Open letter to President Rhonda Lenton and Senate Executive – Response to the Free Speech draft policy Reply

We, the undersigned senators, address in this communication our assessment of the proposed York University Statement of Policy on Free Speech submitted to Senate Executive by the York Working Group on Free Speech Policies. More…

York students do deserve better – That’s why instructors are on strike Reply

April 30, 2018

By Dana Phillips

It’s the refrain we hear over and over again: “those poor students, caught in the middle of persistent labour disruptions at York university.”  What follows is often, as in Martin Regg Cohn’s recent Toronto Star column, a rebuke of striking union workers for being so darn unreasonable, under the thin guise of balanced journalism.  Sure, goes the argument, teaching staff have legitimate concerns, and precarious work is a problem. But why does CUPE local 3903 insist on being such a troublemaker?

I would be the first to argue that students do deserve better, and I’m confident that my fellow CUPE members, by and large, feel the same way. Many of us are students ourselves; we are also experiencing disruptions to our programs of study, in addition to significant losses in income, and ongoing economic uncertainty. Nearly all of us work closely with students whom we care about and want to see succeed. This is no small part of the reason that we continue to stand up against an administration that is in the business of lining its own coffers at the expense of quality higher education.

Like all unions, CUPE 3903 has its own internal politics, and these have in times past been admittedly problematic (as has York’s own governance). But to suggest that the union’s grievances therefore have no merit is simply fallacious. CUPE 3903 is not an outlier, as Regg Cohn suggests—it is a sector leader.  The hard won rights of CUPE 3903 union members have set a precedent for precarious academic workers across the country at a time when the rapid corporatization of universities should be what has us all alarmed and outraged. This is why arbitration is not a good option for CUPE 3903; you can’t lead the way through a decision-making process that bends towards the status quo.

One of the biggest points of dispute in this strike relates to the job security of Unit 2 contract faculty. York argues that providing opportunities for experienced contract instructors to transition into tenure-track positions (in lieu of the usual open search process, but with the same high bar for granting tenure) threatens standards of teaching excellence for students. And yet, York relies on contract instructors in short-term, low-paid positions to teach more than a third of its classes (more than half if you count teaching assistants). If York is truly concerned about teaching excellence, one wonders why the administration is currently fighting to have more courses taught by full-time graduate students from Unit 1, who are generally less qualified than the Unit 2 contract instructors they would be replacing.  There is nothing good for students about having “professors” who are overworked, underpaid, and unsure of where their next paycheck is coming from.

CUPE 3903’s proposals for Units 1 and 3, meanwhile, focus on ensuring accessible and equitable access to graduate education for future students—i.e. current undergraduates.  While CUPE looks towards the future, however, York and much of the media remain fixated on the strike’s most immediate impacts, thereby losing sight of the deeper issues threatening public education for years to come.

One of the problems with opinions like those of Regg Cohn is that they assume that striking workers are primarily to blame for what is happening to students at York. This is nothing new; it comes up all the time on the picket lines.  Perhaps it should come as no surprise that it is easiest to blame those who are out in the cold day after day, physically obstructing the way to classes, degrees—business as usual.  It seems as though these are the people that chose to mess everything up for everybody.

What, though, about the choice of York administrators to refuse to come to the bargaining table for weeks on end, while CUPE remains ready and willing to negotiate? What about the economic and educational systems that place highly educated and skilled people—the people we hope our students will become—in the position of struggling to make ends meet? The ability of these causes to remain invisible is what gives them their power and privilege.

The university and the public are rightfully concerned about the well-being of York’s undergraduate students at this difficult time. Unfortunately, they seem much less concerned about the well-being of those who provide the bulk of those students’ education, and who, in many ways, reflect those students’ own precarious future.

Statement by Justin Podur, YUFA Chief Negotiator 2

April 18, 2018

York administration’s latest communication, “Two days of mediation produce no settlement”, sets up the provincial Industrial Inquiry Commission to fail.

The second paragraph of the communique says: “While agreement was reached on two issues – lactation and breast-feeding space and professional expense reimbursement – CUPE 3903’s other proposals continue to be well outside the range of anything the university can ever agree to.” (emphasis mine).

That is an extraordinary statement for an employer to make publicly during bargaining. That it is being made in the middle of a mediation attempt brokered by the provincial government makes it astounding. That it is being made in week seven of a strike makes it mind-boggling.

This particular strike has been defined by a very consistent and specific communicative approach by the employer. Before the strike even began, the administration communicated that it wanted CUPE 3903 to go to binding arbitration. In every single communication, several each week for the past seven weeks, the administration has repeated that message – arbitration, arbitration, arbitration, arbitration. The specific issues that separate CUPE 3903 and the administration are less frequently, and less consistently repeated than that message – that this should not be resolved at the bargaining table but at arbitration.

Since the administration returned very briefly to the bargaining table on March 22 only to walk away again and return to the “arbitration” line, it has made several other attempts to avoid bargaining. The supervised vote, announced on March 27th and resolved on April 9th, entailed nearly two weeks without bargaining. When CUPE 3903’s members rejected the employer’s final offer in the supervised vote, the administration admonished the membership, said it was “disappointed” in the vote, and suggested a new approach – arbitration. There is very little explanation behind this mantra. York’s president said in a radio interview that fundamental principles separate CUPE 3903 and the employer – these principles were the principle of open hiring and of students being able to receive funding without a work requirement. These principles have been bridged in past agreements with CUPE 3903. They have been bridged in other collective agreements. There are ways to fulfill CUPE’s concerns about job security and the benefits of union membership for MA students without sacrificing the employer’s stated principles – but only through negotiation.

