York prof says free-speech controversy ‘hasn’t been sidestepped’

Palestinian and Jewish students separately complained that they found the York University environment was becoming hostile and intimidating, wrote The Globe and Mail March 27 in a story about the cancellation of a speech by conservative American commentator Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa. In response, York created the Standing Committee on Campus Dialogue whose task has been to defuse the confrontations and re-channel the antagonistic energy into public events where the issues can be debated with a classroom level of mutual respect.

“The controversy hasn’t been sidestepped,” says Susan Dimock, a philosophy professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and member of the dialogue committee. “We think we’ve met it head-on in a way that’s more in keeping with the values of the University.”

Assessing the Ann Coulter situation in the same light, she thinks the best idea for members of the University of Ottawa would have been to let Coulter speak and then conduct a debriefing session immediately afterwards at the same location for students to express their views. “The ideal of the university is to show that creative learning is not just something found in the classroom – you have to take your skills and apply them everywhere,” she said.

  • The cancellation of Ann Coulter’s speech at the University of Ottawa is part of a pattern of curtailing freedom of speech for “security reasons”, wrote Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in the Toronto Star March 29.

Not so long ago at York University, a proposed student-led event countering Israeli Apartheid Week was similarly cancelled because extra security was required and the student group that was asked to pay for it decided not to go ahead.

There are many ways of analyzing these events, wrote Des Rosiers, [including] the broader question: have universities lost the financial capacity to invite irritating and controversial speakers?

For cash-strapped universities, the issue is very real: Who should shoulder the costs of the extra security deemed necessary for controversial speakers? Has Coulter, by her antagonistic style, simply priced herself out of the student market because she requires extra security to pursue her deliberate publicity-seeking tone and style? Now that’s an argument she and neo-conservatives can understand.

Retired York professor says ‘feeling not wanted’ is similar to racism

Frances Henry, professor emerita in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and a member of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario’s Task Force on Racism, acknowledges that some of the examples presented in the group’s report aren’t necessarily racism, particularly comments pertaining to not feeling welcome during “traditional” forms of socializing, such as pub crawls and drinking beer, wrote the National Post March 27.

“The traditional no longer works for large numbers of students who come from diverse backgrounds and who don’t share in those cultures,” Henry said. “Feeling marginalized and excluded is not comfortable and it makes you feel not wanted. Feeling not wanted is also very similar to racist activity.”

A similar study was done last year at York University, where students are now working with the administration to create an “anti-oppression” class that all students would have to take in order to graduate, says Hamid Osman, a spokesperson for the CFS-Ontario and former president of the York Federation of Students.

Osman describes the training as a gathering of 10 to 20 students in discussions about one’s own privileges and how best to deal with racist incidents if they are encountered. “Students need to be taught this earlier on rather than when they’re on their way out and going into the workforce,” he said.

He also defended the report’s use of the word “racialized” to describe non-whites, saying the term is more inclusive, especially in light of a recent Statistics Canada study that predicts one-third of Canadians will belong to a visible minority by 2031.

“Racialized is the term that is most commonly accepted by people of colour,” he said, adding that he does not view the term as implying that one is the victim of racism. “Some may take it that way. I take it as being a person of colour.”

“We really have no expectation that massive numbers of these recommendations will actually be implemented, but that they will be on the table in terms of discussion,” Henry said. “It’s very difficult to change institutional structure and to change institutional culture and values.”

Avatar’s success means 3-D is here to stay

In the movie industry, Avatar has proven that the technology can generate significant profit, said Ali Kazimi, a professor in York’s Department of Film in the Faculty of Fine Arts, wrote the Toronto Star March 29.

“One of the things Avatar has done has opened the floodgates for 3-D production to be taken seriously. Given that (filmmaking)…is driven by the bottom line, producers and studios have seen the economic potential of 3-D and that’s been a huge impetus for the excitement and surge right across the industry today, from manufacturers to theatrical distributors,” Kazimi said.

Kazimi said the attraction of 3-D is the “immersive” experience that the audience receives. “I draw an analogy to sound, where if you listen to music on a mono speaker and then on a good set of stereo speakers and then surround (sound), as you go up that chain the experience becomes more all-enveloping and immersive. Stereoscopic 3-D cinema is attempting to do the same thing through the visual experience,” Kazimi said.

Aboriginals are franchised but still disengaged

This Wednesday will mark the 50th anniversary of the day then-prime minister John Diefenbaker amended the Canada Elections Act to recognize First Nations Canadians as equals under the law, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press March 27. Before 1960, status Indians were only able to cast a ballot if they gave up their status and applied to be enfranchised. Only 250 had the vote.

Lesley Jacobs, a political science and social science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and director of the York Centre for Public Policy & Law, said it’s much more difficult to get a read on voter turnout rates for aboriginals living off reserve. But he said “there is a suspicion they are much lower” than average.

However, Jacobs says, the impact of enfranchisement has not been zero. It opened up a number of paths for political advocacy and made governments pay attention on a much larger scale to aboriginal issues. “First Nation concerns are much more at the forefront of public policy than they were 50 years ago,” he said.

More questions than answers with Alzheimer’s

Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology in York’s Faculty of Health, says there is good evidence that an active mind helps keep you mentally fit, wrote the Guelph Mercury March 27. But she says there are “more questions than answers” on whether it can delay or prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s.

  • Ellen Bialystok, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about her study of bilingualism and Alzheimer’s disease on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” March 26.

