For whom the bell tolls and tolls

Already angry at being stuck in school an extra month because of the strike, York University students and professors are also blazing mad at a rash of false fire alarms they say are disrupting tests and fanning the flames of an already smouldering campus mood, wrote the Toronto Star May 4.

“It’s just ridiculous what some idiots are doing in a school year that’s already been messed up by the strike,” said second-year student Hossein Davarinejad, 23, one of 400 students who rewrote a psychology test Friday that had been cancelled the week before because of a false alarm.

One frustrated father of a student whose exam was disrupted by a fire alarm wrote to the York president Friday asking him to hammer out guidelines for handling false alarms. “My daughter’s calculus exam was cancelled recently because of a fire alarm and the professor’s solution was to simply take the weight of the missed exam and tack it on to the final,” said Jay Spitzer, a solution he dismissed as “collective punishment.”

False alarms have plagued York exams in recent years – a record 162 false alarms were pulled in 2005, for which the University is charged $1,000 each – but lingering stress from a 12-week teaching assistants’ strike may be fuelling extra frustration this year, suggested President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “There’s always a dip up in false alarms and bomb threats at the end of the year – it’s mischief – but we’re certainly hearing more complaints this year and I believe it is not unrelated to the strike and students feeling edgy,” said Shoukri, who added officials are working on ways to extinguish the problem.

Already a petition calling for a fix to the problem has drawn more than 350 signatures from students and staff on the sprawling campus, where a bomb threat was called in last week.

Although fire officials said false alarms do not appear to have risen this spring at York, Rebecca Jubis, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, said in all her 22 years on campus she has never heard so many alarms, which have interrupted two lectures and two tests in her classes in recent weeks. “Maybe we need security to be more high-profile as they patrol areas near the fire alarms, or maybe more security cameras,” said Jubis, who held Friday’s retest somewhere other than the main lecture halls that are so often disrupted.

“I’ve had some students leave in tears when we have to evacuate the lecture hall and postpone the test because they had been all prepared,” said Jubis, noting a colleague has had to postpone three tests because of false alarms.

Osgoode prof comments on Canada’s legal haze

Marijuana advocates suggest there is a disconnect between the actual risks of the substance and what the public is being told by politicians and police, wrote the National Post May 2.

“Sadly, law enforcement agencies have done a fairly good job at scaring the public,” said Alan Young, a law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School who has represented many people seeking greater access to marijuana for medical reasons. The Supreme Court refused last month to hear a Health Canada appeal of a Federal Court decision that struck down a rule restricting designated producers from growing for more than one user.

The Supreme Court has consistently struck down obstacles to obtaining a legal supply for medical users but Health Canada continues to file appeal after appeal, wrote the Post. The actions of Health Canada “border on contempt”, said Young, who acted in a 2003 Ontario Court of Appeal case and a 2008 Federal Court proceeding on the issue. “They have an obstructionist approach,” he stated.

‘A Play for Gaza’: A debate on hatred

Rose Plotek, who will direct tomorrow’s two staged readings of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children at Montreal’s Geordie Theatre, said she did not hesitate when approached about the Churchill play by the Montreal branch of Independent Jewish Voices, wrote the National Post May 2. “She’s a writer I’m very familiar with and that I have great admiration for. This seemed like a great challenge,” Plotek said.

A recent graduate of Montreal’s National Theatre School, Ploteck will also be directing staged readings of Seven Jewish Children at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, from May 15-17. The Toronto readings will include Ann-Marie MacDonald, R. H. Thomson and Rosemary Dunsmore in the cast.

Plotek, who is Jewish and teaches drama studies at York University’s Glendon College, said she disagrees with critics who detect anti-Semitism in the script. “It’s not a piece of fluff entertainment. It’s a piece with substance and it does provoke ideas and thoughts,” she said. “I hope that it promotes an opening up of debate.” She added that the attention given the play is proof of the vitality of the theatre: “It’s not a dead art, and it can still have impact and immediacy.”

Recent York grad reacts to tough times in the job market

Avijoy Elahi, 24, grew up in Toronto and graduated from York University in 2008 with a degree in administrative studies, wrote the Toronto Star May 2. Currently, he’s selling insurance.

It was extremely hard to get into something that was within my own field of study…. Even though (my current job is) a sales position and it is commission based, I took the job because I needed the experience. I’ve been trying to look for another job, but because of the economy…it’s very difficult to get my foot in the door.”

Creator’s masterpiece marries jazz, classical

Three years in the making, composer/baritone saxophonist David Mott, professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, premieres the country’s first jazz oratorio at Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre tomorrow, wrote the Toronto Star May 2.

The contemporary, jazz-based interpretation of Joseph Haydn’s The Creation will feature Mott with a jazz quartet, the 60-voice Mississauga Choral Society and soloists Kathryn Domoney, Adi Braun, Martin Houtman and Giles Tomkins.

“I have a long incubation process,” said Mott, who worked on the adaptation of the 18th-century German composer’s Genesis-based creation story, right up to the Oct. 1 Choral Society commission deadline. “There was a lot of rumination, then in the last three or four months the writing got more fast and furious.”

There will also be a video aspect to tomorrow’s concert: 3,000 photos shot in space by Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean (BSc Spec. Hons. ’77, PhD ’83) on his two space shuttle missions, matched to the speed and intensity of the music. York alumnus MacLean listened to Mott pieces while in orbit. “It’s a very cool thing to imagine,” Mott said of his music being played in space.

What makes a music video: the video or the music?

