York students voice anger online over strike

Hundreds of York University students, frustrated with being kept out of class due to a labour dispute, have taken to the Internet to voice their displeasure, wrote the Toronto Star and Toronto’s Metro Nov. 10.

Business student Lyndon Koopmans gave vent to his frustration by starting the York University Anti-Strike group on Facebook. The group has more than 600 members. "Our main goal is to make voice of students who don’t agree with CUPE’s action heard," he said.

Through Koopmans’s group and others, 11 students, calling themselves Student Rally for a Solution, met for more than two hours yesterday to discuss a way to make their voices heard. They have started a Web site, www.yorknothostage.com, and are holding a rally at York University against the strike next Monday, should it last that long. No negotiations are scheduled.

Koopmans said his group aims to take a neutral stance toward the strike and doesn’t want to take sides. The group’s mission statement, posted on their Web site, states: "We hope for a resolution of this dispute that is fair for all parties. However, a work stoppage has severe and unacceptable consequences for York’s 50,000 students. Neither a lockout nor a strike is the responsible method for resolving this labour dispute."

Their slogan is "Forced arbitration not a hostage situation."

"We just want forced arbitration and to get back to school," said Catherine Divaris, a final-year kinesiology student who has been vocal online about her opposition to the strike and who attended yesterday’s meeting.

They are also disappointed in the stance taken by the York Federation of Students. President Hamid Osman has come out in favour of the strike, but Koopmans said he should have taken a neutral stance. "We believe the majority of students don’t support CUPE and we will try to show that at the rally," said Koopmans. Osman did not return calls for comment.

Koopmans’s Facebook group is one of several to be started up in recent days. The first was York Victims, which was started by final-year finance student Tiffany Brogan. She launched the group about 10 days ago, "before we knew there would be a strike."

Brogan fears the strike will drag on, saying the last strike, in 2001, lasted 11 weeks and that the union has said they’re prepared for an 11-week strike this time as well.

The group, which has over 1,500 members, has witnessed heated debate between union members and their supporters and undergraduate students who oppose the strike.

Anti-strike groups aren’t the only ones being created. Five groups in support of the strikers have been started, including the union’s own, Support CUPE 3903 in Bargaining, which has more than 1,600 members.

  • Some undergraduate students at York University, thrown out of class by a union seeking an 11 per cent pay hike over two years, say they’re being held hostage, wrote the National Post Nov. 8.

"I feel like they’re fighting a lost cause, especially because of the economic situation right now," said fourth-year political science student Goli Khalili, calling the workers’ demands "unrealistic."

On Facebook, some undergraduate students are planning a protest to show the union how upset they are with the strike. "I feel like we are the middleman here for them to prove their point," Khalili said.

Third-year student Cassie Verardi said she didn’t understand why the union is refusing binding arbitration.

The union’s chief negotiating officer, Graham Potts, said students need to express their anger to the University, not to the union.

Some students are also frustrated that the York Federation of Students (YFS) passed a motion two weeks ago backing the striking workers. "Because they’re the students’ federation, we feel it’s the students they should support before anyone else," first-year business student Lyndon Koopmans said. "They’re representing the students who are TAs, but I feel they are not representing the students who aren’t TAs."

YFS president Hamid Osman said the decision was made in a democratic vote of the YFS two weeks ago. Osman said he is willing to speak at the protest to explain why the YFS decided to support the union.

  • With classes scuttled for some 50,000 students, the York University strike showed no signs of ending yesterday because the two sides weren’t talking, wrote The Toronto Sun Nov. 8.

"We currently aren’t negotiating," said Christina Rousseau, a York graduate student and teaching assistant, and chair of CUPE Local 3903. "We’re ready and willing to negotiate with the administration, but they haven’t contacted us yet."

Speaking at the picket line at the York Boulevard entrance to the University, where 60 people were picketing yesterday, Rousseau defended the walkout by 3,400 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants.

The union wanted an 11 per cent wage increase over two years, while the University offered 9.25 per cent over three years. The union also wants more job security for the 950 part-time faculty, who have to re-apply for their jobs each semester, regardless of how many years they’ve worked at the school.

Earlier in the week, York University spokesperson Alex Bilyk, director of media relations, said the school will stand by its offer. Teaching assistants are among the highest paid in Canada and make over $62 an hour including compensation packages, he said.

