CUPE and Ontario universities face off. Students suffer the consequences.

Students at York University should expect a long strike, as both sides have a lot to lose if the other side gets what it wants in the single issue that actually matters in this dispute: the length of the contract.

See also: Ont. dismisses combined bargaining for university unions 

See also: GO Transit refunds for York students? 

CUPE 3903, which represents 3,400 contract faculty, teaching assistants and graduate assistants at the university, wants a two-year contract. The Canadian Union of Public Employees is attempting to negotiate a contract end date of 2010 at all universities, where it has members in Ontario.

The reason for this is simple. The union’s hand is stronger if it’s able to shutdown every university in Ontario than if it’s trying to negotiate dozens of different contracts with various colleges and universities. The union also has dreams of proving its relevance by having what would amount to a general strike.

The union’s dream is the nightmare of university administrations across the province. This strike is not really about York University. This strike is about CUPE and the Council of Ontario Universities. It is a struggle for control of the universities themselves.

Neither side, from their perspective, can afford to give ground in this struggle.

CUPE needs to be able shut down York University in 2010 for its plan to work. The COU needs to prevent CUPE from being able to shut down Ontario’s universities if it hopes to avoid a mass disruption in 2010 that will damage the inter-provincial and international reputations of Ontario’s higher education brand.

This strike is not about wages, benefits, or job security. The only issue is what happens in 2010, and the rest of the rhetoric is just smoke and mirrors.

As for students, you might want to prepare for exams in the new year and regret buying your transit pass for the month.


I am predicting a long one here guys. I said what this guy is saying earlier. It is not about wages it is about being able to come back to the table in 2010. For many undergrads we may face two strikes in our time at York!


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78 responses to “

  1. Copyright watcher

    You should not steal an entire article from another website. You should summarize and link to it.

    It’s just plain rude.

  2. Hi. I am a long time reader. I wanted to say that I like your blog and the layout.

    Peter Quinn

  3. yorkstrike2008

    I did not steal anything. The source is at the bottom…did you not see that? Also, the entire article is in quotes and the authors name is at the top…

    would you like proper MLA or APA format?

  4. Copyright watcher

    That’s violating copyright – you copied the entire article. You cannot quote an entire article and call that fair use. You have to quote sections and summarize for it to be fair use.

  5. ff

    copyright laws are antiquated and backwards – clearly the intention of the blog’s author is to spread information freely; not to profit from someone else’s work.
    That said, it is not as if the article contains any original thought on the strike anyway, so why bother even linking to that rag that undervalues our beloved institution year in and year out?

  6. ff

    Oh, the article didn’t cite any place where it culled its opinions or information from – I think this could be a copyright issue.

  7. So it turns out CUPE wasn’t being truthful to us students after all. I have talked to numerous CUPE 3909 members form my personal TA’s to the tables they had set up near Vari Hall, and this is the first time I’m hearing of this. How disappointing.

  8. Sam

    i think there are bigger problem we should be worrying about then if he stole the article or not hes not using it for a paper hes using it to inform people about an issue which at this point seemes reasonable.

  9. DG

    Once again the Union shows that the only people they care about are themselves. Why else would they use helpless, defenseless students as pawns in order to further their own interests? However fair or noble their intentions may be, they’re only undermining what little support they may have by placing unwitting students- who have no say in this matter- into potentially damaging situations.

    I graduated from York in 2006. I can recall the union threatening to strike twice during my time there. They never actually did it but both times they were close. If this were a once-in-a-while proposition then maybe I’d support a little more but considering they struck in 2000, again in 2008 and threatened to do so time and again in between, their selfish, strike-happy ways leave little in the space of sympathy for me.


  10. yorkstrike2008


    This is not fact. No official has come out and said this is why they are not accepting the offer.

    Why would the union turn down an offer from the administration that came within decimal points of what union demands? It wasn’t over 2 years, but 3.

    The union has said that it does want a 2 year contract so they can negotiate with other Ontario university unions though.

  11. yorkstrike2008

    About the copyright issue,

    I have quoted an article, given the author and the source. It was posted on the internet and I am not profiting from this site or the use of that article in any way.

    I do not see any problem. People give links and quote things all the time.

  12. sam

    So do many of you think that this will last at another week or so? this is crazy!

  13. sam

    sorry i meant another week?

  14. S

    I hope this strike ends as soon as possible.

  15. s~

    guys, were fucked.. gg

  16. Laura S

    We the students need to protest against the CUPE strike!
    Our grades, education, time, money and effort is in jeopardy here.
    This strike will have a major affect on our grades and at the end of it all nobody will care or take that into consideration.
    We can’t afford to wait for these 2 groups to come to an agreement. Neither of them give a sh*t about our future and education. They all have their undergrads, masters or PhD and they all get their big salaries!!!! LETS DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

  17. S

    Yeah I agree, but the fact is that we’re only the undergrad students, no one cares about us. If they did the issue may be resolved within a week or could already have been, and the chances of either are HIGHLY unlikely. How can we make our voices heard??

  18. S

    One of my professors posted this on our class website: “You can help bring the strike to a quick end by writing to President Shoukri at

  19. Alex B

    To those that think they union is being selfish: you are making a selfish argument yourself. You aren’t thinking about what they are fighting for, or how those things might actually benefit you. You are placing your own interests ahead of others who are actually in a profession that seeks to serve you, and help you. I find it very sad and disappointing.

  20. However

    I like turtles.

  21. yorkstrike2008

    If this strike does not get resolved within the next week I think we should start talking about holding our own demonstrations.

    I am a union person. I think the union is just power hungry though. Figures have been thrown around about voter turn out for the strike vote and everything I have heard seems low, between 20 and 30%. In any case, many union members do not want this strike.

    Like I said if this strike does go on too long I think we could organise some sort of demonstrations right here on York Strike 2008 in the coming weeks.

  22. Alex B

    8 Years ago, the university said time and time again that the union’s demands were ‘unreasonable’ and then after 11 weeks they all of a sudden found the money. I don’t think that this is any different.

    I support this strike, I love this school -and the reason for that is because I love my instructors and the attention that TAs afford me. I don’t think you get that elsewhere – and I am worried what will happen if York becomes just another degree mill.

    If the big sticking point is the 2 year contract, then we need to pressure the administration to make some concession on that issue. Pressuring ‘an end’ without having any agenda might end up having the opposite effect and prolonging the strike.

  23. Nathan

    Voter turn out for the strike vote was ~1000. CUPE membership this year is 3412. The Yes vote at the meeting was ~75%.

    750 of 3412 is 22%.

    That having been said, the No vote was only ~250 people. We have no real way of knowing what the other 2000 members want.

  24. Laura S

    The union IS being selfish! We spend thousands of dollars, we spend countless hours studying and attending lectures and put in so much effort to earn a valuable degree…yes my interests are for the undergrads not for the union! The students are the victims here. The union has disrupted our classes, they disrupt York employees and Seneca students every morning, and they have disrupted all transportation services from entering York. In addition, the possibility of students having to rearrange their schedules and plans (December holidays). All of this for what?…..(and if I understand the numbers correctly nathan) 22% of the members….that’s ridiculous. I say that if this strike goes past thursday, we need to get involved. this is our future and we need to fight for it.

  25. What I got out of the article is that the union wants a 2 yr contract inorder to be eligible to srike again in 2010? If im right, then why did they turn down the two year contract York proposed to them one day before the strike? Am I missing something here?

