming up that is less susceptible to classical kinds of image strategies and much more prepared to say: ‘They’re all the same, so I might as well go to the one that gives me something,'” Middleton said.

York student’s film one of several highlighting Calgary film festival

When Harvey Cyngiser began exploring the feasibility of mounting a film festival in Calgary in 2001, he admits his personal repertoire of movies with Jewish themes was slim, wrote The Calgary Herald Nov. 11. This year’s local Jewish film festival, where Cyngiser serves as director, opens tonight and continues for three weekends with 21 feature films and documentaries on the big screen menu.

One film Cyngiser is eagerly anticipating is My Grandfather’s Voice, by young Calgary filmmaker Brent Martin. It’s a 10-minute documentary Martin crafted to honour his grandfather, legendary Calgary broadcaster Ted Soskin, who founded CHQR radio. Martin is studying film at Toronto’s York University, but will return to Calgary Nov. 25 for the screening.

Cuddling up to the customer: ‘Experiential’ marketing

Sponsorships, exhibits and other similar promotional efforts are becoming more popular as companies seek closer emotional ties with consumers, reported the National Post Nov. 11. Called experiential marketing, word-of-mouth marketing or buzz marketing, the practice uses consumers to help promote the brand.

With more companies competing for the high-end consumer, traditional marketing strategies are no longer as effective with affluent customers. “Companies definitely need to offer more creative, experiential benefits,” says Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, and a founding member of the new Prestige and Luxury Marketing Council.

Critics slam plan to give police a say

The Harper Conservatives, refusing to back down in a fight with the country’s senior judges and lawyers, said they are going ahead with a contentious plan to give police a voice in screening judicial contenders to the federally appointed bench, reported CanWest News Nov. 11. Justice Minister Vic Toews issued a news release confirming his plans less than an hour after Canada’s lawyers joined a growing chorus of protest that the move could politicize the judiciary by “stacking the deck” in the judicial selection process.

Canada’s chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, and other senior judges, who for the first time have taken a federal cabinet minister to task for acting unilaterally, also called on Toews to launch wide consultations before changing the judicial appointment system. Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, cautioned that allowing police to help pick judges sets a precedent that future governments could follow by perhaps appointing their own friends to appointment committees, such as defence lawyers, or even crime victims.

Thought-provoking exhibits open at Yukon Arts Centre

On Thursday evening, the Yukon Arts Centre opened three final series of exhibits for 2006, reported The Whitehorse Daily Star Nov. 10. On display this time around [is] a mixed media display by John Greyson and David Wall called Yukon Figs. Greyson and Wall are from Toronto. Greyson is a filmmaker and professor in York’s Department of Film Faculty of Fine Arts. He has recently directed four episodes of the television series “Queer as Folk” and in 2002 won a Gemini Award for the film Made in Canada.

Film student wins top prize from National Film Board

Most Canadians are well aware of the history of the First and Second World Wars, but not many have had the experience of standing in the actual trenches or in a cemetery where soldiers lay, wrote the North York Mirror Nov. 9. York University film student Ryan Knight got a chance to see the battle sites and significant war memorials in Newfoundland and France first-hand this summer after receiving top honours in the National Film Board of Canada contest “Make Shorts, not War”. The 21-year-old received word his war movie, The Road of the World, placed first from more than 280 submissions to the film board in March. The prize was the honour of being the official English language cinematographer for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme ceremonies taking place in Newfoundland and France with Veterans Affairs Canada.

Knight, who handed the footage he shot over to Veterans Affairs Canada, comes from a long line of military servicemen. His grandfather was a fighter pilot during the Second World War; his great-grandmother was a nurse during the First World War; a great-aunt served as a nurse during the First World War; and his great-grandfather was an engineer during the First World War.

York University reveals its basketball lineup

Newtonbrook Secondary School alumnus Eylon Zemer will be the starting point guard for the York University Lions basketball team in the first half of the 2006-2007 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) regular season, reported the North York Mirror Nov. 9. Zemer, in his third year with York, will run the offence in the absence of 2005-2006 Ontario University Athletics East First Team All-Star Tut Ruach, who is currently ineligible, but is expected to return to the team in the new year.  “Eylon is different from Tut,” said York coach Bob Bain. “He’s not flashy. He doesn’t have Tut’s scoring ability or his knack for creating things, but he’s quite a good defensive player and we’re happy with what he is doing.”

Jason Hoult and Amde Evans, two shooting guards, will serve as Zemer’s backups. Hoult is York’s prize recruit this season. “He’s five-foot 11-inches” and was a prolific scorer in high school in Newmarket. He’s a tough kid and a real good defender. He’s going to have to speed up his shot. He’s got kind of a slow release. But I think that he’s going to be a good one.”

Forward Devon Smith is a newcomer to the team, but not to York. “Devon was recruited to play volleyball and he played here for a couple of years. But he really wanted to give basketball a shot. He tried out in the summer. We liked what we saw, and we kept him. He’s left-handed and he’s a very good shooter.” Centre Stefan Haynes was not expected to make the squad as a freshman, but he did. “He’s six-feet nine-inches and he’s a real leaper. He’s got the physical attributes. We were going to red shirt him, but he’s good enough to get into some games.”

Key returnees include centre Jordan Foebel and forward Dan Eves. Foebel was the third leading rebounder in the OUA last season, while Eves averaged a team high 18.7 points per game. Both players are in their fifth and final year of eligibility. Coach Bain said that York is now in the toughest league in the country. “We just want to make the playoffs, and make a big run then.”

York prof’s software offers new ways to customize your computer

Wolfgang Stuerzlinger, a professor in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at York University, has responded to computer users’ desire to have more control over the desktop by developing new software that would allow them to customize existing programs to their specific needs, reported the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) TechNews Nov. 7. “They don’t want to be provided with more menus or options created by software developers who can’t predict their needs and aren’t interface designers in the first place,” Stuerzlinger says. “Imagine being able to virtually cut up and reassemble elements of your interface to create a new look and feel that’s best for you,” he says of his program, which he calls “user interface facades.”

On air

  • Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about his study on risks associated with retirement income, on CFRA radio (Ottawa), on Nov. 10.

  • Rob Bowman, the Grammy Award-winning musicologist in York’s Department of Music, Faculty of Fine Arts, joined a panel discussion on “What is it with Bob Dylan?”, on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition, Nov. 12.

  • Marcel Martel, graduate program director inYork’s Department of History, Faculty of Arts, spoke about historical aspects of the new war film Honor Before Glory, on Global TV News, Nov. 10.