Rousseau said pickets were delaying cars for several minutes yesterday at each entrance to the school to "cause a little bit of a disruption" but to also "engage" with students and staff to inform them of the union’s position.

Rousseau acknowledged many of the students aren’t onside with the strikers. "A very mixed response, to be honest," said Rousseau, 26, "Of course there are some who are understandably angered by what we’re doing," Rousseau said. "We’re really just trying to address their issues as best we can."

  • I have just read about the strike at York University (" York classes cancelled." Nov. 7): Are these people totally out of their minds?, wrote Hamilton’s Patrick Porter in a letter to The Toronto Sun Nov. 10 . The economy is in shambles and yet they want more and more of our taxpayers’ dollars, Where is the government supposed to get this extra funding, since they are already in the red? Shame on the strikers for being so greedy in a time when people are losing their jobs. Now is not the time for big increases in anything. Now is the time to help your province, not pull it down even further.

CUPE working to gain student support to increase its clout

Union leaders, working to set the stage for provincewide bargaining at Ontario universities in 2010, planned to gain student support for their cause with campus barbecues, pub nights and protests against rising tuition fees, internal planning documents show, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 8.

The union strategy, developed by a group within the Canadian Union of Public Employees, calls for contracts of CUPE workers to expire at the same time as a way to increase bargaining clout.

The demand for such a two-year deal is a central issue in the strike at York University, which has halted classes for 50,000 students since Thursday. That dispute involves teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants who are CUPE members.

The planning document, called Co-ordinating Our Future, was developed by the Ontario University Workers Co-ordinating Committee and is posted on the union’s website. Part of that document calls for a public relations campaign targeted at students "to make unions appear approachable and on-side."

"Having students on side during bargaining is essential to maintain the pressure on the University administration and prevent anti-union sentiment among the student body during a potential strike," it says.

Such a campaign, it states, would involve links with the Canadian Federation of Students and the sponsorship of orientation week events.

This week CUPE paid for dozens of buses to bring students and its members to CFS rallies across the province to call for a rollback of tuition to 2004 levels. Notices on the CUPE Web site describe this week’s rallies as an opportunity to "build further solidarity between workers and students today, for bargaining in 2010 and beyond."

Unions lose ‘bargaining clout’ amid hard times

Unions trying to bargain new contracts over the coming months will face a difficult slog as they negotiate with employers struggling to come to grips with new economic realities, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 10 in a story about recent trends due to the poor economic climate. Some, like the 3,350 York University contract faculty and teaching assistants who set up picket lines Thursday after rejecting an offer that would have given them a 9.25 per cent raise over three years, are still willing to take their chances.

The economic downturn could have a significant impact on bargaining, depending on geographic region and sector, said Prem Benimadhu, vice-president of governance and human resources management at the Conference Board.

The government’s deteriorating fiscal picture will also lead to bargaining pressures, wrote the Star. Ontario, for example, "is going through some significant financial difficulties, and that definitely will have an impact on wage settlements in the public sector there because the money is simply not there unless the taxpayers want to cough up additional taxes," Benimadhu said.

Bomb threat on bus near York University leads to three arrests

The package was deemed suspicious, but the three people police allege left it there certainly made their message clear, wrote CityNews.ca Nov. 8.

It was right around noon on Saturday when three passengers on a TTC bus travelling from Downsview Station to York University’s Keele campus allegedly left a paper bag on the floor of the vehicle with the words "I AM A BOMB" written on it.

The two males and a female were spotted by several passengers, including a rider who picked up the bag thinking it was a forgotten parcel and read the note.

The trio got off the bus at York University and the witness alerted the driver who in turn called police. An approximate area of 300 metres around the bus was evacuated, including a nearby food court.

Since it was parents’ day at the University, the area was heavily populated and several thousand people needed to be removed for an hour before the package was examined and determined not to be a bomb.

The female suspect later approached police and admitted it’d been her who left the bag on board. The two male suspects were identified a short time later.

‘In space, no one can hear you…’

It should have been a proud Canadian moment in space as our first mission to Mars made a surprising discovery this fall: Snow is falling on the Red Planet, wrote the Ottawa Citizen and CanWest News Service Nov. 8. But the Canadian Space Agency wasn’t allowed to talk about its achievement, because its staff was muzzled during the federal election.

