New chancellor hopes York’s mentoring work in Jane-Finch can be expanded

York University’s work in the Jane-Finch community has not gone unnoticed by Roy McMurtry, wrote the Toronto Star March 5. In fact, it’s something Ontario’s former chief justice hopes can be expanded during his tenure as chancellor at the school.

"I do know the University is committed to community outreach," McMurtry said in an interview the day after his three-year appointment was announced. "I have met with some of the people here at York and have been impressed with the mentoring and tutoring programs. I’d like to learn more."

McMurtry’s personal connections to York go back many years as a featured speaker at its law school [and as an alumnus of Osgoode Hall Law School in 1958]. In 1991, McMurtry received an honorary doctor of laws. His own mother, Elizabeth, at age 67, earned a BA at York in 1980.

"Because she married very young, and I was born when she was very young, she’d always missed having a university career," McMurtry said. "And so when my father unfortunately died at a young age, she moved in with us and started at York, with a view of just studying very hard" and no real plans to pursue a degree. However, 15 years later, she graduated.

  • With one former supreme court justice stepping down, a former chief justice of Ontario will take over as chancellor of Toronto’s second-largest university, wrote The Toronto Sun March 5. Roy McMurtry was yesterday announced as the 12th chancellor of York, replacing the outgoing Chancellor Peter deCarteret Cory.

McMurtry said he was "honoured to be chosen" and looks forward to advancing the University’s commitment to social justice and diversity.

"I think universities have a very important role in the social development of the broader community," he said, adding he wants to look at ways the university can reach out and become more accessible to the low-income families in the surrounding Jane-Finch corridor.

But it’s not all law and government service for McMurtry. He’s also a landscape painter, a father of six and has "a dozen grandchildren ranging in age from 11 (months) to 20 years."

With enrolment at York expected to continue growing, McMurtry hopes the University can reach out to the surrounding community and break down the traditional barriers between what he calls the "town and gown."

  • McMurty’s apppoinment was also noted on radio broadcasts in Brantford and Timmins March 4.

Reaction to abortion debate cancellation continues

Free speech is again the centre of controversy at York University after the students’ union cancelled an on-campus abortion debate last week only four hours before the event was scheduled to commence, wrote columnist Joey Coleman in March 4. This has some students accusing the York Federation of Students of quashing open dialogue around issues they disagree with.

“We would not have a debate over something that is racist or homophobic,” said Gilary Massa, vice-president equity of the York Federation of Students. “This debate is sexist…when it comes to free speech there is a line.… They are talking about taking away women’s rights. We would not allow a debate asking if women beating should be allowed.”

“I was told in a meeting by members of the York Federation of Students that debating abortion is comparable to debating whether a man should be allowed to beat his wife,” said Margaret Fung, co-president of York Students for Bioethical Awareness. “They said that there is freedom of speech to a limit, and that abortion is not an issue to debate.… They were opposed to our message and they stopped this opportunity for us to express our viewpoint in the context of a debate.”

Amir Mohareb, president of the York Debating Society and moderator of the cancelled debate, was surprised by the late cancellation. “[The YFS executives] were openly excited about the debate and ready to cheer on the side they support in the debate,” he said. He was initially concerned about the plan for the debate and declined the invitation to moderate at first. “We were concerned about the original plan and responded with a list of conditions to make sure it was a fair and proper debate,” said Mohareb. “They accepted our terms.”

In interview with Maclean’s Massa maintained that it was the topic of the debate [and not graphic images of abortion] that led them to put a stop to it. She repeatedly compared the act of banning [the abortion debate] to beating women.

Although both sides are deeply entrenched in their positions, the YFS has been somewhat inconsistent on free speech in the last week, Coleman wrote. The day after the cancellation of the debate, Massa led a delegation of York students to McMaster University to protest what they called an infringement on free speech [over the censoring of an anti-Israeli poster]. Massa doesn’t see the connection between the two incidents. She said that the censorship at McMaster was about a political issue while the York debate would have amounted to “hate speech.”

  • Margaret Fung also spoke about the cancellation of the debate, on Ottawa’s CKCU radio March 4. The incident was also reported by Hamilton’s CHCH TV March 4.

York University welcomes debate on abortion

A series of letters to the editor were sent to the National Post March 5, including one from Robert Tiffin, York vice-president students, decrying the decision to cancel the debate.

A debate on the subject of abortion was cancelled at York University by the student executive of the Student Centre, without the knowledge or participation of the University, wrote Tiffin. York encourages civic participation and open debate on issues of local, national and international importance. The fact that both sides of the debate wanted to proceed and were prevented from doing so makes the incident all the more regrettable. Consequently, York’s administration is working on a request from one of the student groups involved, to arrange a suitable venue on University property where this debate can take place.

