York unlikely to hold classes before January

If a settlement is not reached between York University and the union representing teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty by the end of today, the earliest classes will resume for students is 2009, wrote the National Post Dec. 15.

York Senate recommended the deadline due to the holidays coming up next week. If classes were in session, exams for students would be ending next Monday. "[A contract] would have to be ratified by tomorrow, and I don’t think that’s going to happen," said Alex Bilyk, York media relations director, adding the University is looking at how to make up the lost time for the students.

"We’re working on all remediation plans. And the remediation plans will be set in such a way that academic integrity is maintained and that those remediation plans are fair to all students. That’s the way those remediation plans will be handled and put forth by every faculty, and reviewed by the vice-president academic and provost and…approved by the Senate executive."

Classes were cancelled for students on Nov. 6 when the strike by CUPE 3903 began, said the Post. Since then, students at the Schulich School of Business who are involved in international programs, Osgoode Hall Law School students and nursing students who have to take a nursing exam in February have had their classes resume.

"All of these [programs] were restarted because of things that were out of our control," Bilyk said. "For example, national certification exams for nursing or the way that the Law Society of Upper Canada sets the interview dates for jobs – those types of factors were taken into account when we restarted."

The Post said the Senate statement confused some York students, who interpreted it to mean that fall 2008 classes that would have been finished by now would be cancelled. Bilyk said this is not the case.

"Under normal circumstances, winter term would have begun on Jan. 5," Bilyk said. "What this is saying is that as a result of this disruption, and with the special circumstances that we just talked about, winter term courses have been suspended and will start immediately following the fall term remediation period. So we will be doing remediation in January."

CUPE 3903 is looking for more wages, better job security and a two-year contract from the University. Talks in the 40 days since the strike began have been few and far between. The last talks between the two parties were called off by the provincial mediator when he determined the parties were still too far apart and there was no reason to continue talks.

According to Bilyk, talks have not resumed since the mediator suspended talks. He said the University is willing to negotiate over the holidays.

In a statement released last week, York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri said the University has suffered financial setbacks due to the current economic crisis. As of the end of last month, York had lost 19 per cent in its endowment funds (approximately $55 million). Shoukri’s statement on York’s financial setbacks did not mention the current CUPE strike.

  • Some things won’t wait for the end of the York University strike. Pregnancy, for one, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 15.

A student in Professor Don Rubin‘s fall course on African Theatre in the Faculty of Fine Arts was a credit away from finishing her degree and returning to Ethiopia in December to join her husband and await a new baby. But then the teaching strike hit Nov. 6, cancelling classes until some unknown date in the new year. At seven months pregnant, she couldn’t wait, so she flew home without that last credit.

"When the strike is over I’ll create assignments and a take-home exam she can do in Addis Ababa and e-mail back to me," explained Rubin, director of York’s Graduate Program in Theatre Studies. "These are the kinds of situations being created by this strike, and if it’s not settled by the midnight before classes are set to start up Jan. 5, we’re into the very dangerous situation of having to extend the school year into May – and the problems that brings could be insurmountable."

How much longer can the strike go on before students risk losing their year, or semester, or at least face May classes that could jeopardize summer jobs? About three more weeks until May classes are needed, according to Rubin’s math.

University officials won’t discuss the point at which the school year could be at risk, but Rubin says a deal is needed over the holidays if the year is to be saved without stretching into May.

By cancelling Reading Week, trimming a week off each semester and tightening both fall and winter exam periods by using weekends and stacking more exams per day, "it’ll be close, but it’s doable – if classes start Jan. 5."

York officials have said that as of today, it’s too late for classes to resume in December, even if a deal were to be reached tonight with the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903, which represents 3,340 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants.

  • Where do York’s fulltime faculty members, who are not on strike, stand in this fiasco?, asked Eric Lawee, professor of humanities and Jewish studies in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a Dec. 13 guest column in the National Post that talked about the York University Faculty Association (YUFA).

What’s disconcerting is that many YUFA members insist on blind loyalty to fellow unionists no matter what CUPE says or does, eschewing even any pretence of the evidence-based deliberation that professors are supposed to practice and teach, wrote Lawee. No sooner do these YUFA members leave the classroom and enter the union hall and all the "critical thinking" that they routinely deploy to question fundamentalisms of every sort is replaced by "unionism," a quasi-religious faith nearly as passionate as the one of the most fervent believers.

This peculiar faith was on full display last week when a motion urging YUFA’s "dignified neutrality" for the remainder of the strike came before a general meeting of the YUFA membership. The motion reflected a letter signed by over 160 faculty condemning CUPE’s "method of bargaining based on unrealistic demands." Its message was that CUPE must moderate its demands if it wishes to enjoy continued YUFA support. Its aim was to get York students back into the classroom as soon as possible.

When the motion was moved, the gasp in the room was audible. A blasphemy had been uttered. Speaking against the motion, a member of the YUFA executive insisted that our support for striking "brothers and sisters" must be total, with no questions asked. The motion was defeated, though by an unexpectedly small margin. For the sake of my students, I hope that the "heresy" embodied in the motion, that one academic union will not support another unconditionally, will spread.

Fundamentalisms usually claim victims. At York, these victims are our students. For their often-unthinking fidelity to unionism, some of these students’ professors deserve a failing grade, wrote Lawee.

  • Innocent Madawoa, an undergraduate student at York, and Punam Khosla, spokesperson for CUPE 3903, spoke about the strike, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Dec. 12.

Getting through the pitfalls of a mature education

Starting post-secondary education as a mature student comes with a thick pile of potential pitfalls, but handling them well can turn negatives into positives, wrote Metro Dec. 15. Scott Cowan, vice-president of York University’s YUMSO (York University Mature Students Organization), says mature students tend to be there to upgrade skills or for the love of learning. Cowan, who is also linked with the Atkinson Centre for Mature and Part-time Students, he says a common pitfall is not accounting for the time required outside of the classroom.“There’s a need to realize the demands of course loads at university,” he says. “It is quite a change.”

Going from a steady income to no or low income, while at the same time spending big money on tuition and text books, can come as a shock. Plan your finances out well in advance, Cowan says, and remember it’s a temporary measure. Family pressures can be hard, especially on single parents. “It’s a challenge for them to maintain their current role as parent and add the new role of student,” Cowan says. On the plus side, familial support can help you excel.

For BCE’s Cope, no buyout means business as usual

Some industry observers question whether 18 months of buyout-related distractions – including regulatory hearings, near-constant pressure from cash-strapped banks and a bondholder lawsuit that went all the way to the country’s highest court – have taken a toll on BCE’s competitive position, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 13 in a story about the failed leverage buyout of Bell Canada’s parent company. "The world has moved on and there’s a lot going on in the home phone and wireless business," said Theo Peridis, a professor of strategic management and international business at the Schulich School of Business at York University. "They’re going to pay the price for that, no question about it," Peridis said.

Don’t try to stay dry

Given that perspiration cools the body by evaporation, is it counterproductive to wipe it off the skin? asked Bill Somes of Sarnia, Ont., in The Globe and Mail Dec. 13.

"Yes, although it might make you feel more comfortable and less ‘messy’ for a few seconds," says Ira Jacobs, professor in York’s Muscle Health Research Centre and Chair of the School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health. "Humans have developed a finely tuned system to maintain internal body temperature within the relatively narrow range required to survive," he says. When the air temperature around us is warmer than our body temperature, he writes, it is almost entirely sweat evaporation that allows us to avoid lethal hyperthermia. Anything that reduces the amount of sweat that can be evaporated impedes the cooling effect."

Injured hockey player fighting for his life

A Whitby Dunlops hockey player injured during Friday night’s Blast game at the civic centre is in a coma, wrote the Brantford Expositor Dec. 15. Don Sanderson, 21, was involved in an altercation with Brantford Blast player Corey Fulton early in the third period of Whitby’s 5-2 win. Sanderson’s helmet came off and, when he went down, his head hit the ice.

After Sanderson fell to the ice, St. John Ambulance attendants rushed to his aid, followed quickly by paramedics and local firefighters. Sanderson, a Port Perry native and York University student, arrived at Brantford General Hospital around 10:30pm. By 3 am, the six-foot-two, 200-pound defenceman was at Hamilton General Hospital, wrote the Expositor, quoting Steve Cheeseman, Blast assistant general manager. On Saturday morning, Sanderson had surgery and since that time he’s been in a coma and listed in critical condition.

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor and director of the International Business Administration Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the financial status of US automakers, in separate interviews on CBC Radio afternoon shows in Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Fredericton Dec. 12. Wolf also spoke about the issue on CBC Radio news and CTV NewsNet Dec. 12.
  • Kejal Shah, a member of the South Asian Alliance at York University, spoke about a candlelight vigil for victims of the recent attack in Mubai, India, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” (Toronto) Dec. 12.