Students cram for a good cause

So now it’s noble to cram for exams. By the end of finals this month, some 500 students in Professor Rebecca Jubis‘s first-year psychology class at York University will have raised $10,000 for charity – just by taking an emergency cram session, reported the Toronto Star April 7.

Dozens of others in York courses, from chemistry to computer science, are feeding that fund by paying $20 each for a three-hour review, plus an online course summary prepared by tutors.

The tutors are older whiz kids who scored an A in the subject they are teaching and now donate their fees to the building of schools around the world, especially Latin America.

“By the time we’ve processed all our PayPal payments (students also pay in cash), we should have raised about $10,000 from Professor Jubis’s class alone, which will go toward building a new school this summer in Honduras,” said third-year student Frederyck Franco, who helps find volunteer tutors for Students Offering Support (SOS), the nation-wide charity whose slogan is Raising Marks, Raising Money, Raising Roofs.

“I myself am from Mexico and I know how these projects can benefit children in Central America,” said Franco, a kinesiology major who plans to tutor physiology for SOS next semester.

Student Alisha Rajwani paid to go to an SOS session last Thursday to help get ready for her upcoming Psych 1010 exam. She was one of a group taking notes in a lecture hall as two fourth-year psychology whizzes used PowerPoint to plow through the shopping list of disorders and phobias these students will need to know for their exam in abnormal psychology.

“These tutors know what they’re talking about so it’s beneficial to come, but I mostly came because it supports charity,” said Rajwani, 22, who has to take psychology for her business program.

Started in 2004 by Wilfrid Laurier University student Greg Overholt, SOS has spread to 20 campuses across Canada, tutored more than 15,000 students and raised $500,000 for projects in Kenya, Belize, Jamaica, Honduras, Peru, Costa Rica and El Salvador. The York chapter began last year; there are also SOS groups at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University.

“I took one of these SOS sessions last semester and on my next test, I went from C to B,” said first-year York student Hala Soliman. “There’s so much to learn about abnormal psychology, and the way the tutors structure it all really helps.”

Most professors they have approached support the program, “although a few seem to think it puts too many cooks in the kitchen,” noted fourth-year chemistry major Oleksandr Gumenyuk, head of the York SOS chapter.

Jubis said she has heard rave reviews about the sessions from her students.

“A $20 fee for a three-hour tutorial and chapter summaries is unbeatable. I have checked out these study notes and was very impressed with their comprehensiveness,” she told the Star. “It really is a win-win situation.”

York grad makes film with Adrien Brody in BC

When director Michael Greenspan [BFA Spec. Hons. ’99] pitched his movie to Adrien Brody, reported Vancouver’s Georgia Straight April 7, he told the Oscar-winning actor: “You’re going to crawl around on the ground for three weeks. And you’re gonna get cut, and you’re going to get bloody, and you will not be happy, and you’re gonna be cold, and you’re gonna be wet, and you’re gonna be tired, and your back is gonna hurt, and your neck is going to be hurting, and you’re gonna hate me. But I promise you, it’s going to be worth it.”

Brody’s response was: “That’s the only way to make this movie.”

The film is Wrecked, about a man (Brody) who awakens alone, pinned inside a crashed car in the wilderness. Suffering from amnesia, with clues linking him to a bank robbery, he’s thrown into survival mode.

The Montreal-raised Greenspan did his undergrad at Ontario’s York University and his master’s at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where he now lives. But he wound up making Wrecked, his first feature film, in British Columbia because of producer Kyle Mann, who showed him around the province. “He said, ‘You know, the story you talk about that is so guttural and so real, and so dark,’” Greenspan tells the Georgia Straight at a Whistler hotel, “‘that is what the Pacific Northwest is. It’s just wet; it’s full of life, but it’s also very scary’…and throughout scouting, all I heard was people going, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, I knew a guy who drove his car off and he was gone for days.’ And then it just made sense.”

