York prof talks about neuroscience and the creation of the Possible School

Neuroscience tells us that the goal of teaching is to make sure children’s brains are calm and interested enough to build strong pathways among their nerve cells, and then reinforce those paths, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 6, in a story about a concept known as the Possible School. It’s those connections that contain retrievable information and knowledge.

That means a teacher’s job is to show students how to develop a healthy brain, says Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Health and director of the Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative at York. This comes down to teaching children about executive function – the “Marshmallow Test” – so they can give their brains a chance to build these pathways, he says.

The Possible School will appear as teachers are routinely trained in neuroscience as part of their teaching certificate, wrote the Star. As well, schools all over the world will become research facilities along the model of teaching hospitals where teachers and scientists are learning ever more about how to lay down strong neural connections.

Long-term, Shanker looks to Cuba, the best example in the world of applying neuroscientific principles to a whole educational system. Cubans have rethought the system from top to bottom.

CUPE’s head office takes over at Local 3903

The union that led York University’s strike last year, accused by some members of a “toxic” culture of intimidation, has been taken over by its national head office, which will take the rare step of drafting a code of conduct for union meetings, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 6.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ national office has named union official Lynn McDougall to administer Local 3903 for up to a year, while a forensic auditor pores through accounts kept during the strike that closed York University’s campus down for 12 weeks.

  • McDougall will tackle the harassment many members say they felt during strike meetings and in online listservs if they disagreed with each other, wrote the Star’s ParentCentral.ca in an earlier, expanded story online Nov. 5.

“We don’t want to censor conversations, but we need to develop a code of how we behave with respect,” McDougall said Thursday.

“We welcome debate – universities are the cradle of free speech and thought – but they’re not necessarily doing it in a respectful manner,” she said, “and that’s what we need to work on.”

In her first two meetings Wednesday with some of York’s 3,500 teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract professors, McDougall revealed the local had run up a puzzling debt of $1.2 million during the strike, “not the least part of which is strike pay for which the necessary documentation is not available.

“It’s not my intention to say the money is missing – that is what the forensic audit will examine,” noted McDougall.

But much of her task will be to figure out a way for this group of academics to get along.

Union leaders who were in charge during the strike would not comment, but an ad hoc committee opposed to the head-office takeover has posted online explanations for some of the funding shortfall on the fact the union paid some members strike pay for attending meetings during the walkout, and also provided food to strikers, neither of which is authorized.

Some members claim they were shouted down during strike meetings if they spoke in favour of the University’s offer. Others say they have been harassed since the strike for disagreeing with the union’s position supporting a boycott of Israeli academics.

“This union local has been under stress for some time, even before the strike, and a number of members have e-mailed me about an environment of harassment and intimidation,” said McDougall, who was sent in at the request of the new executive elected after the strike, when it realized the scope of its financial debt and the mood among members.

It is the latest fallout from the job action that shut down classes for 50,000 students, prolonged the school year and battered York’s image enough to see applications drop by 15 per cent. In the end, Queen’s Park legislated the strikers back to work.

It’s not clear what the takeover means for long-term labour peace on the turbulent campus, considering the new contract is good until September 2011 and collective bargaining does not begin again for about 20 months.

“But it’s imperative they become a strong, unified local” before resuming control and returning to the bargaining table, said McDougall.

  • “The national union does not take such a move lightly,” Lynn McDougall posted on the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Web site, wrote the North York Mirror Nov. 5, in its coverage of the story.

“As part of the administration process, the locks at the CUPE Local 3903 office were changed in order to ensure both the security and integrity of the office and its contents,” she said on the Web site.

“The development of a code of conduct for meetings and listservs (e-mail list software) has begun,” wrote McDougall. “A review of the listservs and Web site, as well as a review of the grievance assessment process, will begin next week. It is our intention to have everything up and running as expeditiously as possible and in such a manner to permit the smooth function of the local while under administration of the national union.”

York rank unchanged in Maclean’s list

The University of Regina shared ninth spot with York University, wrote Canwest News Service Nov. 6, in a story about the Maclean’s university rankings. Schools placed in the comprehensive category offer professional degrees and a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs and conduct a significant amount of research.

Universities have long had a troubled relationship with the annual rankings, calling the survey flawed while questioning the measurement process, wrote Canwest. In 2006, almost two dozen universities [including York] boycotted the ranking by withholding information requested by the national magazine.

