Strikebound York hit by drop in applications

The number of Ontario high-school students picking York University as their first choice for next September is down nearly 15 per cent over this time last year – the biggest drop since the bust after the double cohort – as a 10-week strike continues to shut down Canada’s third-largest university, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 17.

In contrast, 10.5 per cent more students have chosen Ryerson first and 4.3 per cent more have picked the University of Toronto, according to figures obtained by the Star.

And overall, applications by high-school students to all Ontario universities is up 1.1 per cent over this time last year, according to data gathered this week by the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre in Guelph.

But applications to York overall, which include the University as a student’s second or third choice, are down 10.8 per cent.

“It’s going to take a long time to repair the damage both sides have done to York’s reputation,” said Dagmar Kanzler, whose son is in second-year film production at York and may switch to another school if the union does not vote to end the strike next week.

The application centre will release the preliminary figures Monday – the same day 3,340 striking teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants start casting ballots on York’s latest offer in a vote supervised by the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Results of the two-day vote, requested by York but opposed as a “dirty trick” by the union, will be known late Tuesday.

York officials have said a Yes vote by contract faculty and teaching assistants could restart classes next Thursday for 50,000 undergraduates. The union says a No vote will send both sides back to the table to hammer out a fair deal, although there is no sign the University would agree, leaving the future of the academic year in question.

But CUPE spokesperson Tyler Shipley says York’s administration must take the fall for any damage the strike may cause to recruiting. “In December the president was predicting an increase in enrolment, so if students are making alternate plans then it’s the University that has to take responsibility,” said Shipley last night. “We tried bargaining for four months before the strike and since then we have begged the University to come to the table but they have only bargained for five days.”

Across Ontario, university applications have risen slowly since 2004, the year after the last crop of Grade 13 students finished high school alongside the first of the four-year grads, causing a flood of 33,000 more applicants to the province’s 19 universities.

While York has seen slight drops and rises in recent years in students who choose it first by the January deadline – ranging from a rise of 5.2 per cent in 2005 to a dip of 2.5 per cent in 2008 – a 14.7 per cent drop in first-choice applicants and a 10.8 per cent drop overall is not only dramatic for York but out of whack with schools in the region.

  • York University professor Ian Greene says ending the strike will be just the first hurdle in fixing the disrupted school year, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 19.

Greene, 60, is the master of McLaughlin College, which makes him responsible for providing extra- and co-curricular activities to students. Since the start of the strike, Greene has been working long hours to organize information sessions for undergraduates about remedial work after the strike. Greene also teaches a graduate course, adding to his workload.

“For people like me, it’s been busier” since classes were idled, he said. “There are many student activities such as the debating club that continue…. After the strike, it’s going to get unbelievably busy.”

  • Striking employees of York University rallied in front of Queen’s Park yesterday in anticipation of a union vote on forced ratification coming up this week, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 19.

The union is recommending members vote against the University’s latest offer, which promises a 9.25 per cent wage hike over three years in addition to improved benefits and job security.

  • The union representing York teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty begins a forced ratification vote on the University’s latest offer today, wrote the National Post Jan. 19.

The offer was not brought to union membership to be voted on by the executive, but rather by the University administration who requested the provincial government intervene and conduct a supervised vote. The administration is urging union members to vote yes. Another group urging the union to vote yes is nearly 300 faculty members who signed their names to a letter urging CUPE to accept the current contract proposal. The signees of the letter are members of the York University Faculty Association (YUFA).

YUFA President Arthur Hilliker said, while he does not endorse the letter, he does not condemn it or believe it to be illegal either, according to Eric Lawee, a York humanities professor and one of the letter’s signees. YUFA maintains it wants a fair and equitable offer for CUPE.

The letter addresses specific concerns if the strike were to drag on, including the potential loss of the summer term, which not only would hurt the school’s undergraduate students, but would affect CUPE as well, with possible job losses due to the elimination of the summer term.

Lawee said that there were two main reasons behind the letter. The first was due to “a strong sense that the strike has dragged on too long and that the rights and needs of students must now take priority over all else,” he said. “And…that this should be an easy settlement to endorse because the offer is very fair.”