If the administration had an interest in bargaining, they would have countered CUPE 3903’s proposals. On March 22nd, CUPE reduced their demands. The administration, instead of countering, publicly said that CUPE 3903’s demands were unrealistic. After the supervised vote, the administration reiterated that CUPE 3903’s demands were unrealistic. Over the weekend, meeting with the provincial investigator, CUPE 3903 again reduced their demands. The administration publicly repeated that CUPE 3903’s demands were well outside the range of anything the university can ever agree to. On three occasions, York could have countered and did not. That is contrary to the conventions of bargaining, as CUPE 3903 said in one of their communications. Submitting successive, reduced proposals is not good bargaining practice – it is called “bargaining against yourself”, and it is to be avoided. York has asked CUPE 3903 on three occasions to bargain against itself – or accept arbitration.

The administration’s approach is not explicable in terms of differences of principles. What can explain it is if avoiding bargaining is the principle. Union bargaining teams receive their mandates from their members. Employer bargaining teams receive mandates as well. Trying to reverse-engineer the employer’s mandate based on their behaviour, it seems to me that they care less about any particular proposal and more about avoiding the table altogether and settling any disputes through arbitration. Long-term, if this strike ends with CUPE 3903 surrendering – if enough violence occurs against picketers, if the demonization of union members succeeds, if they become weary enough to give up with no end in sight (and the administration’s communique explicitly states that it has every intention of letting the strike drag on throughout the summer) – then it will be counted as a major victory for the employer, regardless of the costs to York’s reputation and enrolments. The summer terms will drop one by one, fall enrolments will fall, and the administration hopes, CUPE 3903 will break.

The notion is (perhaps) that reputation and enrolment can be rebuilt, but breaking CUPE 3903 on campus will be a lasting achievement. But the truth is that a union can be rebuilt too, even after it is broken, though lasting damage can be done to morale and community through a forever strike.

Justin Podur, Chief Negotiator, YUFA

Second open letter to Minister Hunter Reply

April 10, 2018

The Honourable Mitzie Hunter
Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Government of Ontario

Dear Minister Hunter,

I am writing to you again, as a woman with a government led by a woman Premier, to urge you to restore legitimate governance at York University.

The Board of Governors is operating outside its By-laws. It has imposed a President whom only 11% of faculty approved, and has now usurped the powers of the university Senate.

I have held tenured appointments at two Ontario universities since 1980 and been a visiting professor at two other Ontario universities (University of Ottawa and Carleton) as well as at McGill University in Quebec. I have never ever seen a situation like this.

Students offered grades ‘on the cheap’ but pay full fees

Over 75% of courses at York University have not been given since the beginning of March, over five weeks ago! My students do not know where to turn.

For so many of them, obtaining advanced education is already a challenge. They have to work part-time or full-time to pay their fees. They have young families or family care-giving responsibilities. For many it is a daily struggle to pay for housing and food. Under these conditions, meeting assignment deadlines is already challenging and they do not have the time to do their best work. I know, because I encourage my students to communicate their situation to me so that I can provide whatever assistance I can to help them complete their courses successfully.

But what are York students to do now? They have plans for graduating, for applications to other programs, for summer employment. Everything is on hold. They have paid full fees for their courses with their hard-earned money. Why should they have to pay all their fees when they don’t have timely access to all their courses?

The University administration is suggesting they take a grade for 60% or 70% of their work, that they accept some kind of grade ‘on the cheap.’ Will future employers look down at their York diploma? Will they still be able to get jobs? Why is the administration degrading its own degrees?

A Board of Governors completely disconnected from students, staff and faculty

This dire situation has arisen because a small group of people from big business and big banking have taken control over the Board of Governors and are usurping powers normally held by the President and the University Senate.

The Board runs the show behind closed doors according to its own hidden agenda, consulting only with union-busting lawyers and corporate public relations firms. There is no discussion, no dialogue, no respect of rules, no sense of community, and no sense of what a university is. This is not how a university should be governed. What kind of example is this for our students?

I received a shameless email yesterday from The email wasn’t signed. I don’t know who wrote it. As a faculty member, I simply receive these anonymous emails from ‘above.’ Often the messages, addressed to us by our first names, are intimidating or contain misleading information.

I have never ever in 38 years of university teaching in Ontario seen such a radical disregard and disrespect on the part of a university Board and administration for its university’s students, staff and faculty. I have never seen such havoc and injustice wrought on a university because of a Board so completely disconnected from the people and principles of the university it is supposed to foster.

A Board of Governors in breach of its By-laws: No representation for vast sectors of the public

I wrote to you on March 19, 2018 to draw your attention to these grave governance issues at York University. I pointed out the Board of Governors’ disrespect by of its own By-laws requiring broad community representation on the Board, the Board’s failure to ensure gender equity on the Board, and the Board’s lack of representation of approximately 95% of York students and their programs. My email was copied to the Secretary of the Cabinet.

I received no response from you or your Ministry. I can understand that this is a busy time for you, since elections will be held on June 7. But I don’t see how your government can sit by and allow such hardship to continue at Ontario’s second-largest university, with46,400 undergraduate students and 5,900 graduate students, and 7,000 faculty and staff (

A Board of Governors opposed to equity for women

Your government is to be commended for having taken important steps to ensure gender equality and to prevent violence against women. Your program ‘GET ON BOARD – Ontario’s Implementation Plan to Promote Women in Corporate Leadership’ has set targets for the number of women on corporate boards.

Many Provincial Boards and Agencies have surpassed the 40% Target, achieving over 50% representation of women (…/get-board-ontarios-implementation-…).