  • Regarding the cancelled abortion debate at York University, let me say that as a member of the University of Waterloo Debating Society, we hosted this exact debate on Feb. 27, wrote Dafne Gokcen in her letter to the Post March 5. I was the moderator, and in my opinion this debate was not only necessary, it was very successful. The actions of Kelly Holloway, the vice-chair of the student centre, clearly displayed that she knows nothing about the actual controversy surrounding abortion.
  • Evidently Kelly Holloway finds certain ideas so threatening that she must use her power as vice-chair of the York student centre to suppress debate on them, wrote Ian Gentles, history professor at York’s Glendon campus, in his letter to the Post March 5. It makes me ashamed of my University. Fortunately her writ does not run through the entire University. Students in my seminar on the history of human population are encouraged to discuss and write freely on just such controversial subjects as abortion.
  • Kelly Holloway undermines her justification for cancelling an abortion debate when she declares, "The Supreme Court made a decision, and that’s good enough for me," wrote Paul Ranalli in his letter to the Post March 5. Holloway, president of the York University Graduate Students Association and vice-chair of the Student Centre, is entitled to her own opinion but what gives her the authority to impose it on her fellow students? While a majority of Canadians feel abortion should be legal in certain circumstances, poll after poll has shown that the current state of Canadian abortion practice – no legal restraint at any stage in pregnancy – is only supported by 30 per cent of the population. I think there is room for debate.
  • The abortion debate described in this story as "never happen[ing]" eventually did happen, albeit without the participation of a pro-choice speaker and the moderator – in a Baptist Church down the street from York’s Keele campus, wrote Dorothy Chabot in her letter to the Post March 5. After two hours of frantic requests for a room on campus, the "denied access" students finally found a welcoming spot.   

The great advertising heist

York University’s marketing & communications department has had just about enough of The Globe and Mail stealing their signature advertising concept, according to the Financial Post, wrote Maclean’s in its online edition March 4. The Post reports that the two parties are negotiating over what York is arguing is the theft of their advertising strategy.

The ads in dispute are from the recently launched Globe campaign that shows a graphic (a chicken, gun, and so on) with three text bubbles describing different ways sections in the newspaper would approach the topic. York is arguing that the ads too closely resemble their long-time ad strategy. York’s ads have a similar graphic with three lines describing how different academic departments would study the topic. (They even have a chicken.)

Anti-Semitic messages found on desk at York

A second hate crime in as many months has hit York University, this time targeting Jewish students, wrote the North York Mirror March 4. Anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on a Scott Library desk Feb. 26, which included a swastika and assorted Anti-Semitic phrases. Hillel at York contacted security and requested an immediate investigation.

Eva Zucker, president of Hillel at York, called on the York Federation of Students, other campus groups and the university administration to join Hillel in condemning this act and instituting a more aggressive anti- racism strategy at York University.

"As president of this academic community of some 60,000 people, I and the entire York community condemn these cowardly and hateful acts unreservedly and in the strongest possible terms," Mamdouh Shoukri, president & vice-chancellor of York University, said in a statement.

In January, racist slurs were painted on the door of the York University Black Students’ Association, prompting student rallies, wrote the Mirror. Students also called for a campus-wide safety audit in light of racial and sexual assault incidents at the campus. Ryerson University downtown was also hit with a racial attack last month when a bulletin board belonging to the East African Students of Toronto at Ryerson was set on fire.

Ontario sheds 77,000 factory jobs over five years

Ontario lost more than 77,000 manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2006, according to the latest employment trends report from Statistics Canada, wrote the Toronto Star March 5. That trend is likely to stretch well into 2008 and beyond, labour market experts say. "These are normal shifts. And in spite of these shifts, the overall employment rate is quite good," said Bernie Wolf, director of the international MBA program at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Wal-Mart and the decline in civic engagement

I had the opportunity recently to be at a workshop of geographers at York University talking about cities, wrote John Ryerson, of Toronto, in a letter to the Stratford Beacon-Herald March 4. One area we explored was the importance of social spaces – places where people gather and build social networks. One of the valuable spaces for families with young children, seniors and teens in many communities and here in Stratford is the mall. So it is with some dismay when I come here to visit family and shop in Stratford-owned stores to read in your newspaper about Wal-Mart possibly coming to Stratford. Wal-Mart’s presence "busts" malls.

More leave the car and walk or cycle; Small drop, but step in right direction

Hamilton commuters have made small but important gains in reducing driving and increasing public transit use to get to work, wrote the Hamilton Spectator March 5. Adam Arnold, program manager of Smart Commute – North Toronto, Vaughan based at York University, says there’s a lot going for Hamilton. Arnold was in the city for a conference last weekend. He said he was impressed with improvements in the downtown and on Hess and Locke streets. He said it’s interesting that the percentage of Hamilton drivers is decreasing. "It’s something to be proud of, I would say."

On air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at York’s Glendon campus, spoke about the dispute between Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty over business taxes, on Sudbury’s CBON-AM French language radio March 4.