Medical school at York is a key priority for York’s new president

Mamdouh Shoukri, the Egyptian-born engineer who moved into the president’s office at York University last week, is already in renovation mode, ready to expand Canada’s third-largest university with an increased emphasis on science and engineering and the addition of a medical school, wrote The Globe and Mail in a front-page feature July 9.

"That is the future – to be a complete and comprehensive university. That is what my mandate is all about," Shoukri, 59, said during his first interview in his new post. He replaces Lorna R. Marsden, who retired this summer after a decade as York’s president, wrote the Globe.

York has strived under Marsden to increase its research profile. Gaining a medical school also has long been an ambition. The arrival of Shoukri, with his profile in the research community and his no-nonsense willingness to lay the University’s ambitions on the table, signals a new determination by the University to press its case, said the Globe.

"The direction is set. My role is to be very clear about my commitment to that direction, to share our aspirations with government and with the private sector and make sure they know we are serious," he said. "I think this is the tone I would like to set. It is a tone of determination. "

Shoukri is careful to emphasize that any expansion will be built upon the University’s current strengths and can only take place with the support of professors, wrote the Globe. "In an academic institution nothing will get done without a strong commitment from faculty," said Shoukri.

Raising the profile of research also will help attract top academics, said Arthur Hilliker, head of the York University Faculty Association. He sees Shoukri’s arrival as a welcome sign that York wants to step up the work started by Marsden and believes the new president’s profile in the research community will give him extra clout. Hilliker, who is a former Chair of York’s Biology Department in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, welcomes the plan to increase science and applied science programs, noting that they now are small in proportion to the University’s size.

Shoukri, a slim, soft-spoken man who delivers his message with confidence, has a reputation as a can-do leader, wrote the Globe. He was vice-president of research at Hamilton’s McMaster University when it was singled out as the country’s top research university in 2004 and led its engineering Faculty during a time of major expansion.

That experience, and his success in setting up a research park in Hamilton, has taught him that good ideas will succeed – even if they carry a hefty price tag, he said. "It is very difficult for people to reject a good idea even if they find it difficult to fund," he explained. "A good idea that reflects a real need for society and the community always wins in the end because it makes sense."

Increasing York’s offerings in science and applied science will help the province meet its goals for research that supports economic development, said Shoukri, who also sits on the premier’s research and innovation council.

Expanding the University, which sits at the doorstep of fast-growing York Region and will in future be linked by subway to downtown, will help answer the expected rise in demand for undergraduate spots in the Toronto area, he pointed out.

Shoukri, who came to Canada 35 years ago to do graduate work in mechanical engineering, likes to emphasize the role his new University – located in the middle of one of the city’s most troubled neighbourhoods – plays for new Canadians and disadvantaged groups.

"Education has always been the most important tool for creating social cohesion in society," he said. "York has done it well and I would like to continue that."

The Naked City

He remembers Scarborough when it looked like Wayne’s World and York University when "mature" students annoyed him in English class, wrote the National Post July 7. Today, Barenaked Lady Steven Page sings [Glendon English Professor] Michael Ondaatje‘s praises and calls Riverdale home; he is a member of the Windshare co-op, which owns the wind turbine at the Ex. He spoke with columnist Zosia Bielski.

Page: I went to York University in the late ’80s. I’m just shy of getting my degree but then I quit and started a rock band. Occasionally, I think of going back to finish it. I don’t know why I would, but I guess I’d like to say I have a degree.

The first year they did Canada Reads on the CBC, I was one of the panellists and every panellist was supposed to choose a book to defend, so I chose [Ondaatje’s] In the Skin of a Lion. It’s a great book about the development of the city. It has some respect for the beauty of a city that’s not really all that beautiful.

Former Guelph CAO lands key job with local developer

Guelph’s former chief administrator, who resigned in late April after only 20 months on the job, is taking a senior position with a local home builder, wrote the Guelph Mercury July 7. Larry Kotseff (MA ‘75) is the new vice-president of Fusion Homes, the Guelph company announced yesterday. Kotseff’s resignation as Guelph’s top civil servant was controversial because city hall and Kotseff have refused to cite reasons for his departure and whether he received a compensation package. 

Though his work has largely been in the public sector to date, "I deal a lot with the private sector," Kotseff stressed, noting he started his career at a planning consultancy in Toronto and holds master’s degrees in planning from York University and public administration from Queen’s.

Organic food

A York University researcher says consumers are missing the message about organic foods, reported CTV News July 6. “We have too many consumers in North America – and I think this is at the heart of the problem – who really only care about those aspects of food such as individual health and body image, and really don’t pay enough attention to the processes that bring the food to their table,” said Irena Knezevic, a doctoral candidate in the York-Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture. “I think there is quite a bit of other food products that are becoming symbols of status in many ways. They’re showing disposable income. They’re showing cultural capital, knowing of what foods are stylish to eat.”

On air

  • Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of psychology in Yorks’ Faculty of Health, spoke about a new bilingualism study she will conduct on the city and children, on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” July 6.
  • Joe Baker, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, spoke about his study of golf and aging on CBC TV (Halifax) July 6.