Students, CUPE 3903, hold rallies at York

York University was the battleground for two rallies yesterday – one to send the striking teaching assistants and contract faculty back to work and another to keep them on the picket lines, wrote The Toronto Sun Nov. 18.

The first took place at Vari Hall where hundreds of York students voiced their frustration over the ongoing strike. "Both sides say they have the needs of the students at heart, both sides claim they want to improve the quality of education," said Nora Kharouba, 19, a psychology student. "We say that this strike is against us – the students. We’re being held hostage."

Organized by and the Anti-Strike Group, students are pushing for binding arbitration as a solution or turning to the government to use back-to-work legislation. "I came to Canada to be educated," law student Veronica Fynn said at the rally. "Whether it’s the University or CUPE, I don’t care. When someone interferes with my education, it really gets to my soul because it’s the only factor that’s brought me to this level in my life."

As for talks, CUPE 3903 bargaining chairman Graham Potts said at the rally that the union is still waiting for the University to address job security.

York spokesperson Alex Bilyk said the University believes its last offer of a 9.25 per cent raise over three years is fair. The union has asked for 11 per cent over two. "And to put our students back to class as soon as possible, we are willing to meet with a third-party arbitrator and let’s make the deal," he said. Bilyk said he wouldn’t speculate on compensation for students if the strike drags on.

  • Fed up with a "ridiculous strike" they say is putting their studies at risk, hundreds of York University students held a rally yesterday on campus to push Queen’s Park to end the 12-day-old work stoppage by teaching assistants and contract faculty, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 18.

"We just want classes to start tomorrow and we want to take action, not just cry on Facebook," said kinesiology major Catherine Divaris, who helped organize the rally. "Every day the strike goes on could shorten our summer holidays and reduce our chances of working."

The rally was planned by students who first connected on Facebook over the strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903.

Rachel Turbett was one of six students in a choreography course who sold home baking at the rally to raise money to rent a hall off campus for their big dance show, cancelled indefinitely because of the strike, wrote the Star.

  • York student Lyndon Koopmans, a founding member and co-organizer of the Anti-Strike Group and, and graduate student/striker Tyler Shipley, took part in an online debate about the strike, on City-TV Nov. 17.
  • Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, spoke about the strike, on City-TV News Nov. 17, along with several unidentified York students.
  • Catherine Divaris, a final-year kinesiology student who has been vocal online about her opposition to the strike, spoke on Global TV, Nov. 17.
  • CP24-TV broadcast a video of a driver trying to drive through a picket line that it said was taken by a student.

Genes in the spotlight

No question that classical molecular biology’s conception of DNA as "master molecule" has given way to a more dynamic system of cellular complexity, wrote Jan Sapp, biology and history professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, in a letter to The New York Times Nov. 18. But the reconceptualization of the gene as process, not as a countable thing, must include a deep understanding of the origins and evolution of the molecular genetic system.

Molecular evolutionists have shown that in the evolution of the genetic system, and that of the microbiosphere, innovation sharing, through the inheritance of acquired genes and genomes, is widespread. Evolution by saltation seems to be the rule in the microbial world, and the doctrine of common descent is questioned. Appreciating this fundamental conceptual shift is all the more important today since so many identify the concept of evolution solely with Darwinism in opposition to creationism.

New evidence found of water on Mars surface

Mars experts in Toronto and Tucson, Ariz., say they have fresh evidence that one-third of the Red Planet used to be covered in a giant ocean, wrote Canwest News Service Nov. 18 in a story published in several newspapers across the country. A probe that has been orbiting Mars since 2001 has analyzed the signature of minerals on the ground, finding types likely to wash up along the shore of an ocean.

In this case, it suggests two oceans – a huge one when Mars was young, and a smaller one in the same area later. "We can draw shorelines around these things (old oceans). We can’t do it with great exactitude, but we’re confident they are there," said Bill Mahaney, professor emeritus of geography in York’s Faculty of Arts. "So we’re looking at an ocean surface many times the size of the Mediterranean, and we think this persisted for a long period" – possibly half a billion years.”

"We’ve been able to map the chemistry of the surface to support this older (ocean) idea," revealing minerals likely to wash up along a shoreline, Mahaney said. "Concentrations of elements that would have to be leached off the higher surfaces onto the lower ones indicate there had to be an acidic environment – a watery one," he said. "You couldn’t do it without water."

A tantalizing bit of side information is that all that iron, along with oxygen in the atmosphere, would have made a terrific place to grow microbes that could even persist in fossil form today. "They need iron just as we do," he said.

Schulich lays cornerstone for new property degree

Noah Schwartz is looking to transform his community one building at a time and a special MBA program at York University is helping him realize his dream, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 18. He turned to York’s world-renowned Schulich School of Business and its Real Property Development Graduate Diploma.

"I want to have a tangible impact on the future of the whole city," says Schwartz, who will have paid about $42,000 in tuition alone over two years by the time he graduates in April. "I’m less concerned with whether I have a building with X and Y number of tenants. I’m more concerned with the performance and desirability of the city, and how travellers will see the city. I’m learning about development in the broadest sense, not just about construction."

Students and graduates are enthusiastic about the real-property diploma, says James McKellar, a Schulich professor and academic director of the Real Estate and Infrastructure MBA Program. The program is "really expanding, building on the base of the original program and bringing it forward to address challenges in the next decade," said McKellar. Economic slowdowns are a good time to invest in infrastructure, he says. "Construction prices are a lot more competitive, so it’s a good time to catch up on deferred maintenance and capital improvements."

Graduates of the real-property programs are inquiring about the new courses, McKellar says. Sammy Ayoub, a 2006 real-property MBA grad and now bid manager, public infrastructure, for EllisDon Corp., based in London, Ont., says he would love to return to Schulich to brush up on new and emerging trends in infrastructure. "When I moved into the public infrastructure field, I learned as I went along," says the 33-year-old, who has worked in Toronto for EllisDon for two years. "If I had this [MBA infrastructure] course, that would’ve been great – it would have given me an edge."

  • More than 30 Canadian universities offer MBA programs, with a huge variation in cost, admission requirements and focus, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 18. The Schulich School of Business at York University, which The Economist recently ranked the best Canadian MBA program and No. 15 in the world, costs around $45,000.

Iranian dissidents in Iraq face ‘disaster’, groups warn

Leading human rights advocates in Canada warn of a "disaster in the making" for thousands of Iranian dissidents interned in Iraq’s Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 18. They and Canadian-Iranians with family in the group are at the centre of calls for United Nations action to prevent the dissidents’ expulsion to Iran, where a 1988 fatwa for their execution remains in place.

"Because they’ve given up their weapons they are not able to protect themselves without international help," said Sahand Khoshbaten, 22, a health policy student at Toronto’s York University, who was a baby when his parents fled Iran.

The Canadian mission to the UN, says Canadian ambassador John McNee [BA Spec. Hons. ’73], "and the rest of the mission are all aware of the problems," according to a note Khoshbaten received after he called on the delegation to help.

500 rally to support lesbian couple

Udana Muldoon, chair of Durham Queer Parenting, hoped a rally held Friday, Nov. 14, would bring awareness to the acts of hatred going on in our community, wrote Nov. 17. Kimberly MacIsaac took the GO Train from Toronto with 12 of her friends to show support. "There’s power in numbers and I tried to get as many people as I could out here," said the York University student.

On air

  • Radio stations in Ottawa, Timmins and London, Ont., and Brandon, Man., broadcast a story about a study by York researcher Mike Larsen on the cost of surveillance for suspected Islamic terrorists, Nov. 17.