  26. whythisduringmyfirstyear

    lol at s~

  27. yorkstrike2008


    When did the employer offer a 2 year contract? I never heard of that? Any sources or documentation on that?

  28. ff

    Do you think that the people that teach you should be afforded a living wage or job security? If not, then what does that mean about the people that will end up teaching you? This strike is about the undergraduates and the quality of higher education – these issues are connected so closely to the issues at hand (wages, job security, etc) and when you consider the number of full time faculty that are firmly in support of this strike, I think you will gain a better picture of how there are important debates about education in general that need to take place.
    It is unfortunate that this is a discussion that is taking place ONLY at York right now, which is why the 2-year contract term is so important, I think.

  29. Nathan

    Alex B,

    Of course they found the money. They’ll find the money this time around too. When you run an organization, everything is give and take. You cut from this program, you add to this program, etc…

    When the alternative is cancelling an entire semester and refunding 50,000 students’ tuitions (50,000*2500 = 125 MILLION DOLLARS), giving in to CUPE’s demands is cheap.

    CUPE is well aware of this.


    You cannot deny that York does not have the greatest reputation in Ontario as a place of higher education, and that York – based on rankings from groups, universities, magazines, etc… – is dwarfed by the University of Toronto in many aspects.

    (The Macleans Rankings are a stark example of this:

    Both are in the same city.
    Both employ a large TA force.
    Why is the one that pays its TAs LESS routinely ranked leaps and bounds above the other?

  30. Just because settling with CUPE is a cheaper and better alternative for the University in comparison for many reasons (costs, reputation etc.) does not make the union’s demands reasonable by any means. It is just an unfortunate situation due to the way this bargaining system and process is set up. I am still appalled by how the most affected group, the students, have no voice in the matter.

    Everyone is out for their own self interests. The union is, obviously by striking knowing all the negative consequences this impose on innocent students. The students are unhappy because of the inconvenience (both in time and financially – ex. vacations already paid for, international students, internships/full-time job) as well the lost tuition fees (no, students do not really get the makeup classes, be glad that we do not finish the school year ridiculously late – yes three weeks into May is very late!!! especially for GRADUATING students such as myself). However, taking into the state of the economy, the union’s demands are unreasonable ESPECIALLY the union for maintenance staff has already accepted the SAME offer offered to this union. What makes them so special? Greed. I cannot emphasize enough that these staff KNOW that they are in a profession that does not pay well (apparently being one of the highest paid in a not well paid profession is a reason to strike) and still made the decision to pursue this profession, so they should not be complaining about a lesser than expected wage increase.

  31. ff

    “reputation” really only reflects where the ruling class choose to get their schooling.
    Maclean’s is just a reflection of that. World university rankings frequently place York in the top 50 Social Science universities in the world ahead of all other schools in Ontario but UofT, and yet that is not reflected in Maclean’s rankings.
    If you want to know why UofT pays its TAs less just talk to people that think that the ‘cache’ they are getting by going is worth the exchange, or look at the socio-economic backgrounds of those that attend that school. Again, you’re free to go there if you think it is such a better school, that is if they think you are worthy enough for them to take your money.

  32. ff

    “reputation” really only reflects where the ruling class choose to get their schooling.
    Maclean’s is just a reflection of that. World university rankings frequently place York in the top 50 Social Science universities in the world ahead of all other schools in Ontario but UofT, and yet that is not reflected in Maclean’s rankings.
    If you want to know why UofT pays its TAs less just talk to people that think that the ‘cache’ they are getting by going is worth the exchange, or look at the socio-economic backgrounds of those that attend that school. Again, you’re free to go there if you think it is such a better school, that is if they think you are worthy enough for them to take your money.

  33. Artem

    I like turtles too… When this strike is over we must picket York in a last-ditch attempt to save the world’s dwindling turtle populations! If we are going to be altruistic about this whole deal, we might as well fight for something like saving the environment or world peace.

    CUPE is not fighting for equality or against oppression. They are ridiculously selfish. If you are not yet convinced of that, read the 64 page list of demands.

    Now, since we all live in a real world, we can all put 2+2 together and clearly see that WE as undergraduate students at York have ABSOLUTELY nothing material to gain from this strike.

    I would like to ask all those of you in support of the strike to give me at least SOME factual reasons as to the … necessity of this strike… in particular for the undergraduate students.

    Long live the turtles!

  34. Basil El-Salviti

    On a serious note….

    I’m frightened by these revelations. I am just trying to find the words to articulate how I feel…that’s how much I’m at a loss for words…

    I believe if this strike extends beyond, say, a month…it’s reasonable for students to rally together in the hopes that there is a reasonable end to this strike. We can’t simply be pawns to any organization…we’re entitled to a voice, too.

  35. Laura S


    I agree with your statements 100%, this is something they chose to pursue, they are students just like us, and im certain many will agree that all students earn an income below the poverty line. I state poverty line because CUPE 3903 has made these claims about their members.


    Everyone has the ability to go out there and earn an adequate income, but when one knowingly chooses a path where that is minimal or not possible, I find it hard to be sympathetic towards the situation and support them.

  36. Nathan

    ff // November 9, 2008 at 5:59 am

    “reputation” really only reflects where the ruling class choose to get their schooling.
    Maclean’s is just a reflection of that. World university rankings frequently place York in the top 50 Social Science universities in the world ahead of all other schools in Ontario but UofT, and yet that is not reflected in Maclean’s rankings.
    Macleans ranked Memorial and New Brunswick ahead of York. Somehow, I don’t think the “ruling class” or the “elites” generally choose to go to small universities in the Maritimes to be educated.

    Also, there’s more to a university (and the world) than the Social Sciences.

    If you want to know why UofT pays its TAs less just talk to people that think that the ‘cache’ they are getting by going is worth the exchange, or look at the socio-economic backgrounds of those that attend that school.
    Actually, it’s probably not the socio-economic background. It’s that U of T’s admission standards are MUCH higher. As a result, a greater proportion of their students have external scholarships.

    Why do you think I couldn’t get in? <.<

    And you haven’t addressed my point where I believe that how much you pay your employment has no direct bearing on the quality of education, based on the fact that the highest paid TAs in Ontario are consistently placed below small schools in the Maritimes, as well as Ontario schools such as McMaster and U of T in multiple ranking systems, both Canadian and international.

    Instead, all you’ve done is state that U of T is overrated and presented your extreme bias towards the social sciences.

  37. ff

    If you believe UofT is so much better – why didn’t you attend, if not because you did not apply/were not accepted? I am just curious why you chose to attend York, if in fact you do…

    As for bias, I was referencing the world university rankings, which I also happen to think are ridiculous – but nonetheless they don’t share your you opinion of York.

    Also, people who have higher social capital in the family (ie. academic/middle-class parents) tend to have an upper leg when it comes to school, and actual wealth that means not working as much/at all tend to play into the amount of time someone can spend on activities that make them attractive scholarship candidates to begin with.

  38. Nathan

    Clearly you’re still ignoring certain things I’ve written.

    “Why do you think I couldn’t get in? <.<”

    “Also, there’s more to a university (and the world) than the Social Sciences.”

    As for your last point, you’re absolutely right… but back to the original point, on how you say U of T can afford to pay less because its students come from richer backgrounds…


    1. richer background means more time for study.
    2. more time for study means more scholarships and higher grades.
    3. higher grades means U of T accepts you.

