Universities eye ‘painful’ cuts in wake of financial crisis

Canadian universities could be forced to cut student aid, scholarships and funding for various programs as early as next spring because of multimillion-dollar losses in their investment holdings, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 3.

The recent freefall of financial markets, coupled with a wait-and-see attitude of donors, has campus leaders across the country preparing for the worst and hoping for a quick recovery.

Some, such as the University of Waterloo, have already taken action, freezing most hiring for the next six months. Others, including the University of Victoria, have issued notices saying they may have to cut distributions from their endowment funds, which pay for scholarships and research chairs.

Stock markets around the world are down more than 30 per cent this year and dropped roughly 17 per cent last month alone. That has cost universities hundreds of millions of dollars because on average more than half of their endowment and pension funds are invested in financial markets.

Gary Brewer, York University’s vice-president finance & administration, said the school’s $300-million endowment fund has lost roughly $45 million this year, and its $1.3-billion pension fund is down nearly $200 million. "These are substantial numbers and the implications on our operating budget could be significant and could be directly felt in short order," Brewer said. He said the university is also dealing with a roughly $44-million deficit in its pension plan.

The investment losses compound an already difficult financial climate, said the Globe. Government funding and tuition-fee increases have not kept pace with operating costs, and some universities have already been cutting costs.

York University labour dispute talks continue

York University was continuing talks this weekend with its part-time contract professors and teaching assistants, in a bid to avoid a strike or lockout next week, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 1.

  • City-TV and CP24-TV also carried items on the possibility of a strike.

York engineering student killed in fiery crash

Atena Arabsalmany was aiming for the stars, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 3. The 21-year-old York University space engineering student was one of two young lives cut tragically short on Halloween night when the car she was in erupted in flames after colliding with another vehicle in Richmond Hill.

"She wanted to be an astronaut," her grieving father, Mohammad Arabsalmany, told the Star yesterday as friends and relatives came to pay respects at the family’s Thornhill home.

Atena’s brother, Ali, 16, said his sister was a friend to everyone she met. "Anything I can say isn’t enough," Ali said of the third-year York student. He said she often told him of her dreams to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States and someday travel into space as an astronaut.

  • Ali Arabsalmany looked at the pictures of his sister Atena – killed in a fiery Halloween crash – knowing that she will never realize her dream of becoming an astronaut, wrote The Toronto Sun Nov. 3.

He said yesterday that his sister dreamed of reaching the stars since she was a kid, and was striving to achieve her goal of working for NASA by excelling at her third-year York University courses in space engineering.

"It was pretty well perfectly planned," Ali said. "She won the lottery for the green card," which would allow her to emigrate to and work in the US. "Ever since she was two, she wanted to work for NASA and go into space," Ali said. "She was the only girl in her class."

  • Radio and television stations and newspapers across the country also carried reports of the tragedy.

Rabbi donates book library, royalties to York University

The Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut and Elizabeth S. Plaut Library includes more than 4,000 titles, including almost all of the more than 25 books Plaut published on topics such as philosophy and religion, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 3, in a story about Plaut’s donation of the collection to York. The donation includes the copyright to his published work, with royalties going to York’s Centre for Jewish Studies.

"When I assigned students to put (the books) up on the shelves, the project always went far slower than I thought it would because they started reading," said Michael Moir, University archivist and head of the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, which received the donation. "The comment that (the students) came back to me with was how struck they were with the interdisciplinary nature of this library," Moir told yesterday’s gathering, which included Plaut’s children, Rabbi Jonathan Plaut, 66, of Farmington Hills, Mich., and Judith Plaut, 61, of Toronto.

Plaut, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, smiled and posed for pictures yesterday but is cognitively impaired due to his illness and so spoke little. That’s a significant change from his days at Holy Blossom, when he gave what Eric Lawee, associate director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at York and a former Holy Blossom school student, recalled as "electrifying and spellbinding sermons." Lawee called Plaut’s collection of books "one of a kind" and said the donation came from a "significant 20th-century Jewish thinker and Canadian theologian."

  • CFTO-TV also carried a report on the Plaut donation Nov. 2.

Land-claims expert represented a ‘new generation of leadership’

Osgoode grad Jake Tootoosis (LLB ’93) straddled two worlds, wrote The Globe and Mail in an obituary Nov. 3. One was the isolated northern Saskatchewan First Nations reserve where he was raised and the other was his Saskatoon law office.

