March 15, 2018
We, faculty members of FES, support CUPE 3903’s demands, and specifically want to emphasize the importance of their demand to restore the eight hundred (800) Unit 3 Graduate Assistantships, which York cut two years ago. Historically, Graduate Assistants have played a critical role in the Faculty of Environmental Studies where experiential learning is a key principle behind our pedagogy. Students are attracted to FES precisely because of its commitment to experiential learning. Our graduate program is one of the largest at York and our graduate students gained valuable educational experiences as Graduate Assistants by taking creative and administrative roles in facilities within the Faculty. Apart from assisting with tasks such as conference coordination for our planning program and seminar series, students worked as curators of our two arts spaces. They were active in program design for all our resource centres (media, arts workshop, organic garden). They offered skills-based workshops for our media centre; wrote, edited and published our student journal, collected data and created and monitored websites for research projects, worked with community organisations on collaborative research projects and offered curricular opportunities for community/university connections. They assisted with providing accommodations for students with special needs. They assisted with research applications, learning how SSHRC application and other processes work and they also assisted and collaborated on research publications.
In sum, the loss of GAs has undermined the unique and highly respected experiential component of student learning, and the collective pedagogical model employed, in our MES program. It has compromised our own ability as university teachers to build equitable connections with community-based partner organizations into graduate education. The withdrawal of the GAships reduces direct participation of students in research projects and has undermined the competitiveness of our TriCouncil grant applications, in which GA support and training formed a key part of the Faculty’s contribution. GA involvement was in fact a central feature of our research activities and research creation.
The creation of the new funding model has had a significant, negative impact on the research and pedagogical system at the university and should not have been undertaken without faculty consultation and consensus. Instead, there was no notice or academic discussion. The decision to largely do away with the GA funding model was taken and implemented with minimal notice and in a process that actively debilitated the collegial decision-making process. Indeed, in a university that prioritizes research excellence, this shift in graduate funding makes no logical sense. It is comprehensible only as a union-busting manoeuvre. We therefore support CUPE 3903’s position in defense of GAships and against what is a drastic change in the terms and conditions of our work, and reduction in support for our work.