How then can your government accept that at York University, where 59% of undergraduate students are women, women constitute only 35% of external members on the Board and only 15% of the members of the Board’s central Executive Committee?

Chair of the Board makes sexist remarks in the Financial Post

How can your government accept that the Chair of the Board of Governors of an Ontario university has publicly expressed in the Financial Post his opposition to government legislation on gender equality and his sexist belief that if there are not more women on boards it’s because there are not enough qualified women? (…/managing-in-the-grey-sc…)

The Board appoints its own external members. How can your government support a Board that has stubbornly refused to appoint an equal number of men and women?

A Board working against your government’s legislation on wage equity and women’s safety

Your government has put in place measures to ensure wage equity. How can it support a university Board who is actively widening the wage gap by refusing to improve working conditions for contract faculty, the majority of whom are women?

Your government has taken major steps to prevent violence against women. How can a Board that cannot even appoint an equal number of women possibly exercise appropriate oversight on university health and safety policies to prevent violence against women? Indeed, York University has a long history, under former President Shoukri and the same kind of sexist Board, of lack of concern for women’s safety.

A Board who does not represent 95% of York’s Undergraduate Students

The Ontario government funds universities through a complex formula that reflects enrollments. At York University, three faculties, Schulich (business), Osgoode (law) and Lassonde (engineering), represent about 5% of undergraduate students.

Yet, ALL the external members of the Board of Governors have degrees in these three fields. Five external Board members sit concurrently on advisory Boards at Schulich. In other words, NO external Board members represent the programs and disciplines of 95% of York University undergraduate students.

How can a Board skewed towards only three small faculties make informed and responsible decisions about programs in the eight other faculties? How can such a Board ensure that the public funds and student fees the university is receiving for these programs, where 95% of York University’s students are enrolled, are actually going towards these programs? The answer is that it cannot make, and is not making, responsible decisions for all York students.

A Board who pays lip service to experiential learning then cuts 800 graduate assistantships

Graduate assistantships provide valuable professional experience to students. They are proud to put their assistantships on their résumé and their work experience at York University helps them obtain employment after graduation. Through these positions, students receive professional mentoring, participate in dynamic research projects and contribute to research at the university

Your Ministry has made strong efforts to increase Ontario students’ access to experiential learning and on-the-job training and has asked Ontario universities to outline the experiential learning opportunities they offer to students.

How can your Ministry support a Board that has outlined these opportunities to you then, behind your back, cut over 800 experiential learning positions for its own graduate students?

The Ontario government cannot allow a small, illegitimately appointed corporate Board to cause so much suffering and injustice at a public university

I believe that your government has an obligation to redress the enormous disconnection at York University between the Board of Governors and the administration it has put in place, on the one hand, and students, staff and faculty, on the other.

Students, staff and faculty at York University are under great duress. It is an exceedingly stressful situation. York University is a publicly-funded institution. Boards have an obligation to be accountable to the public they serve, but this Board at York is not answering to anyone.

I am deeply disappointed in this Board’s failure to respond to longstanding calls to respect its own By-laws and include members from a broad range of diverse sectors in society.

On the contrary, it has just infringed more regulations and laws in flagrant disregard for the very principles of mutual understanding and respect, on which universities are founded. This is not how a university should be governed.

I am deeply distressed by the inhumane actions of this Board. It has consistently and shamelessly trampled over the interests of students, staff and faculty. It has made every effort to degrade the collective intellectual and creative spirit of York University. It has not shown one iota of regret for the real suffering it is imposing on real people.

Your government has to take responsibility urgently. It must hold the Board accountable for the actions that are putting York University and the education of its students at risk. It cannot allow a handful of individuals who have appointed themselves to the university’s Board and function as a closed shop to sabotage a public institution of higher learning.

I am urging you, because it behooves you as Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, to 1) place York University temporarily under government supervision, 2) disband the current illegitimate Board of Governors, 3) annul its appointment of Dr. Rhonda Lenton as President, and 4) appoint an interim Chairperson of the Board of Governors tasked with undertaking the renewal of the university’s governance structures.

Yours sincerely,

Agnes Whitfield, Ph.D., c. tran.
Professor/Professeure titulaire,
Department of English/Département d’études anglaises
York University/Université York, Toronto (Canada)…
Founding Director/Directrice fondatrice, Vita Traductiva…/english-prof-launches-new-tra…/
Visiting Professor/Professeure invitee, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, 2017
Bilingual Joint Chair in Women’s Studies, Carleton University, University of Ottawa/Chaire conjointe bilingue en études des femmes, Université Carleton, Université d’Ottawa, 2009-2010
Virtual Scholar, Heritage Canada/Chercheure virtuelle, Patrimoine canadien, 2006-2007
Seagram Visiting Chair in Canadian Studies, McGill University/Chaire d’invité Seagram en études canadiennes, Université McGill, 2003-2004
Présidente, Association canadienne de traductologie /President, Canadian Association for Translation Studies, 1995-1999

On the Matter of “Open” Searches, Academic Excellence, and Student Success: A Radical Proposal Reply

April 2, 2018

On the Matter of “Open” Searches, Academic Excellence, and Student Success: A Radical Proposal

A Discussion Paper

Lykke de la Cour
Department of Social Science
York University

The “Open” search process for academic appointments is heralded in the university community as a central pillar, if not the flagship marker, that undergirds the achievement of research and teaching excellence at universities  – and indeed so it should be … in an ideal world.

