Grad talks about her work as a NASA scientist

The distant planets of our solar system aren’t beyond the reach of West Elgin Secondary School (WESS) graduates – not if they put the work in, wrote the St. Thomas Times Journal Dec. 8 in a story about York grad Brigette Hesman (BSc Spec. Hons. ’99) visiting her old high school.

Hesman told students about her work on the Cassini spacecraft project, which follows a probe currently near Saturn, and reminded them to reach for the stars. “Whenever somebody says to you, ‘You can’t do that,’ turn to them and say, ‘Watch me,’” Hesman advised.

The Cassini project…was launched in 1997. That same year, Hesman enrolled at York University where she joined the astronomy club.

Cassini flew by Jupiter in 2000 for a gravity-assisted slingshot to help it on its way to Saturn, where it arrived in 2004. Hesman began working on the project the next year. “The amount of questions this spacecraft has posed would keep all of you busy for your entire careers,” Hesman told the students.

Hesman also talked about Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan is unusual – not only is it the only satellite in this system to have a dense atmosphere, but its atmosphere is nitrogen-based, like Earth’s atmosphere. “If anywhere in our solar system there was going to be life, it would be Titan,” Hesman said. “We haven’t found any yet.”

CanStage, York launch MFA program

Canadian Stage and York University are launching a new two-year master of fine arts program, specializing in large-scale theatre directing, in which students will work closely with productions at the Toronto theatre company, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 8.

Kim Collier, co-founder of Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre, has been appointed associate artist for the program, working with both the students and Canadian Stage’s productions. The company’s Artistic & General Director Matthew Jocelyn will also serve as a mentor.

The program is now accepting applications and will select two students for its inaugural year starting in September, 2011.

BC must reverse course on drug reviews

How has BC limited pharmaceutical costs and kept its citizens relatively safe from harmful effects of prescription drugs? asked Dr. Joel Lexchin, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health, along with Professor Gordon Guyatt of McMaster University and Professor Emerita Patricia Baird of the University of British Columbia, in an article for Victoria, BC’s Times Colonist Dec. 8.

First, they have introduced reference-based pricing, in which the government will pay only for the least expensive, equally safe and effective drug in a particular drug class.

Second, they limited industry influence over which medications the provincial drug plan will cover. Up until now, the province has relied on independent, evidence-based reviews by a University of British Columbia-based group, the Therapeutics Initiative, to guide its funding decisions.

At the behest of a review dominated by pharmaceutical industry influence, the government is eliminating the Therapeutics Initiative’s role in evidence-based reviews.

Furthermore, the government is handing more control over to industry by implementing a new procedure for deciding what drugs PharmaCare covers. That procedure includes four “sponsor engagement points” during the process that will increase industry influence on funding decisions.

Just when it is needed most, a model that ensures efficiency of a beleaguered system of public funding of health care delivery is in danger of disappearing.

For all our sakes, let’s hope that new leadership in the province signals the possibility of reinstituting the role of the Therapeutics Initiative, and reversing its costly, retrograde course.

Corporate reforms often have unintended consequences

One cumulative impact of governance failures (in both the private and public sectors) has been a massive loss of trust in leadership, wrote Ed Waitzer, Jarislowsky Dimma Mooney Chair in Corporate Governance at York University and Marshall Cohen chair of the advisory board of the Jay & Barbara Hennick Centre for Business & Law at York University in the National Post Dec. 8.

Demand for more government (and consequential regulation) is re-emerging, although what this is to do is less clear. The continuing focus on the use of regulatory instruments to curb executive compensation may be instructive and illustrative of a broader problem: unrealistic expectations, both about corporate governance and, as importantly, efforts to effectively regulate it.

This is not to suggest that regulation and resulting governance structures are unimportant. It is striking, however, how public distrust in corporate governance continues to escalate in the face of enormous investments made to better regulate through mandated structures and processes. Not surprisingly, many directors feel frustrated and increasingly less certain as to their role and how they might make a difference.

It has become almost a matter of conventional wisdom to observe that the lesson to be learned from the collapse of our “efficient” financial markets paradigm is the need to focus on long-term, sustainable value creation. Simplistic notions of short-term market performance and regulatory imposed “better” behaviour will not work. What remains elusive is the prescription to accomplish this end.

Perhaps we must look deeper into the DNA of the corporate model to understand and affirm its role in creating long-term value for individuals, firms, shareholders and communities. For example, we need to understand better the role of culture, character and reputation – on management, on the board, on the institutional owner community – in defining and implementing a meaningful sense of “ownership” and responsibility. Perhaps we have to challenge the structural paradigm itself, if we are to achieve meaningful and permanent change.

Asking deeper questions must come first. Doing so is essential if we are to find effective answers and thereby restore public trust.

In a digital world, face time reaps big rewards

Experts on entrepreneurs and marketing say there is no substitute for personal contact when launching a small business, and many successful business owners agree, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 8 in a story about using social media for business.

In fact, in-person interactions are the “single most powerful marketing medium,” says Alan Middleton, marketing professor and executive director of York University’s Schulich Executive Education Centre (SEEC). “Research in the business-to-business world suggests the No. 1 reason for selection of a supplier is the personality of the sales team or seller. This is above the technical specs, marketing form, anything else,” Middleton says.

Deliver on your promises, or risk tarnishing a business relationship built on trust. Enter your new contacts into a customer relationship management system, such as Salesforce, suggests Middleton, and follow up with e-newsletters, blogs, updates or even webinars.

Unease grows over inequality

The warnings are beginning to register, wrote columnist Carol Goar in the Toronto Star Dec. 8. People aren’t ready to act, but they’re listening, reading, thinking about what happens when a tiny minority grows extremely rich at the expense of everyone else.

In October, Penguin released a new book by Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, tax law professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, called The Trouble with Billionaires. It argues the excessive inequality in North America is bad for democracy, bad for the economy and bad for society. The book is getting respectful reviews in unexpected places. Here is what Jonathan Kay, managing editor of commentary at the National Post, wrote in the current issue of the Literary Review of Canada: “Given the somewhat radical left-wing bona fides of McQuaig, I was surprised how reasonable I found many of the arguments in this book.”

On air

  • Peter Taylor, professor in York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, spoke about why Toronto has received so little snow in the past week while the rest of southern Ontario has been blanketed, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Dec. 7.