    So how come people don’t choose York – and they don’t. If they did, York would have the same socio-economic profile as U of T – when it comes to point 3? It’s not like York would turn away someone carrying NSERC/OGS etc…

    Finally, you’re still not addressing:

    “Macleans ranked Memorial and New Brunswick ahead of York. Somehow, I don’t think the “ruling class” or the “elites” generally choose to go to small universities in the Maritimes to be educated.”

    “And you haven’t addressed my point where I believe that how much you pay your employment has no direct bearing on the quality of education, based on the fact that the highest paid TAs in Ontario are consistently placed below small schools in the Maritimes, as well as Ontario schools such as McMaster and U of T in multiple ranking systems, both Canadian and international.”

  39. ff

    “Clearly you’re still ignoring certain things I’ve written.
    “Why do you think I couldn’t get in? <.>The working assumption for me is as follows: when someone posits that universities can be ranked as though there exist some criteria to measure this, or that all students enter a given institution at the same level of emptiness (I am here extrapolating on what appears to be the underlying pedagogical orientation that gives rise to these notions); or in other words, when people view their degrees as commodities, and their institutions as that which gives rise to the worth of their degree, then using this consumption paradigm as a guide, it makes sense that a ‘rational actor’ would choose what they perceived to be the ‘best’ school. Since you are at York, and I now gather a graduate student, there must be some reasons you chose to go to York; because you are railing against York at every turn, I am inclined to think that your options may have been limited. I am not trying to make assumptions, but I am curious as to the circumstances/decision(s) that led to your choice to come to York when you seem to think so lowly of it.
    There is more to the world than the social sciences, but York is predominately a liberal arts institution. This is just another reason why university rankings are a little suspect. If a school concentrates in one area, like social science, it makes it difficult if not impossible to compete in other disciplines where places like the UofT have proven records, the funds and facilities to succeed.

    “As for your last point, you’re absolutely right… but back to the original point, on how you say U of T can afford to pay less because its students come from richer backgrounds…
    1. richer background means more time for study.
    2. more time for study means more scholarships and higher grades.
    3. higher grades means U of T accepts you.
    So how come people don’t choose York – and they don’t. If they did, York would have the same socio-economic profile as U of T – when it comes to point 3? It’s not like York would turn away someone carrying NSERC/OGS etc…”
    >>There are a lot of people at York doing highly innovative work that you will not see elsewhere. Often, innovation can be misunderstood because it is not always as ‘productive’ – and the push for results-based findings has definitely impacted how and what is being studied (specifically in the Social Sciences). I think the point I am trying to make is much more complex than can be born out here, but the question I would put to you is: a) what do grades really measure and b) do high grades translate into original or challenging work? I’m not so sure that connection is as clear as may be presumed; but again, this is a much larger discussion that is not really suitable in this format.
    “Finally, you’re still not addressing:
    “Macleans ranked Memorial and New Brunswick ahead of York. Somehow, I don’t think the “ruling class” or the “elites” generally choose to go to small universities in the Maritimes to be educated.””
    >>Well, from what I remember MacLean’s makes divisions along “primarily undergraduate/medical-doctoral/etc” lines – and as I touched on before, I am not so sure that is a good way to deal with things. For example, UofT may have an amazing philosophy program (on many accounts) but if your interest lies in say, 20th century French philosophy – it is probably a very poor school to chose to attend. My point is simply that school rankings can be very misleading, and what they do tend to do (in my opinion) is over-simplify a choice that deserves a good deal more research than where a university falls on an ‘overall’ scale (even at the undergraduate level).
    “And you haven’t addressed my point where I believe that how much you pay your employment has no direct bearing on the quality of education, based on the fact that the highest paid TAs in Ontario are consistently placed below small schools in the Maritimes, as well as Ontario schools such as McMaster and U of T in multiple ranking systems, both Canadian and international.”
    >>I think that it is difficult to entertain the notion that people that show up hungry, tired and in deep debt will be able to afford the same care and attention as those who are otherwise comfortable. That is to me, common sense, and I can’t rely on any statistics to back it up because of course, it attempts to measure something subjective – but I think the idea that a university ranking system can do that is equally as silly. Keep in mind that in every school, it is in the school’s best interest to keep its students happy – UofT recently cut undergraduate enrollment because so many recent graduates were complaining that it was nothing but a degree mill, and that the UofT brand on their resumes was not really helping them get anywhere they wouldn’t have had they attended any other university.

    Unfortunately, it is hard for an undergraduate to stand out in a big school – and so it is no surprise that people that attend smaller schools find it harder to be ‘nothing but a number’ and have more interaction with instructors/profs/tas – and believe themselves to have a high quality of instruction. Again, there are so many factors that play into those rankings that the outcome of rankings often don’t reflect things like Trent’s highly regarded Archeology program, or similar small but influential programs at schools that don’t show up in the ranking systems.

  40. yorkstrike2008

    University rankings are bogus. My cousin went to Yale…if you are not on scholarship then your parents paid your way in and you get automatic A average. It is stupid. Ivey American schools are the most corrupt institutions in the world. DO NOT tell me that the University of Michigan is better than the University of Salamanca in Spain. Salamanca is one of the oldest universities in the world and practically originated the study of political economy. Smith, Ricardo etc. all went there or taught there.

  41. Nathan

    You’re right, York was certainly not my first choice. Heck, it wasn’t even my second or third choice. But I only have myself (and my undergraduate record) to blame for that. So far, my experiences at York on an organizational, administrative, and bureaucratical level have been… how shall we say, less than stellar? But I was fortunate to find a good supervisor who makes the days of research go by very smoothly. And as long as the 85% is good, I can ignore the 15% – even when the 15% involves 1000x more people than the 85%.

    Obviously schools will never excel at anything, and that individuals will prefer one school over another based on what they have to offer in their subject of interest. But again, to reiterate my original point:

    Both are in the same city.
    Both employ a large TA force.
    Why is the one that pays its TAs LESS routinely ranked leaps and bounds above the other?

    Likewise, it’s not like York pays its Soc Sci TAs any more than they pay the rest of its TAs. Why is the Soc Sci department so much better?

    You’re certainly correct that reducing TAs to a subsistence diet is not conducive to education… but York TAs are not starving to death, and neither are any other TAs in Ontario.

    Let’s say TAs are the primary vector of information and education to students. Therefore:

    Since York TAs are struggling to make ends meet, York’s quality of education is low.
    Therefore, since U of T’s TAs get paid even less, and therefore have greater struggles to make ends meet… U of T’s quality of education is even lower.

    This is obviously not the case.

    Yes, I’m aware that U of T gets much more external funding and thereby can build fantastic facilities, leading to a better education for its undergrads… but York isn’t going to catch up by giving it’s TAs more money. I don’t believe an extra 2000 dollars per TA will suddenly elevate York into U of T’s echelon universally, and therefore, I can’t really accept the “quality of education” argument for TA raises.

    Finally, you’re absolutely correct in stating that a degree’s value and worth definitely depends on the individual, and different universities have different worths to different individuals. However, we have to examine things on a much larger scale to tackle this argument, because people need to evaluate and compare things, to determine how they can improve their institutions in a manner that will benefit the most people, and not just those interested in cell biology or those interested in Hegel.

    I have no love for York’s administration – their salaries are insane, and they don’t actually appear to do a heck of a lot. But I think the York TA’s lot in life is quite fair and happy. I don’t think TAs deserve a 7% wage hike when professors only get 3%. Just like I don’t think Drummond should get 16% and Shoukri needs his own driver.

