TTC union’s strike may reflect frustration with management, says prof

Strikes often reflect pent-up frustration by workers against management rather than specific contract terms, reported The Globe and Mail April 28, following the Toronto Transit Commission union’s surprise strike Friday and the province’s back-to-work legislation Sunday. This could have been a factor in the dispute, particularly among the TTC’s maintenance employees, who are considered more militant than the drivers, ticket sellers and subway conductors, the familiar face of the transit system to its hundreds of thousands of riders.

"It probably means there is a lot of bitter conflict with management over shop-floor stuff that we don’t know about," observed Leo Panitch, Canada Research Chair in political economy at York University and a co-author of a book on government efforts to curb collective bargaining freedoms. He said there have been strikes where union leaders, for political reasons, don’t try hard to get deals approved because they expect back-to-work orders. Such legislation diverts attention of members from the performance of union leaders and shifts responsibility for the settlement to the government.

The rejection of the contract might have been "cynically organized with a view to getting back-to-work legislation to get the members off his back. That’s also possible. It’s unlikely," Panitch said of union president Bob Kinnear.

Bee count reveals serious decline

If zoology student Rod Macfarlane hadn’t counted bumblebees in Ontario back in the early 1970s, we wouldn’t have a handle today on the seriousness of the survival threat facing these vital pollinators of crops and ornamental flowers, reported the Toronto Star April 26. Half of the 14 bumblebee species that Macfarlane recorded 30 years ago at two sites in and near Guelph were missing or in decline when York University researcher Sheila Colla checked again during three summers from 2004 to 2006.

And one of the four most abundant species three decades ago – Bombus affinis – had disappeared not only from those two locations but also from across its entire traditional range, all the way south to the state of Georgia. Energetic netting by Colla at 43 sites captured just one solitary male. "If Macfarlane hadn’t done that study, we’d have nothing to go on today," says Colla, who is in the third year of a PhD with bee maven Laurence Packer, a biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.

Colla’s research, just published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, does suggest strongly that some causes of bumblebee decline differ between Europe and North America. For instance, in Britain the bumblebees hardest hit are those whose long tongues are best suited for harvesting pollen from legumes, which have elongated flowers. So scientists have fingered the loss of such food crops as a contributing factor.

In Canada, however, Colla’s study found that both long-tongued and short- tongued species of bumblebees were in decline.

One bright bit of news: The "save the bees" movement is garnering enough attention that Colla may be able to continue in this area of research after finishing her PhD.

  • Colla was interviewed about her research on the decline of some species of bumblebees in Ontario, on CBC Radio’s “Quirks and Quarks” April 26.

Clinton shouldn’t play the gender card, says York prof

What if Hillary Clinton took the podium at a rally and spoke about what it is like to be raised by a judgmental father, to wade into male-dominated professions, to be betrayed by the love of your life and ridiculed as an embarrassment to your sex? What would happen if she spoke to voters about the struggles of being a woman in the world, and how those battles can be won? asked The Globe and Mail April 26. Since Barack Obama made a powerful and sweeping speech on race on March 18, the Internet has been rumbling with the idea of Clinton making a similar address on the topic of gender.

Despite Clinton’s resonance with female voters, Frances Latchford, a professor of women’s studies at York University, agrees that a speech on gender would not be well received. "I don’t think it would be taken as seriously as Obama’s speech," Latchford said. “The history of slavery is still something that’s very real in the consciousness of Americans in a way that the history of the women’s movement is not."

York participates in city-wide Science Rendezvous

Chagrined about high-school science drop outs, Dwayne Miller, professor of chemistry and physics at University of Toronto, has taken it upon himself to develop Science Rendezvous, a citywide gathering that encourages people of all ages to experience a taste of the world-class research that is happening here in the city, reported The Globe and Mail April 26. The event, which takes place on May 10 at locations throughout the Greater Toronto Area, was inspired by Berlin’s Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften, which is like Nuit Blanche meets the Science Centre meets Germany.

The event has seen faculty at Ryerson, York and U of T set aside their occasionally competitive tendencies in favour of collegial harmony. Other partners include University of Ontario Institute of Technology, University Health Network and Mount Sinai Hospital.

