To catch a cheat: York targets bogus degrees

York University has brought in tough new controls in the wake of a Toronto Star investigation that showed a former student fabricated dozens of its degrees, and another got into Osgoode Hall Law School with a degree purchased from a diploma mill, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 21.

The new online degree verification is an invaluable tool for employers, immigration officials and other schools wanting to check whether someone holds a genuine York degree, said Alex Bilyk, media relations director for the University.

“We’ve also made changes to our degrees and transcripts. However, we’re not comfortable revealing further details on that for obvious security reasons,” Bilyk said of the moves meant to strengthen and safeguard the integrity of the University’s degrees.

Entitled YU Verify, the online service provides instant confirmation on whether someone received a degree and/or certificate from York, the type of degree or certificate and the year in which it was conferred. To verify a degree at you either need basic biographical information about the person (e.g. first and last name, day and month of birth) or their York University student number.

The service is a work-in-progress and may not yet contain information on students who graduated before 1982 or law students who graduated from Osgoode this past June or before 1993, according to the Registrar’s Office.

A Star undercover investigation last December revealed how former York student Peng Sun was churning out near-perfect copies of York degrees for $3,000. He also sold copies of transcripts on watermarked paper containing the University logo that were virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

“The integrity of our admissions process is of paramount importance to the law school,” Patrick Monahan, the law school dean at the time, wrote to students following the Star exposé. “If even a single individual is able to gain entrance to the school improperly, that takes a place in the class away from another qualified deserving applicant.” Monahan is now vice-president academic & provost of the University.

Not only did one student use the bogus degree to get into Osgoode, she also forged her transcript of marks for the three years she attended. She quit York after the Star article and the law firm withdrew its job offer.

“We’ve taken appropriate steps to detect bogus transcripts and any person caught will be prevented from continuing with the application,” said Bilyk.

“We welcome continued support from police to catch and charge individuals, and we are thankful to you (the Star) for having brought that to our attention.”

The University of Toronto already has online degree verification but its Web site says it needs a turnaround of five days to fill requests. Ryerson University verifies degrees by e-mail or fax, but not online, said the Star.

  • York University’s new Web site to assist employers verifying if someone really has a York degree was featured on CP24-TV Nov. 21.

The in-between city slouches ahead

According to a panel of leading Canadian city thinkers assembled recently by the Star, trying to distinguish the centre from the periphery, downtown from hinterland, is more complex than ever in these increasingly splintered times, wrote Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star Nov. 21.

Douglas Young, urban studies professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and a member of The City Institute at York University, points to the example of Brampton; though dismissed by many planners as hopelessly dreary and suburban, it nevertheless sits at the heart of a vast economic network that encompasses Canada and much of the world. “Brampton plays as important a part in people’s lives as downtown Toronto,” Young argued. “Can we call it a suburb?”

Ute Lehrer, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, made it clear that this growing antipathy between urban and suburban blinds many residents and leaders to the growing need to think and act regionally.

Indeed, regionalism and Canada’s failure to fund cities adequately were the two issues on which the panel agreed.

Overuse of antivirals risks making H1N1 virus resistant, says York prof

As public health officials urge more rapid use of antivirals for H1N1, some experts worry the drugs could become over-prescribed for what is a relatively mild illness in most people, wrote Canwest News Service Nov. 22.

“For the normal flu, they generally cut between a half a day and a day off of the length of symptoms,” says Dr. Joel Lexchin, a professor in York University’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health. “If we prescribe them for people with relatively mild flu, and the virus develops resistance, then they wouldn’t be of very much use for people with severe cases of H1N1.”

Assessing mental illness in babies and kids

The Hospital for Sick Children teamed up with York University in 2002 to develop and offer a 120-hour Certificate in Infant Mental Health, which involves eight courses offered through the school’s Division of Continuing Education in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 23.

So far, 600 people have taken the York certificate course, says Marina De Bona-Ross, program & logistics manager in York’s Division of Continuing Education, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

  • York University’s Certificate in Infant Mental Health teaches participants how to recognize the signs of infant and child depression, assess and observe at-risk parenting and how to intervene, wrote the Star in an added item that provided a Web link to information about the program.

TVO series tells the story of reading

Speaking with Alberto Manguel, it’s clear he’s hugely proud of the new television series he narrates. Just don’t get him started on the title: “Empire of the Word”, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 23 in The Globe Review.

“I’d like them to take the title away and burn it. The title is not mine,” he growls in an interview from his home in Mondion, France. “Literature is not an empire. It doesn’t conquer by blood or violence. It is exactly the opposite of that. It’s like calling a series on classical music Concentration Camp of the Mind.”

Eight years in the making, “Empire of the Word” is a four-part series airing over the next four Wednesdays on TVO (in Ontario) that looks at the history of the reader across five millennia. The brainchild of documentary producer Mark Johnston, it traces the wonders and perils of our attempts to learn to read the world for ourselves.

Twenty-seven years ago, Manguel taught Johnston at York University and the two became fast friends. In 1997, Johnston read Manguel’s A History of Reading and decided it was perfect for a “big, ambitious” series in the mould of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, long a source of inspiration to him.

Judge, doctor, writer…Osgoode grad did it all

If there was anyone who could be called a Renaissance man, it was Justice David Marshall (LLB ’70), wrote the Hamilton Spectator Nov. 23 in an obituary. Marshall died suddenly at his home Friday at age 70. He was recovering from prostate surgery.

Marshall served as executive director between 1988 and 1992 of the National Judicial Institute, the country’s first school for judges, and served as a Supreme Court Justice in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, as well as the doctor for the Northern Command in Yellowknife, between 1982-1992.

He made national headlines in 2006 when he issued an injunction ordering native protesters to leave the Douglas Creek Estates housing project in Caledonia, but they refused. His order was later overturned by a higher court.

Born in Wainfleet, Marshall was the son of Dr. Albert Marshall and his wife Ora. His mother died when he was young and he and his sister Judith were raised by their father in Dunnville. He attended Dunnville Secondary School and Ridley College in St. Catharines, before getting his medical degree in 1962 from the University of Toronto and his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1970. He was called to the bar in 1972, the same year he ran for the Liberals in Norfolk-Haldimand. He lost, but ran again in 1974.

On air

  • Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emerita in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about her study of divorce for Ottawa’s Vanier Institute of the Family, which was featured in several television reports Nov. 20, including CP24-TV and A-Channel News in Barrie and Windsor, and on Radio Canada in Quebec City.
  • Psychologist Debra Pepler, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, spoke about a Facebook event called Give a Redhead a Hug, on Calgary’s 660 News Radio Nov. 21.
  • A York University team that won an international Mars rover competition was featured in coverage of the Canadian National Robot Games at the Ontario Science Centre, on CP24-TV Nov. 22.
  • Patrick Monahan, York vice-president academic & provost, spoke about the opening of the Rapid Busway to Keele campus, on Global Television Nov. 20. Other TV and radio stations covered the announcement, including 680News, CFMJ-AM, CBC Radio and Television in Toronto, CFRB-AM, CHUM-FM, CITY-TV, CTV NEWS, CBLT-TV, Canoe Live TV and OMNI-TV.