York strike means no Reading Week

For York students, it’s official – Reading Week is toast, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 20. Even if the strike by teaching assistants and contract faculty is settled over the holidays in time for classes to resume Jan. 5, University officials have said there is no way they can make up for lost time without scrapping the annual break, which was slated for Feb. 16 to 20.

As well, York has worked out more details of how it plans to make up for time lost since a strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903 cancelled classes Nov. 6:

  • It will take 13 days of classes in the new year to make up for the 18 lost days from the fall. This will allow the same number of classes overall as would have been held over 11 weeks, rather than the usual 12.
  • While make-up classes may be switched to a different weekday, the York bulletin made no mention of emergency weekend classes.
  • Unless a deal is reached by Jan. 3, classes won’t start Monday Jan. 5.
  • The winter term will have 55 days of instruction, down from about 60.
  • The two exam periods will be shortened to 12 days, from 18.
  • Tests and assignments will not be due in the first five calendar days after the strike ends, and also not before students have had at least one class with the regular instructor.
  • There is a good chance the school year will have to stretch into May, said York spokesperson Alex Bilyk, although it is too soon to say for sure without knowing how long the strike will last.

A group of students who had been sitting outside the president’s office all week demanding a meeting left yesterday because the University is closing down for the holidays, but said they may resume their sit-in in January.

Meanwhile, a group of full-time York professors has set up a fund for students hit by financial hardship during the strike.

"Mostly, we did it because we just feel so bad for the students," said Megan Davies, a professor in York’s Health & Society Program, Faculty of Arts, who launched the fund with colleague Paul Antze.

Already the York University Faculty Association has pledged $10,000 towards the fund, designed to help students who may have held on-campus jobs that have been interrupted or whose off-campus jobs have been disrupted by the change of schedules. Also, international and out-of-province students face extra costs from changing travel plans.

Davies cited the plight of a student who relies on a job that begins in mid-April to pay for tuition. That start date now seems at risk.

  • The six-week-long York University strike affecting 50,000 students won’t end unless the University president and Board of Governors pressure their bargaining team to present a "meaningful settlement," the union charged yesterday, wrote The Toronto Sun Dec. 19.

CUPE Local 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley said the 100 or so strikers who moved their picket line to the financial district yesterday wanted to bring their message to York Chancellor Roy McMurtry, who has an office on King Street West. Shipley said several other members of York’s Board of Governors also have offices in the downtown tower.

"Folks wanted to send a message to those people that it’s increasingly necessary, clearly, that the board of governors and the University president step in and take charge of the situation and insist that York’s bargaining team go back to the bargaining table with us and negotiate a meaningful settlement," Shipley said.

  • While not quite a one-woman collection machine, Emma Genovese recently spearheaded a charitable effort that netted a significant donation of food for the needy, wrote the Burlington Post Dec. 19.

Sitting around with ample time on her hands for the past month since her school closed due to a teachers’ strike, the York University student decided to get busy and do something useful with her spare time. Genovese, who turns 24 the day before Christmas, got the idea to help out the local Salvation Army.

She recently placed notes in mailboxes around her Burlington neighbourhood, indicating she would be knocking on doors collecting non- perishable food items. "I had a great response. I collected 330 items (in one day) just going around my neighbourhood," she said. "I also contacted a local Shoppers Drug Mart and I would like to thank them for their generous donation of 135 items."

Genovese attends York’s Faculty of Education. She had a placement for teachers college at Burlington’s St. Mark School but the strike, which began Nov. 6, put a temporary stop to that and her regular schedule of classes. "I have not been able to attend class, continue my studies or continue my placement at St. Mark. All of the students at the University are at a standstill until the labour dispute is resolved. This is extremely frustrating as we have been out of class for over a month," she said.

  • York student Lyndon Koopmans, founder of YorkNotHostage.com, spoke about the strike by CUPE 3903, on Global TV (Hamilton) Dec. 18.

Professor founded psychology department at York

Malcolm Westcott delighted in his kinship to his distant relative, Stukely Westcott, a free thinker who was expelled from Puritan colonial Salem, Mass., in 1638, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 19 in an obituary of the former York professor who died Nov. 10. Nothing so dramatic occurred to Professor Westcott, but as a young American academic arriving in Canada in 1969, he was impressed by the youthful, liberal-minded culture of Toronto’s newly founded York University. The average age of a professor there was 40.

