President upbeat about York’s role in Globe interview

Being York University’s seventh president is Mamdouh Shoukri‘s final job, he tells The Globe in an exclusive interview, and while he’s made strides since arriving in 2007, recent crises mean he has plenty of work to do before enjoying retirement, wrote The Globe and Mail, Sept. 30.

When Dr. Shoukri, an engineering professor from the outskirts of Cairo, took the helm, he walked into an institution rife with tension and mistrust – a situation that led to a crippling 85-day strike in 2008. Since then, the president and vice-chancellor has mended many fences and put Ontario’s second- largest university on track to fulfill its promise. But that progress has been overshadowed by a series of events: security concerns stemming from a series of assaults on campus; the murder of a Chinese student in a nearby neighbourhood; and the ongoing police investigation into allegations that a former senior administrator defrauded the University of $1.2-million.

Dr. Shoukri talks to Globe reporter James Bradshaw about York’s latest efforts to reshape its image.

Q: How is the mood on campus?

A: We had a town hall meeting (last week), and this is the second – I had one after the strike. If you had lived through the two town hall meetings, you wouldn’t believe it was the same institution. Because what seems to be missing, honestly, in the reports is actually the huge changes happening on campus, changes in attitudes. The old tension is not there. I went from a situation where I felt people in the town hall meeting, or any meetings I’m involved in, were asking questions with the intention to embarrass (me), to people who are actually asking questions that reflect a level of trust. When I look at York, I still feel very strongly about the things that brought me here, the opportunity.

Q: What is that opportunity?

A: In 50 years or so, we managed to build the second-largest university in the province. When you look around, this is an outstanding achievement in such a short period of time. But when you look at the bigger picture, you say, “Well, there’s an element of comprehensiveness that needs to be covered.” For example, (our engineering program) is too small for a university of our size. In other words, the programs we offer need to be more comprehensive.

Q: How has the perception York has major security problems affected you?

A; Honestly, I think it has had some effect on our reputation. There’s an element of unfairness, but I’m not going to hide behind it.

Q: Why is it unfair?

A: It is unfair in the sense that most of the events that we’re blamed for took place outside the University, but we get blamed for it because it happens in the neighbourhood. The second thing is that nobody ever makes it clear that statistically speaking, for any community of 60,000 within the GTA area, the safety records on this campus are as good as anywhere.

Q: It would match up with the University of Toronto’s record, for example?

A: It would match with anywhere. I mention that for the record, but this is not my issue. My issue is, one incident is one too many. I mean, I cannot say “statistically speaking …,” that’s not appropriate because it affects one of our students, and those are our students. So what are we doing about it? Once this became an issue, I did what I do: I brought in a third-party independent group to evaluate, which is the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children. We’ve done many things, from increasing lighting to (installing) 600 cameras on campus – some people argue that we’re overdoing it – we have 25 large screens on campus to send security messages, we have decided to expand the scope of our security officers and increase them by 30 per cent.

Q: And you equipped your security forces with handcuffs and batons.

A: Yes, but they do not have constable status, they are still part of community safety. And we’ll continue to discuss this: Is that enough? Should we do more? Safety and security issues are evolving issues. Now, outside York University, we are not really responsible for what happens. But many of the incidents happen in the Village (residential community) – although (it’s) outside York University, the majority of the residents are York students.

Q: York sold the land where the Village was developed. So what is your responsibility for communities like that, which aren’t properly yours?

A: Not “properly,” it’s absolutely not ours any more, totally not ours. Here’s what I feel: From a legal, official point of view, I’m not accountable for what happens there because this is the business of the police and the city. However, because they’re our students, I feel I have some obligation.

Q: When you talk to potential donors, do they ask you about security, about fraud? Is that making it a more difficult conversation?

A: It is not making it more difficult. You know what makes it difficult? If you don’t act on these things and respond to them appropriately. And I think we have proven in every single instance that we are acting in a responsible way and we are acting immediately.

Q: How do you get the public to focus on what you find exciting, rather than negative things?

A: By going out and telling people the York story. I want the city, I want the country to know. Other university presidents have all been telling me, “Well, things appear to be going well at York.” I think the word will spread.