Egypt’s revolutionaries can learn lessons from Iran

The revolts in Egypt are reminiscent of the Iranian revolution of 1979, wrote Saeed Rahnema, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in an opinion piece published in Daily News Egypt April 6 and reprinted from

In both cases a US-backed dictator ruled for decades with an iron fist over a large, strategically located country until he was confronted with a massive popular uprising. In both cases, the army had deep and close ties to the US military. Both rulers followed lopsided neo-liberal modernization programs, with widening gaps between the rich and the poor and deep urban/rural divides, as well as rampant corruption. In both cases, in the absence of political freedoms and democracy, the traditional religious forces expanded their turf while the progressive left and liberal secular forces were increasingly marginalized and suppressed.

There is no doubt that Egypt cannot go back to what it was under Mubarak, but the shape of the future system is very much dependent upon the presence of the youth, women and the working people in articulating and pushing for their democratic demands in the public sphere. A crucial lesson from Iran for the progressive secular forces – the left, liberals, feminists, artists and intellectuals – is to not sacrifice their secular democratic demands, and to not trust the army, the Islamists or the traditional elite.

At a time when progressive forces are not prepared to provide an alternative or clear leadership, preventing the total collapse of the old regime may not necessarily be all negative, as it may provide time and space for progressive forces to get better organized. Yet again, another lesson from Iran is that in the post-revolutionary anarchy there is always the danger that the reactionary forces use the religious beliefs of the masses to get the upper hand.

The continued struggle of the progressive forces in Egypt not only can and will constantly push for economic, social and political reforms in Egypt, but it will also have a strong impact on the Arab world in general and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US and Israel can no longer rely on dependable and friendly Arab dictators, and will have to take the aspirations for genuine peace with the Palestinians seriously.

The Middle East may seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place, i.e. between secular dictatorships and Islamic fundamentalisms. But indeed a third alternative, a secular democratic one, does exist and we should hope that the democratic forces in all these countries will eventually be able to harness both the Islamists and militarists.

Avastin debate highlights challenges of a catastrophic drug program

To some, it’s a miracle drug. To others, it’s overrated and not worth the high price. But bevacizumab, a cancer medication better known by its brand name Avastin, illustrates why a national program to cover the cost of expensive but potentially life-saving medications is needed – and the dangers that await if such a program is not executed correctly, reported The Globe and Mail April 7.

Opening the door to more comprehensive coverage for expensive medications across the country could be a major benefit to patients. But experts say it may also lead to pressure on the government to cover a greater number of pricey drugs, or to cover treatment for a wider variety of diseases, both of which could cause costs to spiral out of control.

“The argument would start to be made by some people, ‘Well, you know, your expensive drug qualifies you for catastrophic insurance, but my expensive drug doesn’t qualify me because the province isn’t going to (cover) it,’” said Joel Lexchin, a physician and professor in the School of Health Policy and Management at York University in Toronto.

Tip and Trade: How Two Lawyers Made Millions from Insider Trading gets a pan

It is a bad sign when an author writes, as Mark Coakley [LLB ’95] does a little more than halfway through Tip and Trade, that his subject matter is “not the most action-packed to write about.” If that’s true, imagine how readers feel, wrote Quill & Quire in its March issue.

Coakley’s book covers the life and crimes of Toronto-area lawyers Gil Cornblum [LLB/MBA ’94] and Stan Grmovsek [LLB ’93], both of whom attended York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in the early 1990s, at the same time as the author. Their paths crossed in the offices of Obiter Dicta, Osgoode’s student newspaper. Coakley’s accounts of this period are not the best advertisement for law school or, indeed, the entire legal profession. The excerpts Coakley provides of Cornblum and Grmovsek’s writing are angry right-wing screeds leavened with jokes that even Ann Coulter would consider poorly executed. And Coakley recounts an in-class encounter between Grmovsek and Michael Bryant [LLB ’92], the former Ontario attorney general, that says a great deal about both men, none of it terribly flattering.

Perhaps because of his personal involvement with the two students, Coakley seems as interested in the formative stages of Cornblum and Grmovsek’s friendship as he is in the actual insider trading scheme that netted the duo more than $10 million. By the time Canadian and American authorities catch up with the crooks, Coakley, who tells the story chronologically, is primarily reduced to reprinting transcripts from court hearings and interviews with investigators. It’s as though the author himself has grown bored of his less than action-packed subject matter.