    Most universities do not cancel classes in the event of a TA strike – they don’t have to. Profs can pick up the slack. The fact that York had to, based on the massive confusion that reigned in 2000/01, shows a lot regarding the ineptitude of the administration and the disruptiveness of CUPE 3903.

    I think the point I believe in is that throwing money at the TAs will not make York better. It’ll just make the TAs happier and a little bit richer. Ironically, it also threatens to make TAs in the Faculty of Science and Engineering actually POORER – since they have a minimum pay that the university must meet, whether by work or bursary. Since only work pay is taxable, should the proportion of work pay increase, taxes increase, but the overall minimum pay remains stagnant (less bursary money)… so FSE grad students lose money.

    Finally… what if York just said “go ahead and work as many TA hours as you want?” and left it up to the individual student to juggle finances and studies as he/she saw fit?

  42. Laura S

    Simple solution for TA financial concerns:
    People can hold off on completing a graduate degree, until they are more financially stable. I don’t purchase or invest in something if I can’t afford it, they need to have the same mentality.

  43. ff

    I can certainly sympathize with your situation – I think it is one common to large universities – and I think that the recent changes to graduate education made by the government have only served to diminish the amount of quality interaction you have with those you feel a close kinship with – if only out of the large number of those demanding time.

    To make an attempt at answering your question, there are several reasons UofT TAs are paid less. As we’ve discussed they can afford to, because as you correctly point out, many are on scholarship. (I read a while ago an interesting article on how scholarships at Ivy League schools are doled out, which I’ll try to find a link to). We can get into breaking down why that is another time, but another more simple reason is: they don’t fight for higher wages and York does. UofT is among many union locals that accept arbitration, and then go to use York’s Collective Agreement in their bargaining. Arbitration seeks to find a ‘middle ground’ and it is doubtful that the UofT’s union would argue that their TAs etc are more deserving of higher wages. Also, I can’t remember if contract faculty are a part of their union(do you know?) – if they aren’t – that is another reason that the 3903 is stronger.
    Another is that UofT has more one-year terminal MA programs. Many treat their MA like OAC was in High School, another year of undergraduate – and see the opportunity to stamp an MA on their resume from UofT at the cost of a year of study as worth the exchange. In fact, while most (I think all) of York’s graduate programs offer some form of funding package that includes either TA/GA/RA-ship, I think some UofT programs offer no work – it comes down to what people are willing to accept. In a year of study, there is less time to get to know the faculty, department and institution as a whole, and thus, less chance for people to get involved in the union. I am sure there are a lot of people at UofT that think that they deserve more for their graduate work.

    Starving would be an exaggeration, and I don’t think anyone is arguing that TAs need to be driven to school by their personal chauffer – but I think that it is unfair to expect graduate students to carry a huge debt when the job prospects are becoming increasingly narrowed by the volume of competition being created by short-sighted governmental policy.

    While other universities expect the profs. to ‘pick up the slack’ – there are many at York that would likely have refused to cross the picket line in any case. A sound moral position, if you ask me.

    Also, you seem to be stuck on the ranking system for universities. I do not think it worthwhile to compare York to the UofT. It is like comparing parents comparing their children – it’s best that we say they are special in their own ways. I think the level and quality of education in Ontario is fairly even – I know from experience that there is a level of rigor and intensity at the University of Toronto that helps its reputation, and I do not see a problem with that, but I think that there are other ways of learning, as there are many ways to do anything, and that what is good for one, is not necessarily good for another. We need to talk about what higher education is all about. We need to test and challenge the way things are done – and for everyone screaming blue murder that this is unfair, what, honestly did you expect from a school who’s motto is “Tentanda Via – ‘The Way Must Be Tried’”?
    I think graduate students are already working quite a bit, and there is a lot of competition over who gets to TA as it stands. I think what is at stake is not the pay for TA’ing, but recognition that graduate students are student-workers and that their coursework/thesis/research are themselves forms of work that they are doing day in and day out in addition to their part-time service positions in the university.

  44. ff


    Education is a right. Not a privilege. You complain that you’re paying too much for school, but do you go ask the province to drop fees? What are you paying for? A degree or an education? If all one gets from a university is the former, then you are right. I hope, however, that we are talking about education.

  45. Nathan

    If you start defining graduate studies as work though (and I assume this work would come with pay of some kind), does that mean that undergraduate studies are not also work? One can argue that graduate work directly benefits the university/supervising professor, as opposed to undergraduate work – which primarily benefits the student. However, that brings up grey areas – the 4th year undergraduate thesis student, the graduate student doing work completely unrelated to their supervisor’s topic, and so forth.

    I’m not 100% certain regarding whether profs would cross the picket line or not. Certainly, some of them would not, but at the moment, every other union at York is crossing the line. Of course, we won’t know whether they would or not if the administration attempted to continue classes, but profs are not staying away in solidarity at the moment. Some are staying away out of convienence, some are staying away because they like working at home – and now they can, and some are still coming in to work every day. CUPE 1356 is crossing the line as well. Believe me, if they didn’t, we’d notice the smell.

    I believe contract faculty are part of CUPE 3902 (U of T’s local), but I actually think contract faculty should have their own union, independent of the TAs. Their situation is so different from that of the TAs that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the two to share the same contract. Of course, strength in numbers is an asset, but the differences can be seen in this strike:
    The TAs, who get monthly wages of 800-1100 dollars after paying tuition, are receiving 800 a month in strike pay. Financially, they have nothing to lose.
    The sessional lecturers are getting that 800 dollars, but they make 4000-6000 dollars a month. That’s quite a steeper drop.

    You’re right that U of T (and no other university in Ontario) fights as hard for wages as York. That of course, puts York’s union in a very odd position – when the richest in a group (no matter how poor that group is) asks for more money, they appear greedy. But why do you think York is the most aggressive union (aside from York’s reputation as leftist and socialist)? Is it because they are legitimately unhappy? Is it because they’re greedy? Or is it because the other universities do a better job of keeping their TAs happy than York does?

    Ultimately, I think the question is a financial one, and revolves around what people think TAs are worth both as researchers and educators. I don’t believe anyone really believes that paying an extra 2000 bucks a year will increase TA performance as educators, nor will giving job security to sessional lectures really affect the quality of their lectures.

    (By the way, I think that while sessionals should have some form of job security, they should not be compared to tenured professors in terms of wages. I speak with a bias of someone in the sciences, but a professor has to conduct their own independent research, apply for external funding, as well as run his/her own laboratory. Sessional lecturers do not, although I bet all of them would leap headfirst at the opportunity. Nonetheless, until they get that chance (when a job opens up) they should not make extra wages.)

  46. ff


    I think that undergraduate studies should be viewed as work, and that tuition should be free. I also happen to think that far too many people are pursuing B.As when there is absolutely no need for them to, other than the perceived requirement for employment. I don’t know what the solutions here are – but I think that pretending there is no problem has gone on long enough.

    From the faculty I spoke with, I know that they are staying home out of conscious – but I can assume that a lot of instructors at Schulich (for example) would probably not have suspended classes were it not for the administration’s decision to suspend classes.

    I don’t think it is wise for contract faculty to have their own union – if anything it might make sense for them to be a part of YUFA, and for there to be some provision for full-time teaching faculty; maybe tenure needs to be divided between those who want to research, those who want to teach and those who enjoy both aspects – in the end, I think this would be a more workable solution than forcing research-oriented faculty to teach for whatever reasons at the expense of forcing out gifted pedagogues.