As the executive director of treaty governance for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, he was the lead representative on land-claim negotiations in the province. "He was a unique role model and was representative of a new generation of First Nations leadership," said Judge David Arnot, treaty commissioner for the federal government.

In 1993, Tootoosis graduated with a degree from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, turned the car around and drove back to Saskatchewan. For the next two years, he articled and worked at Jamieson Bains law firm in Saskatoon. At the same time, he taught criminology at the University of Saskatchewan.

Jacob Howard Tootoosis was born April 24, 1966, in Turtleford, Sask. He died on Aug. 9, 2008 in Saskatoon, Sask. He died in his sleep. He was 42.

Professional sports are feeling the pinch of this global recession

In recent weeks, surviving on the ice or the playing field has become, if not a secondary issue, at least a less urgent one than staying above .500 on the company balance sheet, wrote The Toronto Sun and The London Free Press Nov. 2 in a story about the impact of the financial crisis on professional sports teams.

Of particular concern to Canadian-based professional teams is the freefall of the Canadian dollar, where even the almighty cashbox of the Toronto Maple Leafs will feel the pinch. "For every one cent that the dollar goes down, the Leafs’ and Raptors’ profits go down $750,000," says York University’s George Georgopoulos, professor of economics specializing in the sports industry in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

"If a Canadian team signed a player to a big contract recently – let’s just say five years for $10 million a season when the Canadian dollar was at 1-to-1 value with the American dollar – it seemed a reasonable deal," Georgopoulos says. "But now suddenly that $10 million is going to cost the team a lot more."

Mi’kmaq lawyer says he’s willing to join commission

Osgoode grad Bernd Christmas (LLB ’91), a Mi’kmaq lawyer from Nova Scotia, is the first person to publicly declare himself a candidate to replace Justice Harry LaForme (LLB ’77) as chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 1.

A graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, he spent 11 years as the CEO of Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia, overseeing the process that saw it become the first native band in Canada to receive ISO 9001 certification. The band also became an economic powerhouse under his leadership, cited several times by federal ministers as an example of good economic planning.

Christmas said that having seen the impact of residential schools in Membertou, he would be honoured to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission if he is chosen.

The parties to the residential schools settlement still have not agreed on a process to select a replacement for Judge LaForme but they will be meeting in Toronto this week to further that discussion.

What has changed in 10 years?

You need only read the report of the auditor general of Toronto, the judge’s decision in Jane Doe’s case, or the brilliant book that Jane wrote to understand the real story of Jane Doe, wrote Maria-Belen Ordonez, social anthropology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and School of Women’s Studies, in a letter to the Toronto Star Nov. 1 criticizing comments in a story about changes in the way Toronto Police investigate sex crimes.

If you had taken the time to actually engage with Jane Doe’s story and the significant social analysis embedded in what she is doing, perhaps then you would not have run such a simplistic report. It is clear that you chose instead to support the posturing of a police force that was found guilty of negligence and discrimination in their investigation of sexual assault.

If we must decide, as the article suggests, "Who is right – the police or Jane Doe?" I’m with Jane, as are many people who have woken up from a false sense of security and who don’t trust a police force that deliberately squashes the possibility for real change. Democracy, we must remember, depends on the courage and challenges of citizen- subjects (not institutions). I think you have forgotten this.

Downturn jolts business classes

While the collapse of credit and stock markets is serving up juicy case histories of failure, most business professors insist current events have not shaken the curriculum of capitalism, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 1.

"What has happened is explainable – capitalism is working, it’s just that the system punishes those who don’t get it right," says Ashwin Joshi, director of the MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

One day this month, he suddenly decided to scrap an entire lesson on "Managing Shareholder Relations," ditching journal readings from 2006 and 1997 in favour of stories from that day’s financial pages, and had students brainstorm which players were to blame for how much of the mess.

"I don’t know of any school that trains in the ‘Greed is Good’ philosophy; it went out of business schools a long time ago," said Joshi. "We teach students there’s a triple bottom line: profits, people and the planet. And when one of these things gets out of whack – like profits at the expense of people, which is what happened with subprime mortgages – ‘economic nature’ has a way of correcting itself."

