York deans press union on deal

Concerned about the damage the strike is causing to both learning and the school’s reputation, the deans of York University are urging union members to accept the latest offer and send 50,000 students back to class, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 16.

In an open letter yesterday, the 12 academic heavyweights call York’s latest proposal the most responsible one possible given the economic crisis, and urge an end to the "debilitating strike" that has dragged on since Nov. 6.

"We believe the offer is a responsible effort to meet the needs of contract faculty and graduate students in an extremely difficult economic climate," said the deans of the Faculties of Arts, Science & Engineering, Graduate Studies, Education, Fine Arts, Environmental Studies, Health, the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, Osgoode Hall Law School, the Schulich School of Business, the principal of Glendon College and the University Librarian.

While the deans acknowledge the important roles of the 3,340 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants on strike, they also recognize the "unusually severe budgetary constraints" affecting universities.

"We have had to consider the significant negative impact of a continued labour disruption on all of our students, as well as on the reputation and academic development of the University," said the letter.

Earlier this week, 282 full-time professors signed a petition urging the strikers to accept York’s three-year deal next Monday and Tuesday during a vote conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Labour at the request of the York administration.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 is urging members to reject the offer. It is not clear when talks would resume if the vote fails. But if contract faculty and teaching assistants accept the deal, classes could begin next Thursday.

  • The Toronto Star, in its “Worth Repeating” column on the editorial page Jan. 16, published excerpts from an open letter to members of CUPE 3903 from almost 300 current and retired faculty members of York University:

    We urge our colleagues in CUPE 3903 who have been on strike since Nov. 6, 2008, to end their labour action by accepting the current contract offer of the York University administration. Why?

    The current offer of a 10.7 per cent increase to the overall cost of the contract over three years with a substantial package of wages (9.25 per cent increase over three years) and benefits is fair and reasonable, and consistent with the most recent agreements of other unionized employees at York….

    A continuation of this strike will damage the academic reputation of the University, and diminish the perceived quality of its graduate and undergraduate degrees.

    The potential loss of undergraduate enrolments in 2009-2010 (in quality and quantity) resulting from the continuation of the strike could lead to a reduction in the number of teaching assistantships and part-time faculty positions in the future. CUPE members will best serve their own interests, and those of the University at large, by ending rather than extending the strike.

    CUPE’s demands include a substantial number of full-time [York University Faculty Assocaition] appointments for long-serving contract faculty, a proposal that would lead to automatic full-time status for a select group of part-time faculty without requiring them to demonstrate scholarly achievement or potential. This runs counter to two fundamental principles of the University: open competitions for available positions among all qualified candidates and the cultivation of a scholarly research culture. In the past, the University has demonstrated its commitment to addressing the interests of long-serving contract faculty by establishing two programs: the conversion program (in 1988) and the [Special Renewable contract] program (2000). Since 1988 the University has made a total of 138 appointments through these two programs. The current offer continues that commitment by offering a reasonable number of appointments for long-serving contract faculty….

    A continuation of the strike takes the University into uncharted territory: the potential loss of at least the summer term and, conceivably, the entire academic year. The impact of the latter on the lives of tens of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students will be immeasurable.

  • Despite the possibility of the ongoing York University strike coming to an end next week, Maayan Bronshtein still has plenty of worries, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 16.

The fourth-year psychology student said the strike, which started Nov. 6, has popped open a can of doubt that has left graduating students concerned about what will happen even if a deal is struck – she wonders if employees will think her degree is tainted. She is also worried about her plan to postpone graduate school. "It’s been really bad for me because I’m in the fourth year and I want to graduate. I don’t want the strike to push me back into another year."

Bronshtein said she would consider transferring to another university if she was in a lower year of study. She already had plans to do an extra year at York to improve her grades and the strike might prolong those plans even longer. Extending the semester into May will also dampen Bronshtein’s hopes of taking courses to prepare for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the admissions exam applicants to psychology graduate programs usually write.

