Department of Sociology Statement on the Resumption of Classes during the CUPE Strike Reply

This strike has put all students and faculty members in an extremely difficult situation. As teachers, we feel the disruption and are anguished by the dilemmas that it creates for doing our jobs well. The resumption of classes can only prolong this strike and undermine the academic integrity of our courses. Hence, we strongly believe that the best way to maintain academic integrity and fairness to students is to suspend classes until a settlement is reached.

Given the above, the Department of Sociology unanimously affirms that:

To preserve the academic integrity of course offerings in our Department and fairness to all students, all LAPS Sociology courses in the Department of Sociology in the FLAPS are suspended until the resolution of the CUPE 3903 strike.

According to Section 2.1 (Academic Integrity) of the University Senate Policy on the Academic Implications of Disruptions or Cessations of University Business Due to Labour Disputes or Other Causes (hereafter referred to as ‘Senate Policy’):

In the event of a Disruption, the primary obligation of Senate is to ensure the academic integrity of all programmes. No dilution of standards normally expected of students should be permitted and there should be as little diminution as possible in the instructional or supervisory support given to students.

During the current CUPE strike, a course should only be resumed if its academic integrity is preserved. A course’s academic standards and its pedagogical objectives must not be diluted, nor should the learning experience of students or the methods and standards of evaluation be altered substantially.

In addition, according to Section 2.2 (Fairness to Students), Subsection 2.2.1, of the same Senate Policy, students who choose not to participate in academic activities owing to a strike or lock-out on campus are entitled to immunity from penalty. From a pedagogical perspective, such immunity from penalty includes both evaluation of such students’ work and the quality of the instruction that they receive. Therefore, given that some students will exercise their right not to participate in academic activities during the strike, any course director who resumes her or his course before the end of the strike will be required to teach the same material and conduct evaluations a second time, after the strike is settled.

In a large number of courses in the Department of Sociology, lectures and tutorials led by CUPE members are deeply integrated with one another and the tutorials are vital to student learning. Unit 1 TAs teach over 100 tutorials for courses in the Department. Furthermore, over 60% of the total number of Sociology students are enrolled in courses with a tutorial component, with such courses comprising 25% of all courses in the Department. Although not every course has a tutorial component, a large majority of Sociology students are enrolled in at least one such course. The number of students affected is also large: there are about 1700 Sociology majors currently in our courses, which additionally enroll about 1000 non-Sociology majors.

In courses with tutorials, our Department’s view is that it is impossible to continue only with lectures without compromising the academic integrity of the course. Without tutorials, the significant component of the learning experience achieved through instruction from teaching assistants and small group interaction amongst students will be eliminated, diminishing the overall quality of instruction in these courses. Moreover, without feedback and grading from teaching assistants, evaluation cannot possibly proceed as originally planned. In many courses, such weekly ongoing feedback and assessment in tutorials is essential to achieving pedagogical objectives. As such, the proposal to convert course assignments originally designed to examine students’ written work into formats that permit machine grading is an unacceptable alteration to course design and a serious dilution of academic integrity.

The normal policy of our Faculty and Department is that any change to a previously announced marking scheme in a course requires the unanimous consent of students. [1] We are aware of the fact that Senate Executive has suspended this policy for the duration of the strike. However, this remains a significant obstacle to rearranging a course of any size that continues to be taught.

For courses without tutorials (primarily at the 3000- and 4000-level), regardless of size, academic integrity depends in whole or in part on class participation, often including presentations, and will be severely compromised by the absence of students who choose not to participate in academic activities during the strike (again, as per Subsection 2.2.1 of the Senate Policy cited above). Fourth-year Sociology courses take the form of 25-student seminars. Because of the large numbers of students who have vowed not to participate in academic activities during the current strike [2] , these courses would have significantly reduced numbers. This would negatively affect the academic integrity of these same courses, not only by reducing the quality of the class discussions, but by fundamentally undermining the process of active learning that occurs through interaction between course director and seminar participants—a process that is in fact constitutive of the seminar format. Further, in terms of course administration, this situation will wreak havoc with the scheduled rotation of student presentations, which is again integral to many of these classes. Of course, after the strike, students and course directors in the “remediated” versions of these courses would face exactly the same difficulties. Similar challenges would face freestanding courses at the 3000-level.

These last concerns extend to all our courses, whether or not they employ a CUPE member. For courses taught in person, substituting online recordings of lectures and/or posting lecture notes or slides cannot be considered an acceptable substitute for the classroom experience. Even in a smaller, upper-year class taught in person, the shared experience of a lecture, including questions, responses, and group discussion, will be irreparably compromised when some students choose to attend while others wait for the end of the strike.

The university administration has been worryingly vague about how “remediation” would proceed for students who choose not to attend courses that resume during the strike. Especially in light of University commitments to the Pan-Am Games and the timing of summer courses, it is not clear when and how this will proceed. Largely, the administration has left individual faculty members to figure this out; yet in every Fall/Winter 2014-15 Term and Winter 2015 Term course, all students who do not cross the picket lines are entitled to a continuation of that course after the end of the strike and to have their work evaluated in the same way as other students. How will this proceed when hundreds of courses are affected, with many of them requiring sitdown final exams? The academic integrity of courses that resume without full knowledge of the final remediation settlement—a settlement that cannot be known until the strike is over and the full Senate remediation plan for the Fall/Winter 2014-15 and Winter 2015 Terms is in place— will be severely compromised.

Approved unanimously at a meeting of the Department of Sociology on 20 March 2015

[1] See here for the relevant policies: http://calendars.registrar.yorku.ca/2014-2015/faculty_rules/AP/grading.htm and http://www.yorku.ca/laps/soci/grading.html

[2] As per, inter alia, the online petition available here: https://www.change.org/p/york-university-senate-executivecommittee-statement-of-solidarity-with-cupe-3903-york-university-undergraduates?just_created=true

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