  • The Toronto Star Nov. 5 listed how the GTA’s universities ranked compared to last year:

The University of Toronto (medical doctoral category)
This year: #2
Last year: #2 (tied with Queen’s University)

York University (comprehensive category)
This year: #9 (tied with the University of Regina)
Last year: #9 (tied with the University of Regina)

Ryerson University (primarily undergraduate category)
This year: #17
Last year: #13

The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (primarily undergraduate category)
This year: #12
Last year: N/A

The Ontario College of Art & Design
Does not qualify because it is a specialized school.

Supply chain questions are important for groceries, says York prof

The entry of global discount merchandiser Walmart into Canada’s fresh food business two years ago has forced all supermarket chains to sharpen their pencils, especially on the supply chain side, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 6.

“Everyone thinks grocery is about marketing, but it’s also about supply chain,” said Markus Biehl, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “You can do a lot about those costs, about things like fuel prices, if you deal with your supply chain properly, by ensuring you have full truckloads and proper routing.

“Supply chain has always been important, just not in Canada,” Biehl adds, noting some US and European grocers do a better job of this.

Diabetes-prone neighbourhoods selected for research study

With diabetes attacking a disproportionately high number of high-risk groups in pockets around Toronto, a new groundbreaking study hopes residents in North York and Scarborough can help stop the disease in its tracks, wrote the North York Mirror Nov. 5.

North York’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood and Scarborough’s Agincourt North area have been chosen to take part in the first program of its kind in Ontario, said Michael Riddell, one of the project’s lead researchers and a professor in York University’s Faculty of Health.

“We have known for quite some time that these neighbourhoods have very high rates of diabetes,” said Riddell, a world-renowned diabetes and exercise physiologist. “We thought (residents in high-risk neighbourhoods) must have high rates of pre-diabetes too. We thought, ‘What can we do to change these neighbourhoods, to make the (incidence) of diabetes not so high?’"

Riddell, who was diagnosed with Type 1 or juvenile diabetes at the age of 14, said the study will focus on 300 participants of Asian, South Asian, African and African-Caribbean descent in the Jane-Finch and Agincourt North neighbourhoods whose lifestyle puts them at an extreme risk of developing diabetes.

“We’re trying to determine whether we can prevent diabetes in ethnic groups who statistically have much higher rates of the disease,” Riddell said. “Ontario’s diabetes rates have already soared past the high levels predicted for 2030. Preventing diabetes now is more crucial than ever.”

Hockley Valley tenor takes stage at Opera House

Hockley’s renowned tenor Mark DuBois has sung everything from opera to Broadway classics to folk songs in more than a dozen languages – including singing Danny Boy in Mandarin, wrote The Orangeville Banner Nov. 5, in a story about an upcoming performance at the Orangeville Opera House.

One of his students, Julia Obermeyer, will be performing a duet with DuBois. “She’s very talented…. She’ll be a great singer some day,” he said of the York University student.

Renowned poets to read for new Port Hope poetry series

The arts scene in Port Hope is getting a big boost from a new poetry reading series, Poetry’z Own Live, set to launch next week, wrote DurhamRegion.com Nov. 5.

Patrick Gray, a Port Hope poet, will be doing the hometown book launch for his first poetry anthology, This Grace of Light. Gray is a professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies who has been heavily involved in the local poetry scene.

African Caribbean Association makes award to York scholar

The Markham African Caribbean Association’s 22nd annual scholarship ball took place at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North in Richmond Hill on Oct. 17, wrote the Markham Economist & Sun Nov. 5. This year’s recipients include Nneka Nwaogu, graduate of Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy, who will receive a Dr. Avis E. Glaze Award. An honour-roll student, Nwaogu was active in several co-curricular activities. She is studying biomedical science at York University and hopes to pursue a career in the medical field.

York jazz instructor lauds fellow musician

In separate appearances, Rob McConnell is being honoured by Conservatory Canada and guitarist Lorne Lofsky renews old acquaintances as Jazz by the Bog’s season opens, wrote the London Free Press Nov. 6.

“Rob…he’s so heavy,” Lofsky marvels of his fellow Canadian jazz master. Lofsky teaches jazz in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.