Data repeatedly demonstrates, however, that despite decades of equity initiatives,  academic “open” searches regularly re/produce structural inequalities linked to gender, race, class, sexual identity and disability, evidenced by the fact that these groups remain under-represented among tenured faculty and, when appointed to tenure-track positions, they tend to be disproportionately concentrated in lower ranks of the profession, are often paid less than their peers, and are only marginally included in programs such as Canada Research Chairs.[1] What this suggests is that academic appointment processes are not, in all instances, as impartial, objective, or unbiased as the term “open” suggests. Instead, all too frequently hiring practices replicate particular forms of power and privilege, with attendant knowledge production and pedagogic practices, styling this as a demonstration of academic “excellence.” “Open” academic searches, hence, are not as unfettered as sometimes implied.

Similarly, exhortations around the importance of “open” searches are neither unencumbered nor innocent when raised in the midst of a labour disruption that centers on the problem of precarious academic employment. In such moments, refrains around the inviolable principle of “open” academic searches become deeply political, chiefly deployed to reinforce divisions between tenured and contractualized faculty, while perpetuating a stigmatized association with appointment processes connected with contractual academic work.

Just look at how many times in the current labour disruption at York the administration has deployed references to “open” searches in its communications relating to Unit 2’s job security proposals. Each message from the administration, including letters from the President and the Interim Provost to OCUFA, etc., have repeatedly underscored “open” hiring practices as a “hallmark” of academic appointment processes that absolutely cannot be breached by permitting greater numbers of conversions at York. In the administration’s most recent March 27th communication on a supervised (forced ratification) vote, they make this point even more fully:

We have made every effort to reach a fair and equitable agreement with CUPE 3903 while preserving and protecting:

  • Academic excellence,
  • Student success, and
  • The vitally important role of open searches for full-time tenure stream faculty.

What are the issues?

We have offered CUPE 3903 the best pay and benefits package of any university in Ontario, but there are two key non-monetary issues on which we can’t compromise:

  1. The number of tenure stream positions that will be given to CUPE 3903 members without an open search: York is committed to the principle that in all but exceptional cases, full-time tenure stream appointments must be made through open searches as they are at all other Canadian universities. To balance this principle with CUPE 3903’s interests, York is offering six tenure stream positions for contract faculty over the life of the new collective agreement. This is being done through the conversion program, which is unprecedented in the country … [2]

Count the number of times that the phrased “open” search is referred to in this statement. Apparently, over the past several months, the administration has also devoted considerable time informing departmental chairs and other tenured faculty at York that any promises around potential new hires would, of course, be mitigated by the number of conversions negotiated CUPE 3903. Talk about playing the two faculty groups off one another.

But let’s unpack the administration’s statement even further.

First, it presents yet another misrepresentation, this time not about the number of conversions offered as being “not concessionary,” but about the process surrounding conversion appointments. In their statement, the administration writes that tenure stream positions “will be given” to CUPE 3903 Unit 2 members. Will be “given”?

At York, contract faculty have always had to participate in a competitive selection process to get a conversion appointment and, if fortunate enough to be selected, what they are actually then “given” is a probationary tenure stream position whereby they will be required to fulfill the same criteria for tenure and promotion as any new hire. Tenured positions are not being benevolently doled out here – and let’s be clear, any modicum of meaningful job security provision (including conversions) that Unit 2 has managed to obtain over the years has not been “given” to them. These have been hard fought for gains, often only attained by going on strike.

The second problem with the administration’s statement concerns the association constructed between “open” searches, academic excellence, and student success. Again, the logic is not clear here.

In the context of a rapidly collapsing faculty infrastructure, where new tenure-stream hires are not keeping apace with TT faculty “departures” – and haven’t been for quite a while, despite enrollment growth[3] – how on earth will a handful of new hires selected through “open” searches be able to achieve the goals of academic excellence and student success?  The university is either going to have to dramatically increase class sizes and introduce other pedagogic innovations in order to cope with enrollment growth in a setting where TT faculty attrition is significant. Or York is going to have to continue to rely on a large cadre of precariously employed contractualized academic staff. Neither of these options is optimal for academic excellence or student success … and, in either case, it leaves a diminished proportion of TT faculty responsible for fulfilling the university’s required service obligations.

In her recent article in The Globe and Mail, Simona Chiose notes:

After hovering between 55 and 60 hires for the past several years, next year York plans to hire 88 tenure-stream professors, according to numbers provided by the university, renewing just under 6 per cent of its total permanent faculty ranks.[4]

Where did these numbers come from?

According to York’s Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-20, the administration is projecting only 65 new hires for next year. When faculty departures are taken into account, this will yield an overall increase of 33 faculty to the TT complement. The figures are roughly the same for the following year, 2019-20.  The overall ‘in-year’ increase/decrease to YUFA faculty ranks, however, is 27 and 28 when the reduction of 19 and 23 CLAs, respectively, over 2018/19 and 2019/20, is taken into account.[5]


Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 12.07.32 PM.png

Source: Finance Department, York University, “Budget Highlights,” Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-20

What this chart doesn’t capture is that an increase of 33 faculty to the TT complement still leaves faculty numbers below what they were in 2008/9 (1,424) – and faculty FTEs were already significantly depleted even by 2008/9. As “A Sixteen-Year Snapshot of York University” demonstrates, undergraduate and graduate enrollments at York grew 36% to 38% respectively over the course of the 2000s, but tenure stream faculty increased by only 20%.[6] Data suggests that the TT faculty collapse at York dates at least to the mid-1990s.[7] The above chart also obscures the fact that, in recent years, York has relied on an unprecedented number of contractual positions (CLAs) to artificially boost tenure-stream faculty numbers.  As the table below indicates, CLA positions have increased significantly over the past four years, but not the number of TT faculty. The increase in CLAs has simply facilitated a ‘smoke and mirrors’ game,[8] giving an overall impression of TT faculty complement growth when in fact, since 2008/9, there has been none:

