York protesters sit in

Dozens of striking York University teaching assistants and their student supporters held a sit-in outside the president’s office last night to demand he get involved in putting an end to the strike that has cancelled classes since Nov. 6, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 16.

The protesters, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903 and their supporters, said they would not leave until President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri shows up and promises, in writing, to hold a public forum on the strike in the first week of January.

"The president may not want to get involved in labour relations but there is a moment when you have to show leadership – and six weeks into a strike is the time," said Tyler Shipley, a spokesperson for the union.

Gabrielle Gerin, a graduate student in political science, said, "We’re doing this to put pressure on the University to get them moving and we’re not backing down."

The union has cancelled picket lines this week on all but the main entrance to the Keele campus and the gate to its Glendon location, and instead planned a series of rallies, including one yesterday morning in a campus building, the Star said.

But after the rally, about 120 teaching assistants and undergraduates decided to move to Shoukri’s office, Shipley said, to demand the president meet with the protesters and agree to the January forum, as well as answer 12 questions on issues from tuition to reimbursing students for class time lost because of the strike.

The walkout will almost certainly cancel reading week and extend the school year into May for nearly 50,000 students at the University, said the Star.

University spokesperson Alex Bilyk said Shoukri was not on campus and noted the protesters were violating the Ontario Labour Relations Act by protesting on "private property". "The place to settle the strike is at the bargaining table. The union should be putting its efforts into developing a framework for a proposal that would get our students back to class," Bilyk said.

The union, meanwhile, is taking its message downtown to explain to shoppers and office workers why it decided to walk off the job. The union has planned an event each day this week to ramp up pressure on the University to return to the bargaining table. Events include a "block party" at the corner of King and Bay streets this morning, said the Star.

"We really want York to come back to the table and negotiate an end to this strike. We belong in classrooms. We don’t belong on picket lines," said Shipley, a political science teaching assistant.

However, Bilyk said the University will wait for the mediator to call both sides back to the table.

  • The union representing the striking workers says the protesters are asking York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri to answer a list of 12 questions, wrote The Canadian Press Dec. 16. They are also calling on Shoukri to sign a written commitment to hold a public forum in the first week of January.
  • CFTO-TV, A-Channel News, 680News Radio and CFRB Radio also carried reports of the sit-in Dec. 15.
  • Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, Myles Leitch, a member of CUPE 3903, and several unidentified speakers, talked about the ongoing strike by CUPE 3903 on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Dec. 15.
  • Nora Kharouba, spokesperson for the online group YorkNotHostage.com, spoke about the strike by CUPE 3903 on CFRB Radio Dec. 15.
  • Radio Canada (Montreal) and CBC Radio also carried an item on the strike with comments by Hamid Osman, president of the York Federation of Students, and Alex Bilyk.
  • CBC TV, Global TV and CP24-TV also carried reports on the strike and interviews with students.

York student suffers severe head injury during hockey fisticuffs

Raw determination and endless reserves of sheer willpower, the very traits that allowed Don Sanderson to overcome the odds and make the Whitby Dunlops as a 21-year-old walk-on, are what the defenceman is relying on now to cling to life, wrote the Toronto Star and Hamilton Spectator Dec. 16.

The victim of what witnesses describe as a tragic on-ice accident, Sanderson is in a coma on life-support, listed in critical condition at Hamilton General Hospital.

Once again, the York University student is trying to beat the odds.

"This young man is so strong-willed, he’s got total perseverance and that’s the best thing on his side," said Whitby Dunlops Hockey Club President Steve Cardwell, who spent most of yesterday at the hospital with Sanderson’s family.

In a heart-wrenching turn of events Friday night, Sanderson was seriously hurt in what, by all accounts, was a routine fight during a game in Major League Hockey, the top level of senior hockey in the province.

During the game against the Blast in Brantford, the Whitby defenceman squared off with Corey Fulton in the third period. The two exchanged punches and, at some point during the tussle, Sanderson’s helmet came off. Then, in the typical conclusion to a fight, the two tumbled as they clutched each other but Sanderson’s bare head struck the ice and he lost consciousness.

  • A senior hockey player is in a coma and on life support after hitting his head on the ice during a fight, wrote The Canadian Press Dec. 16. Don Sanderson, a 21-year-old defenceman for the Ontario Hockey Association’s Whitby Dunlops, lost consciousness when he hit the ice but came to before being taken away on a stretcher. He lost consciousness again on his way to Brantford General Hospital and has been in a coma since. He was transferred to Hamilton General, where neurologists performed surgery early Saturday. Sanderson, a native of Port Perry, Ont., is a student at York University.
  • Whitby Dunlops’ defenceman Don Sanderson remains in critical condition and in a coma in a Hamilton hospital, wrote the Brantford Expositor Dec. 16. Blast assistant general manager Steve Cheeseman has been at Hamilton General Hospital daily since the injury. He spoke with Sanderson’s parents, Mike and Donna. “There was a little movement in his fingers, so that’s good,” Cheeseman said Monday.
  • A-Channel News (London) and CP24-TV also reported on the incident where Sanderson was injured.

Universities and the Great Depression: then and now

Paul Axelrod, professor in York’s Faculty of Education and the author of Making a Middle Class: Student Life in English Canada during the Thirties, looked at the university experience of the 1930s in an article in the Dec. 16 issue of Academic Matters. He then discussed the possible implications for the present in light of talk of a possible new "depression" in Canada.

History, of course, never replicates itself entirely, but there would be some haunting echoes, wrote Axelrod. Students, whose current participation in postsecondary education exceeds the rate in the 1930s by a factor of about 10, would be likely to endure the heaviest burden. Since higher education is already considered essential (but not a guarantee) for securing high-quality employment, they will do all they can to complete their degrees and will, increasingly, consider enrolling in graduate school as an added credential hedge against the future. But unless they have very affluent parents, they will feel the weight and stress of accumulating debt, with limited immediate job prospects, except, perhaps, in very select fields (e.g. medicine, law enforcement).

Universities and government will continue to provide scholarships, bursaries and loans, but the amount available will not match the growing needs. Unless enrolment declines dramatically, universities will not lower tuition fees because their own revenues from government will be reduced.

Hiring of full-time faculty will diminish or be frozen, particularly in institutions with deep (possibly structural) deficits. There will be virtually no new capital construction and practically nothing available for badly needed renovations. (A lot of this is not terribly difficult to predict, since in some institutions, it is already happening.)

But there are some critical differences between then and now that might well blunt the impact on universities of a severe economic downturn. First, faculty associations will do everything in their power – short of striking – to preserve full-time jobs and protect professors’ academic freedoms. Some positions may be lost, but collective agreements should ensure that transparent processes are followed. Owing to seniority provisions, contract and newly hired faculty will be the most vulnerable.

Second, universities are viewed by politicians as important instruments of economic growth and development. To some degree, this has always been true – but they are now perceived to be key drivers of the “knowledge economy” in a “globalized” environment, something which takes on added importance as manufacturing jobs continue to disappear. I think there is a good deal of sheer rhetoric and mythology associated with the knowledge economy argument, but it remains the universities’ strongest bargaining chip in the marketplace and in politics. Indeed, during a depression, education’s social standing may well grow if it is considered essential to economic recovery.

York cheerleaders ready to help in Cheer-a-thon

The Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School cheerleading team is hosting the Redhawk Cheer-a-thon on Friday, Dec. 19 to raise money for new cheer mats and registration fees to the Cheer Alliance National Championships in May 2009 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, wrote the Etobicoke Guardian Dec. 15. The team are looking for sponsors. They have also invited the York University cheerleaders to work with them.