    I think York asks and gets the most for a number of reasons, but I have to disagree that more money doesn’t mean better quality. Where do you draw the line? Can someone be a good teacher/assistant on $10K/year, or might that effect their job? I agree that on some level a good teacher will be a good teacher no matter the pay, but what I am saying is it will be tougher to attract people who honestly care about teaching where success is measured solely on research-results, and in my experience a good researcher does not always make a good teacher.

  47. Nathan

    I do think that YUFA would be a better fit for the sessional lecturers. The thing is, the core of a department at a doctoral oriented university – which York is trying to become – will be those who do research – because it is they who publish, pull in big grants, and bring prestige to the university. While it’s very cruel to the undergrads, the larger a university and the more prestigious it is, the less it will care about teaching. Unfortunately, it is the reality of the situation. Ideally, you would have a team of staff focused exclusively on research, and you would have a team of staff focused exclusively on teaching, but that’s expensive. As such, you try to make the researchers teach as much as possible (because you need them to make the university famous), then hire sessionals to fill in the gaps (because you don’t need them to make the university famous).

    Schulich I think is actually still running classes, although I couldn’t confirm that for sure. I know the vast majority of FSE profs are coming to school every day to supervise their labs (and would cross a picket line to do so, since labs need constant maintenance). Don’t know about everyone else.

    Regarding money, what pay basically translates to is comfort of life, and comfort of life is equated to teaching proficiency. While yes, cranky hungry people are terrible to be around, there’s not necessarily a positive correlation. There are too many factors. Just for example, if the TA didn’t have to worry about bills/pull 3 jobs: the TA could burn him/herself out doing research, the TA could be unqualified to teach the subject area (believe me, York’s TA assignments make NO sense – I got stuck with some neuroscience course even though I had never EVER touched that subject in 6 years. When I asked for a switch, they said no because it would ruin their delicate planning puzzle), the TA could hate teaching, the TA could hate students, the TA could blow his entire paycheque partying and drinking. Regarding your last several lines, my general impression was that people came to grad school to do research. People go to teacher’s college to teach. As such, you probably will never recruit the people who are the most passionate about teaching.

    Finally, everyone would love free tuition… but where would the money come from? And that brings me to a point that kind of fell by the wayside. What is the university to do if in 2010, CUPE 3903 gets say, a 20% raise. And then in 2011, 1356, YUFA, etc… all demand the same 20% raise? York turned a 1.7 million dollar profit this year, and Ontario is receiving equalization payments. Where would York get the money for all these pay increases? Even if you removed all the big executive salaries, there’s only 1 president, 1 dean per faculty, etc… That would free up what, 2-5 million dollars, max?

  48. Mr.X

    On another note, there’s about 50 days of Christmas shopping left guys!

    Hohohoho! Season’s Greetings

  49. Schulich is only running classes for MBA students, not for undergrad BBA/iBBA students like myself. 😦

  50. sheiiiiiiiiiit

    Does anyone know if the two sides are planning on meeting tomorrow? And what’s the deal with the 72 hour transition period I keep hearing about

  51. ff


    I agree that grad school is mostly about research – but I think that in the liberal arts, at least at York there is a tradition of excellence in pedagogy as well – and that is something we need to be proud of. It is something that usually goes unnoticed or at best, taken for granted.
    Unfortunately, if you ask anyone that has had the (dis)pleasure of trying to teach teachers, they seem to think of themselves as ‘educated’ or ‘educators’ and their students as empty vessels, rather than as knowers themselves. It’s a pretty big problem, and teacher’s college actually fosters the attitude…anyway that’s a whole different kettle of fish – but my point is that higher education is getting really messy, and it is time for some serious discourse on the state and future of education in Canada.

    I think the obvious answer is taxes and businesses. Businesses are benefiting from a highly educated workforce that they don’t have to pay for (including K-12) and the wealthiest 10% of Canadians are the only ones who are better off now than they were 20 years ago. The distribution of wealth is increasingly concentrated, and a progressive taxation, like that on health care would surely help level the playing field.

  52. Nathan

    It would be nice, but do you see higher taxes flying, even without the Conservatives in power? The other thing is that there cannot be an interim period between higher wages for TAs/free tuition and increased taxes to compensate. Any interim where the university is allowed to run a deficit would be devastating for everyone attending the school.

    Regarding teachers, particularly at the secondary or below levels, I know from personal experience that most of them are less qualified than TAs. A good number are content to regurgitate crap from textbooks and call it a course, and it’s very rare that you’ll see any real discussion apart from the curriculum mandated one oral presentation/debate per term.

    The state of higher education IS messy, but the universities are chasing the research dollars, leaving everything else in the dust. However, if you want to encourage them to reverse this trend, then you have to introduce additional public funding, and increase taxes (either on the populace or businesses). This is not a country that actually (despite what people say) takes well to European style economic socialism (the revulsion expressed towards the GST certainly shows that). So… what can we do? Certainly, everything will come up roses for CUPE if they win this strike or the 2010 negotiations, but what about past that? If there are no tax hikes (and I think tax hikes are not going to be forthcoming, not even if Jack Layton gets into power – it, no matter how pragmatic, is likely to be political suicide), then universities have to increase revenue by admitting more students. Which means higher class sizes. Which means TAs complain. Which means more TAs. Which means less money for the TA pool. Which means a strike. Which means more money for the TAs… and the cycle continues.

  53. ff

    The picture you are painting is indeed dreary – and it is one where the cries of ‘selfish’ directed at the union are warranted – although only in the context of a selfish society that demands of them to be rational actors that do just that.
    Who ends up getting screwed? The undergrads – who are ever increasingly treated (systematically) like consumers, and not students at all; in spite of many instructors, profs, TAs and many other university employees’ attempts to the contrary.
    I think the ploy that is at hand is the commercialization and commodification of graduate studies, and without the resistance offered up by the union at this point, I think that is dangerously close to being at hand.

    Here is an interesting article on Neoliberalism in Higher Education that is going around:

  54. yorkstrike2008


    They will most likely not meet tomorrow. Word from the dean is saying that at the earliest Wednesday they will meet.

    The university has to give a 72 hour grace period before restarting classes. Enough time for people to get back from wherever they have gone or whatever.

    So if the strike is 2 weeks. It is 2 weeks + 72 hours.

  55. Nathan

    Certainly, as university enrollments rise and degree demands increase, universities become for-profit degree mills where everyone’s a number and professors have to do EXTRA paperwork in order to legitimately fail students. I know that many profs, when seeing a 45 or a 55 (whatever is 5 points below a D-) will just bump it up and avoid the paperwork of having to justify that F.

    But again, the question is what can one do?

    I think the trouble is that while CUPE argues for this greater picture that mimics European socialism, they can only fight for one thing: graduate students/sessional lecturers.

    If York cannot acquire government funding (probably pretty likely given the state of the economy and the resident of 24 Sussex), than CUPE’s demands (which work beautifully if everything else falls into place) look like pure greed.

    Of course, then we have the issue of taking one step at a time, but I don’t actually think CUPE is thinking beyond the first step here. Heck, CUPE isn’t even united, in the sense that the custodians accepted the university’s offer with 99.6%. After two weeks, CUPE local 3903’s funding effectively runs dry, and funding from CUPE National kicks in. Will the pragmatic manual labourers be willing to fund the left-wing idealism of the student labourers for a prolonged period of time, especially since the student labourer’s ideal plan would involve raising the manual labourer’s taxes?

