Making York ‘a model for 21st century universities’

Mamdouh Shoukri, York’s new president-designate, was interviewed for several newspaper features in the wake of his appointment Feb. 6 by York’s Board of Governors. Below is a sampling of the coverage:.

  • When Mamdouh Shoukri, an Egyptian-born engineer, becomes the new president of York in the summer, he will be the first Muslim appointed as the permanent head of a Canadian university, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 8. "This is Canada. It’s a mosaic," Shoukri, 59, said yesterday in his first media interview since being named the seventh president in the history of Canada’s third-largest university. "I see this as the leadership role at a progressive Canadian university, which will have a diverse population, whether it’s among the students or among the faculty and staff…. This is the nature of the country we live in and this is what we do."

Shoukri, who came to Canada 35 years ago to study at McMaster, said it was too early for him to pass judgment on the Israel-Palestine debates at York. But, he said, "every group within (the University’s) diverse population…should be assured that they have a president who works for them."

Student groups expressed pride at Shoukri’s appointment. "Most importantly, his selection is based on his credentials," said Kamal Haseeb, president of York’s Muslim Students Association. "The fact he’s Muslim just solidifies the acceptance of all groups and faiths…. The diversity on campus is not always reflected at an administrative level. This is great to see."

Adam Hummel of Hillel at York, known as the centre for Jewish life on campus, called Shoukri’s selection "very Canadian" and a reflection of York’s population, the Star wrote. "And, I couldn’t be prouder," Hummel said. Hummel said he hoped Shoukri’s appointment would "wipe the slate clean" on the tone of Israel-Palestinian debate on campus. York Federation of Students President Corrie Sakaluk said "it’s great to see York making history."

Shoukri, who told the Star he believes his ethnic background will fade as a topic after the initial media hype, said his list of long-term objectives includes building on York’s diversity, interdisciplinary studies and accessibility as well as being "at the leading edge of linking university research and education to the needs of society. I think this is the sign of a progressive university in the 21st century."

  • "I intend to be the president of…the entire, diverse University, and I will be a person who will value every member of the York community – which group they come from is, with respect, truly irrelevant," Shoukri told the National Post. The new president doesn’t think the Israel-Palestine debate is unusual fare for university students, the Post wrote Feb. 8. "I wouldn’t imagine that there will be a political issue that exists anywhere in the world that will not be debated on this campus. I will encourage that. The job of the university to make sure freedom of expression and academic freedom is exercised to the fullest within the law," he said.

Shoukri said he would rather focus on making York "a model for 21st century universities" than discuss student unrest, the Post said. For example, the former vice-president of research and international affairs at McMaster University sees the proposed subway extension to Vaughan as key to the school’s development. "The subway here is so important, it will change the whole dynamics of the city of Toronto and York Region," he said. The benefits of the line will be felt both at the school and downtown, Shoukri added, because the country’s third-largest university will become accessible to the wider city and the wider city will become accessible to its students. "This is a way to make sure that Toronto really becomes a world-class city."

  • "I believe York is a university of great potential and can build on its heritage and create a university for the 21st century," Shoukri said in The Toronto Sun Feb. 8. "It is a university that embodies interdisciplinary approach to research and education," said Shoukri. "And it embodies values that are dear to me, such as accessibility, diversity and social justice…. My objective is to provide the leadership to let York obtain that stature," he added. Shoukri’s appointment was also reported on OMNI-TV newscasts and in the North York Mirror Feb. 7 .

Tory ads may have fizzled

A majority of the Canadians who’ve seen Conservative TV ads ridiculing Liberal leader Stéphane Dion may think they’re bunkum, wrote Canadian Press Feb. 8. That’s the finding in a Decima Research survey released Wednesday to The Canadian Press – a poll reinforced this week by the fleeting zeitgeist of comedic television spoofs. Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, said the best that can be said for the ads in a non-election period is that they rally core Tories. "This is classic Harper 101. They’re going to come out fists blazing," said the corporate communications expert. "What you’re seeing is a combative Harper philosophy at work here."

York expert pokes holes in artist’s plan to launch 300-metre banana blimp

A Canadian artist’s dream to float a giant banana high over Texas will be difficult to achieve, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Feb. 8. In August 2008, Montreal visual artist Cesar Saez, 38, plans to launch a 300-metre-long, banana-shaped blimp from northwest Mexico. It will drift over the border and hang in the Texas sky, somewhere between 30 and 50 kilometres above the Earth for a month, Saez says.

Brendan Quine, professor of space and planetary physics in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, believes the big banana will have trouble getting off the ground. "Mass is all important in ballooning," said Quine, who is a member of an academic team that conducts balloon missions to study stratospheric composition. He says many people have experimented with long-duration balloon flights and few have managed to exceed a month in the air. And as for parking the floating fruit in one spot of the Texas sky, Quine says: not likely. "I don’t think that’s currently technically possible." He says it would be impossible for the blimp not to drift at such high altitudes. "The stratospheric winds are very, very strong. They can get up to 200 km/h," said Quine. "There is constantly a hurricane blowing over our heads."

York students join tuition protest

"Every generation has a cause to fight for, so this is my bra-burning issue; lower tuition for my children’s children," said York student Crystal Vogan in a Toronto Star story Feb. 8 about the Feb. 7 Day of Action tuition protest.

It’s every man for himself

Andrea O’Reilly, professor of women’s studies and director of the Centre for Research on Mothering at York, studies how children’s gender roles are shaped by the socialization of the family, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 8 . She is also the mother of a 22-year-old son and two daughters, 19 and 17. "Males who have grown up in female-dominated households will likely be more sensitive to women’s issues," O’Reilly begins. "They will have a day-to-day awareness of what it’s like to be female; they tend to come in mid-sentence in terms of female dynamics, behaviour and relationships. "I tell my (female) students – the heterosexual ones – that when they’re dating, they should pick a guy who grew up with sisters…I’m joking, but not really," she quips.

York Holocaust education program inspires German publishers

The newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung in Osnabrück, Germany, wrote Feb. 5 about the publication of Wider das Vergessen (Against Forgetting), a collection of short stories dealing with the Holocaust in its German context. The book is a project that grew out of the participation of two of its publishers, Jörg Ehrnsberger and Johannes Heger, in York’s Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education – “Learning from the Past, Teaching for the Future”.

The program, which is an initiative of the Centre for Jewish Studies and the Canadian Centre for German &  European Studies at York, brings together Canadian university students and fellow students from Germany and Poland, to explore how best to counter racism – including anti-Semitism – through teaching about the Holocaust. The project is coordinated by Mark Webber, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and co-director of the Centre for German & European Studies, and Michael Brown, senior scholar in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, but is team-taught with Polish and German counterparts.

York chaplain to speak at summer meeting of Catholic teens

Upwards of 500 teenagers from across Ontario and beyond will converge on the Eastern Ontario hamlet of St. Raphael’s, South Glengarry Township, for the Journey to the Cross, July 13-15, wrote the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder Feb. 8. Guest speakers this year include Allan MacDonald, a priest with the Companions of the Cross who is currently a chaplain at York University.

On air

  • Andrea Davis, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, was interviewed on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” and CBC television, Feb. 7, in advance of her lecture at a memorial service she helped organize forYork student Chantel Dunn, who was killed a year ago.
  • York student Fuad Abdi spoke about student protests over tuition fees on CP24-TV and City-TV Feb. 7.