York readies for weeklong jazz fest

Ron Westray still remembers the concert at South Carolina State University in the late 1980s that transformed him from a trombone player to a jazz musician, wrote InsideToronto.com March 18.

Next week, during the annual York University Jazz Festival, he’s looking forward to seeing many of his students make the same transition. "I’m looking forward to it because it does bring me back," said Westray, a famed trombonist, who is now the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz at York. "I’ll get to see that look in their faces and just know what they are thinking and feeling because I’ve been there before. It’s a big moment for a lot of them. Many are still in that neophyte stage with a deer in headlights kind of look, but that’s the moment where you can become a real jazz musician."

He says jazz can and should begin in the classroom, but can’t exist entirely without an audience. That’s why next week’s festival is so important. "I like to say jazz is hidden in education. The real aspects of how the music is formed and how the music actually operates is taught qualifiably in the education system. It’s a very data specific art form and you have to crunch a lot of numbers, which a lot of people don’t realize," he said. "That said, at the end of the day in order to be a jazz musician you need to just get up and play for an audience and see whether you can take that memorization of the data and turn it into something more."

The York University Jazz Festival will see nine free performances staged between March 21 to 25. The event kicks off Monday night with a series of performances by the school’s small jazz ensembles scheduled for 7:30pm and wraps up Friday when York’s orchestra directed by Westray and Al Henderson takes the stage. In between, the school will host daily lunchtime performances by a collection of vocal ensembles.

With the exception of one performance, York’s Martin Family Lounge will host all the action.

Mike Murley, an organizer of the festival and a professor at York, said he’s just excited for the music to start. "I’m prejudiced, but there are some really, really great students coming through right now and I’m excited to see what they can do," he said. "It’s going to be a nice balance. On a personal level it’s going to be really fun to hear some of the students I’ve known for the last four years play their last concert at York, but it’s always exciting to hear the young kids too and see what they are going to do because someone always surprises."

Murley, who is directing one of the quintets that will perform Monday, said the festival has come a long way since he was a student. "I was a student at York in the early ’80s and it was happening then and it was going on in the early ’70s as well, but it certainly wasn’t the festival it is today," he said.

Next up: MLSE. Do I hear $1.3 billion? Going once…

Industry watchers continue to predict the country’s large cable and telecommunications companies – Rogers, Bell, Shaw and Telus – will lead the charge [to buy the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s 66 per cent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE),] wrote the Toronto Star March 18

“This is a content play and the content that MLSE provides is something they should be salivating over,” says Vijay Setlur, who teaches sport marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

“Rogers is No. 1, given their resources and business strategy. It would give them endless content on their radio, TV and magazine properties and they could use it to cross-promote products on mobile devices. They have all the assets in place that could really capitalize on that content.”

McGuinty should start talking ‘economy’, says York prof

The Progressive Conservatives continue to hold a solid lead over the governing Liberals in Ontario, a new Nanos poll shows, with just over six months to go until a provincial election, wrote the National Post March 19.

While survey respondents tended to say they trusted Conservative leader Tim Hudak to better manage the economy and taxes, the two frontrunners were statistically tied on the issues of health care and education.

"If I were McGuinty, at this point, I’d begin to talk about things I was doing for the economy," said York University political scientist Robert Drummond [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

York professor experienced racial unfairness first-hand

Chris D’Souza was 14 years old when someone shattered the windows of his family cottage in Northern Ontario, wrote The Sudbury Star March 21. Even at that age, he knew that it was because of his skin colour.

"We were the only family of colour in the community. There were no racial slurs written. When you’re immersed in it, you know," he said. "The windows were shattered three years in a row. The final year, they were shot out with a shotgun…it made me very self-conscious of who I was."

It also inspired him to make a change, especially when he saw that the community was on his side. "People in the community rallied around us not to sell (the cottage). They put an end to the vandalism," he said. "The good things about it is, I saw that demonstration of caring and power and realized whatever career I chose, I’d work against discrimination."

D’Souza, now a course director in the Faculty of Education at York University and author of the children’s book Why Are All the Taxi Drivers…, has focused his energy on promoting inclusion in the educational system.

Homegrown effort to end homelessness leads international network

"Homelessness as a big problem, emerged in Canada much later than it did in the UK or Australia or the United States. So we’re kind of behind in our response to homelessness," said Stephen Gaetz, a leading Canadian homeless researcher based at York University [Faculty of Education], wrote the Calgary Herald March 21, in a story about an international conference held in Washington organized by the Calgary Homeless Foundation. "But by working collaboratively in this international context, we can leapfrog forward and move very quickly to develop effective permanent solutions, because the ideas are out there. There’s a plan to move forward."