  56. ff

    The article “The Failure to Fail” that ran in the Walrus this spring argued similar things about people not flunking students who had no business passing, and it stirred considerable debate in some places.
    I agree that the political climate is not ripe for such a wide change, but I think to myself: if not now, when? We won’t be young forever, and it is not as though we do not see this as a problem for not just our selves, but our children, and the children of so many others who deserve the right to an education.
    As for local 1356, I don’t know what the terms of their contract are, and whether they will be poised for 2010 or not, but it stands to reckon that they will stand to benefit from whatever may happen in the next two rounds of bargaining, and I am sure they are aware, or it will be brought to their attention that the union is strongest when it stands together.
    I’m not sure that this is idealism anymore, or just a dissatisfaction with the status quo, more than that – a statement of its unacceptability. The unfortunate thing is that power operates in ways that make it appear seamless, whereas resistance tends to be disruptive – and I think that is why there has been so much ill will directed at the union, and not so much at the university, the administration or the government,etc.
    If we look at past student strikes, even the one in Quebec in 2005, there has been a tendency for government to find the money – whether or not McGill, or UofT or whoever it is might not be on board – and whether or not they will benefit from the fight they don’t take part in.

  57. Nathan

    1356 signed a three year deal that will expire in 2011.

    Of course, the sooner the better, but one cannot just spend all his/her energy hurling themselves at a brick wall. There is a distinct possibility given the nature of North America that the political climate never becomes appropriate, and pragmatically, I think this is more likely. The populace will not part with its tax dollars until its either too late, or until we move to an American system where education costs an arm, a leg, a kidney, and a lung. Is it unfair? Yes. Is it possible? Yes.

    Of course, that old Burke quote comes into play (Good. Men. Do nothing. Evil.), but one has to be realistic.

    I do not doubt that York will find the money, because York needs classes back. They will find the money simply by cutting other sectors. Intramurals, athletics, facilities, upping the rent on York Lanes retailers, what have you. Is that consequence truly worth it?

    There are several reasons that the Union is getting flak right now:

    – Opening up with a 30% pay hike offer is not the best way to shake the “we’re not greedy” label.
    – The duty of an individual is first and foremost to him/herself. There are 50,000 (well, maybe 49,999) undergrads petrified of a repeat of 2000/01.
    – The administration offered what it offered to everyone else, and CUPE 3903 stands alone in refusing it. Again, the perception is that 3903 is being elitist and greedy. I think this would have gone over MUCH better had 1356 not ratified.
    – York TAs are the highest paid in the province. People don’t like people that are the best/highest of something complaining – especially if the majority of those people are working on minimum wage.
    – CUPE initiated the strike. One can say “they forced me to do it” but ultimately, you did the action. The undergrads will not understand why CUPE could not have just kept negotiating. It’s not as if the membership was starving to death. CUPE’s November strike date is obviously on purpose. The bargaining positions have not moved drastically since July. Why strike now? Because you want your strike to have the largest impact. Otherwise, it’s kind of meaningless.
    – CUPE did not attempt to reach out to the students at all prior to the strike. The posters plastered around gave some information, but didn’t actually relate it to the students. Later posters were just unprofessional sarcastic stabs at the Administration. We’re not all Jon Stewart here. Besides, how many students actually read posters/bulletins on doors?

    CUPE’s made several PR mistakes re: the students, and there are many many disgruntled members as well who do not like the way that their opinions and concerns were shouted down by the majority at the GMMs. The proportion of Yes votes dropped 10% from the Strike Mandate vote to the actual Rejection of Ratification, with an extra 100 votes against a strike. There is also the risk of a departmental schism now within the Union, since different departments have different pay schemes, and therefore, students from different departments have different amounts to lose.

    Frankly, I think the administration has to be enjoying the current situation. But of course, public opinion turns on a dime.

    Personally, I could have lived with the status quo without any problems. As such, I don’t like the idea of putting students out so that I can pocket some extra cash (probably no more than 500-1000 dollars per annum, if even that). The other thing that I’m uncomfortable with is that while many pro-strike CUPE members are in legitimate financial straits, there is a very small but very vocal proportion who seem to enjoy the whole labour dispute process – who want to play revolutionary. If those people gain influence and dig their heels in… we could be here for a while.

  58. ff

    Nice post, Nathan,
    I think it is common to almost any group or organization that about 5% will always be charged radically in some direction or another – at York that usually takes the form of ‘leftist’ politics, it seems. I don’t have a problem with that, in fact, I think it is attractive on certain levels – but I would agree that it is necessary for those with decision making power to realize that if they want success in 2010, what happens here and now may not be forgotten so soon, and at least half the undergraduate body will still be around.
    I agree it was a huge tactical error to start with the 30% figure – it has been a constant point of attack of the administration’s propaganda and widely cited in the media; I understand the reasoning behind it (I think, but of course there is so much guesswork), but it seems to have been a bad strategy moving into this strike.
    I look at my fees, rent and cost of food for next year and cringe.
    I also was surprised to see 1356 settle so quickly, when I expected for sure they would wait for 3903 at least. I got an email from Dean Drummond almost gloating about the matter.
    Right now the media has been giving short shrift to strike coverage, which may not be a bad thing.
    If you ask me, I don’t come to York because there is an optometrist on campus, or a tacobell around. I come for the faculty and staff and the learning I can do. I think the trade off is necessary, and athletics teams elsewhere continue to survive being funded by alumni, outside donors and athlete’s families, corporate sponsors and so on.
    Still, I am hopeful that things end sooner than they appear to be heading towards.

  59. Nathan

    Talking to members of YUFA, they hypothesize that the reason 1356 settled was that their members couldn’t financially afford a strike. Ironic.

    Even funnier is that CUPE’s original offer back in July wasn’t 30%. It was a whopping 70%. That’s why on the Oct 17 negotiations update, it says 30% – revised following negotiations. But yes, CUPE keeps saying they’re the ones making concessions… but no one will buy that line when your “concession” is going from 30% to 7% and giving up the completely unrealistic demand of a free metropass per union member (3000 members * 80 dollars (assuming a discounted rate) per month = 240000 per month = 2.88 million per year).

    And no, students don’t come to school for the bonuses and on campus stores, but you have to look at this from the perspective of the small business owners/franchisees who are struggling to turn a profit, or, if the cuts get bad enough, students who have to pay an arm and a leg to print on campus, who’ll have to pay 100 dollars a semester for gym passes, or who’ll have to pay 10 dollars for lunch.

    The side stuff is a big part of the university experience. It’s certainly not the core by any means, but it’s hard to imagine what would happen if all the side resources students take advantage of doubled in price.

  60. ff

    I can understand how full time employees have more to lose – in the same way that you earlier outlined how contract faculty stand to lose more in this strike, since strike pay is roughly the same as a TA’s wage – it stands to reason that those that count on a paycheck each week can nary afford to go without. Especially when we think that many may be among the vast majority of Canadians that tread ~2 paychecks away from financial disaster.

    It makes sense what CUPE was asking for – they do what roughly amounts to the same work as full time faculty and have what amounts to nearly the same education – the idea that pay is so disproportionate is outrageous itself. That said, strategically, it wasprobably a bad call for a number of reasons we’ve looked at.
    Not every member rides the silver rocket, so I agree it is too expensive, but I don’t think that this is very high on the list of demands – at least I wouldn’t expect so. I guess it all depends on what people want to fight for. You have to start with a ‘wish list’, don’t you?
    I have sympathy for some of the businesses on campus, but they too are trying to make money off students that don’t have much in the first place. They aren’t running not-for-profits here, and we could equally say that the cost of doing business is going up – the cost has to be transferred somewhere, and I don’t think it is right for that to be to the students, whether graduate or undergraduate. Maybe they will get on side with dropping tuition fees. Who knows?