2008/9 1424 104 1528
2009/10 1379 86 1465
2010/11 1364 102 1466
2011/12 1368 107 1475
2012/13 1382 98 1480
2013/14 1389 134 1523
2014/15 1373 155 1505
2015/16 1362 186 1548
2016/17 1381 183 1564


Source: York University Fact Book 2015-16 and York University Quick Facts 2016-17

The Report on Appointments, Tenure and Promotion, presented last October to the Board of Governors by the Chair of the Academic Resources Committee, paints a worrisome picture as well.[9] In this document, the Appendix D chart on “Changes in Tenure Stream Complement 2009-10 to 2017-18” indicates a total of 65 appointments made or in progress for 2017-18 (not the 98 projected hires cited in the Multi Year Budget Plan). Eighteen searches (beyond the 65) are listed as “Failed/Deplayed/Cancelled Searches” [sic], which does bring the total number of authorized new hires up to 83, but still not 98. However, these 65 new appointments pale when weighed against confirmed departures, which for 2017-18 are reportedly 45.[10] So 65 – 45 = 20 additions to the faculty complement for 2017-18. Add 20 to the total number of TT in 2016/17 and you get 1401 – still below the TT complement numbers in 2008/9.

If this is the end result when the university says that hiring plans hovered around 50 to 60 new hires the past few years, what will happen in 2018-19 and 2019-20 when budget projections forecast, respectively, only 27 and 26 new hires?

What further complicates the situation around the TT faculty complement, of course, is student enrollments. While TT faculty numbers have declined significantly at York since 2008/9, both undergraduate and graduate enrollments have remained fairly stable – 46,079 undergraduates in 2008/9 versus 46,320 in 2016/17 (an increase of .5% over the period)[11] and 5,837 graduate students in 2008/9 as opposed to 5,798 in 2016/17, a decline of 39 graduate enrollments.[12] No doubt contractual faculty, both within CUPE 3903 Unit 2 and YUFA CLAs, have been deployed to fill the gaps in undergraduate teaching created by the constriction of TT faculty over these years. But it is when we look towards the future – indeed not even the too distant future – that the picture becomes even more fraught if we are truly concerned about academic excellence and student success at York.

As noted above, there are no major plans to increase the number of TT faculty at the university over the next few years. Yet, York’s administration is projecting significant enrollment increases, at least with respect to undergraduate and MA enrollments. It is anticipated that enrollments in each category will rise 12% by 2019/20.  Only a 1% increase in PhD graduate enrollments is predicted by 2020, however.[13] There is also, of course, the opening of the Markham campus in 2021, with an enrollment target of 4,200 students. Advertising for the new campus states that “400+” jobs will created at Markham, but it is not clear how many of these positions will be academic.[14] Similarly, the children of the “echo boomers” (i.e. the grandchildren of the baby boomers) are set to begin enrolling at universities in Ontario in the early 2020s.[15]

So who is going to teach all these students?

Here is where we get to the crux of the CUPE 3903 strike, especially with respect to Unit 2 job security proposals: the administration’s utterly inflexible position on conversions, in my estimation, is fundamentally about the erosion of tenure through a simultaneous process of atrophying new TT hires (precisely in a period where both student enrollments and TT faculty departures linked to retirements are expected to grow) while inhibiting mechanisms through which contractualized faculty can be shifted into tenure-track positions.

In addition to misrepresenting conversions as something benevolently granted to contract faculty and, ultimately, antithetical to academic excellence and student success, the other recurrent theme in the administration’s messaging around Unit 2’s conversion program is about the uniqueness of this program, calling it “unprecedented in the country.” However, the only aspect of CUPE 3903’s conversion program that differentiates it from similar programs at other universities (such as Queen’s University Faculty Association’s collective agreement provisions around Continuing Adjunct Appointments[16]) is that the CUPE 3903 program transfers successful applicants into probationary tenure-stream positions, thereby bolstering tenure-track ranks. In this sense, yes, the CUPE 3903 Conversion Program does stand out as exceptional. But this extraordinariness does not mean that the program should be dispensed with. Rather, isn’t this a program all university faculty unions should embrace in response to the growing problem of precarious academic labour? Could this, perhaps, be the real reason that the province is not intervening and pushing York University to resolve the strike?

The route that many universities in Ontario have followed to deal with the tenure-track “faculty crisis” is to create non-tenured teaching-stream positions. Half of the twenty publically-funded universities operating in the province have done so, variously designating these positions as “Instructor Employees,” “Teaching-Focused Faculty,” “Continuing Lecturer,” “Professional Teaching Positions” and, in York’s case, “Alternate Stream.”[17] Of the ten universities that have a specially designated teaching stream, only three have established these streams within the tenure-track faculty complement: Lakehead, Wilfred Laurier, and York.[18] In each of these instances, the teaching stream mirrors professorial appointments with respect to collective agreement rights and protections, such as sabbaticals, PTR, benefits, etc. The main differences are a somewhat lower salary and a higher teaching load, which fluctuates between a 4.0 course workload at Lakehead, 3.5 at York, and 3.0 at Wilfred Laurier. At York and Laurier teaching-stream faculty can also engage in scholarly academic (not just pedagogic) research for tenure and promotion reviews and other professional assessments. Article 15.7.5(c) of the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association Collective Agreement 2017-20 states:

Any assessment of the scholarly activity of a Member with a PTP shall recognize the Member’s additional teaching beyond the teaching load norms and variations prescribed under 18.2.1 for Members not holding a PTP. A demonstrated record of excellence in teaching, or teaching and service, may be used to lessen the standards required in scholarly and/or professional activity.

