Toronto Star reprints president’s call to the academy

The following is excerpted from a recent address by York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri to the University’s Senate, wrote the Toronto Star March 7 in its editorial section:

My remarks today will not be the usual variety of University news and topics, because the state of our affairs here at York is not usual, nor is it sustainable.

We are all here today because we believe in York. We believe that this place has great strengths and even greater potential. No other university in Ontario – maybe in Canada – has the potential that York has. But before we can realize that potential, we must address the challenges that threaten our institution and our academic reputation. York is at a critical point in our history, and we need to change.

We have just endured the longest university strike in the history of English-speaking Canada. Our students have returned to class and to examinations, only to be faced with a barrage of disruption, hostility and even intimidation from their fellow students. Intimidation, bullying and discrimination will not be tolerated here, and we are taking action to protect the rights and the safety of all students and staff.

Our public face is not demonstrating the core values a university should stand for: freedom of speech – especially for those with whom we disagree; civil discourse; and yes, social justice. But we cannot demand social justice only for ourselves. Social justice is for everyone, or it is for no one.

That is why I am asking you today, as senators and key representatives of the academy, to make your voices heard and say, “enough is enough”. Our faculty must lead the dialogue on tough issues. You are in a position to mentor and guide students, to teach them how to talk with passion about things that anger us, but without anger, without hate, without fear. I am asking you to help us fix our community, because this truly is our problem.

We talk a lot about diversity here at York, but somehow we have allowed that diversity to divide us. We need to focus now on unity, on our common values and on what makes us a community. We must identify the challenges and work as a community to address them.

We talk about educating citizens of the world and about developing critical thinkers, but we must do more. We must teach a sense of responsibility so that our graduates can contribute to the life of their times. Our 50th (anniversary) should be the start of York’s new beginning. We have a unique opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of the past 50 years as we look to the next 50.

Comfortable in a kippa or a kaffiyeh

Apartheid or no apartheid, what is going on across Canadian university campuses this week is not a mature and helpful way to promote dialogue and raise awareness, wrote York students Joseph Juda, co-president of the Jewish Law Students’ Association (JLSA) at Osgoode Hall Law School, and Ahsan Mirza, president of the Muslim Law Students’ Association (MLSA) at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Toronto Star online edition March 6.

As Osgoode students, we find the events at York to be strange. There is no discussion taking place, but rather two sides screaming at each other. At Osgoode, the JSLA and MLSA may have different agendas and goals but we are all friends with each other. We do not all have to agree with each other’s views to respect one another.

When friends discuss politics, even such hot topics as Israel and Palestine, you are more open to listen to the other side and hear the points they are making. No megaphones, no flags, just two groups listening to what the other has to say.

Often, members of our associations have admitted that they have had to rethink certain issues and change certain opinions they held due to some of these open and collegial discussions.

Israeli Apartheid Week only seeks to divide the campus more than it already is. Whereas the JLSA and MLSA are open to working together to try to host events that speak to the students’ common goals, such as finding lawyers to come talk to our groups about difficulties maintaining our religious practices in the workforce, or issues of keeping kosher and Halal at law firms, the thought of something like this taking place at York is worrying.

Additionally, Osgoode Hall offers courses in both Jewish and sharia law. One need not be of any specific nationality or religion to attend and it would not be considered strange if anyone took up the offer.

By learning about the history and background of the other, we see that other as a human being rather than part of an ideology, and the debate suddenly becomes more humane. The way that Israel Apartheid Week is conducted only seeks to exploit the differences between us and does not focus on any of the good that we can do together or that can be achieved by having proper discourse in a responsible, academic setting.

Until the activists on both sides of the debate realize this, nothing will be achieved and emotionally charged students will continue to yell and scream at each other while not being heard and achieving nothing.

We are thankful that the law school is a place where we can be comfortable walking around in both kippas and kaffiyehs, and where the two groups can talk and consider each other as friends.

All’s well in the kingdom of Canada

In the five years since it was established by some students at the University of Toronto, Israeli Apartheid Week has spread to 40 cities around the world, according to its organizers, wrote columnist Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star March 8.

At York University, a dispute over the student union’s role in the strike by teaching assistants became a proxy battle over Israel, given the union’s pro-Palestinian tilt. Two rallies, Feb. 12 and 17, prompted York to impose penalties on four student groups for disrupting classes. An ugly Feb. 11 incident led to an inquiry, still ongoing, into the behaviour of three students. All this happened before the designated week.