Judges want to know why Ontarians are skipping jury duty

Whatever the explanation, Newfoundlanders appear more diligent about jury duty than their Ontario counterparts, wrote the Toronto Star March 21. And their government is more attentive to tracking prospective jurors who don’t show up for court.

Alan Young, an Osgoode Hall Law School professor, said Ontario should keep statistics on absenteeism if there is evidence the justice system is having trouble selecting juries from the panel members who show up. “If they’re running out of people too quickly, then yeah, they should be doing this type of statistical analysis,” he said.

If it’s not a problem, he said, tracking no-shows is “probably a waste of time.” “We know people are reluctant. We know they don’t want to show up. The actual percentage only really matters if (the absences) are perceived to be a problem.”

Love it or hate it, people are watching ‘The Avenue’

People have been watching, whether they unapologetically support it, secretly love it or love to hate it, wrote The Globe and Mail March 18, in a story about a new reality television show set in Toronto. Since first debuting on Jan. 25, content produced for “The Avenue” (which can be viewed on YouTube or theavenueshow.com) has generated over half a million views.

Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, speculates that the Toronto angle invites a way of connecting with the show where the characters fall short. “You also recognize the cultural environment of people from a specific area,” he says by phone. “Every city has a touchability and a way that people respond in that environment.”

Mentoring new immigrants

Gautam Nath is very active in Toronto’s immigrant community, wrote the Financial Post March 18. In addition to being director of Cultural Markets Research at Environics Research Group, he is a director on the board at Multilingual Community Interpreter Services, has been invited to join the advisory board of York University’s Internationally Educated Professional Bridging Program and mentors newcomers through the Maytree Foundation’s mentoring partnership.

He brings something to his role as mentor that many of his counterparts do not: Nath is a newcomer himself. He moved to Canada with his wife in November 2008 and, like many of the people he guides, had to restart his life and career.

For that reason, Nath says it’s important for new immigrants to move fast and start meeting people and building connections. This is particularly true for foreign educated professionals, less than a quarter of who find employment in their field.

“They land here and realize although they have education and experience, they are essentially starting from scratch with respect to getting placed in a career commensurate with their education and training. And that can chip away at confidence. On the flip side, all that knowledge and expertise is going to waste,” says Nora Priestly, project manager, Internationally Educated Professional Bridging Program, York University. “Then there is the challenge of settling their families into a new city, new home – all the aspects of starting a life in a new country.”

The Philippines now Canada’s top source of immigrants

In recent years, the education level of caregivers accepted as immigrants has skyrocketed, wrote The Globe and Mail March 18, in a story about rising number of immigrants coming to Canada from the Philippines. Philip Kelly, a York University geographer, said the proportion of caregivers with a university degree has risen to 63 per cent in 2009 from five per cent in 1993, making it an even better educated group than the skilled-worker class.

But as the human capital of newcomers has jumped, concerns have intensified about the fate of the children of previous waves. Kelly said research shows their outcomes are not what one would expect. “In terms of statistical evidence, it looks like the story is not a happy one. Outcomes for Filipino youth are often quite poor, high levels of high-school dropouts and low levels of university graduation,” Kelly said. In Toronto, 37 per cent of first-generation Filipinos have a university degree, but that number dips to 24 per cent in the second generation, he said.

Now might be good time to take profits from gold

Yes, gold is up more than fivefold in the past 10 years, a period in which the stock market crashed twice and the global economy experienced tremendous instability, but, “Investors should not forget that the 10, 20 years before that, gold generated very poor returns,” said Pauline Shum, professor of finance at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, wrote The Columbus Dispatch online March 20, in a story about investing in the precious metal. “It is unrealistic to expect gold to repeat its performance in the next 10 years.”

Gold has traditionally had a low correlation with equities, so it definitely provides diversification benefits to investors’ portfolios, Shum said. “But given its current level, I think there is significant downside risk, because once the current political uncertainty is resolved, demand will drop.”

Garden hunters plot your crop

York University student Danny McMullen and four of his classmates have launched Garden Hunters GTA – an online, non-profit initiative aimed at hooking up those who want to sow some seeds but don’t have the land with those who have gardens they don’t use, wrote the Vaughan Citizen March 18, in a story about new gardening website.

"There is a growing desire for people to grow food locally, but there are not nearly enough community garden spaces for everybody who would like to grow their own food," said McMullen, 27. "And because more and more people are living in condominiums or townhomes with small back yards, they don’t have enough space to grow their own food."