Something unique to York, however, is Article 12.13 in the YUFA Collective Agreement which permits faculty transfers from the Alternate Stream to the Professorial Stream in “exceptional circumstances.”

This past January, OCUFA submitted a pre-budget report to the Ontario government, Time for renewal: Investing in the future of Ontario’s universities. This report comes at an opportune time as we ponder how to effectively resolve the strike at York. While the overall thrust of the document is to call for a reinvestment of public funding in Ontario’s college and university system, the theme of faculty renewal stands critically at the center of this report as the only way to really improve the quality of post-secondary education in the province. Its recommendations for reviving Ontario’s faculty complement, however, emphasize not only a reinvestment in new tenure-track hires, but also the creation of “pathways” to full-time secure positions for contract faculty at Ontario universities:

Universities should acknowledge their ongoing reliance on contract work by creating pathways for contract faculty to secure full-time faculty position [at their institutions] …reducing the reliance on contract faculty in the system as a whole.[19]

In the context of the current labour disruption, we have a moment here at York to do exactly what OCUFA is recommending. CUPE 3903 has two specific Unit 2 bargaining proposals on the table that are essentially the “pathways” that OCUFA recommends – and the good news is that neither of these pathways has to be “created” at York, they already exist: the CUPE Conversion Program and the SRC Program (Special Renewable Contracts).[20] With respect to the latter, all that needs to be changed are the dates under Article 12.32 in the YUFA collective agreement. But as both CUPE 3903 and YUFA have repeatedly stated, these dates can only be changed with the agreement of YUFA and by bringing YUFA and CUPE 3903 Unit 2 together into formal tripartite negotiations as part of current round of negotiations. Both unions are willing to do this, but the employer has steadfastly refused.

The “version” of SRCs that the employer has proposed to CUPE 3903 in this round of bargaining, represents a degraded variation of the old SRC program. It is this version which YUFA will never accept. However, the SRC program that YUFA did accept, back in the late 1990s, was very different and had considerable more integrity than what York is now forcing Unit 2 to vote on.

Negotiated in 1999, the SRC program was developed for Unit 2 AA pool members with fifteen or more years of teaching contributions to the university, who had taught at an intensity of at least 2.5 courses over the previous five years. These were contractual appointments, not tenure stream positions within YUFA. The initial term of the contract was five years, with a renewal option for one additional five year term and then a final further three year term. All SRCs were entitled to one sabbatical over the duration of the thirteen years. Faculty appointed to SRC positions had a teaching workload of three courses per year, with the same expectations around university service as required of TT faculty. SRC salaries were negotiable and, thus, comparable to YUFA members’ wages. All other provisions of the YUFA collective agreement, with respect to protections, rights, benefits, and opportunities, applied to SRC faculty.[21] From 1999 to 2004, approximately forty Unit 2 members were transferred to SRC positions in YUFA.[22]

In 2002, CUPE 3903 agreed to suspend the program to allow the remaining members in the pool to transfer into YUFA. A letter of understanding was drawn up at this time that indicated that the employer would examine alternative job security programs over the course of 2002-2005. This never materialized. Then in CUPE 3903’s 2008/9 negotiations, when Unit 2 proposed re-establishing the SRC program, the employer came back with a horribly corrupted TSA proposal (Teaching-Stream Appointments). These were to be 10 new full-time five-year renewable appointments (overall) within YUFA, with a 4.0 course load for $60,000 a year, and no progress-through-the-ranks (PTR) adjustments, no sabbaticals, etc. Only five of these positions were earmarked for members with ten years of more of teaching service. In the forced ratification vote of January 2009,  Unit 2 resoundingly and rightly rejected the employer’s TSA proposal.[23] YUFA similarly rejected the TSAs at an SGMM in 2010 when the employer inserted this proposal into the union’s side-bared workload negotiations.

And so here we are, years later, really no further ahead, with a low number of conversions being offered to CUPE 3903 Unit 2 and yet another butchered version of the old SRC program on the table. Only one  thing has changed over this period: there now are 220 Unit 2 members in the AA Pool, while there were only 83 in 2008/9.[24]

In the current round of negotiations, CUPE 3903 originally proposed 20 conversions and 10 SRC appointments per year over the next three years. That adds up to a total 90 Unit 2 members who could be transferred into YUFA – 60 through conversions to either professorial or alternate stream tenure-track appointments and 30 into five to thirteen-year contractual SRC positions.[25] That’s nearly half of CUPE’s AA pool.

But could we perhaps even be bolder here? Why not bring the whole AA pool into YUFA?

While this suggestion indubitably may seem radical to some, it is nevertheless worth considering given the situation we find ourselves in at York.  First, shifting the Unit 2 AA pool would inflate YUFA faculty numbers overnight and put us in line with other universities in the province where members of the full-time faculty association outnumber academic staff working on eight- and four-month contracts. As well, think about all the service work that this experience pool of faculty could begin to undertake as YUFA members.

Second, dealing in a meaningful way with CUPE 3903’s AA pool and Unit 2 job security demands would most certainly result in greater labour stability at York University. We’ve had three strikes in less than ten years. In each of these strikes, conversions and SRCs have figured centrally in Unit 2’s aspirations during contract negotiations. Each time that Unit 2 has gone out on strike it has been when the employer’s proposed offer does not deal with the matter of precarious employment in a serious manner. While the administration obviously thinks it can bully CUPE 3903 into some sort of submission with this round of negotiations, given the way the employer has handled bargaining and the strike, my sense is that CUPE 3903 is a union that is not so easily intimidated. We are only going to face more labour unrest at York if we don’t start to deal with the problem of precarious academic employment in a significant and meaningful way.