Just as Top-20 countdowns have lost favour to MTV’s Hills after-shows, art galleries, too, are branching out into mash-ups and other new ways of working, wrote The Globe and Mail May 2. Combining the rigour and old-school rep of a suburban academic gallery with the marketing cool of a downtown corporate-sponsored venue, The Communism of Forms looks at the music video as a changing art form.

At the Art Gallery of York University, seven different video-art programs showcase over 60 works spanning five hours. The Flipside program, for instance, shows music videos that escape commercial conventions. Brazilian artist Laura Belém’s Music Video (Meditation 1) is eight silent minutes of a hand drawing on blank sheets of music paper. The After Party 2 program focuses on videos at home both in white cubes and dark dance floors, like Canadian Tasman Richardson’s I Stole the Soul of Rock and Roll, a rhythmic, rapid-fire mash-up of Led Zeppelin, Public Enemy, White Stripes and more.

Video games evolving as serious educational tools

From teaching students about Baroque music to skewering the fast-food industry to a well-timed look at an epidemic crisis, video games have grown up, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) May 4. The medium that’s been blamed for everything from obesity to school violence has evolved, those in the field say, and as suspicion evaporates, games are increasingly seen as an ideal venue for education and editorializing.

“People are thinking about how to use this incredibly responsive and engaging environment for something other than warring or shooting things or driving,” says Jennifer Jenson, a professor of pedagogy and technology in York University’s Faculty of Education and president of the Canadian Game Studies Association.

Canada has emerged as a leader in the field, she says, and as far as she knows it’s the only country other than Japan with a national scholarly body devoted to gaming research. Jenson co-directed a recent project that resulted in an online children’s game for Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. She’s also working on another game that’s proven oddly timely, educating players about an epidemic as they play the role of a disease that becomes more contagious with every “friend” they make.

The art of a life lived in full

Since the death this month of Norman Penner, a former York University historian who had been an early Communist organizer in Winnipeg, John Boyd, 96, has become the last survivor among the original Party officers in Canada, wrote The Globe and Mail May 2 in a story about the artist. “All my personal friends in the left-wing movement, they’re all gone,” he says, wistfully.

Songbirds fill up spring with bright melody

Only in recent years are scientists figuring out bit by bit, through surveys, watches and radar, the remarkable annual journeys of neotropical songbirds, wrote May 1.

A key piece of the puzzle has just been put in place by Bridget Stutchbury, biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, and her team of students. Two summers ago, they fitted tiny geolocator devices on the backs of 14 wood thrushes and 20 purple martins, hoping to trace their route. Amazingly, a year later they managed to retrieve those precious little “backpacks” from five thrushes and two martins and learn some surprising things.

That some migrants can fly more than 500 kilometres per day, for example, three times quicker than anyone guessed. And that while they tend to take their time on the way south in fall, they positively zip back in spring.

Defending the Bench

The ancient office of justice of the peace is one of great honour and responsibility, wrote James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Ottawa Citizen May 2 in an article about recent criticisms of the position. In 1195, Richard I (“the Lionheart”) of England commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas. They were responsible to Richard for ensuring that the law was upheld, and preserved the “King’s Peace,” and were the first Justices of the Peace.

Over time the policing role diminished and justices were chosen as being persons of standing and wisdom in the community. Their judicial function remains a vital part of the administration of justice in Ontario. Justices of the peace are the gatekeepers for the system and are, to a large extent, the public face of justice in Ontario.

Despite the honour there may, in fact, be some justices of the peace who do not measure up to the high standards required. The likely removal of a very few does not suggest a failure of the Bench – in fact, it shows the high standards expected of all justices of the peace.

Loan payments tough for students

Gilary Massa, a 24-year-old recent graduate from York University, said she’s concerned about how she’ll manage the $400-a-month payments on her $28,000 student debt once they come due, wrote The Globe and Mail May 4 in a story about the impact of the recession on students who have graduated. “It’s absolutely going to be difficult to make these loan payments,” she said.

Massa had a paid position as a vice-president of the York Federation of Students but the term on the job ended last week. While she’s already had a few job interviews and feels confident about her prospects, she said she will have to live with her parents for the next while. On her own, it would be too tough to make ends meet.

Massa applied and qualified for a government interest-relief program, which allows a hiatus from debt repayment. It’s one of several steps the federal government has taken in recent years to reduce the debt burden on graduates.

Choreographer helped shape Metro’s dance scene

Harriet (Henry) Gratian (BA ’74) has changed the arts scene in the Greater Moncton area forever, wrote the Times & Transcript (Moncton, NB) May 4.

It all began when her fiancé (now husband) Ike Gratian’s car broke down in Moncton. He stayed, got a job for a year, and loved it here. Harriet arrived at the end of 1974 – just as Moncton was recovering following the Eatons and CN closures. “It’s been remarkable to be a part of that energized, go get ‘em attitude,” she says.

Harriet has plenty of “go get ‘em attitude’ herself. A native of Brantford, Ontario, she studied ballet for 15 years with the National Ballet School of Canada and the Morrison School of Dance, as well as in Switzerland, and she was in the graduating class of the first dance program at York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, – a first in Canada – earning a degree in dance performance.

On air

  • Amin Mawani, accounting professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University spoke about the effect of a flu pandemic on absenteeism at work, on CBC Radio’s “World Report” May 1.
  • York student Manaf Rashid and Professor Emeritus Chuck Marino, a volunteer at York’s counselling centre, spoke about the lingering effects of the strike at York on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Morning” May 1.
  • Leo Panitch, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, spoke about socialism and his new book Renewing Socialism: Transforming Democracy, Strategy and Imagination in honour of May Day, on TVO’s “The Agenda” May 1.