A year later, he became chair of the psychology department. It was an exciting time to be part of a growing, forward-thinking University that encouraged a group of formative thinkers to pursue their interests. As part of the humanistic psychology group within the department, Westcott challenged the established methods of research in psychology by discovering creative alternatives.

From the outset, he championed the department by opening up new areas of curriculum and hired 12 new professors. The department consisted of different disciplines within psychology. According to David Rennie, a former colleague, Westcott invented "alternatives in psychological research" so that it was "possible to make qualitative research rigorous".

It was also during his time at York that Westcott began work on a concept he called "the experience of feeling free". When his tenure as chair ended, he returned to teaching full time and continued his research on human freedom. He interviewed people from different backgrounds so they had little in common with one another. The result was his 1988 book The Psychology of Human Freedom, an investigation of the nature and experience of freedom. It received mixed reviews, partly because his position that human feelings could be documented met with controversy.

Westcott retired in 1993 but continued to publish articles and took part in several research expeditions organized by the University of California. On one of the trips, he expanded his interest in anthropology by travelling to Britain to collect stories of "travellers", also known as gypsies.

He also took up woodcarving and encouraged friends and family to send him pieces of wood. He never knew what shape the carving would take until the wood "spoke to him", and adopted the whimsical name of Willie McTreen at craft fairs and bazaars. Later, he developed dementia; his final years were less happy.

Malcolm Robert Westcott, professor emeritus, York University, was born July 25, 1929, in Dunmore, Pa. He died Nov. 10, 2008, in Toronto of pneumonia. He was 79. He is survived by his wife Page, sons Terence and Andrew, and grandchildren Ray, Jackson and Aidan.

Crazy season is perfect for TV pitches

If you think you are being inundated with more of the loud, mile-a-minute come-ons during the holiday season – you are, wrote The Canadian Press Dec. 18. Marketing Professor Alan Middleton, of the Schulich School of Business at York University, says the products sell because seeing something advertised on television gives it some credibility. So you don’t have to feel cheap wrapping them up.

Professor Detlev Zwick, a Schulich colleague of Middleton’s, says this kind of advertising model fits the shopping habit of buying and chucking goods.

The commercials also catch customers at a specific time of day, when they’re often relaxed, lounging and watching television. Zwick says they don’t really cater to the impulse buyer. Rather, they target the contemplative consumer who has watched the commercial again and again, taken down the number and made the call.

And at this time of year, ordering off television beats elbowing through crowds in shopping malls.

York quotes are music to Errol’s ears

Instead of boring you silly with my list of favourite records of the year, I decided instead to share some memorable comments from some of the people who I profiled here this year, wrote music columnist Errol Nazareth in The Toronto Sun Dec. 19.

"I think you’re right, that the orchestra is the next giant leap for us. I think there are a lot of elements there that we can really capitalize on. You have very complex melodies and rhythms in classical Indian music and on the Western side you’ve got these endless possibilities of harmony, key changes and counterpoint. So, I’m really excited to dive into that."

– autorickshaw’s Suba Sankaran (BFA Spec. Hons. ’97, MFA ’02), a York grad, on the possibility of the genre-bending group collaborating with a symphony in the near future.

"I can’t stand it! It’s just horrid! There are so many of them right now. They’re fake and mediocre and they’re only doing standards because they can’t do anything else. I think there aren’t enough critics out there who really know, so the bar has dropped. Nowadays, it’s like, ‘If you sound like someone else, that’s good enough for me.’ It all comes down to mediocrity."

Jane Bunnett (former York student) tells us how she really feels about the abundance of "jazz vocalists" out there.

"Darwish felt the pulse of Palestinians in beautiful poetry, he translated their pain in a magical way that shook their emotions, and he gave voice to the Palestinian dreams of statehood. He knew how to express the attachment of an entire people to its land and the absolute desire for peace. His message of co-existence will continue to resonate and will eventually be heard."

Bassam Bishara, professor of Middle Eastern music in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, on the celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.