These two ETFs likely all you need

If you don’t know the difference between a stock and a bond, you probably should not be choosing your own investments , wrote the National Post March 27 .

“I don’t think I can outsmart the rest of the pack or successfully speculate on which companies are cheap/expensive relative to the entire market,” says Moshe Milevsky, a finance professor at York University and executive director of the Individual Finance and Insurance Decisions (IFID) Centre. “My motto is: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – all.” Milevsky says he does not want to limit himself to Canadian stocks (4 per cent of the world market) or US equities (40 per cent). “I want to own the entire world, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. I don’t have the time, patience or inclination to mess around with individual sectors, countries or regions,” Milevsky says. The vast majority of his investment portfolio is allocated to just two exchange traded funds from Vanguard.

Court shudders over admitted rapist’s comments

The well-groomed 27-year-old was a rapist named Daniel Katsnelson (BA ’06) who, with a male friend, prowled several floors of a York University residence during Frosh Week in 2007, wrote The Globe and Mail March 27 in a story about the man’s trial where he pleaded guilty. Looking to “get lucky” after a boozy night out, they checked the halls for unlocked doors, and when they found some, Katsnelson forced himself on two young students, ages 17 and 18, who had yet to begin their university careers.

It’s a safe bet spectators thought things could not get worse in Ontario Superior Court yesterday, once the two women finished reading out their victim impact statements. But things did get worse when Crown prosecutor Andrew Locke rose to recount the rapist’s own words, as recorded by a probation officer in a pre-sentence report.

“[Mr. Katsnelson] states he hopes some day the victim will be able to take away something positive from this, as he has,” the report’s author wrote. When asked what that might be, Katsnelson “suggested that now maybe she will know to keep her doors locked, while adding the offence would have been devastating to her.”

A shudder of revulsion moved through the court, just one among several disquieting moments in a brief proceeding during which the Crown argued for a 10-year prison term and the defence requested a sentence of three to five years.

Justice Ian MacDonnell will deliver a sentence on April 14. Katsnelson, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault and sexual assault causing bodily harm, had been free on bail since shortly after his September 2007 arrest, but is now in custody awaiting sentencing.

“For the past three years, I have spent every day pushing the thoughts of what happened to me out of my head, but it always comes back,” said one of the women in her victim’s impact statement that she read to the court.

In contrast, the court heard Katsnelson spent his time on bail moving forward with his life by establishing a successful business, endorsed by the City of Toronto, in the environmental field. His lawyer, Mary Cremer, pointed to this achievement, won while under strict bail terms, as a positive sign for his prospects of rehabilitation.

  • News of the trial was also carried in other Toronto newspapers and on local radio and TV stations.

Workforce close to a ‘perfect storm’

Unless Canadians take action, the next few years could see a lot of “people without jobs, and jobs without people,” says Rick Miner, president emeritus of Seneca College, speaking to the Whitby Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting March 25, wrote Whitby This Week March 26.

Now an independent consultant exploring demographic and market trends, Miner said as soon as next year, there could be a significant problem in the labour force.

There are other ways the process of providing a highly educated workforce can be accelerated, he suggested. For example, given the number of students completing university degrees then heading to college, “shouldn’t those two silos be working together” to speed the process? he asked. And it is a trend, Miner said, pointing out that for Seneca College “the major source of new students is York University.”

Big changes with baby steps and local stories

Walking through Theatre New Brunswick’s storage and production warehouse with artistic producer Caleb Marshall (BFA Spec. Hons. ’01) you can tell when he says, “There was no question in a million years that I was born and bred for this,” that he means it, wrote the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal March 27.

Marshall was hired last February and took over the helm of Theatre New Brunswick from Leigh Rivenbark last June. Finishing his acting degree at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts a year early, Marshall was thrust into the slog of an actor’s life. For about five years he worked at high-end restaurants, and later pubs, on the side.

The other 23 hours

York University has launched a new solar-electric training platform to show students how solar power can be used in homes, to power vehicles and how the sun can be used for other emerging applications, wrote the Toronto Star March 27 in a list of energy-saving initiatives it left out of its Earth Day coverage.

The great transit betrayal

Now, just as the $10-billion Transit City plan is getting underway, Premier Dalton McGuinty wants deferrals amounting to $4 billion, wrote Royson James in the Toronto Star March 27.

In reality, the entire transit plan is now in jeopardy. It appears certain that three projects will go ahead, two of them heavily backed by the federal government. The two are the rail link to the airport and the University-Spadina subway line extension beyond York University. The Sheppard Avenue streetcar line, from Don Mills to the Scarborough Town Centre, also seems safe as initial work has started. Beyond that, who knows?

Making an impression

Barrie-based singer, guitarist and songwriter Jill Jambor, a York University student already building her performance career, was among the young folk and roots music performers selected Saturday from a dozen acts to showcase on the Summerfolk 2010 festival’s Friday night Young Discoveries stage at Kelso Beach in August, wrote the Owen Sound Sun Times March 29.

On air

  • Dan Gardner (BA ’90, LLB ’92, MA ’95), a graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, spoke to the question “How safe is Canadian society”, on CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” March 28.
  • Michael Payton, a York student and spokesperson for the Centre For Inquiry Canada, spoke about American conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s talk at the University of Western Ontario and free speech, on CBC Radio’s “Cross Country Checkup” March 28.
  • Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about economic recovery and personal debt, on CBC Radio’s “The World This Weekend” March 28.