York university strike: confusion as contract faculty return to work

The school promises students will have flexible options to finish their classes

Contract faculty at York University returned to work on June 18 after a more than three-month long strike, but students still have questions about when—and how—they’ll be able to complete their studies.

Teaching assistants and graduate assistants—who are represented by different units of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3903—remain on strike.

York has set July 23 to August 20 as the remediation period when students who haven’t dropped or received an assessed grade for their winter courses can complete their studies.

“There’s only three and a half weeks of the classes that need to be remediated because we were in the middle of the eighth week of term when the strike started,” says Vice-President Academic and Provost Lisa Phillips. “So, students had already done about two thirds of their classes.” Policy set by the school’s senate allows York to shorten the term by a week so the school will end up offering 11 weeks of material.

MORE: Is York University the most strike-prone school in Canada?

Philipps adds that now the contract faculty have returned, any work that has been submitted but not yet graded will now be marked. This will enable students to receive an “assessed” grade, based on the already completed work without having to attend the remediation period. However, students need to have completed 70 per cent of the course to select this option.

The is some confusion among students regarding what will be expected of them during the remediation period. “All but one of my classes are resuming, however the only information I’ve received is when the remediation period will be,” says Victoria Silman, a fourth-year professional writing and political science student. “The university has set those dates, but they haven’t been exactly clear what those dates will entail. Also, none of my professors have been able to provide any information about course-completion because they’re still consulting the departments.”

Students are also concerned what will happen if they’re unable to attend classes during the remediation period. “I’m worried about the possibility of not being able to fit the outstanding classes into my new work schedule,” says fourth-year film student Stephen Chung.

According to an email sent to students by Lucy Fromowitz, the vice-provost for students: “Instructors will provide flexible options for students who cannot or choose not to participate in resumed classes and/or in-class course lectures.” However, the email doesn’t provide specify what those options will be.

“We don’t set them in stone, because they will differ depending on the course, and the student’s needs,” says Philipps. The options could include take-home exams, distance learning of different kinds and modified office hours so professors can speak to students via phone or video-chatting. Philipps also said students who are unable to complete their courses during the remediation period can finish them this fall all without penalty.

The end of the strike by contract faculty was marked by its own confusion. After an initial ballot, a new vote had to be called because of  “a discrepancy between the number of ballots cast and the number of signatures of eligible voters at polling stations,” according to CUPE’s website.

The error was simply a clerical one, according to Julien Arend, CUPE 3903 spokesperson. “Some people were missed when signing in but still received ballots. That’s what we’re assuming at this point; there are allegations of ballot-stuffing on both sides because it’s such a contentious issue,” he says, adding an outside party will investigate the matter. Two-thirds of voting members ultimately supported the new deal.

“There are many [members] who are very dissatisfied with the settlement that was signed and the content of it, and there are others who are relatively happy with it. As with any group of 1,000 people it’s going to be a diversity of opinion,” says Arend.

While contract faculty has returned to work, the labour disruption still isn’t over, as teaching and research assistants remain on strike. York recently provided a new offer to the two outstanding units, but with the deadline to sign having passed, the strike continues.


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