Academics to think deeply about the hijab at Toronto conference

The divisive issue of the Islamic veil will be the subject of an academic conference in Toronto next month. Veiled Constellations: The Veil, Critical Theory, Politics, and Contemporary Society is being presented by York University and the University of Toronto June 3 to 5, featuring a range of Canadian and international speakers, wrote the National Post May 15.

The conference is being billed as an open platform in which “organizers seek to investigate the role of academic research in challenging views that see the veil and Islamic hijab as either inherently oppressive or liberating.”

One paper, “Chador Passport and the Empowerment of Iranian Women under the Islamic Republic”, argues that wearing the veil has empowered women in that society. The event comes after several European countries have moved to ban face coverings and Quebec has passed Bill 94, which prohibits burka wearers from receiving government services.

Songbird species need protection, biologist says

A rapid decline in the number of songbirds across North America should serve as a wake-up call about what is being done to the environment, a Canadian biologist warned Friday, wrote The Canadian Press May 15.

Bridget Stutchbury, Canada Research Chair in Ecology & Conservation Biology in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, said a growing number of bird species will be at risk unless immediate action is taken to protect large natural areas that serve as breeding grounds.

“The facts can be shocking, and so shocking they are almost hard to believe,” Stutchbury said in Fredericton. “When you talk about biodiversity loss, very realistic forecasts are that in the next 100 years we are going to lose 10 to 15 per cent of the world’s birds in terms of species.

Stutchbury said the decline is the result of a loss of habitat due to clear-cutting and urban sprawl, not climate change. She said Canada’s boreal forest serves as a bird nursery for the continent and must be protected to, in turn, protect birds.

“Unless something radical is done in terms of setting aside protected areas for wildlife and plants, it’s all going to unravel because there are dozens of species on a straight-line trajectory to zero,” she said.

  • Bridget Stutchbury was at Fredericton’s Conserver House on Friday to speak about the decline of the songbird population in Canada and what can be done to save them, wrote Frederciton, NB’s The Daily Gleaner May 15.

The York University scientist and author of Silence of the Songbirds, which was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, recently authored a new book called The Bird Detective: Investigating the Secret Lives of Birds.

Stutchbury stressed the impact the drastic decline in the songbird population will have on biodiversity in the province.

Conservation Council of New Brunswick executive director David Coon and Stutchbury agreed there are simple things individuals can do to protect the environment and the birds’ habitat.

Stutchbury suggested buying local and organic products, recycled paper and shade-grown coffee. She said the issue is hitting close to home, as there are several New Brunswick songbirds on the list of declining species. “The bird decline is so widespread, it affects all Canadians, no matter where you live,” Stutchbury said. “But in the area of the Acadian Forest (in New Brunswick), we are seeing more.”

  • Stutchbury’s comments were also reported on radio stations in Chatham, Owen Sound, Ottawa and Belleville, Ont. and Calgary, Alta., and in Bathurst and Fredericton, NB, and Bridgewater, NS.

Reviewer lauds Stutchbury’s ‘exciting’ bird book

Reading these essays is almost as good as seeing the birds ourselves, wrote Canwest News Service May 14 in reviewing one of several books about birds. The same is true of The Bird Detective, by Bridget Stutchbury. An ornithologist at York University, she has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on bird behaviour from her own research and that of other biologists, and lets us in on the secret lives of both birds and ornithologists.

Here is the rare academic who can make research accessible to the public without dumbing it down. But Stutchbury does more than that: she makes it exciting. Her description of birds’ sexual adventures, combined with Stutchbury’s ornithological adventures, propel the book forward, and made me wish I could travel along with her in the field.

Not so independent directors

Your critique of independent directors is bang on, wrote Richard Leblanc, professor of law, corporate governance & ethics in York’s School of Administrative Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in a letter to the National Post May 15 about a column by Terence Corcoran May 13.

My work focuses more on relevant director competencies, as in a 2009 chapter of mine contributing to the book Boardroom Realities. I had recommended that directors be recruited and assessed on the basis of competencies and skills they are expected to bring to the boardroom.

In my view, you can be formally independent and not necessarily be independently minded in reality, or oversee the interests of all shareholders. Moreover, independence does not speak to relevant competencies and other attributes such as industry knowledge, leadership ability, risk management, executive compensation literacy, courage, impact and influence and so on. These qualities (including the behavioural) are important for director effectiveness, contribution and oversight.

