On Campus

Final update from Osgoode students

About 78 per cent of law students favoured resuming classes "as soon as possible"

This will be my last update on the resumption of classes at Osgoode Hall, while the CUPE strike has the rest of York University shut down. I appreciate the issues surrounding this relatively small group of students may be of less interest to a general readership. But I also think it’s a very interesting study in the complexities that result when one group of affected students is carved out from the whole and specially accommodated.

Mr. J.P. Rodrigues has been in touch with me. He’s the President of Osgoode’s Legal and Literary Society – their student government. He’s offered me some firm data regarding the survey they conducted among their membership, which I’ve been interested in for some time, and he wished to take particular issue with some of what I reported from Mr. Kevin Tilley (one of the Osgoode student reps on York’s Senate) in my last update. Seems only fair to give him equal airtime.

The survey conducted among Osgoode students, relatively early on in the strike, was answered by 505 students or about 60 per cent of the total. Of those who responded, 78 per cent were in favour of resuming classes “as soon as possible.” I reported in the past that I believed the sentiment was strongly in this direction but it’s nice to have clear figures. Personally, I’m still not sure how to take it that so many students at Osgoode were ready to cross a picket line less than two weeks into a strike. But I’ve acknowledged in the past that Osgoode’s student reps were right to promote the interests of their membership and to reflect their stated preference. That’s what good representatives do.

Mr. Rodrigues takes issue with the suggestion I quoted from Mr. Tilley that students were not adequately consulted on the resumption of academic activities. It isn’t for me to mediate between their differing views, but I actually think these statements are not contradictory. The Legal and Literary Society definitely sought and received a clear statement from students that they wished to resume class. But all the same many questions about what that would mean and how it would play out remained unanswered. I believe that’s what Mr. Tilley meant when he referenced a need for more consultation.

In particular, unanswered questions still relate to the status of students who have elected to not resume their classes and academic work during the strike – as is their right under York’s Senate policy. I do believe the Legal and Literary Society have done their honest best to see this topic addressed. I think they’ve done a great job all around, actually. But I also see a situation where the Osgoode student body has been split against itself, and the majority who have resumed classes have become an unwitting lever exerting pressure on the minority who wish to respect the strike. It may be at least some students who were hoping for business as usual are uncomfortable with these outcomes.

Mr. Rodrigues writes, “an overwhelming amount [of students] are relieved and happy that classes are finally resuming.” I’m sure that’s accurate. He also states that it isn’t true “students are feeling pressured to return to classes” and I’m sure that’s true for the large majority, though I continue to wonder about the remainder. He asserts, “[w]hile ensuring classes resumed on December 1st and the school year still ended on April 27th, we did not neglect those students who wished to exercise their right to not suffer academic penalty during a labour disruption.” And again, I really do believe that. I’m not sure that the administration has done as much as they might, but I have a lot of respect for student efforts on this front.

I first started chewing on this topic because I was interested in the effects of a labour action on the student body at a law school that is widely touted as progressive. I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my sense of disappointment. I’m not on side with CUPE here, necessarily. I’m on side with the labour movement generally and the importance of a picket line. I expected more students at Osgoode would agree with me. Apparently I was wrong. But that’s hardly their fault. Students are well within their rights to cross the picket line and God knows they’re paying enough for the education on the other side of it.

I hope this strike ends as soon as possible, for the sake of all affected. And to anyone who thinks I’ve got it a little too cozy over here at U of T, where I attend law school, CUPE 3902 (U of T’s contract faculty, TAs, etc.) is holding a strike vote starting today. A strike mandate doesn’t necessarily mean a strike, of course, but it’s one big step in that direction. I may yet catch my share of this experience from the other side.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. This blog is still primarily about advising, and I do like questions.

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