"I won’t be able to do that because the term might not be long enough. We don’t know if they’re going to cancel all our first semester grades. That would be bad because mine were really good."

Bronshtein’s friend, Jason Sidon, a fourth-year kinesiology and biology student, is using the free time to prepare for the Dental Admission Test (DAT), the dentistry school admissions exam scheduled for next month. "The strike has given me some time to study for the exam but the uncertainty of what will happen has been really frustrating," he said. "Another thing bothering me is what the schools I’m applying to think if I have a condensed year, because they are very picky. If they see that I’ve had a compressed year it might not look good on me."

  • Bernie Lightman, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about an open letter to members of CUPE 3903, on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” Jan. 15.
  • Eric Lawee, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, also spoke about the letter on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here & Now” Jan. 15.

York grad named head coach of national wheelchair basketball team

York University grad Jerry Tonello (BA Spec. Hons. ’81) has been named head coach of the Canadian Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team, wrote the North York Mirror Jan. 15. Tonello, who has been involved with the men’s national team for about two decades, earned his first international accomplishment in his first year as an assistant coach of the team winning gold at the 1991 Stoke Mandeville Games.

Last year he was promoted to associate head coach, prior to seizing exclusive head coaching duties. He has helped lead the team to back-to-back Paralympic Gold Medals in 2000 and 2004, as well as a gold medal at the 2006 World Championships. Recently he won a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Tonello said success is all about getting a group of men all pulling together to strive toward the common goal. "Teamwork through sacrifice and hard work provides valuable lessons that are easily transferable and valuable in other areas of one’s life," he said.

First up for Tonello and the Canadian men’s team will be a training camp, followed by a tournament at the University of Illinois from Jan. 19 to 25.

Order of Ontario’s new inductees include York’s former president

Lieutenant-governor David C. Onley appointed 27 people to the Order of Ontario yesterday, wrote the National Post Jan. 16, including Lorna R. Marsden, former president & vice-chancellor at York; David Peterson, former Ontario premier who taught at York; Patrick LeSage (LLB ’61) former Chief Justice and Osgoode Hall Law School grad; and honorary degree recipient Claude Lamoureux (LLD Glendon ’06), former CEO of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

‘Memory of Gena’ will be honoured with Schulich scholarship

A special fundraising gala dinner dance is taking place this Saturday to honour a brilliant young Toronto woman who passed away at the young age of 28 from a rare disease called Langerham’s Cell Histiocytosis, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 16.

Gena Giansante (BBA Spec. Hons. ’01, MBA ’03), whose father is the principal of Brokers Trust Insurance Group Inc., was in the prime of her life with a solid career in commerce as well as a full and happy life brimming with family and friends when she was struck down, leaving behind a legacy of a vibrant young woman who lived her life to the fullest.

Brokers Trust Insurance will be hosting a gala in order to establish a permanent scholarship at the Schulich School of Business at York University, a scholarship being established in memory of Gena Giansante.

"Brokers Trust Insurance believes a scholarship would be the most appropriate way to honour the memory of Gena," says John Fil, one of the organizers. "It reflects her commitment and success in academics and business, while also expressing her belief in helping family, friends and the community."

Organizers say $100,000 is being raised to establish a permanent scholarship for a first-year student in the MBA program at Schulich. Plus the event is being sponsored by several leading Canadian insurers including Aviva, Chubb, Coachman, Economical, Dominion, ING and Wawanesa.

Cut the red tape, mayors tell Ottawa

Red tape risks strangling Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ambitious plan to spend billions on new infrastructure in a bid to create jobs, premiers and mayors charge, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 16. Toronto Mayor David Miller cited the example of the Spadina subway extension to York University, which was delayed two and a half years waiting for federal funds – long after Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the project.

Fare sharing would affect Viva buses at York

Metrolinx wants the province to designate it a mega-transit authority, with the power to decide where TTC and other regional transit systems will pick up passengers, and which fares and transfers riders use when crossing city borders, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 16.