Schulich grad targets 50 dates in 50 days

I had a coffee “date” with Sky Mitchell (IBBA Spec. Hons. ’06) on Friday morning but, being female, I didn’t count, wrote columnist Valerie Berenyi in the Calgary Herald May 17.

Mitchell, a 26-year-old blogger, is on a quest to have 50 dates in 50 days and then write a book, dishing about life in the dating trenches. She began her social experiment on April 12, and as of Friday she’d logged 35 dates in 32 days. Fifteen dates and 18 days left to go.

“I can’t wait to relax and sleep when it’s done,” says Mitchell, who goes on one or two dates a day and often stays up into the wee hours blogging about her experiences on

In the morning, she’ll often park herself and her laptop at a coffee house to correspond with fans and plan her next dates. Her best date yet? Joining “Bronc Rider” on his family ranch near Cochrane to help out with the branding and vaccinations. (She nicknames all of her dates to give them anonymity.)

“Seeing my date castrating calves was pretty cool,” says Mitchell, a sales rep for a multinational confectionary company who moved to Calgary three-and-a-half years ago from Toronto, where she studied at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Markham council rejects plan to preserve farmland

Markham councillors are facing new questions on developer influence after voting by a razor-thin margin to kill the town’s foodbelt proposal, wrote the National Post May 15.

Debate ran late into the night at this week’s council meeting and drew a series of eleventh-hour deputations in support of freezing development in the foodbelt, a 2,000-hectare swath of farmland stretching north of Major Mackenzie Drive toward the Oak Ridges Moraine.

But councillors ultimately voted 7-6 in favour of a staff-recommended model that would contain 60 per cent of new development within the current urban boundary and allow the rest to spread north.

“I feel bamboozled. I feel that democracy took a black eye,” said Jose Etcheverry, an environmental studies professor at York University who has launched an academic alliance for agriculture. The compromise, he said, “is sort of like, OK, we know we’re not doing the right thing, but just [we’re going] to sugarcoat it so you have this little morsel.”

Networking the key to killing stereotypes

Decades ago, qualified employees with disabilities knew they had a higher risk of being sidelined than their able-bodied peers, wrote the Toronto Star May 15 in a story about Lime Connect, a not-for-profit company started by a York grad entrepreneur to rebrand the abilities of talented graduates with disabilities.

Lime founder Rich Donovan (BBA Spec. Hons. ’98) is a former Wall Street trader and business school graduate of both York University and New York’s Columbia University. He gave the keynote speech at a meet-and-greet for new graduates when his New York- based company expanded to Toronto two years ago.

Now Lime Connect Canada is targeting experienced people with disabilities who are looking to move up, bringing them together with corporations such as BMO Financial Group, Google, IBM Canada, PepsiCo and TD Bank Financial Group.

York grad is leaving his post at Downsview Park

Four days before he leaves the job he’s held for more than a decade, President and CEO Tony Genco (BA ’88) conducts a tour of Downsview Park, like a proud papa, wrote columnist Royson James in the Toronto Star May 15.

One might wonder what is there to celebrate. In some ways, the park is like an offspring only a parent could love, wrote James. “It’s still at the ugly duckling stage,” admits Genco, 43, the golf cart bucking over terrain chewed up by heavy equipment. “But we are turning it into a beautiful swan. We have a 50-year vision here; people want it now.”

Genco has always been patient. And optimistic. And now, he’s fallen victim to the very forces that landed him the job in the first place – politics. A Liberal, Genco was named manager of community affairs and special events even before the 232-hectare site had events. The Harper Conservatives now control such appointments and Genco’s tenure is not being renewed.

“There’s a lot of energy here,” Genco says, and there is. “That’s part of my lament about leaving now. You can feel it, taste it, touch it. But that’s politics; what you gonna do?… Moses never got to the promised land. But he got them out of Egypt.”

Prioritize South Sudan’s technical, vocational trainings – researchers

The socio-economic development of Southern Sudan will become a reality if more emphasis is put on the technical, vocational education & training (TVET) needs of communities, new research has revealed, wrote the Sudan Tribune May 15.

The research, conducted by Plan International Canada (Plan Canada) with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) describes TVET as an organized career-technical trainings in the form of educational programs, usually categorized in the form of industrial, technological and business education as well as medical and agricultural-related occupations.

