It is with the greatest respect and a full appreciation of the complexities and difficulties you face that I write to express my concerns about the current situation we are all coping with. I am a member of the York contract faculty (CUPE 3903 Unit 2) and teach in the Faculty of Education. I am also a former secondary school teacher and department head with many years of classroom experience at that educational level. York University has been a significant part of my life – academically, professionally, and even personally – since I first entered Glendon College as a member of its founding class in 1966. Over my years as an undergraduate and graduate student, I earned the majority of my degrees including my doctorate from this great university, where I had the honour and privilege of studying with some of its finest professors.
As a classroom teacher, for many years I mentored Teacher Candidates from the York Faculty of Education, and after retirement (if I can use that term) I was delighted to be granted the opportunity to continue shaping the next generation of Ontario secondary school teachers as a course director in the Faculty. I have been employed at York for over ten years and regard it as more than just a “second career.” It has been an ongoing and extremely rewarding experience of professional development and fulfillment that I hope to be able to continue for as long as possible.
Yesterday I met my first class since the University resumed operations. I am glad that the decision was made to extend the protocol granting students the right to opt out of attending classes until the strike is resolved. As a result, only about one-third of my Teacher Candidates were actually present in class, and I informed them that I fully respected their decision to attend, and equally that of the others who chose not to. However, I must express to you my great discomfort that as a Unit 2 member I was given no such choice. Contractually I was obliged to be present in class, and my union, CUPE 3903 was not in a position to recommend to me legally that I stay away. But this meant that I was required in effect to cross my own union’s picket line, which was a unique and highly disagreeable experience for me. I have been involved with three other strikes and labour actions over the course of my career in both secondary and post-secondary education, and never before have I been in this situation. I arrived on campus before the commencement of picketing, under cover of darkness, to avoid having to encounter fellow CUPE 3903 members still on strike, and I must tell you that I felt very ashamed of myself. In a way, it was a betrayal of the all principles of social justice and labour solidarity that have governed and given meaning to my life as an educator and as a citizen over the course of many decades.
I am also now dealing with the challenges of offering an educational program that maintains high academic integrity and fulfills the requirements of the Faculty of Education in this extremely complex situation. Without burdening you with the details, I will inform you that my remaining classes consist of a series of student presentations and the submission of a unit of study based on them. This assignment constitutes a significant proportion of the final grade in my course. At present, I have absolutely no idea how I am going to schedule these presentations in the three classes we have left, if some TCs choose to attend class and others do not, even if they are part of the same presenting group. I am aware that there are some other options I could explore such as online chats, Moodle, etc. but I may be showing my age when I tell you that in my view the best learning experiences, especially for beginning teachers, take place in the classroom with their professor and ALL of their peers present to share them together. I have enjoyed these culminating activities for many years, as have my students and I am very disappointed that this may not be possible in the current situation.
In closing, I hope you will consider my concerns and take them under advisement. I also hope that this strike can be ended soon, but more importantly that its resolution results in a fair and equitable settlement for Units 1 and 3. In my view their demands are not excessive, but of course that may be an area where we can respectfully “agree to disagree.” I was very pleased that the Unit 2 collective agreement will lead to a larger number of conversion appointments. While at this stage in my career I would not be interested in this, I am delighted that more of my younger contract faculty colleagues, who are fine scholars and teachers, with a great deal to offer, will finally have the chance to establish themselves as full-time professors.
I wish you the best during this very trying time for us at the university and hope that we will all be able to resume our respective duties under calmer conditions in the very near future. York is a great place to teach and learn, and the sooner we return to this, the better. On this point I am sure we can all agree.
Dr. Peter Flaherty
Faculty of Education