Egyptians want to be like other parts of the world, says Shoukri

Jamal Badawi and Mamdouh Shoukri were born less than 20 kilometres apart in what is now the outskirts of Cairo, where they attended university before leaving for graduate studies in Canada, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 28. Decades later, they are distinguished Canadian academics – Badawi is emeritus professor at Halifax’s St. Mary’s University, and Shoukri is the president of York University.

Saddened by what they see as Egypt’s declining intellectual climate and growing inequality, yet heartened by the desire for change, the two men reflect on the turmoil erupting across Egypt. [Below are Dr. Shoukri’s remarks:]

Why the unrest did not surprise them: “The growing gap between the rich and poor, the population explosion having the average age of the country under 25 years old, the generations of unemployed young people.… You look at all these things and you worry if that was sustainable.”

Why the demonstrations did surprise them: “If you look throughout the history, there’s many things that characterize the real Egyptians, and a couple of them were related to the willingness of society to absorb or accept many sacrifices for the sake of maintaining stability.… The other factor, too, is that traditionally there is significant respect for authority.”

What is needed to quell the frustration? “I honestly think it is a push for more freedom, more freedom of expression, better institutions. Because again, even with the poverty and so on, there’s a significant class of educated people who do understand these issues, and they want to be like other parts of the world.”

What might the broader implications be? “I think it’s a broad spectrum of people representing the entire society, making legitimate demands. I worry about the next phase – whether people will settle on some reform that will meet their demands and then the discussion will be how to move forward, or is it [that] some extremist groups can ride the wave?”

  • “In spite of the confrontation and the massive presence of police, I see an element of even restraint. But I’ll ask myself when I look at this massive demonstration with a massive presence of police: Is this a tipping point?” wrote President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri Jan. 31, in response to a question about his impressions of a photo of protesters in Cairo confronting police, published in the National Post.

York prof speaks at World Council of Israelis Abroad

The World Council of Israelis Abroad held its first ever conference in Toronto this month, under the theme “Building Bridges to World Jewry and the State of Israel”,  wrote The Jerusalem Post Jan. 31.

The three-day meeting was sponsored by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the Mishelanu Organization for Israelis Abroad.

Amir Gissin, the consul general in Toronto, said at the opening on Jan. 18 that there is a “consensus” at Israeli missions about “the importance of maintaining Israel as an option for the second generation of Israelis [abroad]. They didn’t choose to leave. Their parents did."

Research shows that the most successful olim “are second generation Israelis – those who were born in Israel and left at a young age or who were born abroad but grew up in a Hebrew-speaking household,” he said.

Prof. Rina Cohen from York University [Department of Sociology, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] said, “Rather than requiring complete incorporation by either Israel or the local community, Israelis in Canada, or at least in Toronto, are establishing and strengthening their own distinct community.”

If this “stream of migration slows down, the Israeli community is likely, in a generation or two, to completely integrate in the general Jewish community. Either way – the ‘Myth of Return’ [to Israel] is still alive,” she said.

Law firm includes Osgoode grad as ‘among the best’

At his large farm north of Toronto, former Ontario premier David Peterson enjoys the life of an Upper Canadian gentleman, indulging a passion for horses that has included fox hunting in Ireland, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 29. He practises the law on Bay Street, where he is chair of Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP and occupies a corner office with a view of city towers to the east and Lake Ontario to the south.

This former Liberal premier brought his Conservative counterpart Mike Harris to Cassels as a business adviser. Harris joined a stable that overflows with such prize names as political fundraiser Ralph Lean and Maxwell Gotlieb, the former Osgoode [Hall Law School] professor routinely named (as are so many others in the firm) among “the best lawyers in Canada.”

Forum to focus on youth, environment

Organizers of an upcoming environmental forum are hoping to engage First Nations youth, wrote The Sarnia Observer Jan. 30.

The event, hosted by the Aamjiwnaang First Nations Health and Environment Committee, in partnership with York University, is a follow-up to a 2008 health symposium held in Sarnia to share research findings with members of the scientific community, environmental groups, the media and government.

“The idea came about a year ago after [Aamjiwnaang community member] Ada Lockridge mentioned the idea of doing a follow up symposium,” said Sarah Wiebe, project coordinator for the Community Forum on Pollution and Action, and research assistant to Dayna Scott, environmental law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School [and executive director of the National Network on Environments & Women’s Health], who has worked closely with Lockridge and the Aamjiwnaang community to investigate the links between pollution and health.

Investors like to be close to their investments, says Schulich prof

Debarshi Nandy, a professor in finance at the Schulich School of Business at York University, says Canadians going to Silicon Valley benefit from the agglomeration, a community with benefits obtained when companies locate near each other, wrote The Globe and Mail and CTV News Jan. 31.

“In close proximity you have this set of firms that are similar, that have access to the same resources and human capital and a labour force with technical expertise. There is a lot of spillover in different ways that these firms benefit from,” Nandy says. “People tend to gravitate toward a location where, over time, there is a density of those firms.”

The billion-dollar question is how this can be replicated in Canada, both for entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who support them.

“Geographical proximity matters. Most VC investments are local investments. Even international investors would team up with a local investment group or open an office (in a place like Silicon Valley) to be close to their investment.”

Program streamlines postsecondary transfers

Navigating the post-secondary education system can be confusing and makes planning ahead difficult, Marco Quezada admits, wrote Jan. 31.

The Seneca College liberal arts undergraduate is finishing his final semester before transferring to York University to earn a degree.

But without the advice of Seneca staff and a York University liaison, who work together to ensure a seamless transition between institutions, he may have been steered off the path when it came to determining what college courses would be recognized by the University to avoid wasting time and money repeating courses he has already completed.