I’ll make it a little personal: This is an exciting challenge, an exciting opportunity that circumstances put in my way. This is my last job. If I leave tomorrow, I retire. If I leave five years from now, I retire. The reason I’m here is because I see an incredible opportunity to make a difference. This University is just at the crossroads. I really mean that – if I don’t mean that, I’ll pack and go and retire and have a good time. Just look around, how many buildings we’ve finished. Suddenly students have first-class learning (facilities), and that will bring in more and better students. And watch me. There will be more. And it will all come because we are the right university for the government to invest in, and for donors to invest in, because of growing demand. The subway will come, the Pan Am facilities will be here.

This interview has been condensed and edited, The Globe noted.

Director calls his time at York ‘best four years of my life’

Michael Greenspan [BFA Spec. Hons. ’99] hasn’t forgotten some advice his mentor Robert Wise gave him before he began shooting The Legend of Razorback, the award-winning short…that he made while studying at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, wrote Victoria, BC’s Times Colonist Sept. 30 .

“He said, ‘If you cast your movie right, 90 per cent of your job is done,’ ” recalled Greenspan, who still has the piece of paper where he recorded Wise’s words.

Those Wise words resurfaced when Greenspan cast his new, untitled thriller. Based on an idea by Bryan Bucks and a screenplay by Christian Forte, Christopher Dodd [BFA Spec. Hons. ’97] and Greenspan, the psychological suspenser, being filmed here, focuses on two female university roommates whose lives take a dark and deadly turn when they commit murder.

The Montreal native similarly recalled those pearls of wisdom when he made his feature film debut Wrecked. He shot the wilderness thriller…on Vancouver Island last year after four years of development with screenwriter Dodd, his longtime creative collaborator he met while studying film at Toronto’s York University [Faculty of Fine Arts].

The animated writerdirector also learned a valuable lesson from a film professor at York University – Teresa Barta, a Hungarian filmmaker who fled her homeland with reels of film under her arms to escape imprisonment. “Her ideas of why we tell stories – it’s not a job, it’s a passion – rubbed off,” he said, recalling Barta’s blunt assessments of his early work, which she said “lacked truth” despite being stylistically appealing. “She taught me if you’re going to go to the trouble of doing this, why not say something personal or meaningful.”

His cinematography professor – also Hungarian – was another influence, enhancing Greenspan’s appreciation of the French New Wave, Italian Neo-Realism, German Expressionism and other world cinema he studied during “the best four years of my life.”

A Supreme Court shorthanded

They are immensely important figures who will affect public policy for the next 10 or 20 years – yet the glacial-paced search for two new Supreme Court of Canada judges has failed to kindle even modest public interest, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 30.

“The question is, will the government appoint judges whose first allegiance is to upholding the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Bruce Ryder, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. “Or, will it appoint judges who are more likely to acquiesce to the government’s disregard for fundamental rights? I fear the latter.”

Ryder said that the court is widely seen as deferential to the government agenda. “When it has called the government to account, it has often done so in sharply divided rulings,” he said. “The new appointees could cast the deciding votes.”

[In a list of final nominees for appointment to the Court cited by the Globe were several graduates of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School:]

Madam Justice Karen Weiler [LLB ’67, LLM ’74], 66: Fluently bilingual and active in many legal and judicial organizations, she has logged 12 years as a trial judge and 19 years on the Court of Appeal.

Madame Justice Andromake Karakatsanis [LLB ’80], 55: A recent appointment with strong Conservative connections, the majority of her career was in civil-service ranks, including a stint as assistant attorney- general and cabinet secretary. It is strongly rumoured she has removed her name from contention because her husband has a debilitating illness.

Justice Russell Juriansz [LLB ’72], 64: An expert with computers and new technology, he is a middle-of-the-road jurist with considerable experience in human rights law. Born in India, he would become the first visible minority judge on the Supreme Court.

Justice Harry Laforme [LLB ’77, LLD ’08], 64: The most senior aboriginal judge in the country, he left a thriving practice in aboriginal law in 1994 to spend 10 years as a trial judge. He would be the first aboriginal judge on the Supreme Court.

What do procrastinators think?

I’ve been collaborating with a colleague, Gordon Flett (York University [Faculty of Health], Canada Research Chair, and PT-blogger) on the publication of a special issue of the Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, wrote Timothy Pychyl in Sept. 29. To say that we’ve had delay in our work would be an understatement. The irony is not lost on us, or the editor, who has been patiently waiting for the papers to come his way. It’s not procrastination, well at least we’re not admitting to it.

