On Campus

Update from Osgoode students II

Students at Osgoode Hall went back to class today, despite the continuing strike by CUPE 3903. They are the beneficiaries of a special exemption, approved by the Executive Committee of York’s Senate on November 25th. One of Osgoode’s student representatives on Senate, Mr. Kevin Tilley, agreed to go on record with Maclean’s OnCampus to discuss his experiences in the strike.

I asked Mr. Tilley first about his position on the matter at Senate, and his view that the exception for Osgoode students has been divisive and should not be expanded. He clarifies that he isn’t advocating for the idea that Osgoode is special, but rather that resuming classes at Osgoode was a mistake that should not be repeated.

“The argument that this strike is going to jeopardize students’ professional careers just doesn’t make sense,” he says. He acknowledges that plans and summer jobs may be disrupted, as may the licensing process with the Law Society of Upper Canada (for those students in their final years) but feels these sorts of problems are common to all students. He suggests the university should have undergone some sort of consultation with students prior to this decision. And most particularly he argues that the decision to resume classes, and the division it has created among students, may be worse than a longer lockout.

To clarify, students are being forced to make a snap decision to either resume classes now or else face the uncertain consequences of not doing so. “It’s going to have a huge impact on students’ academic futures,” Mr. Tilley states, and students are not adequately informed. As I reported earlier, students who do not resume classes will not be able to meet with the administration until the evening of December 3rd to learn how they will be accommodated. Despite the fact that students have the right under Senate policy to not conduct academic activities during a strike, students at Osgoode are now being asked to sign a form to indicate they are exercising this option with no firm information regarding the consequences of this decision.

As of today, Mr. Tilley is participating in an information picket, established outside the law school by those students who cannot condone a resumption of class. He estimates perhaps twenty students were at the picket, though concedes this might be an optimistic figure. Students entering the law school were generally supportive of their efforts, though some “just put their heads down and went past as quickly as possible.”

Osgoode’s reputation for progressiveness seems to be on the line here. Mr. Tilley feels the administration has certainly sabotaged this reputation and that “as an institution they’ve made a decision to break a strike, which belies any claim to being progressive.” Students, however, are in many cases disappointed by this situation and feel pressured to resume class. The majority of students have done so. Members of faculty have no choice and are obligated to perform their duties in spite of the strike. But a number of them have elected to only provide their lectures as recordings, and may be showing solidarity with the strike in this way.

In a bit of a twist, students at Osgoode aren’t quite caught between either crossing the line on one hand and not crossing it on the other. The law school has committed to providing recordings of all lectures so that students can follow their classes remotely. In a previous piece I suggested this distinction is a sham and that crossing the picket line in a virtual sense is no better than crossing it physically.

Mr. Tilley disagrees, and offers a more practical take on the option. In his view, these recordings are simply inadequate and cannot replace the value of classroom learning. So reliance on these recordings represents success for the strikers. “To whatever extent the university is able to conduct business as usual the picket has failed, but this isn’t business as usual.” This is very likely true. So long as Osgoode students are aware that they are receiving an inferior quality of education, as a result of this strike, there is no reason why pressure on the university will subside from this quarter.

In my reporting of this situation to date, I’ve expressed some disappointment with Osgoode students and their unwillingness to put their ideals to the test. After speaking with Kevin Tilley, I have to say I’m rather surprised so many students are taking the moral high ground, even though they are still a minority of the whole. The stakes are very high for these students and, as Mr. Tilley says, the administration still “can’t stand up and say that there won’t be any penalties or academic reprisals at this point.” It’s asking a lot of anyone to stand on ideals in a situation such as this, and the students who are doing so have my respect.

As for the strike in general, and the state of negotiations, Mr. Tilley wishes to be clear that he’s no expert on the situation but I did manage to elicit a couple of general opinions. Despite all the negative press the union has received, he still views the university as the more unwilling partner in negotiations, and says “the university seems more intent to wage a public relations battle than to hammer it out on the bargaining table.” From my own perspective I’d have to agree, though I’d add if the university is waging a public relations battle it is probably winning.

And as for the cost of this labour action, Mr. Tilley sums it up about as well and as sincerely as anyone could. “Strikes interfere with people’s lives and they get in the way of stuff. That’s just the way things are. But that’s part of living in a democratic society.” Amen brother.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Though I’ve been on the subject of this strike for some time, this blog is still primarily about advising, and I do like questions.

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