Shifting the Unit 2 AA pool into YUFA would be a good first step in correcting the gross historic wrong that has occurred here at York and the university’s unprecedented over-reliance on contractual academic faculty compared to other universities in Ontario.[26] It would begin to restore our reputation and image as a university that is committed – not just in rhetoric but in practice – to social justice. It conveys to the public and students that social justice is not just something we say, but something we actually do.

Can York afford to do this?

In their budget plan report, last June, the Board of Governors’ Finance and Audit Committee highlighted “the significantly improved financial status of the University over recent years,” emphasizing a $1.1 million in-year surplus and a “positive” in-year variance to the 2016-17 budget of $20.2 million.[27] The university’s statements on revenues and expenses have registered healthy surpluses for the past four years, $36.4 million (2017), $23.3million (2016), $19.9 million (2015) and$4.3 million (2014). Expenses have not outpaced revenues since 2013.[28] Where did monies come from? According to the committee’s report, from increased  tuition  fees  and  higher  international  enrolments, which “provided  some  additional operating income overall,” and the fact that “[c]ost  pressures  largely associated with salaries and benefits declined due to lower compensation settlements.”[29] So, in other words, students, faculty and staff have largely funded these surpluses. Should we not then have a say as to how these monies are spent?

In responding to CUPE 3903 on the matter of budget surpluses, the administration noted that the University “remains committed to allocating any such one-time surplus amounts to its Strategic Investment Fund, used to support the University’s key priorities of excellence in teaching and research and providing an enhanced student experience, as embodied in the University Academic Plan and related strategic planning documents.”[30] This fund, known as the Academic Strategic Investment Contingency Fund, was established in 2014/15 to transfer excess monies from internally restricted net assets to pay for academic and strategic initiatives at the university.[31] Since 2014/15, $75.91 million has been transferred into this fund. In 2016/7, $500,000 of these monies were directed to York’s Branding Campaign. $300,000 was devoted to the Presidential Search (spread out over 2015/16 and 2016/17) and $25 million has gone towards the SHARP Implementation.[32]

It is from this fund that monies were allocated towards the costs associated with the higher number of CUPE 3903 conversions over 2014-2017. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, $270,000 was allocated each year to cover the expenditures associated with CUPE conversions. In total, $810,000 was paid out of the Academic Strategic Investment Contingency Fund to cover 24 conversions. You can do the math here – but basically converting even the whole AA pool would amount to about a third of what has been allocated towards the implementation of the SHARP  budget model plan and less than a fifth of the total projected cumulative ending balance by 2019 ($40.41 million). York can afford to do this – and what better way is there, really, to support one of the university’s key priority areas of enhancing student experience?

We have the “pathways” here at York for dealing with the academic employment precarity that faculty organizations, such as OCUFA, are urging Ontario universities to create. The rationale for doing so is not just about “doing the right thing” with respect to contractualized faculty, but it is also about recognizing that divided neither contract nor tenured faculty are winning much here in the era of the corporatized university. Working together we will all be that much stronger, and together we cannot be so easily played off one another.


[1] Mary Fox,Carolyn Fonseca,Jinghui Bao. “Work and family conflict in academic science: Patterns and predictors among women and men in research universities,” Social Studies of Science (2011) Volume 41, No. 5, 715-735; L.A. Renzulli, L. Grant, S. Kathuria. “Race, gender, and the wage gap: Comparing faculty salaries in predominately white and historically black colleges and universities,” Gender & Society (2006) Volume 20.  No. 4, 491-510; Judith S. White. “Pipeline to pathways: new directions for improving the status of women on campus ,” Liberal Education Volume 91, No. 1 (2005), 22-27;  Yonghong Jade Xu. “Gender Disparity in STEM Disciplines: A Study of Faculty Attrition and Turnover Intentions,” Research in Higher Education (2008) Volume 49, No. 7, 607–624; Katherine Side and Wendy Robbins. “Institutionalizing inequalities in Canadian universities: the Canada Research Chairs Program,” NWSA Journal (2007) Volume 19, No. 3, 163-181; Frances Henry, Enakshi Dua, Carl E. James, Audrey Kobayashi, Peter Li, Howard Ramos, Malinda S. Smith. The equity myth : racialization and indigeneity at Canadian universities  Vancouver ; Toronto : UBC Press, 2017.

[2] York University Requests a Supervised Vote

[3] 43,235 in 2000/1 to 53,347 in 2016/17

[4] Simona Chiose. “York University, contract professors no closer to ending strike which could impact graduation for thousands,” The Globle and Mail, March 25, 2018.

[5] Finance Department, York University, “Budget Highlights,” Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-2, p. 98.

[6] Craig Heron, updated by Murray Cooke, CUPE 3903, “A Sixteen-Year Snapshot of York University,” 2000-16.

[7] Full Time Academic Staff 1976/77 Through 2015/16, York Fact Book  2015-16, p181.

[8] For another interesting example of ‘smoke and mirrors’, see QS World University Rankings where York lists its Academic Faculty Staff at 2,357.

[9] Henry Wu,  Chair, Academic Resources Committee,  October 2017 Report on Appointments, Tenure and Promotion, ,memorandum to Board of Governors, October, 3, 2017.

[10] Ibid., Appendix D.