McMullen, who is a Brampton resident, said he came up with the idea last summer while out strolling through the city. "I actually saw so many gardens not being used, walking around with my kids outside, that I thought this might be a good idea but I just didn’t really know how to do it," he said.

McMullen and his colleagues – Nicky Dao, Xiang He, Henry Ho and Nick Williams – launched Garden Hunters GTA at the end of February. They’ve been busy ever since spreading the word in hopes of getting people hooked up ahead of this year’s growing season.

Food for thought

Deborah Barndt, a York University sociologist [Faculty of Environmental Studies], studied a group of Mexican workers who have spent their lives making sure we have a constant supply of this much-loved fruit, wrote Edmonton’s Laura Frerichs in a letter to the Calgary Herald March 19 about the hidden costs behind imported tomatoes. A husband and wife featured in her book still need to work in the greenhouses at the ages of 78 and 83. That’s life on the periphery of our global food market.

These tomatoes, and many other food products that we take for granted, come at a high cost, indeed. And I find that tough to swallow, wrote Frerichs.

Climate Change Day features York grad student’s talk

Jacqueline Medalye, who’s studying for her PhD in political science at York University, will discuss: "Climate change adaptation in the era of climate prosperity: The case of the Canadian Arctic", wrote The Peterborough Examiner March 19, in a story about Trent University’s annual Political Studies Research Day.

The keynote address at 2:30pm will feature “Contesting Landlords, Contested Science: the Offshore and the Hydrocarbon Frontier”, by Anna Zalik from the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.

Miami International Film Festival: And the winners are…

Jaie LaPlante [BFA Spec. Hons. ’92], in his first year as Miami International Film Festival head, hails from Alberta and has been a Miami native now for 12 years, wrote IndieWire Blog Network March 18.  He attended York University in Toronto where he earned a degree in film. From 2001 to 2005 he was co-director of the Miami Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.  He also served as program director for the Miami Short Film Festival.

A large local event he managed as associate director was the successful South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which also held an allied event in New York.  In summing up this year, Jaie seems gratified. "There were great moments; I just am so pleased by the public’s response to our events and films."  Further he said, "There’s been such positive feedback and, so far, in the important category of ticket revenue we seem to be ahead of last year."

York TA sorry for Facebook fracas

A York University tutorial assistant who posted disparaging comments about students on her Facebook page is really just the tip of the iceberg, says Hans Rollmann, also a tutorial assistant at York, wrote the Toronto Star March 19.

Rollmann says he doesn’t know her but feels badly for sociology teaching assistant Bianca Baggiarini who posted comments on her Facebook page that slammed students.

While he thinks Baggiarini’s comments were "disrespectful and not cool at all," Rollmann doesn’t think she should be scapegoated and singled out. "It’s a much wider and more systemic problem of respect…and in many ways it just reflects the same attitude and comments many tenured faculty and senior administrators encourage," says Rollmann, a PhD student in women’s studies who is in his second year of being a tutorial assistant in social science. "That’s the exact thing we hear from tenured faculty, from department heads, from deans, from senior administrators, it’s this…continuous disparaging attitude toward undergraduates on campus,” says Rollmann.

Nancy Mandell, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, said Baggiarini had apologized. Mandell told the Toronto Star that Baggiarini had said she was sorry this week to students for what she published on Facebook. "She’s very sincere in that apology," said Mandell who called Baggiarini’s Facebook comments "very regrettable and inappropriate. This shows a lack of respect for students."

Mandell said the incident is still under investigation by the university. The comments are "not characteristic" of the department, she said. "We have a deep respect for our students," she added.

  • The York University tutorial assistant who criticized her students on Facebook has apologized, wrote Macleans.ca March 18. Chair of the sociology department, Nancy Mandell, told the Toronto Star that Baggiarini has now apologized for her actions. “She’s very sincere in that apology,” Mandell said, but added that the comments were “very regrettable and inappropriate,” and that they show “a lack of respect for students.” The department is still investigating the matter.

On air

  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about things you should and should not do to in order to defend your legal rights, on CBC Radio’s “Ontario Today” March 18.
  • Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor in Psychology & Philosophy in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about the importance of building self-esteem in children, on CBC Radio’s “Ideas” program March 18.
  • Fred Lazar, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about Canadians travelling to New York and Vermont to book their airline travel, on CBC Radio March 19.
  • Joseph Di Luca, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the plea bargain system in Canada, on CBC Radio March 20.