The University’s deans and University librarian also issued a statement last week urging union members to take the deal in the best interest of the students and the University at large.

Parents of York students have sprung into action as well, creating a blog and Facebook community warning parents of potential students not to send their child to York.

Dagmar Kanzler, a parent of a second-year York student, said she and her husband decided to form the group after the University asked the Ontario Labour Ministry to conduct a supervised vote and it appeared to her that the two sides would not work out an agreement immediately after the holiday break.

“When it became clear that the two sides were at an impasse my husband and I decided that it was time to step up to the plate and do something,” she said. “We spent the weekend figuring out what that something should be, and by [this past] Monday were more or less ready to try and mobilize parents to get vocal and visible.”

  • About 200 striking York University workers gathered in the cold in downtown Toronto yesterday to rally for a “no” vote when determining whether to accept the University’s latest offer, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 19.

The leadership of CUPE Local 3903…is urging their members to reject the University’s latest offer when they vote today and tomorrow. University officials say their latest offer cannot be stretched.

While no formal vote has been taken, the union already informed the University it doesn’t like the offer. “Our folks have been under a lot of pressure and the long delay in having this vote gave time (for) the deans and some members of faculty association to get us to vote a certain way and I think that’s troubling,” said union spokesperson Tyler Shipley. “I think our members should make up our own minds.”

“The University is casualizing our work,” said Gayle Comeau, who has taught at York for 19 years on contract and holds two other jobs to support herself and her son. “Every semester we have to apply to teach for our courses and we may get four courses or no courses,” said Comeau, who is making under $20,000 this year.

Shipley said the current offer to provide five members with tenure during three years is inadequate.

  • Lykke de la Cour gets up weekdays at 4am, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 19. She finds she writes her best lectures then; she’s too tired at night.

She knows this from preparing hundreds of lectures over 15 years for more than 20 courses at York University about women and the disabled and health & law. Usually she teaches four full courses a year. Most involve two-hour lectures, she notes – each the equivalent of a 50-page essay.

To her students, she is “Professor” de la Cour, but she is not a fully minted prof. Officially she is a [contract instructor] and belongs to York’s booming ranks of faculty who have no tenure or long-term contracts. Instead they reapply for short-term contracts each January and wait till June to learn the courses they’ll teach in the fall.

Now they are at the eye of York’s labour storm. Their bid for more job security is an issue steaming on the front burner. And their presence – they already run more than half the undergraduate classes and York admits to relying more and more on them – will be key to restarting the campus engine.

Jordy Cummings, a graduate assistant, predicted union members will soundly reject the offer. “Hopefully then we can get back to bargaining and (the University) will realize that it’s time to get serious.”

De la Cour is among 900 contract faculty who could cast the deciding ballots on whether classes resume Thursday for 50,000 students.

They are not the voting majority – are far outnumbered, in fact, by the 2,400 younger, and some say more militant, graduate students who are employed either as teaching assistants or researchers.

The three groups will vote separately; each can either accept the offer and go back to work, or reject it and return to the picket line.

“I will definitely be voting No – I feel it’s not fair to keep people on contract for 10, 15, even 20 years without hiring them,” said de la Cour, who hopes to complete her PhD this spring.

“You find out in June what course you will be teaching but your contract doesn’t start until Sept. 1. So any preparation you do over the summer – and you do a lot – is done free,” said de la Cour, who this year is teaching about 570 students in her four courses, overseeing 15 teaching assistants and marking assignments herself for about 95 students.

As contract faculty, she earns about $14,000 for each full-year course, and can teach up to 5-1/2 courses over a calendar year. As a tenured professor, she could earn up to $90,000 or more for teaching no more than 2-1/2 courses per year, providing time for research as well as University duties.

“Sure, we do a good job,” said de la Cour of her ilk, “but we could do so much better if we had job security.”

Faculty of Arts Dean Bob Drummond says the University’s offer provides more job security, although he admits the path to full-time jobs is growing narrower. He said York is proposing to create a new category of teachers – to number 17 over the next three years – who would get a five-year contract and better pay.

However, the number of contract faculty admitted to the prized full-time “tenure stream” would drop to five over the next three years, from about five to eight annually.

