Tennis courts serve as exam centre at York

Fed up with prank bomb threats and fire alarms that disrupt exams, York University has rented a vaulted tennis hall where students can tackle tests without fear of evacuation, wrote the Toronto Star’s Feb. 9.

Focused on grade point, not game point, some 12,422 York students wrote 20 of 77 exams in December in York’s Rexall Centre complex, home of the star-studded Rogers Cup, as part of a pilot project to avoid the false alarms that have disrupted exams in recent years.

The experiment was such a grand slam – nary a false alarm –  that York has booked the centre again in April and December for some finals, and next February for mid-terms, said assistant vice-president [enrolment management, and University registrar] Joanne Duklas. “I don’t know why certain culprits engage in setting off false alarms, but it’s been a saving grace to have use of the Rexall Centre. It’s secure and comfortable, and the fire alarm pulls are right in the room where they can be seen,” said Duklas.

In contrast, exams held in regular campus locations in December were hit by three false fire alarms and six bomb threats – four on Dec. 20 alone. York officials have long noted that false alarms cost the University about $1,000 apiece in fines from Toronto’s fire department. There were 35 false alarms between 2005 and 2009, and 43 prank bomb threats.

The annual extra cost of exam security, including the nine-day rental of Rexall’s Centre of Excellence from Tennis Canada, is about $250,000, said Duklas.

To criminology student Radhika Gupta, 20, who wrote her environmental studies exam at the Rexall Centre in December, “it was fine, although it’s a bit isolated from the centre of campus. But it’s better because you get an actual table to write on, not just the flip-up chair arms you get in lecture halls.”

Chemistry professor Don Hastie said he liked being able to fit all 700 first-year chemistry students in the same room, not spread among classrooms where the supervisors must call each other on cellphones if a problem arises. “I’ve had a test disrupted by a false alarm in the past and anything we can do to make the experience better for students is a win-win,” said Hastie.

A 2009 campus task force on disruptions from fire alarms recommended a central exam centre, adding the University of Toronto recently created one from an old warehouse on McCaul St., and Ryerson University rents exam space at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

York is considering making the setting of a false alarm a form of academic dishonesty punishable by as much as expulsion.

Ironically, a real fire Dec. 13 in the central utilities building closed York and caused the rescheduling of about 100 exams.

Station’s romantic sense of ruin

If architecture could solve the problems of transit in Toronto, the spectacular Steeles West station would be the answer, wrote columnist Christopher Hume in the Toronto Star Feb. 9.

Designed by bad-boy British architect Will Alsop and Toronto-based Richard Stevens, the facility offers a compelling case that the lowly subway station needn’t be so lowly. It should bring new interest to a building type too often dismissed as mere infrastructure.

The challenge at Steeles West is less one of architecture than one of planning. The densities needed to justify the huge subway construction costs are nowhere to be found in this corner of the city. Even York University directly south can’t muster the numbers needed to help the facility pay its way…. There’s something incongruous about this bizarre mix of mass transit and empty fields.

If it succeeds, Alsop’s striking station will end up in the shadows of towers yet to appear. If it fails, it will lurch along, isolated and stuck forever in the middle of nowhere.

Elves and warriors and goblins, oh my!

As often as she can, Jaimy Warner puts on her elf ears, dons armour, grabs her mock sword and heads to a campsite on a farm outside the GTA, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 8.

There, the 22-year-old York University student becomes part of a dark, magical world replete with warriors, goblins, Viking-type characters, orcs, farmers, trolls, fairies, politicians, vampires, nobility and more.

She may fend off monster or vampire attacks, steal, wheedle or engage in combat as she interacts all weekend and advances story plots with some of the 100-odd people who are part of a unique town called Jericho.

You won’t find it on a map because it’s part of Underworld, a medieval, live action role-playing (LARP) game [that has] become the largest and longest-running LARP of its genre in Canada, with a database of 300 players aged 18 and up.

On air

  • Debra Pepler, Distinguished Research Professor in York’s Faculty of Health and the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, spoke about the results of a new US study on bullying, on Global TV in Saskatoon, Sask., and on Prince George, BC’s CKPG-TV Feb. 8.
  • David Doorey, professor in York’s School of Human Resource Management in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s plan to privatize garbage pick-up, on CBC TV Feb. 8.
  • Thabit Abdullah, history professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, took part in a panel discussion on the current crisis in Egypt, on TVO’s “The Agenda” Feb. 8.