Drummond describes the perennial NDP challenge

NDP leader Jack Layton (MA ’72, PhD ’83) has developed a reputation of working with the other parties effectively in a minority government situation, wrote The Vancouver Sun Sept. 7. But political observers believe that he must now convince Canadians that he has a team behind him with a legitimate shot at forming a government.

Political scientist Professor Robert Drummond said the NDP leader must fight an uphill battle because of his party’s history in federal elections. “He’s the leader of a party that is perceived in many quarters, as being unlikely to form a government and, therefore, maybe not worthy of people’s support if they’re concerned about ensuring one or another of the parties likely to form a government will do so,” said Drummond, dean of the Faculty of Arts at York University. “It’s not a personal weakness but it is something that makes it difficult for him presumably to mount an effective campaign.”

Layton draws inspiration from Obama

As election fever heated up in late August, NDP leader and York alumnus Jack Layton (MA ’72, PhD ’83) headed south to Denver, to watch Barack Obama’s historic acceptance of the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, wrote The Canadian Press Sept. 7. He said he found inspiration in Obama’s agenda of change. “Democrats here are talking about the same kind of change we’re talking about in Canada,” he said of the convention.

Layton quickly put himself at the centre of political debate and activism at Montreal’s McGill University and Toronto’s York University, wrote CP. Layton is one of the best-educated leaders on the provincial or federal scenes, holding a PhD in political science.

  • Layton was also profiled as a York alum in The Calgary Sun Sept. 7

Tories dole out pre-election cash

Ottawa said yesterday that it had signed deals with Queen’s Park and municipal governments needed to finally get cash – up to $622 million – flowing to build the 8.6- kilometre extension of the Spadina subway line to York University and the Vaughan Corporate Centre, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 6, in a story about pre-election spending by the government.

If Elmo ran for office

Carole Carpenter, a professor in York’s Faculty of Arts who studies children’s literature, believes that political books about current US leaders may satiate some children’s appetite for real-life heroes but is concerned about the methods used to engage young children in politics, wrote the National Post Sept. 8.

“My concern with [such books] is that they will be just more of the exposure for children. Children, in one way or another, get a great deal of exposure to politicians, and it’s often negative,” she said.

“I think it’s more opportune than maybe working in the best interest of children…. It’s most important that kids are listened to rather than spoken at. We’re not engaging them in politics as much as we should.”

Students pushing back against hazing and bullying

Initiations that involve coercion, degradation, physical abuse or forced consumption of alcohol or other substances cross the line to hurtful hazing, explained Debra Pepler, a psychologist in York’s Faculty of Health and a scientific director of PREVNet, a national network promoting safe, healthy relationships for Canadian children and youth, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Sept. 6.

The most effective way to stop it, she said, is by immersing a community – in the case of a school, its faculty, staff, students and their parents – in a culture that rejects hazing, and following through with enforcement and clear communication.

Hazing often coincides with a period of brain development before self-control and good judgment are established, Pepler said. It is fuelled by group behaviour, the stress of transition and even one’s own experiences as a victim. “The potential for severe aggression and violence is very high,” she said. “All of these things can conspire to create a context that’s ripe for problems.”

Above all, she said, it’s about power. “Hazing says that those who have the power get to use it aggressively. It’s a very extreme form of bullying,” she said. “Everybody needs to identify it and speak up.”

We’re very, very grateful for this book

Ask almost any sociolinguist, sociobiologist, cognitive psychologist, evolutionary biologist, socioeconomist or the like, and you’ll be told all about gratitude, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 6 in a review of The Roots, Persistence and Paradoxical Meanings of a Social Ritual. It is a strategy, they will tell you, for assuring better survival of a species or an individual. It is always about self-interest and self-aggrandizement, they will assure you. In short, it is, they will conclude, an illusion.

Margaret Visser profoundly disagrees. Visser – a South Africa-born classicist who taught at York University for 18 years, and author of, among other books, Much Depends on Dinner, The Way We Are and The Geometry of Love – spends almost 400 pages doing so. Although it takes her the first 50 pages to get up a head of steam, by the time she’s going full speed, you want her to keep going indefinitely. The Gift of Thanks is one of those uncommon books that not only tells you things you always wanted to know and convinces you that they are true, but also makes you want to begin to change your life.

Giving thanks, Visser thinks, is above all about freedom. “This should be made clear from the start,” she writes, “because, as we shall see, the old idea that gifts are freely given and gratitude is a free response has come under attack.” She rises to its defence with passion and with breathtaking scope. She concludes that gratitude is the creator and sustainer of memory; that it provokes our relationship to our fellow beings; and that it is the glue that keeps society from flying apart into a storm of jagged individual wills.