“We are not hiring as many tenure-stream faculty as we would like for budgetary reasons,” said Drummond, who leads the University’s bargaining team. “In the past three years we hired 85 people in the Faculty of Arts, for example but this year probably won’t hire more than two” because of provincial funding cutbacks.

At the same time Drummond admits “we are depending more and more on more contract faculty, and this is true across North America.”

De la Cour has done research and sadly confirms the trend, noting only 30 per cent of US campus instructors are tenured. But she says York seems to be leading the way in Canada in terms of a low ratio of tenured faculty to students. “I miss the classroom and I miss my students; I know they need to be out getting jobs (that start) by May 1,” she said, even though classes this year are almost sure to run later. “I’m going to start posting my lectures online in May, so students who need to start work can do the courses online and just come back for the exam. “It’s a gut-wrencher, this strike.”

  • The York University Faculty Association (YUFA) continues to support its striking co-workers, president Arthur Hilliker said in a statement yesterday, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 17.

YUFA, representing full-time professors, who aren’t included in the strike, voted in a meeting this week to stand behind striking CUPE Local 3903.

YUFA pledged its “support of free collective bargaining and does not endorse a ratification vote,” scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, because it was “forced” by the University. Its statement also said the association “does not endorse any YUFA member attempting to influence” votes.

The vote came on the heels of an open letter earlier this week, which 282 current and retired York faculty signed. Those professors urged CUPE members to accept the current deal.

  • The letter released by Professor Bernie Lightman represents about 15 per cent of faculty at York, to be exact, after assiduous cultivation of the faculty over a period of many days, wrote Jody Berland, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a letter to the Toronto Star Jan. 18. Your coverage did not report that the executive of the York University Faculty Association has passed a series of motions supporting the union’s quest for better job security, and explicitly advising faculty against seeking to influence or coerce members of CUPE through calls to vote “yes” for the forced ratification vote through which CUPE responds to the current contract offer.
    The Lightman letter now being highlighted by the Star and other media is not only a misrepresentation of the proposed agreement and jurisdictionally questionable as a directive from a senior to a junior union, it is also in direct defiance of the elected representatives and colleagues of the faculty they claim to represent, wrote Berland.
  • Professor Berland has claimed that the open letter by full-time faculty and retirees to striking members of CUPE 3903 is in direct defiance of motions passed by the faculty union’s executive, wrote Bernie Lightman, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a letter to the Toronto Star Jan. 19. The signees have never claimed to speak on behalf of, or to represent, the faculty union.

Professor Berland interprets the motions of the faculty union’s executive as saying that faculty are not free to express their opinions on the strike. I do not believe that that is the correct interpretation. However, if Professor Berland’s interpretation were correct, then I would have to defy the faculty union.

It is not the business of a faculty union to gag its own members. One of the most important priorities of a university is to encourage free discussion and expression. That priority is not suspended during a strike, especially when the fate of more than 50,000 students hangs in the balance.

  • International students worry that York University’s increasingly tarnished reputation will have a negative impact on their future, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 17.

For foreign pupils such as Amro Hijjawi and Karim Soliman, it’s extremely important to make use of every minute allowed on their four-year student visas.

Losing precious time is not their only worry – they also fear they may end up not getting their degrees, which cost from $14,000 to $17,000 a year in tuition fees. “We don’t know if we’re going to get our money back,” says Soliman. “I am actually trying to search online for other universities in Canada because we know the reputation of York is not as good any more.”

  • Gary Romanuk, York teaching assistant, spoke about the strike on CBC Radio (Sudbury) Jan. 19.
  • Tyler Shipley, CUPE 3903 spokesperson, teaching assistant colleague Healy Thompson and student Aaron Lauretani, talked about the strike on Global TV (Hamilton) Jan. 18.

1997 York shutdown cost students $12 million

A 1997 professors’ strike at York University that stretched the school year into May caused an estimated loss of summer earnings to students of $12 million, or about $630 per student, according to a study conducted at the time, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 18.

The landmark survey of a sample of about 540 undergraduates by York social science Professor Paul Grayson – one of the only studies in North America to look at the impact of a campus strike on students – shows that 37 per cent of students were worried about getting a late start on their summer jobs.