Flett has written an excellent paper with his colleagues, Murray Stainton and Clarry Lay (York University), Paul Hewitt (University of British Columbia) and Simon Sherry (Dalhousie University). Their focus is on procrastination-related automatic thoughts.

Summarizing a number of diverse cases, these authors emphasize how procrastination and the thoughts related to it are often linked inextricably with feelings of failure, shame, guilt, perfectionism, and self-doubt.

In their most recent studies involving both undergraduate- and graduate-student samples, they found that scores on the were associated with negative automatic thoughts about the self in general, as well as automatic thoughts that reflect the need to be perfect…. Among undergrads, high scores on Procrastinatory Cognitions Inventory were related to performance avoidance goals. Not surprisingly, procrastinatory cognitions were linked to avoiding failure, not approaching success.

Education goal is to narrow gap between rich, poor, says York instructor

Re: “Go Figure, Because Teachers Can’t” (Sept. 29): I teach the foundations course at York University, a large part of it exploring social justice issues in the classroom, but all morning every Wednesday my students are being taught how to teach mathematics, wrote Jerry Diakiw, instructor in York’s Faculty of Education, in a letter to The Globe and Mail Sept. 30.

This week we explored recent Toronto District School Board data which showed that while only 16 per cent of students who took most of their courses at the academic level dropped out, 56 per cent of students taking most of their courses at the practical level did. Students living in wealthy neighbourhoods have a dropout rate of 16 per cent; for students living in areas like Jane/ Finch or Regent Park, the rate is 43 per cent.

Students from families earning under $30,000 come predominantly from visible minority, immigrant groups, often with single parents or low levels of family education.

While we are committed to raising the achievement of all students in Ontario, we are also dedicated to narrowing the gap in achievement between students from advantaged homes and those less advantaged. It is not an either-or.

Schulich prof says Emirates deal with WestJet is aimed at Air Canada

Blocked from offering more flights out of Canada, Emirates Airlines is now partnering with WestJet Airlines to reach more cities, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 30.

York University business professor Fred Lazar said this move helps WestJet to expand its network, though the big question is how much revenue the Canadian carrier collects from these flights that are sold only by Emirates. “For Emirates, if you’re going to fight Air Canada, you might as well partner with its biggest competitor,” Lazar said. “It’s expected, but it’s not a big deal.”

York grad runs for NDP in Etobicoke North

The HST tax has been the number one issue we have been faced with, wrote Etobicoke North NDP candidate Vrind Sharma [BHRM ’09] in an election story in the Etobicoke Guardian Sept. 29. Working with the appropriate government partners in addition to listening to our community voice is our first step. We plan on removing the HST off of daily essentials such as gas, home heating and hydro. Families of all income classes are finding it financially strenuous, and those big corporations that are benefiting from HST profits and pocketing big bonuses is just not cutting it. My plan is to provide more options and re-introduce a more affordable life to the residents of Etobicoke North.

Graduating from York University, I earned a human resources management degree. I am community activist and believe that it is our people coming together that will change the way we live. I have partnered with many organizations to hold numerous fundraisers benefiting local youth and seniors. Changing Etobicoke North I believe is a group effort. I grew up in Etobicoke North which is why I feel I am the right voice for this community.

College players merit piece of pie, study says

York University Lions hoops star David Tyndale says full scholarships should be available to varsity basketball and football players on both sides of the border, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 30, in a story about a report by the National College Players Association recommending big-time college athletes should be allowed to bargain like the pros..

Tyndale, who has led the Lions in scoring the past three years, says he does not believe in paying college players a salary because he fears complacency would follow. “That’s why people enjoy college basketball much more than professional basketball, because it’s almost like they’re much more hungry,” says Tyndale, whose goal is to turn pro with a European team. “It would create complacency because they’d be satisfied with the pay rather than working hard to get to another level.”

Oshawa Power welcomes York Lions’ grad to the fold

Tut Ruach [BA Spec. Hons. ’10], a graduate of York University, caught the eye of team brass at the recent showcase weekend the team held at Durham College, so much so he was among the first players to sign, wrote Sept. 29, in a story about players selected by the Oshawa entry in the inaugural National Basketball League of Canada draft.

The six-foot-two combo guard played last season for Itzehoe in Germany, averaging 20.5 points a night, 5.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds.