CUPE’s solution would be unacceptable to all universities, says Axelrod

Universities’ heavy dependence on part-time faculty merits serious attention, but CUPE 3903’s proposed solution would be unacceptable to every university in Canada, argued Paul Axelrod, a professor in York’s Faculty of Education and its former dean, in an opinion piece published Feb. 9 on the University Affairs Web site.  

Despite internal tensions, and sometimes because of them, York has thrived academically in a range of areas. [But] York can only continue to thrive by hiring the best full-time faculty it can find and, like other universities, it must now do this in an era of diminishing financial resources, wrote Axelrod. 

This brings us to the core issue of this unfortunate strike. Rather than employing the principle of academic excellence, CUPE 3903 demanded that a significant portion of new full-time appointments be awarded to part-time faculty exclusively on the basis of seniority. The heavy dependence of universities on part-time employees is a national issue and merits serious attention, but CUPE’s “solution” would be unacceptable to virtually every university in Canada. 

I was disappointed by the union’s unrealistic demands and paralyzing tactics, Axelrod wrote. It turned down a reasonable contract offer; its job security proposals threatened the integrity of the University’s appointments process; it continuously denied the University’s financial challenges; and it bargained ideologically, not pragmatically. If its passion was admirable, its judgment was questionable.  

  • The last time CUPE 3903 struck, I was one of those angry contractual professors on the picket lines, wrote Brett Zimmerman, an English professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, in an opinion piece published Feb. 9 in the University Affairs Web site. This time, however, I’m a full-time assistant professor trying hard to avoid complacency for the sake of my friends and colleagues who occupied the space on the line that I once filled. Two years ago, after 19 years of working as a contractual professor at York, I became one of the lucky faculty members who was converted to a tenure-track position. The number of these conversion positions has been one of the stumbling blocks in the current labour negotiations between CUPE 3903 and the University.

On one hand, this time I felt the understandable annoyance anyone feels when a work stoppage occurs, added to the frustration of knowing my fall-term course was only weeks away from finishing and my visa student had to return to Shanghai before she could write my final exam. On the other hand, it was easy to feel a great deal of sympathy and empathy for my striking colleagues in whose shoes I walked not long ago, wrote Zimmerman.

And that is the danger for those of us who have been lucky enough to move on to a more stable vocational status. We must not forget who we once were and what those on the current picket lines are going through. We must avoid complacency. Sometimes the most painful memories are those we should work hardest to retain, concluded Zimmerman.

Labour-sponsored funds didn’t work

Will anyone really miss the labour-sponsored funds once the tax subsidy taps are turned off? asked Douglas Cumming, finance professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, in an opinion piece published Feb. 10 in the National Post.

Investors looking for decent returns certainly won’t bemoan their disappearance. Labour-Sponsored Venture Capital Corporations (LSVCCs) have been dismal when it comes to generating returns for their investors.

But what about the startup firms looking for the capital they need to fuel their growth and bring innovations to the marketplace? After all, labour-sponsored funds are still the primary mechanism supporting entrepreneurial finance in Canada.

Using survey data collected this year by YORKbiotech Inc., it is evident that a large majority of these firms are not concerned about the impact winding up LSVCCs on their ability to raise capital.

The companies that expressed the most concern about the removal of the LSVCC tax credit were ones currently financed by LSVCCs.

This raises some important policy questions, noted Cumming. Policymakers should account for companies currently funded by LSVCCs on a case-by-case basis to efficiently facilitate the phase-out of the tax credit. Policymakers should concentrate on saving those companies that can show that they are viable and can attract capital from other fund providers.

Free speech on campus? It depends

You can always rely on university students to be passionate advocates for free speech, began Margaret Wente in her Globe and Mail column Feb. 10. Take Gilary Massa, a student leader at York University. Last year, after a different university slapped a ban on the phrase "Israeli apartheid", she vigorously defended the right of student protest groups to use it. She argued the ban violated "a basic commitment to freedom of expression in the democratic context of the public university."

Sadly, this ringing endorsement of free speech was rather selective, wrote Wente. What it really meant was, "We believe in free speech, so long as we don’t disagree with it." A few months later, the very same Massa and the rest of the student government executives voted to ban pro-life groups from campus. But wasn’t this an issue of free speech? "No, this is an issue of women’s rights," Massa told the National Post. "You have to recognize that a woman has a choice over her own body. We think that these pro-life, these anti-choice groups, they’re sexist in nature."

Pro-life groups are now about as welcome on campus as Holocaust deniers, with whom they are occasionally compared, said Wente. They’ve been banned by student governments at Carleton, Guelph, Capilano College, Lakehead University and several others. The Canadian Federation of Students also voted to support these bans. At the University of Calgary, the administration is threatening to fine, suspend or even expel a handful of activists who insist on posting disturbing graphics that compare abortion to genocide.

Personally, I feel the same way toward people who wave "Israel Apartheid" signs as I do toward people who wave giant posters of dismembered fetuses. They’re both obnoxious, Wente wrote. And they both have the right to do it, so long as they behave themselves and don’t get in my face.

Educate students to stop bullies, says researcher

Debra Pepler’s research on bullying was cited in a National Post story Feb. 10 about a troubled 12-year-old boy who allegedly brought weapons to a Bloor West Village school last week to scare his bullies, reported the National Post Feb. 10.

Pepler, a distinguished research professor at York’s LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, says educating students is key to stopping bullies. Peers are present during 85 per cent of bullying incidents and if they intervene, the bullying quickly stops more than half of the time.

Panel says city has taken steps to save money

It was launched with great fanfare on a cold February morning. A large room was reserved at the Royal York. At the front were five of six prominent citizens – including then York University president Lorna Marsden – chosen by Mayor David Miller to pore through the books and offer their answer to the city’s perennial money woes, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 10.

The panellists met for hundreds of hours with politicians and city officials. Finally they issued their analysis of how the city could save money. Now, nearly a year later what has been done? Well, progress has been slow, concluded the Star.

On air

  • David Bell, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, discussed a statement by John Porritt, who chairs UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, that parents having three or more children are irresponsible and that the government should spend money on family planning, abortion and contraception programs to curb the country’s population growth, on “The John Oakley Show” (CFMJ-AM), Toronto, Feb. 9.  
  • Highlights from a speech federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made at York’s Schulich School of Business, in which he said Canadians will have to retrain for future jobs, were aired on “Vancouver News” (FAIR-TV), Richmond, BC, Feb. 6.