Events over the next three days at the U of T and York also went off smoothly – flag-waving; a mock wall here and barbed wire there, depicting the Israeli security barrier; some sloganeering (against both Hamas and Israel at York Thursday), but no untoward incident. Police did not lay a single charge. “All in all, a quiet week,” said Robert Steiner, assistant vice-president, strategic communcations, at U of T. Robert Tiffin, vice-president students at York, and Heather Lane Vetere, vice-provost at Ryerson, reported the same.

I found the officials at all three universities to be reasonable, even-handed and calm in the face of provocation and pressure. Contrary to all the claims and counter-claims, at times repeated by gullible media, all is reasonably well in the kingdom of Canada.

Overturned convictions only ‘tip of the iceberg’

The federal government’s failure to set up an independent commission to investigate suspected miscarriages of justice has left Canada lagging behind other jurisdictions, wrote the Toronto Star March 8, quoting a prominent legal expert who spoke at a forum sponsored by the Criminology Society of York.

In Canada, no fewer than seven public inquiries have recommended a similar commission be established here but the federal government has stubbornly refused to follow through on the recommendations, Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor, told a conference on wrongful convictions at York University yesterday.

  • Punishing those responsible for wrongful convictions and skepticism of authorities would help prevent miscarriages of justice, a legal forum at York University heard Saturday, wrote The Canadian Press March 7.

The conference, held just two days after Ontario’s top court quashed a man’s 37-year-old murder conviction, also heard Canada needs an independent agency to investigate claims that an innocent person is languishing in jail.

The forum at York University, organized by the school’s Criminology Society, featured three men who fought lengthy battles to have their murder convictions overturned, and one still fighting to clear his name.

New technology isn’t yet replacing old-fashioned letters in the mailbox

York University even hand delivers some offers of admission to students at their home or their high school, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 9 in a story about some universities that also send acceptance notifications by text message.

Breaking up with your mortgage

Moshe Milevsky, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, who created the calculator used on the government site, says deciding whether or not to break your mortgage contract ultimately comes down to how much money you will save, wrote the National Post March 7.

“To me, it’s pure mathematics. There is nothing speculative or probabilistic about the decision to break a mortgage. It is the classic example of undergraduate finance time-value-of-money calculations. If the homeowner can refinance into a mortgage with an identical term that reduces monthly payments above and beyond any penalty costs, then go for it. Plain and simple,” says Milevsky.

  • York University professor Moshe Milevsky, who has written extensively about mortgages, cautions that “there are a number of factors that one should take into account when choosing a mortgage, or buying a house that were non-issues a few years ago – security of career and job, an ample down payment, liquidity concerns. They should all be part of your financing decision, wrote Canwest News Service March 6.

While nobody can accurately predict how interest rates will move over a five-year period, Milevsky agrees we may be entering one of the rare times when fixed-rate mortgages are the better deal. According to his widely quoted 2001 research paper, borrowers were better off going fixed only 12 per cent of the time. “Today, we might be in one of those scenarios.”

  • Mortgage expert Moshe Milevsky, professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, suspects many Canadians will opt for the security of fixed mortgages given how low rates have gone, wrote The London Free Press March 9. But he said deciding what kind of mortgage to take should never be made in isolation of individual circumstances such the amount of equity, value of the house, debts and risk aversion.

And in markets where real estate prices are falling, seeking a long-term rate may be more important than the type of rate. “The last thing you want to do is have to renew your mortgage in a year from now and have the bank say, ‘Let’s assess what that house is really worth’,” he said.

Lawyer-turned-writer Robert Rotenberg feels at home in Old City Hall

“A courthouse is a classic class system,” says Robert Rotenberg (LLB ’79), criminal lawyer and newly minted author, sitting in a coffee shop in the shadow of Old City Hall, wrote the National Post March 7. “You’ve got the well-dressed lawyers and then you’ve got the accused; the drug dealers sitting on the steps, smoking away, and the cops wearing their Jack Fraser suits. It’s a natural drama.”

What better place to set part of his debut novel, which happens to take Old City Hall as its title. A murder-mystery that shows the bad side of Toronto the Good, the book is among the most buzzed-about titles of the spring, with rights already sold around the world. James Deaver blurbed the book, saying “Robert Rotenberg does for Toronto what Ian Rankin does for Edinburgh.” Heady praise indeed, though Rotenberg, 55, debates whether or not this unofficial designation as the city’s newest chronicler adds pressure.