The agency’s own documents, released under access to information, have explained the surprising silence. Political orders got in the way. It was late September. Scientists at York University, funded by the space agency, were operating a package of Canadian-designed weather instruments aboard NASA’s newest lander, Mars Phoenix. The University of Alberta and Dalhousie University were also involved.

As communications staffers and scientists exchanged e-mails about how to announce the find, the space agency announced it wouldn’t be involved. The agency’s communications department wrote to staff in York’s Media Relations department: "bc (because) of the election campaign, CSA is not allowed to issue a release…" The e-mail says CSA officials would do interviews if asked, but in fact that also broke down.

Michèle Demers, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, called the Mars discovery "information that is not politically sensitive, but is strictly something that we should all be proud of and we should all be celebrating." There was widespread muzzling of public servants during the campaign, she recalled.

The internal CSA documents show there was considerable excitement about Martian snow inside the space agency. More than 300 news media carried the story. Bloomberg News, a prominent financial news service, made it one of their top five stories from the entire world that day – the same day that Congress was voting down a $700-billion bailout package, and world markets were in freefall.

The day of NASA’s announcement in Washington, it fell to York University to call around and alert Canadian reporters, who’d had no hint of the breaking news from the space agency. A York professor spoke at NASA’s event.

A plaintive note from a space agency communications staffer to her opposite number at York sums up the day: "Glad that York did such a great job at promoting this story!"

Osgoode’s Paths to Peace a serious academic conference

While ordinarily we would be flattered that an academic conference to be held in June, 2009, is already attracting media attention, we are concerned that the scholarly objectives of the conference (Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace, to be held at York University) have been misrepresented in the pages of the National Post, wrote Bruce Ryder, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a letter to the Post Nov. 8, written on behalf of the committee organizing a conference that was criticized by Ed Morgan on Nov. 5.

This is a serious academic conference devoted to critically examining different models of statehood and assessing their capacity to achieve an enduring peace that guarantees the security and rights to self-determination of Israelis and Palestinians, wrote Ryder. An international advisory committee comprising a dozen leading scholars is guiding the conference planning process and selecting speakers, many of them based at universities in Israel. We are confident this event will make thoughtful contributions to the search for peace in the Middle East.

Ontario to release new propane safety regulations

Three months after a deadly explosion at the Sunrise Propane Industrial Gases plant in Downsview, the Ontario government is set to release recommendations for new safety regulations, wrote CBC News online Nov. 7.

Mark Winfield is a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies who has written three papers on the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). He says he’s concerned that the panel’s report may not answer all the questions "about having moved these regulatory functions outside of government, where they escape normal oversight."

Winfield says the auditor general should be allowed to look into the TSSA and it should be subject to the province’s freedom-of-information legislation.

  • Mark Winfield spoke about proposed new safeguards following the propane explosion on CBC Radio’s "Ontario Today" and "Here & Now" (Toronto) and CBC Television news Nov. 7.

Obama’s style: What kind of leader will he be?

Political scientists agree that on the evidence of the superb efficiency of his campaign team, US president-elect Barack Obama would run a well-organized, effective White House, that his style in office would be calm and unruffled, and that his policies – unlike those of predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – would be clearly articulated, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 8.

York University political scientist Stephen Newman, of the Faculty of Arts, said the evidence from the campaign suggested strongly the White House would operate on a basis of strong loyalty to the president. "I think Obama has been able to mobilize – and this is what makes his campaign look more like a movement – I think he has been able to mobilize people, I think he has been able to count on their loyalty…. He has demonstrated enormous leadership in running this campaign” said Newman. “And he’s smart, not only in running the campaign but in the people he’s surrounded himself with. And unlike the current occupant of the White House, he appears to be someone who actually listens to other people and is capable of making a judgment when people present him with ideas.

"It’s nice to have a smart guy in the White House. The best leaders are people who are smart in this way. It’s not so much book smart as practical intelligence, the ability to manoeuvre in pursuit of a goal. I think Obama has that."

Time for a green bottom line

Ecological economists like Peter Victor of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, see the current world financial crisis as a teaching moment for a world hooked on unsustainable growth, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) Nov. 8. The failure to account for the consequences of the crisis points up the failings of traditional economics, suggests Victor, author of Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster. "The real economy lives in the environment," he says.

Bolton author dispels myths

Many myths about Canada’s people of the north have been perpetuated over the years by anthropologists and passed along as fact, often even taught in classrooms, giving a high level of credibility to these myths, wrote the Caledon Enterprise Nov. 7 in a story about a new book on the Inuit.

That’s why Bolton’s John Steckley (BA Hons. ‘73), author and anthropologist, wrote White Lies About the Inuit, debunking some of the common misconceptions about Aboriginal people while using humour to make the reading material more approachable.

“You don’t have to bring to it a lot of knowledge,” said Steckley of his latest book, making it appropriate reading for anyone, not just anthropologists and scholars. The author has written 10 books and is currently working on four more. “Some of them are more readable than others,” he said of his many works, including two textbooks – three once his latest second edition is finished.

But, even when writing textbooks he has been allowed the leeway to inject some humour, saying that many texts are far too formal and rigid, not to mention expensive. “I wanted to write [a textbook] for people who might take it at university or college as an elective,” he said. “There’s no law that says a textbook has to be boring, they just are.”

Aside from White Lies About the Inuit, Steckley believes his most “readable” book is Beyond Their Years: Five Native Women’s Stories.

The author and anthropologist has been teaching at Humber College full-time since 1986. The professor holds a BA in anthropology from York University, a master’s in anthropology from Memorial University and a PhD in education from the University of Toronto.

Women take centre stage

This weekend a show is playing at the Opera House that is different from anything that’s played there in a while, wrote the Orillia Packet and Times Nov. 8. It’s called "The WIT Project" and…started with Anna MacKay-Smith, the director who has acted and directed in many productions around the country, and taught theatre in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

York women’s soccer star Stefania Morra a two-time winner

A Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School grad has been named the top women’s university soccer player in the country, the year after winning the national rookie of the year award, wrote the Scarborough Mirror Nov. 7. Stefania Morra, who suits up for York University, is only the second player to claim both of those trophies and the only one to win them in successive years. She’s the only York University player to win either award.

The 21-year-old, five-foot-five striker again led the country in goals with 18 in 14 regular season games, accomplishing the same feat last season with 19 goals in 14 games. "Last year Stefania had an outstanding season.This year she has been truly magnificent," said York head coach Paul James, in a press release. "With such a young team we needed her to step up and to provide great leadership and she’s done that. "Scoring 18 goals is a testament to her ability at this level. When you consider that she competed as a central midfield player for the majority of the season, it magnifies her ability."

York finished atop Ontario University Athletics’ competitive west division with a 9-2-3 record but were eliminated in their first post season game 1-0 by fourth place Brock (7-3-4). Morra, who plays for the Toronto Lady Lynx, also starred in basketball for Mary Ward, earning team-MVP honours on two occasions.

Future of the GOP

David Frum says that to recapture majority status, the Republican Party can no longer "fall back on the core base of the party" but must reinforce it with college graduates, wrote Terry Heinrichs, political science professor at York’s Glendon College in a letter to the National Post Nov. 8. This argument is just a bit incoherent, as that core, "is almost entirely white, almost entirely resident in the middle of the country, moderately affluent, middle-aged and older, more male than female, with some college education but not a college degree" – sort of like an extension of Joe the Plumber.

This is because the views of core Republicans on the "issues" Frum thinks critical, the "futures" they wish to bring about are still in the Republican past. Frum’s argument is not a supplement to the base; it’s an attempt to replace it. But where, then, does that leave him?

Muslims say their rights are in jeopardy

Some media rhetoric causes Muslims to feel alienated and the non-Muslim population to feel fearful of anything that is associated with Islam, wrote the Oakville Beaver Nov. 9 in a story about a presentation by Osgoode grad Naseem Mithoowani (LLB ’07). That’s why she, along with Khurrum Awan (LLB ’07), a graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and two other law students asked the editors of Macleans magazine if they could write a response to Mark Steyn’s article, “The Future Belongs to Islam”, because they felt it targeted Islam and Muslims.

Football coach hopes to one day join college ranks

When Rick Maloney decides to retire from teaching and coaching senior and junior football at Brother Andre Catholic High School, he has a good idea of what he wants to do, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun Nov. 8. For the Markham resident, it’s to continue coaching football. Only this time at the next competitive level – the collegiate ranks.