One such collaborator is biologist Ron Pearlman, University Professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, who believes that reaching the postsecondary crowd is perhaps even more crucial than getting to youth. "In the world we live in, science and technology are extremely important," Pearlman says. "And while most people don’t – and can’t – understand the details of all this stuff, we as scientists have to make them excited without making them fearful."

He believes that fear "fosters an anti-science atmosphere. We want to help make it more of a cultural activity, like the arts. Science literacy is crucial."

Unethical to stop health-care workers from speaking out, says prof

Geoffrey Reaume, a professor of health history and ethics in York’s Faculty of Health, said he worries that a new confidentiality agreement Eastern Health, the health authority at the centre of Newfoundland and Labrador’s breast cancer scandal, has distributed to its staff still leaves a grey area that could restrict legitimate whistleblowers, reported CBC News Online April 28. "It would be unethical to prevent a health-care worker [from] speaking out. They should be allowed to do so if they felt certain practices or treatment were not in the interest of their patient," he told CBC News.

Lorna Marsden will receive honorary degree

Wilfrid Laurier University will grant an honorary doctor of laws degree to former Laurier president and York President Emerita Lorna R. Marsden at the Faculty of Music and Faculty of Science convocation on June 5 in Waterloo, reported the Waterloo Region Record April 26.

Songbird expert tracks threatened shrikes

This season Bridget Stutchbury and Ryan Norris, biology professors at York University and University of Guelph respectively, are assisting Wildlife Preservation Canada with the radio tracking of threatened eastern loggerhead shrikes released from a captive breeding program, wrote the Sarnia Observer April 26. The goal is to follow released birds on their migration to their natural wintering areas in the southwestern United States, and hopefully back to southern Ontario next spring.

MPs should handle matter of random police searches, says prof

Random police-dog searches that lead to drug charges won’t pass the legal sniff test, the country’s top court has declared in a split judgment that reaffirms privacy rights, reported The Canadian Press April 25. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling means that police canine teams can’t sweep high schools or public places for drugs without a prior, justifiable suspicion of a crime. James Stribopoulos, who specializes in criminal law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, says the extraordinarily split court is proof enough that such matters are better handled by MPs. “The court is very divided on the mechanics of all this.”

Social scientist was first non-lawyer to teach at a Canadian law school

Johann (Hans) W. Mohr was 10 years old when he looked out the window of his Austrian boarding school, saw the excitement of his countrymen who welcomed Adolf Hitler as their liberator and heard a nun exclaim, “This is the end of everything,” began a Globe and Mail obituary April 28 of the former Osgoode Hall Law School professor who died April 11 at the age of 80. The feelings that followed about the injustice of the approaching war and what was happening in his homeland would magnify years later when he worked in a refugee camp, both experiences instilling in him a passion for justice and correctness that would dominate his career and make him the first social scientist and non-lawyer to teach at a Canadian law school. It was, however, a circuitous route that took him to York’s law school where he was on the faculty for 19 years before taking early retirement in 1988.

After earning a master’s in social work from the University of Toronto, Prof. Mohr did research in psychiatry, deviant sexual behaviour, forensic medicine and the role of the law and the family – all of which drew the attention of the then-dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, Harry Arthurs. In 1969, he invited Prof. Mohr to join the faculty. At Osgoode, he taught courses in the social roots of law, psychiatry and the law and family and the law. "He was very knowledgeable about the law," said Arthurs, who became a close friend. "He was a real intellectual challenge. He made us see the law from a different perspective."

The need to challenge assumptions was a lesson Prof. Mohr emphasized to both colleagues and students. It was of such importance that he kept a button above his desk with the words "Assume Nothing." The result was that he became a leader in the law school’s movement toward interdisciplinary, a practice that continues today and has been followed by other Canadian law schools, said Patrick Monahan, the current dean.

Bassford leads BC’s newest university

Skip Bassford, president of the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), is riding a wave of successes, reported the Abbotsford News April 26. He is particularly enthusiastic about BC Premier Gordon Campbell’s announcement this week that the institution would be granted university status. Bassford was the dean of Atkinson College at York University before he joined tUniversity College of the Fraser Valley in July 1998. His 10-year appointment was extended by an extra year until June 30, 2009.

‘Organic’ labels are confusing

Understanding food may never have been so bewildering as it is today, reported the Toronto Star April 27. Local doesn’t necessarily mean "local." "Naturally" doesn’t necessarily mean hormone-free. "Organic" doesn’t necessarily mean the animal won’t be penned-in. The new labels are even debatable among those who produce them. "For food products in general, people can tell you very much about them," says Rod MacRae, a food policy analyst in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. "But for eco-labels, it’s more of a barrier because various actors may see labels as contentious."

Managing the mail, in a very public fashion

Moya Greene (LLB ’78) delivers the mail. Not personally, but as CEO of Canada Post, she manages 72,000 employees who deliver 40 million items a day to 14 million addresses, reported The Globe and Mail April 28. This classics scholar from St. John’s, who has been a senior bureaucrat, banker and manufacturing executive, climbs that logistical mountain every day with high-energy enthusiasm. Now Ottawa has announced a strategic review of Canada Post by an outside panel, which Greene hopes will allow her to communicate the Crown corporation’s constraints and potential.

York field hockey champ is a Hamilton hero

The Hamilton Spectator printed a photo April 26 of local hero Gillian McCullough (BA ’97) (formerly Gillian Sewell), a field hockey player who was inducted to York University’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. McCullough received numerous awards while at Barton high for her achievements in field hockey, and went on to play for provincial and national field hockey teams while at York. She capped her outstanding career at York by winning the Gail Wilson Award as the top player in Canada in 1996. York advanced to the national championship in all five of McCullough’s seasons (1991-1996) with the squad. The five-year run included a national silver medal in 1994 and a bronze medal in 1996. McCullough’s York team also won three provincial championships. A three-time Ontario all-star, she helped the team in fundraising efforts after her playing career came to an end.

York grad spun off one steel storage centre into six local businesses

"I could run this place from my BlackBerry if I had to." Demetrius Tsafaridis (BBA ’85) is walking through Plant 19, a cool, dimly-lit warehouse perched on Hamilton’s Pier 25, began a Hamilton Spectator feature on the York grad and his six local businesses. Plant 19 is the centrepiece of Steelcare, the steel storage firm for which Tsafaridis is best known. Though he now owns six businesses locally, Steelcare – founded in 1999 – is the one that started it all.

Tsafaridis long ago decided on an approach to business that treats each company as an incubator. Steelcare, in a sense, was the first seed. It grew the idea for a trucking company (Transcare), a rail car repair company (Railcare), a computer software and supply chain management firm (Carelynx), a container stuffing firm, and the latest, an environmental building design company called Green Age Design.

"Because we’re structured the way we are, we can help protect our butts from going south," he says. "We’ve triggered off a business a year for the last three years. Kind of spinning off the pieces so we can start generating other revenue streams that complement the core but can get us away from the core if the core happens to get into trouble."

Bell partners with York to offer job training

Bell Canada recently embarked on a leadership training program for managers at all levels of the company and Joanne Doust, Bell’s director of human resources, plans to expand the training in coming months, reported the Calgary Herald April 26 in an article about how the lack of adequate workplace training is translating into lost productivity. .

For employees like Joanne Foth, manager of billing services at Bell, the training program came at a time when she was just promoted from within the department. "It was a perfect way to jump into a new role and to start learning some of the needed skills to fulfil the role I’ve been given," says Foth, who recently completed six months of leadership training in areas such as financial acumen, business communication and team leadership. She graduated from the customized program in January and earned a management certificate from York University, the Toronto institution that Bell partnered with to develop the program.

On air

  • Willem Maas, professor of political science at York’s Glendon campus, spoke about French and European plans for a Union for the Mediterranean, on France24’s "The France 24 Debate" April 28.
  • Justice Harry LaForme (LLB ’77), a member of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation in southern Ontario, is expected to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the federal government promised as part of an out-of-court settlement with former students of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, reported “CBC News” April 27.
  • The odds were stacked against York law student Vera Manu (BBA ’06) when she first came to Canada from Ghana, reported CTV “Weekend News” April 26. She couldn’t speak English. She had to repeat classes at her elementary school, but she persevered graduated from high school with a 93-per-cent grade point average and won a four-year scholarship to York University.
  • William Jenkins, a geography professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about why the Raptors crowds were not loud enough, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” April 24.