Vaughan voters not election-weary

Vaughan voters are being asked to head to the polls for the third time – and, in some cases, for the fourth time – in just more than six months, but that hasn’t curbed Wayne Sitotaw’s passion for casting a ballot in the May 2 federal election, reported April 7.

Such enthusiasm runs counter to what some observers of Vaughan’s political scene have been saying lately. More than a few pundits have predicted that the local electorate is worn out and many people will stay away from the polls on May 2.

The reaction shouldn’t be all that surprising, according to York University political scientist Robert Drummond [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies]. “People talk about the fact that we’ve had a lot of elections recently, but I don’t think it really makes all that much difference to people on the whole. I mean, they’re not really asked to do very much when it comes along,” he said.

His colleague Robert MacDermid agrees. “I don’t think voters should be tired of going to the polls. It’s not that big of a commitment to preserve our democratic institutions and ensure your representative is the person you want and believe in,” said MacDermid, who is also a political science professor at York University.

While election burnout may not affect voters too strongly, it can have a significant impact on campaign workers, he said. “The number of people that are involved in elections, in parties, is quite small and they are the source of money, and they are also the source of door knockers. Those people often suffer from fatigue,” he said. “Often it’s the same people – Liberal and Conservative activists and NDP activists – who are working for municipal candidates, who then work for provincial candidates and federal candidates as well.”

And that may not bode well for those running in the provincial election this fall, Mr. MacDermid said. “Within the space of just under 12 months, we’ll have gone through a federal election, a federal by-election, a municipal election and a provincial election. That’s four elections and people can’t write cheques forever. It will be difficult fundraising.”

It’s ‘unhealthy’ for developers to fund councillors’ campaigns, says prof

Five of the seven candidates voted in during the municipal election in Orangeville last October have one thing in common – they each received campaign contributions of no less than $500 from Edgewood Valley Developments Ltd., reported the Orangeville Banner April 6.

Having developers contribute to municipal campaigns can raise a few eyebrows in the court of public opinion, argued Robert MacDermid, an associate professor of political science at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies]. “It seems to me to be an unhealthy relationship,” said MacDermid, who has made a name for himself challenging corporate donations to candidates in municipal election campaigns. “Municipal councils have a very important role in determining and defining outcomes, and sit in judgment on the applications of many developers.”

MacDermid has lobbied Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to ban corporations from contributing and only allow individuals to dish out campaign monies.

York alumni run for election in GTA

Three GTA-area candidates profiled in Brampton’s South Asian Focus April 6 are York grads.

  • Terence Young [BA ’75], the incumbent Tory candidate, is seeking his second term in the May 2 federal election from his native Oakville riding.
  • James Ede [MA ’07] is the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate in Oakville. He is completing his PhD in political science at York University, where he taught politics for six years.
  • Omar Alghabra [MBA ’00], a Mississauga-Erindale MP from 2006 to 2008, is running again for the Liberal Party.

Komagata drama sails into Canadian polls as filmmaker cries foul

Delhi-born, Gemini Award-winning filmmaker Ali Kazimi has alleged Canada’s ruling Conservative Party has violated his copyrights by using an image from one of his films to woo South Asians in the ongoing campaign for the May 2 elections, reported South Asian Focus April 6.

Kazimi said, “I do not want my film or publicity images for it to be associated in any manner with this campaign. In addition to the copyright infringement, it is inappropriate to use images of this infamous incident to romanticize the early South Asian experience in Canada.”

According to Kazimi, who is also associate professor in the Department of Film [Faculty of Fine Arts] at York University here, Sikh MP Tim Uppal of the ruling Conservative Party is using a copyrighted image from his film Continuous Journey without permission.

The filmmaker said despite his repeated requests to the party to desist from continuing to use his work “the Conservative party is still using the imagery in its campaign.”

On air

  • Alan Middleton, marketing professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, discussed the use of social media by election candidates, on CBC Radio’s “Morning North” April 6.
  • Lauren Sergio, kinesiology professor and neuroscientist in York’s Faculty of Health, discussed  concussions in football players, on CP24-TV’s “Live At Noon” April 6.