“If it’s pressure, it’s good pressure,” he says. “I grew up here. I had my own magazine that was about the city. And I write about the city. I mean, I find it a fascinating story.”

Rotenberg, however, spent much of his life trying not to live here. After graduating from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, he fled to England and later Paris, where he was managing editor of an English-language magazine. When he returned, he founded and published T.O. The Magazine of Toronto, until it was shuttered in the early 1990s. At the age of 37 – he was broke and his wife was pregnant – he returned, reluctantly, to law. “I was a lawyer who never wanted to practise law,” he says.

Librarian overcame shyness to host popular radio show

She was a high-school librarian for more than 30 years and was passionate about books, but York grad Jane Crosier (BA ’80) also happened to be painfully shy, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 7.

No one was more surprised than her son Matthew back in 1997 when Crosier suggested she’d like to host a program about Ottawa’s books scene for CKCU-FM, the Carleton University radio station where her son was program director.

Matthew, who is now the station’s general manager, had been talking to his mother about the need for new programs and volunteer hosts at the station. She suggested a program about books.

Jane Crosier, who grew up in Port Hope, had read voraciously from the time she was a child. She earned a degree in literature from York University and her son says she always had two or three books on the go at once, from serious literature to crime novels, from poetry to biographies.

She had the background. What surprised her family is the personality that emerged when the microphone was on. Matthew Crosier says his mother’s enthusiasm for books seemed to draw something special out of her in the studio.

The endless possibilities – and impossibilities – of Barbie

Andrea O’Reilly, a professor of women’s studies at York University and founder and director of the Association for Research on Mothering, agrees that Barbie’s appearance makes her a “problematic” toy, wrote the Ottawa Citizen March 7 in a story about the famous doll’s 50th anniversary. “Despite 50 years of educators, parents, feminists and social justice people asking Mattel to change how she looks, just a little bit, they have been largely – I’d say completely – unresponsive to those concerns.

“Educators have come to them with issues of anorexia and eating disorders in young girls and said, ‘There’s a lot of good in her but why can’t we have a doll that’s more diverse in the way she looks?’ and that hasn’t changed in 50 years.” Yet despite her reservations about the doll’s unrealistic and unattainable appearance, O’Reilly also heaps praise on Barbie.

“She is a single woman. She’s not necessarily married or with children – Ken never did sell well and was irrelevant to the plot – and I think it’s a good thing that young girls played with Barbies and had narratives where women were women and hung out with girlfriends and had careers and climbed Mount Everest or went backpacking. That’s the promise of the doll, but there’s always the tension that parents try to negotiate. They like that part, that she’s unscripted, unlike a lot of toys today that tell you how to play, when to play, where to play. It’s just a doll; you can do what you want with her. That’s the good part.

“But there’s still the negative side – the way she looks.” O’Reilly had Barbies when she was a girl – 25 of them – but when her own daughters, now 19 and 21, were youngsters, her concerns over Barbie’s effect on body image trumped the doll’s positive aspects, a decision she says she remains comfortable with.

“I was asked recently if I’d buy Barbies for my grandchildren and I said ‘No.’ I didn’t realize I’d answer that so quickly, but I did. It’s very complicated,” she adds, “and I’m not going to dictate what other people play with or buy for their kids, but maybe if Mattel was pushed on this, they might do something. I mean, Mattel knows that this is not good, so why are they marketing a product that has Barbie say ‘Math is hard. Let’s go shopping.’ Come on, Mattel, 50 years have passed – girls do math, and girls don’t need to look like that to have a sense of self.”

Blame the time change if you wreck car on Monday

You’re only losing an hour of sleep tomorrow but it can really pack a punch for some people when they’re sleep deprived, wrote The Toronto Sun March 7 in a story about the change to daylight savings time. “If people think the time change will affect their behaviour – it will probably happen. It’s the power of the mind,” said York University sports psychologist Paul Dennis.

Toronto’s wizard of online barter

“Everyone wants to get their hands on the latest BlackBerry, newest Jordans or the cheapest digital camera,” said Toronto Blackmarket founder Thad Jayaseelan, a fourth-year health studies major at York University, wrote The Globe and Mail March 7 in a story about a legal Facebook group that helps people sell things. “This group is just helping people buy stuff for a cheaper price. People from all age groups and all races, selling anything.”