Mississauga buses travelling along Burnhamthorpe Road, for example, can drop passengers at Toronto’s Islington subway station, but can only pick up passengers there who are headed for Mississauga. They can’t carry local riders from one stop within Toronto to another, meaning they must bypass rush-hour commuters inside Toronto.

The same occurs in York Region, where York’s Viva buses and TTC vehicles both travel from Downsview station to York University.

The TTC has told Metrolinx it is no longer interested in a cost-sharing agreement that would have seen the TTC cede this duplicate service to Mississauga and York Region – an arrangement that would let riders get on a bus sooner and save taxpayers about $1.5 million annually, according to Metrolinx.

Recession insurance? Might be just the thing

In a recent paper, Mark Kamstra, professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, and I proposed that governments issue shares in their GDP, with each share amounting to a trillionth of GDP, wrote Robert Shiller, professor of economics at Yale University and chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC, in The Globe and Mail Jan. 16. These "trills" would help individual countries manage their GDP risks. We thought that the issuers of such securities would have, in effect, a form of recession insurance.

Atheists hope (don’t pray) to bring ads to Toronto

The atheist slogan, "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," may soon be coming to subways and buses in Canada’s largest city, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 16.

The Web site atheistbus.ca was launched this week by Chris Hammond, a first-year political science student at York University who has joined with the Freethought Association to mount a campaign. Hammond, 22, said he wanted to answer ads quoting Bible verses that he had seen on TTC buses. "There’s atheists that are out there. This will show them they are not alone, " Hammond said.

Diverse artist featured until the end of January

Throughout the month of January, City Hall Gallery in Dieppe, NB, is highlighting York grad Donna Rawlins Sharpe (BFA ’76, BEd ’76) as its featured artist, wrote Moncton, NB’s Times & Transcript Jan. 16.

Her work varies from visual art pieces to assemblages. Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Sharpe graduated from York University in 1976 with a degree in visual arts and in education. She also studied visual arts at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and lithography at Emily Carr University of Art & Design in Vancouver. Sharpe’s current exhibition will run until Jan. 30 and is one of many she’s held over the years.

College course grooms students for film and TV

Coordinator and York grad Martin Doyle (BA ’74) said the acting for film and television program at Niagara College, which includes all recorded media, was in development for two years prior to being launched, wrote The St. Catharines Standard Jan. 16.

After graduating from York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, he worked on stage in Toronto and with smaller companies in northern Ontario but then he began getting voice-over work. A Toronto Telegram article about voice-over work that featured Doyle caught the attention of an agent in New York City and Doyle spent the 1980s in New York City and Los Angeles. He returned to Toronto with his wife, Judi, and now-grown sons, Colin and Devin, in 1989.

Judge was a strong defender of linguistic rights

Justice Jean-Pierre Beaulne (LLB ’55) was well known in Ottawa, not only as a provincial court judge for 25 years but also as a founder of Arts Court and a promoter of French language services, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Jan. 16 in an obituary.

"I recall his eminent sense of fairness, decorum and politeness," says Ontario Justice Paul Belanger of Judge Beaulne, who died Monday of cancer. "He invariably treated everybody with great courtesy, whether staff or lawyers or an accused person."

One of his memorable cases involved an impaired driving charge for a motorist driving backwards on a public road. Judge Beaulne said the person could not be convicted because the dictionary definition of "driving" suggested forward movement. "He said ‘You can’t advance while driving backwards’," recalls Judge Belanger. As a result, the federal government changed the law to use the word "operating" rather than "driving" a vehicle.

Judge Beaulne was born in Ottawa on Sept. 19, 1925. He obtained a BA in philosophy from the University of Ottawa and studied law at Osgoode Hall Law School.

On air

  • Debra Pepler, distinguished research professor in psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, took part in a panel discussion on the Ontario government’s plan to update sex education to include dating abuses, on CBC Radio’s “The Point” Jan. 15.
  • Cynthia Williams, Osler Chair in Business Law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the advantages of a single national securities regulator on CBC Radio Edmonton’s “Radio Active” Jan. 15.