What universities must do to shape our democracy

George Fallis, economics professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, wrote an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail Sept. 12. Below is an edited excerpt.

Our universities are only as strong as the public’s support for them. The university and society are connected through an unwritten social contract: The university takes on many tasks and, in return, receives financial support. It is vital we rearticulate the social contract through a vigorous civic conversation.

There is a loss of confidence within the university. It struggles with underfunding and suffers from mission drift….The government’s emphasis on economic growth has moved the university away from basic research and toward applied research. Research becomes motivated by commercial gain. The university becomes less autonomous.

Everyone looks first at financial issues – at the need for more money and the enormous difficulties for students brought by rising tuition…. And the emphasis on money does not resist the mission drift; indeed, the reverse is true. Faced with lack of funds, the universities, in their appeals for increased support, have used the logic of economic growth as justification: We are crucial to economic prosperity in the 21st century, so please give us more money. This argument only contributes to the drift.

As we reinvest in universities, we must recognize all their responsibilities. Most important, we must recognize that universities are vital not just to a healthy economy but also to a healthy democracy…. These responsibilities of the university to democratic life must be articulated – just as the responsibilities to economic life – and the university held accountable for how well it fulfills them both.

The Globe noted that Fallis is the author of Multiversities, Ideas, and Democracy (University of Toronto Press 2007).

Bowman lists his Fab Four favourite five

Beatlemania is clearly alive and well. Look no further than the new film Across the Universe, told through more than 30 Beatles songs. What are the group’s greatest musical feats? Ethnomusicologist Rob Bowman, a professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, offered his opinions on what the Beatles’ top five songs are and why, for CanWest News Service Sept. 14.

1. Please Please Me (1963)
"This song captures them as a frenetic rock ‘n’ roll band at that time," says Bowman. But it’s Lennon’s vocals that take this song to the next level. "His vocals epitomize rock ‘n’ roll at its very best." Give this song a spin paying close attention to Lennon as he sings "C’mon, c’mon …"

2. Eight Days A Week (1964)
There are many definitive Beatles’ songs, but this is the one that plays the loudest for Bowman. This is the song that turned The Beatles from "a pop band to an out and out rock band," he says. "It’s emblematic of The Beatles as they went from playing cover songs to writing original material. Its innovation rises above any competition of that time. The Beatles are bursting with ideas, creativity and enthusiasm here." Bowman sites examples on the production and structure of the song, which fades in at the beginning as opposed to the norm of fading out at the end. "There are eight or nine hooks that they’re playing with here. The title alone is a hook. It’s still simple but it’s brilliant."

3. Tomorrow Never Knows (1966)
"Arguably, this song would never have been written without Bob Dylan’s previous work. He was a big influence on The Beatles," Bowman says. "It’s a radical song due to the lack of chord changes and existential lyrics."

4. I Am the Walrus (1967)
"It’s amazing anyone could write a song so complex and then in that same year write something as simple and seemingly timeless as "Yellow Submarine."

5. Hey Jude (1968)
"Hey Jude" and "All You Need is Love" earn equal billing here. "Hey Jude," however, "was able to capture the zeitgeist of the culture at large at that moment." Bowman describes "Hey Jude" as a "sing-a-long" with the " ‘Na Na Na…Hey Jude’ creating a community of cosmic oneness."

Not much of a choice, says MacDermid

York University Professor Robert MacDermid looked at the election platforms of the Tories and Liberals and called their promises "starkly similar", wrote the Windsor Star in an editorial Sept. 14. "You really wonder whether Ontarians have much of a choice here," said MacDermid in an interview with the National Post. "Another thing that struck me was how much the Conservative Party has moved to the centre. When you compare this to the Common Sense Revolution, it is worlds apart."

Life is a highway: listening habits of Canadian drivers polled

SIRIUS Canada Inc. captured Canadians’ views on commuting in a survey conducted by Angus Reid Strategies, reporting that nearly nine in ten Canadians (86 per cent) who use a vehicle to commute to work or school revealed that a stressful commute can adversely affect their personal and professional life, wrote The Edmonton Sun Sept. 14. However, the vast majority of Canadians (93 per cent) agree that listening to their preferred type of music, talk, comedy and sports programming helps reduce stress levels during their commute.

"As Canada’s population continues to grow, more people are taking to the roads to get to and from work. Longer commutes and congested roadways are known to contribute to the heightened stress levels Canadian drivers are experiencing which in turn can have an impact on their personal and professional lives," says David Wiesenthal, a psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, who specializes in driver stress. "Having the freedom to choose from a variety of entertainment that suits individual interests and tastes has proven to significantly reduce driver stress levels during their daily commute."

Marriage matters to kids

Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emeritus of sociology in York’s, says shacking up carries with it some very serious societal side effects when kids are part of the arrangement, wrote columnist Licia Corbella in The Ottawa Sun Sept. 14. "That piece of paper [marriage licence] matters a lot because cohabitations are much less stable than marriages," explains Ambert. According to figures from StatsCan’s 1998 National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, 63 per cent of children whose parents were living common-law had seen their parents split by age 10, compared with 14 per cent of children of married couples, wrote the Sun.

Ambert says the resulting increase of lone-parent families – which have reached a record 15.9 per cent – is also the leading cause of childhood poverty and the attendant risks associated with poverty and single parenting including, poorer educational outcomes, increased teenage pregnancy, a spike in criminality, etc. That now seemingly quaint adage, "we’re staying together for the sake of the kids," is starting to make a lot of sense.

"You very rarely have a very serious criminal who comes from a good, two-parent family," says Ambert. "You have delinquents and kids who go through a phase, but lots of studies around the world show that when you look at the population of very hardened criminals, very few of them grew up with a father." Ambert adds most children raised by single parents turn out fine; it’s just that the negative risks grow exponentially, wrote the Sun.

Marsden speaks at Person’s Day breakfast

Lorna R. Marsden, former president and vice-chancellor of York University, will be a guest speaker at the annual LEAF (Women’s Legal and Education and Action Fund) Person’s Day Breakfast on Oct. 19, wrote the Sudbury Star Sept. 14. Person’s Day is the anniversary of Oct. 19, 1929, when the Privy Council of Great Britain declared that Canadian women were deemed persons under the law and granted the right to vote. The fundraiser takes place at 7am at the Laurentian University Great Hall.

Forum taps into Osoyoos Lake

A two-day water forum next week will bring top US and Canadian water experts to Osoyoos, BC, to discuss future demands on Osoyoos Lake and the role of local government in cross-border water stewardship, wrote the Penticton Herald Sept. 14. Among the many speakers will be Don McQueen, professor emeritus of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies.

York theatre graduate Rachel McAdams visits TIFF

York theatre alumna Rachel McAdams (BFA ’01) has arrived, wrote the Timmins Daily Press Sept. 14, in a profile of the actor for its coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. From a young age, McAdams knew that she was destined for a career in acting. She attended the Original Kids Theatre Company in London, Ont. By the age of 13, she was performing in Shakespearean productions in summer theatre camp.

Following high school, McAdams moved on to York University, where she received a bachelor of fine arts degree, with a focus in drama. After appearing in numerous stage and student film productions, McAdams began her on-screen career in 2001 with an appearance in the Disney series, “The Famous Jett Jackson”. From there, McAdams has experienced a meteoric rise to the top of her profession. Starring roles in films such as Mean Girls, The Notebook and The Wedding Crashers have made her one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. McAdams attended the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival to promote her new film, Married Life.