Hanging on to your nest egg

The shocking crash of stock market prices – in Canada an average of about 40 per cent between June and October – could spell financial ruin for someone who retired recently with a large proportion of his or her savings invested in equities, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 1.

The market carnage, says finance Professor Moshe Milevsky of the Schulich School of Business at York University, has proven the economic value of a new generation of guaranteed income products sold by life insurers.

At the same time, however, the extent of market losses could foil plans to enhance guarantees in these same products and force insurers to restrict the percentage of equities a client may hold and bolster their capital reserves. "It has become the best of times and possibly the worst of times" for these wealth management products, says the author of the recent US book Are You A Stock Or A Bond? Create Your Own Pension Plan For A Secure Financial Future.

"Any financial adviser that shunned (the type of product) with a guaranteed-minimum withdrawal benefit in the last few years simply because they were expensive or charged an extra (percentage point) in fees is looking pretty foolish," he says. "For their sake, I hope clients don’t remember the conversation in which that particular product was dismissed."

One of Milevsky’s star graduates from the Schulich MBA program, Jason Pereira (MBA ’08), researched the advantages of the guaranteed minimum withdrawal plans as one of his assignments. He concluded that, depending on the mix of equities in a retirement investment portfolio, the risk of financial ruin is greater than 10 per cent if you have no insured income guarantees.

Replacement singers don’t really change the band or the brand

More and more, substitute singers are being accepted by fans. Rock music is no longer a young man’s game – attrition happens, and step-in singers are increasingly being greeted with open arms, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 1, in a story about bands who hire replacements lead singers. There’s still skepticism, but, according to Alan Middleton, marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, carbon-copy crooners are usually close enough to the real thing. "There’s a bit of tension involved," says Middleton, "but these bands are still around, the sound is pretty well the same, and the people they bring in don’t really change the band."

Middleton isn’t surprised that audiences, both young and old, are so welcoming. "The boomers are looking at all these bands to recapture part of their youth," he says. "As for the Millennials and gen-Xers, it’s their opportunity of understanding what their stupid old parents were talking about. There’s a bit of touching the greats."

‘There was no ‘economy’. There was just life’

Most of us funnel our money, either through the stock market or simply through what we buy, to distant, publicly traded conglomerates, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 2. For Peter Victor, an economist in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, the shuddering market system should be a wake-up call to the costs of such a disconnect.

"Financial institutions have proven to be opaque to 99.9 per cent of the population – including many of those who felt they understood them," Victor says. "The way forward is to rethink the institutional structure of our society to be supportive of what’s really important to us."

In an economic climate that has charted record growth in recent years, it’s become easy to forget what that actually might be. Hard times are a potent reminder. "You don’t have to scratch very hard to find out what really matters to people are their relationships – their friends and family," Victor says. "I’m talking about setting our sights on something more important than the rat race."

Victor is the author of a forthcoming book, Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster. In it, he argues that the relentless pursuit of rapid growth has served to obscure significant personal, human-scale concerns. Moreover, it’s a relatively recent – and stock-market driven – phenomenon. "Until you had something like the (public) market, which you could say was identifiable as something separate from society, there was no ‘economy.’ There was just life," Victor says.

For Victor, market fluctuation is the wrong measure. If we can abandon the disembodied goal of high-speed growth and inflated public markets, and focus on steady, slow growth, "We can have a better life," Victor says. "We can be well-educated, well-housed and well-fed. But if we fall back into thinking that a better life is defined by how much we buy, then we’re sunk."

A labour of love

I have read a lot of Holocaust literature, for two reasons, wrote Karen X. Tulchinsky in a review of I Am My Family by York grad Rafael Goldchain (MFA ’00) in The Vancouver Sun Nov. 1. As a Jew, I need to understand the largest catastrophe that has ever befallen my people. And as a novelist, I have begun to write about this terrible time in human history.

One thing that has always stayed with me about survivors of the Holocaust are the stories of people who, against all odds, managed to keep a photograph of lost loved ones folded up inside a shoe, sewn into the hem of a skirt or hidden under a rock somewhere, and how precious it was to them during their ordeal and after. A faded, folded photograph with faces of lost relatives carried them through the most horrific time in their lives.

I Am My Family personifies this kind of longing. Some of Toronto photographer Rafael Goldchain’s Polish Jewish ancestors emigrated to South America in the 1930s, while many others perished in Poland during the Nazi regime. Lost in the turmoil of war and emigration were most of the portraits of his extended family.