  61. superman

    just let it be….
    after this we’ll have the university we wanted back
    they are all right it’s no one’s fault
    maybe you’ll do the same thing if you’re in either sides… don’t worry be happy

  62. Nathan

    But again, to take the burden off the students, you have to place the burden upon the general populace, and people don’t like having to pay for something that they have absolutely no involvement in (yes, I know that education benefits all – but people are a) protective of their hard earned money and b) shortsighted – what is important is what is tangible and in the present).

    I don’t buy the argument that TAs = professors. The total hours worked might be similar, but TAs generally should not be doing any of the following (and these tasks do not fall under TA duties):
    – composing tests
    – lecturing (only final year Ph.Ds, and then it’s usually a prep thing, not a TA thing)
    – composing exams
    – determining their own marking scheme (most TAs mark from either a template or a set of guidelines drawn up by the professor).
    – drawing up new courses

    Most importantly:
    – TAs do not supervise other graduate students. They do not serve as graduate committee members. They do not apply for large research grants.

    Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but generally, there are many places where the professor does the bulk of the heavy lifting essential to the course.

    Basically, professors still do have much more expertise and experience than TAs, and as much as I hate to say it, TAs are only necessary because university enrollments have ballooned to the point where it’s far too much for one or two people to handle. That is why I can’t support those who try to equate TAs to profs.

    Of course, contract faculty is a whole different matter. But if TAs had the same education as profs, and did as much work as profs… why are the profs the supervisors, and the TAs the students?

  63. ff

    I am not equating TAs to profs, but suggesting that there are more similarities than differences. I don’t think they should be paid equally, in fact I have no problem with expecting, nay demanding, grad students to live frugally, but having some semblance of a living wage seems to me to be a reasonable demand.
    If we are free-market oriented, then we have to look at ‘credentialism’ seriously. By denying those without the ability to pay/payback their schooling, we are simply entrenching the disparity in wealth that continues to grow in this country.

  64. Nathan

    I think the “living wage” thing is not so much a university issue, but a demand issue. And blame lies not so much with the administration, but with individual departments. In the sciences, we have minimum caps. In biology, it’s 20,000 dollars. Not exactly monumental, but I don’t think TAs would complain if they all got 20k a year. In return for that sort of money, we are mandated to TA 3-4 sections per year.

    Why do science grad students get more money than humanities grad students? Several possibilities:

    1. The department likely has more money to play around with.
    2. The demand for the sciences is much higher than for the humanities, and the university must offer this much in order to keep grad students interested.

    But the question I’d like to ask is: if FSE can pay its grad students 20k a year, and Humanities can only afford 12k… what can the university, as a collective administration, do about it? It’s up to the departments how to allocate their funding. Likewise, I suppose one can demand that the university allocate more money to the humanities… but they have no grounds. The university can allocate it’s funding how it pleases, depending on what it wants to focus on.

    The other thing regarding a “living wage” is that you cannot pay grad students for studying, because then you would have to pay the undergrads for studying. And this is where I have a problem with saying that grad students deserve poverty line wages, because undergrad students aren’t getting them. We should work to earn our keep – so I think any substantial increase in monies should correspond to an increase in duties. But if you make them TA more – ie. earn their wages – then they scream bloody murder about not having enough time to study. Perhaps the best option would be to introduce performance based scholarships – you get x amount of money per year based on your average. After all, undergrads get entrance scholarships. How come grads don’t? Likewise, I don’t agree with how universities will pinch pennies by denying exceptional students who have OGS/NSERC the funding that they would otherwise receive if they hadn’t received those awards. It’s like saying “you’re rich enough, go away now and do your work.” Well, there’s a reason they’re that rich – they studied really hard and worked their asses off. So why should they not get the same money from the university as someone who coasted through undergrad with a B average?

  65. ff

    The idea of undergraduates doing work is less outlandish than we might first think. But for the time, let’s make a case for graduate work being just that – work.
    I had no idea that science students got more guaranteed funding. Anyway, taking away grants/earnings from outstanding students is just one of the ways that I think things are unfair – reflecting a lack of funds for the number of space available. I’m working my ass off to get my grades as high as possible, and while I don’t expect to be living high on the hog, I don’t want to incur debt to pursue a career doing what I am demonstrating every day that I love either.
    I think the idea of making university more merit-based is good in principle, but as the UofT example illustrates, there needs to be other measures of excellence than learning by wrote.

  66. ff

    Re: graduate students’ work :
    PhDs are clearly engaged in the production of original pieces of academic work. In MAs, you could argue the same to a large extent. I think that there is a distinction to be made, and that the pejorative term ‘professional student’ should not cut so close to the bone as it may for some.
    Again, I think the idea of performance can be variously gauged, especially in the humanities where what is produced is more ephemeral than in the ‘hard’ sciences. Where we are talking about contract faculty that are focused on teaching, it could easily become a slippery slope that seeks to implement standards of practice in teaching that would have the opposite effect on quality of education and pedagogical diversity.

  67. Nathan

    “PhDs are clearly engaged in the production of original pieces of academic work. In MAs, you could argue the same to a large extent. ”

    Very true… yet at the same time, how do you make a wage scale for this sort of thing? It can’t be hourly, because then the smarter person who takes less time to write would be paid less. It can’t be by page count or work output per se, because then people will spam out garbage. Yet you can’t just give everyone the same amount of money. That’s why I think scholarships and bursaries are the best way to go. Perhaps quarterly inter-departmental awards or something similar too. Because we should earn our money – and that is not something I think CUPE is actually lobbying for. I don’t feel right taking money from taxpayers just because I chose to endure financial hardship and go to graduate school.

    Mind you, the administration are jackasses when it comes to bursaries (see disappearance of the FGS bursary last year).

    The thing about “professional students” is that grad students determine their own schedules, and there are a significant number that do not enter grad school for academic purposes. These are people seeking another piece of paper to get into a higher entry level position at a company, people who don’t feel comfortable leaving the cocoon of school yet, people who did not qualify for professional school, or people who just have no clue what they want to do. As such, their work ethic and motivation – especially since their work is entirely self driven – is certainly not up to “professional” standards.

    As for evaluation by merit, I don’t think the university can do anything else than the standard. I know tests and essays are only a part of actual learning… but it is VERY difficult to objectively evaluate and quantify exactly how much everyone learned from a course. Of course, we cannot just reward everyone equally, because it is clear that not everyone learns the same amount or puts the same effort into learning.

    Naturally, all this applies only to graduate students. Sessional lectures are in a completely different situation… and again, it’s rather baffling as to why they are not YUFA or YUSA members.

  68. Nathan

    By the way, are we monopolizing the conversation?

  69. ff

    I hope no one feels excluded, as I think we would probably both welcome additional viewpoints on the matters at hand.

    I think scholarships and bursaries are an attractive option, but they do little to change the fact that enrollment is way up, and everyone is competing for the same number of jobs.

    I don’t think we have a free market, and expecting scholarships and bursaries to even the playing field is probably ill-advised as well. York has a tradition of a certain bent of political tactics, which have proven successful – to abandon that tradition now for neo-liberal policies like scholarships and so on, would be not only ill-advised, but it would gut the very core of what makes York – YORK!
    That is how I feel, anyway.