“It was tricky even finding this program, but once in it, the faculty was proactive with information,” he said. “College is cheaper for undergraduates, but you don’t want redundant courses.”

More than 4,000 Ontario college graduates transfer to university annually and there are 500 individual credit transfer agreements among colleges and universities similar to the agreement between Seneca and York.

The province has recognized the issue of transfer credits and has announced it will invest $73.7 million during the next five years to make the process easier. Beginning in September, Ontario will implement a new credit-transfer system, eliminating the need for students to repeat similar courses at different institutions.

Back off caregiving, Dad – that’s Mom’s job

Despite the long push for more equality in parenting duties, new research suggests that mothers and fathers may actually get along better when parenting roles are divided along more traditional lines – that is, when fathers back off caregiving duties, such as feeding and bathing, and put more effort into playtime, wrote Postmedia News Jan. 31 in a story about a new study from Ohio State University.

Anne-Marie Ambert, a retired professor of family studies at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], said it makes sense that relationships would be good between couples where the father plays with the kids. “Mothers are probably very appreciative when fathers play with children, because it does take the children off their backs,” she said. “Also, it’s very good for the children; the children are more active.”

She said it is less clear why having fathers involved in the caregiving would cause problems. “You would think that caregiving from the father would make mothers much happier.”

Design unveiled for Steeles West Station

Conceptual designs for Steeles West Station, part of the Spadina-York subway extension in Canada, have been made public, wrote the World Interior Design Network Jan. 31.

Estimated to cost $159 million, the designs are expected to be presented for approval before the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board on Feb. 2. With a futuristic open-air design, the interior of the station will feature high ceilings and extensive use of natural light. The entrance buildings and substations of the building will be clad in solid weathering steel panels. The new designs have also included a bus terminal located south of Steeles Avenue West with parking for 1,850 vehicles.

The original design by Richard Stevens Architects and Alsop Architects was approved in 2009. The recently released design renderings have modified certain aspects including relocation of the main entrance located on the north side of Steeles Avenue; redesign of the two station entrances; relocation of the TTC’s traction power substation to grade; and the addition of a new east-west road linking Northwest Gate to Track & Field Road [on York University’s Keele campus].

  • News of the station design was also carried on CBC News online Jan. 28.

York commits to using cage-free eggs

York University and Humber College have taken steps to make their cafeterias a little more animal-friendly, wrote CP24 TV Jan. 30. The schools are now only using eggs in their food service that come from cage-free hens.

The two schools are the latest to join a growing movement in support of animal welfare. Humber is the first college in Ontario to make the switch. More than 350 postsecondary schools across North America have taken similar steps, according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

“As a result of (York and Humber’s) decision, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 eggs annually will now come from hens that have the freedom to move, nest and stretch their wings,” the non-profit animal charity group says in a news release. “The WSPA hopes the York and Humber decisions will inspire more consumers to choose cage free.”

Remixing urban education

Rappers Kardinal Offishall and Saukrates, singer Jully Black, video director Lil’ X and deejay collective Baby Blue Soundcrew may not be familiar names to Torontonians over the age of 40, but anyone born after 1969 who loves hip hop and R & B is aware of these artists’ foundational roles in Canada’s urban music culture, wrote York graduate student Simon Black, a researcher at the City Institute at York University, in the Toronto Star Jan. 30.

Beyond their shared talents, what these names have in common is a little-known initiative of Ontario’s [former] NDP government: a program called Fresh Arts. Fresh Arts was developed under the umbrella of JobsOntario Youth, part of the larger JobsOntario training and employment program the NDP government introduced to address the labour market fallout of the early ’90s recession.

The spirit of the now legendary program lives on in the Remix Project, a community arts hub that provides space for Toronto’s new generation of urban artists to flourish. Remix participants come primarily from the city’s priority neighbourhoods.

Remix’s funding is neither stable nor predictable, which makes long-term planning difficult. Indeed, as policy wonks trumpet the idea of the “creative city” and the economic benefits of a vibrant cultural sector, it’s confounding why projects like Remix should have to struggle for every dollar. The city and the province must do more to support such proven successes.

Yet visions of what we can achieve collectively through government are threatened by promises of cutbacks and tax savings. As the latest city budget demonstrated, cuts to services are the order of the day, with our new mayor promising more in the near future.

This is short-sighted. Fresh Arts demonstrated the potential of community-driven programs partnering with government to improve the lives of the city’s marginalized youth. Remix is now doing the same.

Programs like these are not part of a “gravy train”. As the success of Fresh Arts and Remix graduates demonstrates, they are smart social investments that benefit us all. Moreover, they are central to building a strong, socially inclusive city that is creative, prosperous and just.

TTC to passengers: Don’t snap texting drivers

The Toronto Transit Commission wants you to quit playing paparazzi with its employees, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 28. The please-don’t-play-gotcha request comes after at least three TTC drivers were caught on camera this week by shocked passengers who observed them texting or chatting on cellphones while operating buses.

York University student Robert Sauer, who took video of a bus driver apparently chatting on his cellphone while driving earlier this week, worries that without it there wouldn’t be enough to go on to punish drivers responsible for “endangering the safety of the public.”

“Then it really just seems like it’s our word against their word,” said Sauer, who used his iPhone as he rode on the 196 University Rocket from York to Downsview station. “Obviously if there’s an issue with so many people taking videos and pictures of their drivers texting, there’s a huge problem.”

On air

  • Paul Delaney, professor of physics & astronomy in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, on CTV News Jan. 28.
  • Haideh Moghissi, professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, took part in a panel discussion about Canadian identity and notions of “home”, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Jan. 28.