Initially, Jayaseelan publicized his group to other university students and twentysomethings, hoping to create a network for his future endeavours. (He is toying with the idea of creating his own version of Craigslist, catering to the fans of Toronto Blackmarket.) Once the high-school crowd caught whiff of the potential deals, they started flocking online like students to a beach on March Break, boosting membership past 5,000 people this week.

Membership on Toronto Blackmarket has grown steadily since its formation in August 2007 but membership started mushrooming in November of last year, increasing at a rate of about 1,000 new members per month.

York staffer joins women’s day march to fight for daycare

Dayna Scott of Toronto said she joined yesterday’s International Women’s Day March with her 2-year-old son largely to support the fight for access to affordable child care, which is particularly important when women are struggling to make ends meet wrote the Toronto Star March 8. Scott, 34, said she’s fortunate her son has a child-care spot at York University, where she works. But he’s been on a waiting list for a spot near their home for two years.

Leafs, Tory will both bounce back

John Tory and the Toronto Maple Leafs will both bounce back from defeat, wrote the Kirkland Lake Northern News March 9 in an article that included comments by Paul Dennis, who holds a PhD in sports psychology and is an adjunct professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health.

“Defeat is not always as bad as it sounds, we learn so much more about ourselves and our willingness to persevere and see what prevented us from achieving our goals such as winning a game or an election,” said Dennis, who also serves as the player development coach for the Leafs.

“There has to be a silver lining in every loss and if people don’t look for the silver lining and get down on themselves, it affects negative feelings and makes it difficult to persevere,” Dennis said, adding that they can’t think of themselves as a lesser type person if they lose.

“The Toronto Maple Leaf players work so hard and their sacrifice is most evident in defeat,” Dennis said. “They have this unshakeable desire to win and that’s what gives fans hope and inspiration.

“They have to review their performance and ask ‘what do I have to do better to give myself a chance to win?’ and have the confidence, an open mind and clear vision to imagine winning.”

Osgoode grad was a trailblazer for women

Alison Youngman (LLB ’84, LLM ’99), who rose from paralegal to top corporate lawyer and broke new ground for women, has died after a four-month battle with lung cancer, wrote the Toronto Star March 9 in an obituary.

Youngman, 60, a senior partner with Stikeman Elliott LLP in Toronto, was known for her accomplishments as a lawyer, mentor and volunteer. But sons Chris and Phil Reineck, 24 and 22, were her greatest pride along with her many friends, said Ann Medina, her close friend and a well-known broadcaster. “When she walked in a room, her smile just lit it up,” Medina said yesterday. “She had an energy and a vibrancy. She was smart, she was fun, she was a mentor and a leader.”

Youngman died at her Toronto home yesterday, surrounded by family.

Her route to the top of the law profession was unconventional. Born in England, she arrived in Canada in 1967 with $200 in her pocket. She started her career in 1972 as a paralegal with Stikeman Elliott in Montreal and, later, its Toronto office. Youngman was about to quit and try another career when founding partner Fraser Elliott offered to sponsor her through York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, where she graduated in 1984.

During her first year in practice at Stikeman Elliott, Youngman gave birth to her second son – and soon after set to work conceiving a maternity leave policy for the firm, where she was one of the first women to balance career and family. Since then, she has been a trailblazer and champion of women in the legal community, said Rod Barrett, managing partner of Stikeman Elliott’s Toronto office.

Tank commander helped liberate Europe

A war hero, who was awarded the Military Cross for commanding a Sherman tank troop in some of the deadliest fighting in the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands, Henry Howitt (BARR ’40) was the first man across the canal in the northern part of Bergen op Zoom, among many other heroic feats, wrote The Globe and Mail March 9 in an obituary of the graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. After the war he resumed his interrupted law career and eventually became a provincial court judge in Guelph, Ont.

His reputation for harshness was unfounded, according to lawyer Richard Chaloner, a former Crown attorney who often appeared before Judge Howitt. “I found him decisive and very fair. Very few of his decisions or sentences were appealed and very few [of them] were overturned,” Chaloner said. “In my experience, he was no heavier than anybody else and when it came to young people who needed a break, they would get it from him just as much as another judge.”

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 1937, he enrolled in Osgoode Hall Law School, intending to follow in his father’s legal footprints. The Second World War intervened as Howitt entered his final year of law school in September 1939. In addition to his regular classes he enlisted in the Canadian Officer Training Corps, eventually gained the rank of Lieutenant, and dreamt of being mobilized.

On air

  • Ian McGregor, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health and co-author of a study on religious belief and stress, spoke about the study on Kitchener’s 570 News Radio March 6.