Take a walk on someone else’s wild side

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but running what the Criminal Code of Canada calls a “common bawdy house” is, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 6. Osgoode Hall Law School professor Alan Young – who, along with sex workers and other lawyers, has launched a constitutional challenge against three Criminal Code provisions dealing with prostitution – says the law makes all sex workers working from home vulnerable to prosecution. Which means it is safer for them legally to work on the streets.

So if sex workers are pushed out of Homewood and Maitland, they’ll just have to find a new street corner. “They tend to get moved into more isolated areas that make it more dangerous for them,” Young says.

Pop goes higher learning

At last count, at least 18 Canadian universities offer programs in popular culture, often under the name “cultural studies”, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Sept. 6. At York University, students can take a course called “Reading Television” that looks at situation comedies, soap operas and advertising. Jennifer Musial, who now teaches a course in sex, gender and popular culture at Queen’s University, was at York when she became the first to offer a pop culture course there. First offered at the fourth-year level, it has since been moved to first year. “It’s a way to hook students,” she says.

The Buzz is gone

Sam Gindin, a former Canadian Autoworkers Union economist and current political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, said outgoing CAW leader Buzz Hargrove’s pragmatism in recent years has led to contract concessions and the loss of its militant edge and ability to fight concessions, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 6. The CAW’s existing election process and Hargrove’s efforts to assure victory for his favourite candidate have also reduced democracy and a chance for the union to renew itself, Gindin said.

In a special class of their own

One of the newest alternative schools is the Bill Crothers school, built to foster healthy, active living, athletics and sport, wrote the National Post Sept. 6. The sprawling campus, with three double gyms, a weight room, fitness studio, eight-lane synthetic track and outside field was built after education officials devised a plan that would engage elite athletes in school, much the same way as at arts and business schools.

The attraction is as much about community as it is about curriculum, says principal Becky Green. “It’s being with other kids who feel the same as you,” she said. A team of researchers from York University and the University of Toronto will be tracking student success at Bill Crothers.

Former student goes head-to-head with fellow weather buffs

Jerry Shields’s curiosity about the climate has come in handy, wrote The Sault Star Sept. 6. The weather enthusiast is among a team of 36 weather forecasters and specialists who will go head-to-head against five other teams from across Canada on CBC television’s, “Test the Nation: Canada Eh?”

Shields considers spending hours reviewing weather models, radar and satellite images a personal hobby. In a previous interview, he said he loved the fact that weather is “part science, part instinct and part nature. There is nothing predictable about it,” said Shields, who attended York to specialize in meteorology, but switched his major to management.

Justice elusive for dad of slain student

Three years have now passed since Loyan Ahmed Gilao was gunned down with a friend outside the Phoenix Nightclub in the early morning hours of Aug. 8, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 8. Three years of heartache for his family, three years of emptiness and unanswered questions about why someone coldly snuffed the life of the promising 22-year-old York University student.

You likely don’t remember his name. Loyan was one of the dozens of victims killed during that infamous Year of the Gun, a bloody 2005 that saw a record 78 murders, with 52 of those victims cut down by a bullet.

Getting around in style, with a chair

My mobility is impaired from an accident that occurred on May 21, 1979, wrote Rick MacDonald in the Toronto Star Sept. 5. I can move my arms and propel my manual wheelchair pretty well, but technically I am quadriplegic.

I never gave driving much thought until 1981 when I saw a guy with about my same mobility pull up in his Chevy van in front of York University. I was waiting for my WheelTrans bus as I watched him slide into his wheelchair, and then the side door slid open and his lift unfolded and he rolled out. That was cool. A year later I bought my first van, a 1982 Chevy short box and I learned how to drive with hand controls. The world seemed to open up for me at that point.

Central United led by fresh face

When Rev. Chris Fickling (BA ’01) breaks out the iPhone, it’s easy to see he’s no old-school minister, wrote Niagara This Week Sept. 5. Fickling, 30, and a York alumnus, could, in fact, just as easily be identified as a young man walking through the sanctuary doors looking for direction. But the well-spoken, self-described progressive minister is on the job at Welland’s Central United Church.

Fickling was previously a minister in the small southern Manitoba community of Melita, his first post after being ordained in 2005. He earned his Masters of Divinity from Emmanuel College in Toronto and has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from York University’s Faculty of Arts.

On air

  • Frank Cappadocia, director of Student Community & Leadership Development at York, spoke about orientation programs for the parents of university students, on CBC Newsworld Sept. 5.
  • Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the governor-general’s theoretical power to refuse an election call, on TVO’s “The Agenda” and on CBC Newsworld Sept. 5.