York University grad Samer Richard Abdelnour (MES ’08), one of the report’s authors, told Sudan Tribune yesterday that philosophical approaches, involving the communities as well as the existing market frameworks, had to be taken into consideration during the assessment.

As part of the methodologies used, however, the researchers reportedly employed various techniques, including exploratory workshops, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions, while numerous opportunities and challenges were also identified in as far as the development of TVET was concerned.

“Although there are many challenges to the development of TVET in Southern Sudan, there are also many hopes and opportunities for improvement and growth. The issue of vocational education is a serious priority for development because it plays an important role in securing peace and sustainable recovery in Southern Sudan,” Abdelnour said.

Privatizing AECL won’t help

Michael Ivanco is right to be concerned about the privatization of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), and not just because we may lose a source of science-based industry expertise and one of our few high-technology exports, wrote Ian Slater, a lecturer in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in a letter to the Toronto Star May 17 about an article by Ivanco May 11.

The justification for privatization is the “discipline” of the private sector, something that will supposedly drive innovation. However, AECL has been run like a private firm for years, pursuing a risky commercial agenda of reactor exports, a path that has led to innovative stagnation.

The slow development of the Advanced CANDU Reactor and the botched development of the Maple reactor (leading to the continued use of a 50-year-old reactor to provide most of the world’s medical radioisotopes) suggest AECL’s pursuit of profit has curbed nuclear innovation. Privatization will only exacerbate this problem.

Lead in local production of Sound of Music heads for York

The crowds were large this past weekend as Wallaceburg District Secondary School presented the musical The Sound of Music, wrote the Courier Press May 13.

This was the first musical that the school has presented in over a decade, and judging by the crowd’s reaction the musical was a success with audiences. The musical was also a hit with the performers.

It was a great week for Jordan Stewart who was in one of the lead roles as Captain von Trapp. The day before the musical began its three-day run, he found out he has been accepted in York University’s theatre program.

A trophy turns the tide for Mancuso

“No clichés,” he vowed when recording the worn Italian classic, O Sole Mio, wrote the Toronto Star May 16. The song almost demands to be performed grandly, operatically – a suitor comparing his lover’s face to the sun – but former York student Dominic Mancuso interpreted it tenderly, like a lullaby. He sang it as though to his newborn child, an astonishing rendition that helped him win this year’s Juno Award for best world-music album, the only Italian-language disc ever nominated in any category.

Mancuso took up bass guitar. On finishing Grade 13, he played clubs in rock bands for six years. In 1994, he entered York University’s music program, switching to acoustic guitar. Three years later, he followed Tania Cologna, now his wife, to northern Italy where she studied piano and for several months he became a type of wandering troubadour. “That’s when I really started to play guitar and sing,” he says.

Columnist cites York prof’s definition of ‘gift’

Surely it’s the case that never before have so many creators offered so much to so many for $0, wrote columnist Rob Walker in The New York Times May 16. A result, in effect, is a gift glut.

The lesson there is that a product of the gift sphere may be pure, but even a sharing economy depends on somebody’s wanting what’s being offered – or at least not dismissing it as greasy. In a different context, Russell Belk, a consumer-behavior expert and marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, once defined the “perfect gift” as having specific characteristics, including the notion that it is something the recipient is “delighted” to receive.

Mortgage risk and reward

A study [of mortgages loans] by Moshe Milevsky, a finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, shows borrowers are better off if they choose [a] variable rate option – and by a huge margin, wrote the Calgary Herald May 16.

Milevsky looked not just at what the savings are as a result of being charged a lower rate, he also assumed the difference between the fixed and variable payments was invested in 91 day treasury bills.

Using this methodology Milevsky concluded a borrower was better off 90 per cent of the time when they chose the variable option over locking in at a fixed rate.

He debunked the notion that mortgage holders can come out ahead if they play the short-term end of the interest rate curve and lock in at a certain interest rate.

“Even Canadians who can accurately predict the next move of the Bank of Canada, and lock in a mortgage just as the short rate is about to increase, are worse off on average compared with those who float over the entire interest rate cycle,” wrote Milevsky.

On air

  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis, on CTV News May 14.
  • Filmmaker Brenda Longfellow, a professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, spoke about the movie La mémoire des anges/Memory of Angels, on Winnipeg’s French-language CBWFT-TV May 14.