Born in Chile, Goldchain moved to Israel as a teenager to study at Jerusalem University; then he went to York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. His photographs have been exhibited widely in Canada, Chile, the United States, Cuba and Germany, among other countries.

Picton Theatre stars in documentary

The history of Picton’s Regent Theatre will be chronicled in a documentary now being filmed by Dale Morrissey of Wandering Journalist Productions, in association with freelance writer/broadcaster and York theatre grad Jennifer Lester (BFA Spec. Hons. ’00), wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Nov. 1.

Lester, who grew up in Prince Edward County, will host the theatre’s 90th anniversary gala on Saturday, Nov. 22.

The documentary, as yet untitled, explores the history of the Regent Theatre in Prince Edward County. Using archival materials, including photographs, old film and memorabilia, the 22-minute film reveals the Cook family’s determination to keep the Regent’s doors open, through two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Lester, who wrote her thesis on the Regent while studying theatre in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, has a keen interest in this historic old building. Her research provides the backbone for the documentary’s script. "She was also once cast as an actor to perform on the Regent stage and sat in the Regent audience as a theatre critic. She will return to the Regent’s stage as host of its 90th anniversary gala celebration," said filmmaker Dale Morrissey.

Lester, who will host the event, says she worked at the Regent, during her last summer as a university student. "I did a lot of research and it was a natural pairing," she observes, referring to her association with Morrissey. She remembers seeing the movie Snow White at the Regent, as a small child.

Genius at work

A concert in Toronto a few weeks back was so unique, I must share it with you, for the sounds linger like smoke in my mind, wrote reviewer Murray Charters in the Brantford Expositor Nov. 1.

What drew me to this event was York music instructor Matt Brubeck, a cellist who, yes, is the son of well-known jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, whose experimental jazz-classical crossover pieces Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk are still heard regularly. A jazz-oriented cellist from such a distinguished lineage was something I had to see, even without any idea what he would play.

Unheralded Laurier clips York

The ball wasn’t even in the back of the net when Laurier Golden Hawks fans started jumping up and down, hollering in delight on the sidelines, wrote The Toronto Sun Nov. 3. After chipping it over the charging York Lions goalkeeper late in the Ontario University Athletics men’s soccer final yesterday, Laurier forward Spencer Cawker had only the net to beat before rifling home the winner in a masterfully crafted 1-0 upset over the province’s defending champion.

It took two periods of overtime, an unbending defensive strategy and strong mental will – to beat the frigid cold at the outdoor York Stadium, at least – but the rowdy cheers coming from Laurier’s huddle during the post-game trophy celebration proved one thing: Here was your Cinderella story.

Laurier kept a staunch conservative approach all afternoon, keeping as many as nine players back on defence, often at the sacrifice of a discernable offensive scheme. In fact, the Golden Hawks mustered only four shots on net all game but held tough against a relentless York attack that featured five OUA all-stars and West MVP.

Petrou named to OUA all-star soccer team

Oakville’s Effie Petrou, a third-year midfielder for the York Lions women’s soccer team, was named to the Ontario University Athletics first all-star team, wrote the Oakville Beaver Nov. 2.

Humanitarian opens pizza shop

When the tsunami hit his homeland in December 2004, it pushed Senthil Kumaran Thirugnanasambandam (BA ’97) to help those devastated by the tidal wave, wrote The Mississauga News Oct. 31. Since the beginning of 2005, through various events he’s organized, Thirugnanasambandam, 41, has been able to raise $880,000, including $690,000 to build Canada Tamil Village in north Sri Lanka which will have 250 homes and is expected to house 1,500 refugees.

"Raising $880,000, just by myself, is not easy but people trust me because I’m very open about everything I do," he said. Thirugnanasambandam immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in 1987 when he was in his early 20s. He lived in Mississauga and obtained an economics degree from York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

Concerts pay tribute to old radio program

A group of local musicians are performing a tribute to the Happy Gang next weekend, wrote The Barrie Examiner Nov. 1. The Musical Memories Concert is raising money for an elevator that will provide better access at Stroud Presbyterian Church.

Stroud resident Paul Crocker, 22, is the youngest member of the group that will perform the tribute. He’s in his second year studying jazz piano at York University. He will also be featured on the trumpet.