  70. Nathan

    The problem is, I don’t think throwing money at the TAs would fix the increased enrolment problem either. Since a Bachelors is required for damn near everything nowadays, it is only natural for people to flock to universities. Perhaps then only fix would be for York to increase admissions standards as to limit the amount of entrants. Of course, that would hamper York’s income. Should government assistance be not forthcoming, that lack of income (and the subsequent budget cuts) may actually hurt the student body more than smaller class sizes and happier TAs would benefit them.

    Even if we don’t have a free market, school is nowadays, inheritantly competitive – and that is an attitude that prevails amongst the students. People want to beat other people, because your classmates are also your competitors – for jobs, for professional schooling, for graduate schooling. University is not about learning any more, but about getting more As than the other guy (believe me, as a TA, the sheer amount of people arguing until they’re blue in the face over 0.15% is insanity – not to mention how every student thinks there MUST BE A RIGHT ANSWER – this is not true, even in the “hard” sciences). I think that’s a greater crisis than anything CUPE brings up, but that’s a social force that neither CUPE nor York have any power over. A university must cater to society – as no one will go to a university who’s graduates are considered unemployable.

  71. ff

    UofT is cutting undergraduate enrollment by 10, 000 students/year.
    Well, I think the second you let education go as a value, you might as well get rid of health care. Canada isn’t America, and the more we pretend, that the demands of the union are unreasonable, the more they are just that.
    Now is a time of financial upheaval. Ireland is a perfect example of a state that was able to recover and thrive by investing in free tuition, and investing in its students.
    I’m sorry that your experience of graduate school is as you outline, but, I disagree – I think York can force these questions, and in 2010, force them more seriously.
    Let’s not follow the US example of wanting change, let’s demand change. What students, undergraduate and graduate alike need to realise is that this is all part of a game – the more we’re running around to make ends meet, the less likely we are to do anything about how FUCKED we are.
    You’re right, there are no easy answers – but I want kids to grow up in a country where if they have the skills and abilities they can do whatever they want. More and more, that isn’t the case.
    I want an education system that doesn’t cut funding year after year to anything that isn’t a ‘hard’ science.

  72. Nathan

    The problem is in order to do the things that you want, you have to force a change in society. In order for the humanities to gain more funding, you have to make humanities graduates employable, and not just the generic “look at my degree, who cares about my major” employable, they should be employable in their own chosen fields.

    Unfortunately, Canadian society, as socialist as we like to believe it is… really isn’t. Supply and demand is king, especially since we are in a recession. The demand is simply not keeping up. Academia is no different. Universities are dumping money into the sciences by the millions (the new Gene Therapy Centre at McMaster, York’s plans for a Medical School) because it’s profitable. Furthermore, it opens up more jobs. A single lab headed by a single professor can have openings for technicians, post-docs, Ph.D. students, Masters students, and undergrad summer students. The humanities will never have technicians and will rarely have post-docs.

    The question is: how can we create jobs for those thousands of Humanities students? If we do that, and people start hiring, then I predict that funding will rise as universities start competing amongst each other for graduate students in the Humanities like they already do in the sciences.

    Although actually looking at the numbers… it seems that the other universities DO NOT discriminate between faculties.

    “In 2001 the University of Toronto introduced a funding package for doctoral-stream students guaranteeing a minimum level of financial support for up to five years of doctoral studies[…] For the 2007-08 academic year the minimum package was $20,414.00 for domestic students.”
    (Both history and physiology are the same, except physiology students don’t have to TA for their money – rather, the ENTIRE SUM must be paid by their supervisor’s grant)

    “Queen’s University has a minimum funding guarantee for eligible doctoral students of $18,000 per year over four years.” <– Queen’s History
    “For 2008/09 the minimum guaranteed funding is $20,360 for the year from 1 Sept 2008 until 31 Aug 2009” <– Queen’s Biology


    York History PhD: “Fulltime PHD students can expect to receive a minimum of $15,350 in their first year.”
    York Biology PhD: “All students receive a minimum guaranteed stipend of CDN $20,000 per year, some may receive more.”
    More shockingly:
    York History MA: “Fulltime MA students accepted to the York program can expect to receive a minimum of $8000 in funding.”

    Maybe it’s… just a York thing, and THAT’s why the other universities don’t have so many labour disputes.

    The problem is, CUPE still doesn’t have the power to override departmental decisions. Although from the numbers, it appears that whoever is running the Dept of History is a colossal jackass.

  73. ff

    If I don’t end up getting a job through my graduate work, then I already know how I will be turning my social science education into a career I can live with . I am not optimistic about the road ahead, but to not even try would be something I know now I would regret the rest of my life – as hard as it will be.
    The liberal arts, as I understand them are supposed to give one a mind that enables you to find a job if you want, or create one.
    One of the problems as you’ve outlined it, is that graduates come out looking for some generic job where their course of study is incidental. In some cases, one part of the solution might be to follow UofT’s lead and cut enrollment – but I think there are other ways to make money – like creating more on-line courses, and so on.

    Those are some bleak numbers for the History Department, although I don’t know anyone in History at York, I wouldn’t rush to place the blame squarely on the head(s) there. The “centers of excellence” model being thrust upon everyone is not one that seems to leave much room for history’s products.
    What bothers me, is that even if you are outstanding, it is still neigh impossible to make ends meet with that level of funding. Even with grants, etc.

  74. Nathan

    Definitely. Especially since with the cap at 8,000, those with a scholarship of 10,000 dollars will not be eligible for TA. Thus actually ensuring that they make LESS than someone without external funding.


    CUPE’s demands will only affect TA wages. If the university does not adjust that minimum figure (and apparently, it’s not even on CUPE’s radar), someone with a 10,000 OGS will still make less than someone who has no scholarship, and therefore has to TA for 14-15k a year. And that is simply unfair.

    This is something that the sciences presented as a grievance at the GMM – that our funding would be DECREASED by any increases in TA wages. A compromise – any increase in TA wage % would be accompanied by an increase in minimum baseline % – was accepted – and then 2 days later, we were told that that compromise had been nixed. It was apparently “too difficult to negotiate.”

    The problem with cutting enrolment is that more and more businesses and industries require a BA/Sc in the same way they needed a high school diploma 20 years ago. If you cut enrolment, you’re denying many people a chance at those jobs. However, it is true that the admissions have been more lax as the years progress. However, if you increase standards for university admissions, what will stop high schools from being more of the diploma mills that they already are?

  75. The history numbers are actually quite a bit higher, those numbers are out of date. New incoming students make something like $19,400 minimum in their years 2 – 5 (they get higher in first year because of entrance scholarships, ~ $22,400). I think the minimum in year 6 in a new contract is $16,400. Six years of funding is also notable.

    The numbers are quite a bit higher if one is successful in winning an OGS/SSHRC or one of the other fairly major external scholarships.

    Now tuition is paid out of that. It’s dire, but not that dire. (also not to discourage those interested in York history)

  76. ff

    When things look their worst – that is perhaps when we have most cause to be hopeful.

  77. Nathan

    Staplerh, what about the MAs? And the source for these numbers?

  78. MA funding’s a little different. It was $13k and change a few years ago, but they have different tiers of funding. i.e. some get more, some get less depending on entrance grades & if they get a recruitment scholarship or not.

    My source is people who are in the graduate program.

    Now people who entered the program about two years ago or more have less funding, many of them are closer to that baseline $16k.

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