Maloney got a taste of what it’s like to coach at the college level this year as he volunteered his assistance as an offensive line coach on game days with the York University Lions program.

Lions’ first-year head coach Mike McLean and Lions assistant coach Beau Mirau returned the favour by offering assistance when the Brother Andre Catholic High School senior and junior football programs held their spring camp. Their presence, Maloney said, has paid dividends, especially in their passing game. "Their help during our spring camp was great," Maloney said. "Beau’s passing tree (system) has helped out a lot with our offence."

Although the Lions had their struggles on the gridiron this season, Maloney feels given time, McLean and Mirau can turn the team’s fortunes around. "Sure, the coaching staff has had a tough year," he said in reference to the Lions’ woes this season. "But they’ve done a good job in holding the team together. I think York will turn their football program around. It’s just a question of time and I would love to coach there."

Woodland artist exhibits paintings at Lake of the Woods Museum

Former York student Ahmoo Angeconeb of Lac Seul smiles as he relays the doors opened to him, through his aboriginal art, wrote the Kenora Daily Miner & News Nov. 8 . Over dinner last summer, at a retrospective show in Red Lake, Angeconeb reflected on an art career that has allowed him to tour Europe and North America.

This fall, as Angeconeb got ready for his show at the Lake of the Woods Museum, he spoke of another invitation. This time, he’s been asked to do a show at a university in Austria, where the aboriginal studies unit wanted to see his work first-hand.

Angeconeb is one of the original members of the Woodlands Art Movement, which set the world on fire in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His interests took him south to York University (1976), then east to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where gallery owners had recently returned from a trip to Cape Dorset to learn about Inuit Art.

York prof’s new exhibit looks at women’s work in war intelligence

Women played a crucial role in relaying, intercepting, translating and decoding military intelligence as it flashed over the airwaves during World War II. Now a new exhibit is finally bringing their involvement out of the shadows

A new exhibition will pay tribute to the many women like Sally Carling who worked in radio communications in North America and Europe during World War II, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 9 . Toronto artist Nina Levitt‘s Relay will open shortly after Remembrance Day at Oshawa’s Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

While the exploits of male fighter pilots is celebrated in movies and monuments, the work of women involved in wartime radio communications has been largely forgotten. "All this information is in archives, buried somewhere, but it’s not in the public realm," Levitt says. "It’s not in our consciousness."

It was thought that women’s focused attention spans made them better suited than men to the tedious work, says Levitt, who teaches at York University’s Department of Visual Arts in the Faculty of Fine Arts. York University political science and women’s studies Professor Sandra Whitworth chalks up the collective amnesia to societal ideas about appropriate behaviour for men and women.

Spreading philanthropy, responsibility and great shoes

The Thomas J. Bata Lecture Series on Responsible Capitalism will alternate between York University’s Schulich School of Business and Tomas Bata University, located in the Bata homeland of the Czech Republic and named for Bata’s father, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 10.

Why this lecture series? During his life my husband tried to teach people what responsible capitalism should be like,” said Bata’s wife Sonja. “He always said that business is really a service to society and the heads of businesses have many stakeholders – not just customers and employees but the communities, even the countries, they operated in. We will find speakers to talk on how important it is to have proper corporate ethics – especially after seeing what has happened recently in the US. If you have totally unbridled capitalism and unbridled entrepreneurship, things can go very wrong.

Ready, willing and able to do a great job

Job seekers with disabilities battle misapprehensions born of misleading stereotypes, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 8. “It can be like quicksand,” says Patricia Connolly (MFA ’02), who has a master’s degree in film from York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. So programs like WESP, funded by Employment Ontario and spearheaded by the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, are important bridges for job seekers like her.

Take a trip with Sarah

Artist Sarah Martin (BA ’05) is inviting you to take a walk down memory lane with her latest exhibition The Ubiquitous Voyeur: The Mixed Media Works of Sarah Martin, wrote the Barrie Advance Nov. 6. The exhibition, on display at Barrie’s Georgian College Gallery, features old images and photos brought to life again.

"It’s about experiencing a place through the photographs and it triggering a memory," Martin said. "I thought about how the oddest memory can just pop up out of nowhere, so I combined that with my enjoyment of old photographs."

Martin, who was born and raised in Barrie, is a graduate of York University and Georgian College.