When contacted five months later, the students were asked to estimate how much they had lost by missing up to a month of summer because of making up classes, and the average was found to be $630 per student, said Grayson, of York’s Institute for Social Research.

“The total loss to full-time undergraduate students at York because of the way the strike affected summer jobs was approximately $12 million.”

The study interviewed the same 540 students both during and after the seven-week strike that shut down classes March 20, before final exams, and lasted until May 13.

“The strike had a very significant impact on students,” said Grayson, citing senior students in particular who were applying to graduate school, education students whose practice-teaching in schools was disrupted and science students, who worried that gaps in their coursework would hamper them in years to come.

Yet when asked five months later whether the strike truly had disrupted their academic year, most said no, which Grayson said could be linked to the human tendency “to mellow our recollections over time”.

Still, 86 per cent of students said they had no problems finishing their courses, although almost half of them had to wait until August to get their final marks and 15 per cent were still waiting in October. About one-third asked for – and obtained – some sort of adjustment to accommodate academic problems caused by the strike.

About one-quarter said the strike disrupted plans for summer school, and 15 per cent had to postpone their graduation because of the strike.

  • Some business owners and managers on York University’s Keele campus say they have experienced a drastic slump in sales since the strike started on Nov. 6, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 18.

“We are down 65 per cent of what we normally would be doing at this time of year,” said Alex Kapassouris, the owner of Blueberry Hill, a popular York eatery.

Kapassouris said the pinch caused by the strike forced him to cut his staff to only six full-time and part-time workers, less than half of the 15 he started with in the fall. Business is so slow that he has to close up shop three hours earlier than he normally would. He said the 2001 strike was tough but nowhere near this bad. “Most of them (employees) are students and they understand that business is going down,” he said.

A few shops down, on the same strip, just four customers sit in Sakura Japanese Foods. Lisa, the eatery’s owner, stared out into the empty corridor of the York Lanes Mall from behind the store’s counter on Friday. She said she has been through several strikes in her 18 years at the school but this is the worst she’s seen. “This is terrible,” she said. “We are losing a lot of money. My regular customers are all gone now. This is a bad time to have a strike.”

Courtney Samuels, travel manager at Travel CUTS, said the strike has forced students to cut back on trips abroad. He said the agents are usually busy with a lineup of customers, but demand has dwindled significantly because there are fewer students on campus. “A year ago we were shattering the budget,” he said. “This year we’re not even close.”

Hundreds show ‘pride for Israel’

Hours after Hamas agreed to a weeklong ceasefire, about 1,000 people draped in Israeli flags congregated at Yonge and Dundas Square for a pro-Israel rally yesterday, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 19. The event, Toronto for Israel, was organized by a coalition of student groups in the city.

Daniel Ferman, president of Hillel at York University, said they were pleased with the turnout. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to the crowd, dancing and cheering during one of speeches, “we’re all here to show our support and pride for Israel.”

Across the street in front of the Eaton Centre, about a dozen silent demonstrators held signs of protest, such as: “Jews against the Siege.”

  • A sense of celebration hung in the air at a rally supporting Israel in Toronto on Sunday as Gaza entered a weeklong ceasefire, but there was unease behind the optimism as people on both sides of the dispute expressed doubt that one week would bring about any real change, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 18.

Jessica Abourmad, a York University student who passionately shouted her support for Israel, said she doesn’t hold much hope for long-term peace with Hamas, considered by Canada to be a terrorist organization. “We need a partner and we don’t have a partner,” she said of the struggle for Middle East peace. “They don’t want Israel to exist and we want peace.”

  • A ceasefire in the Middle East didn’t thaw relations at Dundas Square yesterday, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 19. The rally was organized by students from across the GTA, said an organizer, Daniel Ferman, president of Hillel at York University. “We have come together in a coalition and we will do whatever we can to rally support for Israel,” Ferman said.

York medical school is on a wish list for infrastructure money

Establishing its own medical school has been a gleam in the eye of York University since it was founded 50 years ago, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 17 in a story about suggestions on how Finance Minister Jim Flaherty could spend money from a proposed infrastructure fund that included mention of two York projects.

Since 2005, and with a big push last year from the provincial government, York has mounted a major campaign to win approval for a medical school. If approved, the school would graduate 150 to 160 students a year, with a focus on disease prevention, serving local communities in northwest Toronto and York Region. The University continues to be in discussion with the provincial government about a green light for this. Cost: $200 million

Climate Change Collaboration Centre ($50 million)

A surprise entry, wrote the Globe. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and York University want to build a single facility to house climate-change research and policy development. While the eco-movement seems to have the upper hand these days, this might be a twinkle rather than a project with poised shovels.

Our leaders find common ground

One of the commitments made by the federal and provincial governments yesterday was to “get shovels in the ground” by cutting the red tape that so often holds up infrastructure investments, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 17 in an editorial.

To illustrate the point, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty brought to the meeting a 500-page booklet containing the documents that his government had to supply to Ottawa to get promised funding for the extension of the subway to York University. McGuinty’s message apparently sunk in, for federal Transport Minister John Baird pledged afterward to cut the red tape and “make things happen”.

  • Premier Dalton McGuinty found a receptive audience for Ontario’s new policy of capping environmental assessments on public transit projects at six months to ensure work gets going, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 17 in a story about a meeting between Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the provincial premiers. To illustrate that federal red tape can throttle infrastructure projects, McGuinty brought the 550-page binder Queen’s Park was required to submit to Ottawa as a business case for the Spadina subway extension to York University.

“He brought up a perfect example of red tape. Part of my changes will deal with the specific problem he brought up,” Transport Minister John Baird said in an interview. Baird has been pushing for the coordination of environmental assessments so only one is needed on a new public works project.

Packed house says goodbye to Whitby’s Don Sanderson

It was an emotional moment as Don Sanderson‘s hockey jersey was hoisted to the rafters of Iroquois Park Arena’s ice rink, wrote The Toronto Sun Jan. 18.

A packed house of family members, friends and teammates gathered at the Whitby arena last night to retire “No. 40” of the Whitby Dunlops and pay tribute to the 21-year-old player who died earlier this month from a severe head injury.

“I thought about the first time he was on the ice,” Sanderson’s father, Michael, said teary-eyed. “He would say, ‘Help me.’ And (tonight), I felt so helpless because I can’t help my son anymore. When that number goes up, it almost makes it final now, that he has moved on,” Michael, 55, said. “It really hurts.”

Sanderson’s helmet fell off during a fight during a game and his head struck the ice during a fight with a Brantford Blast player on Dec. 12. Sanderson was an only child, who lived with his mom in Port Perry. He was a huge Leafs fan and was studying kinesiology at York University.

  • Residents of this town packed a local arena Saturday night to honour the memory of Don Sanderson and remember the hockey player, coach, son, grandson and friend who died Jan. 2, three weeks after he was injured in an on-ice fight, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Jan. 19.

Hours before the game, family, friends and teammates hugged and shed tears as they came together to reminisce about Sanderson at a café inside the arena complex. “It’s another opportunity to bring everyone together in Donald Sanderson style,” said Don’s mother, Dahna Sanderson. “That’s what I said to one of my girlfriends: ‘Look at him, he’s bringing everyone together again even when he’s not here.’“

  • Brantford Blast president and general manager Peter Ham has been involved in hockey for more than 50 years, wrote the Brantford Expositor Jan. 19. But Saturday was the most emotional night he’s ever spent in a hockey rink. “That was quite an emotionally charged building (Saturday) night,” Ham said on Sunday following his team’s game against the Whitby Dunlops, a contest that featured a pre-game ceremony that honoured the memory of Don Sanderson.

Former transport minister to speak at rail symposium

Former federal transport minister David Collenette will speak Saturday, Jan. 31, at a symposium on prospects for high-speed rail in Ontario and Quebec, wrote the Waterloo Region Record Jan. 19. The free event is being held from noon to 5pm at regional council headquarters, 150 Frederick St. in Kitchener. It includes advocates of high-speed rail and representatives of firms that build the technology. Seating is limited. Register to attend at Collenette left politics in 2004 and is now teaching at York University’s Glendon campus.

On air

  • Susan Drummond, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about a bigamy case in British Columbia, on CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition” Jan. 18.