[11] There have been a few notable surges in enrollments, however, over this period. From 2010 to 2014, the number of undergraduates enrolled at York increased by roughly 2,000. Students Registered At York, York Fact Book 2015-16.

[12] York Fact Book 2015-16; York University Quick Facts, 2016-17.

[13] Finance Department, York University, “Fiscal Context,” Multi Year Budget Plan 2017-18 to 2019-2, p. 102.


[15] Louise Brown, “Ontario university enrolment down for first time in 15 years.” The Toronto Star Sept. 22, 2014.

[16] Article, 2015-2019 Queen’s University – QUFA Collective Agreement.

[17] I have drawn this information from the various collective agreements of faculty associations across the province.

[18] Ryerson does not have a teaching stream but two levels of teaching intensity within faculty ranks.

[19] OCUFA. Time for renewal: Investing in the future of Ontario’s universities, January 2018: 17, and 20-21.

[20] For details on the conversion program, please refer to my March 20, 2018 discussion paper, “To Convert or Not To Convert, That is the Question: The CUPE 3903 Strike and Precarious Academic Labour.”

[21] See Article 12.32 in York University Faculty Association Collective Agreement.

[22] CUPE 3903 Unit 2 Chronicle, January 2009, p. 3.

[23] Cupe 3903. “Key Outstanding Issues of the Strike,” January 2009; Tyler Shipley, “Demanding the Impossible: Struggles for the Future of Post-Secondary Education,” Socialist Project  (May 10, 2009),

[24]Academic Employee Relations, Summary of AA Pool, December 22, 2008.  CUPE 3903 Conversion List 2015-16


[26] This is really what has been “unprecedented” in the sector, but the employer’s communications never cite this precedence.

[27] Finance and Audit Committee, Budget Plan and Financial Statements, Minutes, York University Board of Governors, 27 June, 2017

[28] York University, Financial Statements,  April 30, 2017, p. 5

[29] Ibid., p. 2



[32] Chair, Finance and Audit Committee, Update to the Multi-Year Budget Plan for 2016  -17, Memorandum to Board of Governors, June 28 , 2016 , p. 77.

Open Letter to Minister Hunter 2

March 19, 2018

Honourable Mitzie Hunter
Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Government of Ontario

Dear Minister Hunter,

The Ministry should be aware that the present Board of Governors of York University is operating outside its By-laws and the York University Act. To all intents and purposes, a small group of people exclusively from the banking and big business sector have taken over control of the Board, usurped powers granted to the Senate under the York University Act, and are seeking to impose their own views and agenda at the expense of York University’s legitimate educational goals and responsibilities as a publicly-funded institution.

It is clear that the current Board of Governors does not have the legitimacy and credibility to carry out its functions of oversight with respect to York University. Dominated by big business and big finance to the exclusion of vast segments of our society, it has adopted a brutal corporate-driven managerialism that is impervious to the educational needs of York’s students, including the fundamental right to safety on campus, and dismissive of the vital role of a university to contribute to the conservation, communication and creation of knowledge.

Rather than nurture students, staff and faculty in a dynamic, forward-looking educational process, this Board has demonstrated a persistent underlying anti-intellectualism and hostility to women and other equity-seeking groups that is preventing York University from realizing its full potential in program development and innovation. Quite literally, by its outmoded macho authoritarianism, it is choking the creative forces of York University.

I have been a professor at York University for almost 28 years. I came to York University in 1990, after teaching 10 years at Queen’s University. During the academic year 1993-1994 I served as Chair of the Selection Committee for a New Principal of Glendon College. I also chaired the Glendon Policy and Planning Committee from 1993 to 1995, as well as the School of Translation.  I am a full professor with an excellent record of external research grants, an active international research profile, and an exemplary teaching record. My student evaluations are routinely above 4.7 on a scale of 5, and last year, students in a fourth-year course even gave me a perfect score of 5.

I have also had the great privilege of holding the Seagram Chair in Canadian Studies at McGill University, and the bilingual Joint Chair in Women’s Studies at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, and being a visiting professor at the University of Bologna and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. I have served as President for two mandates of the Canadian Association for Translation Studies. I founded and direct a respected international peer-reviewed publication series, Vita Traductiva.

York University is the second largest university in Ontario and the third largest university in Canada. According to the statistics given on its website, York University has 46,400 undergraduate students and 5,900 graduate students, and 7,000 faculty and staff ( It is an important institution of higher education, funded in large part by the government of Ontario.

It is extremely distressing for me to witness York University being hijacked by private interests to the detriment of its students, staff and faculty, and its amazing potential to make a dynamic and productive contribution to the future of our society.

  1. The Board’s composition does not respect the broad community representation set out in its By-laws

Ontario universities have a moral and legal obligation to be accountable to the public and to work for the collective good. Boards of Governors fulfil an essential function in ensuring the public accountability of a university but to do so, they must represent a broad cross-section of citizens who can bring to the University a rich and diverse range of perspectives.

This is far from the case at York University. The York University Board is comprised of 29 members, including three ex officio members (the President, Chancellor and University Secretary), six members from York University (two students, two staff and two faculty members) and 20 external members.

External members clearly dominate the Board, but these external members are exclusively from big business and big banking. There are no external representatives from the non-profit sector, no representatives from blue and white collar unions across the province, no members from the small business sector, no representatives from the health and social services sector, no social workers, no nurses, no teachers, no fire workers, no representatives from seniors’ associations, in other words, no representation from the community at large.

Yet this very principle of community diversity is enshrined in the By-laws governing the composition of the external members of the Board of Governors at York University:

The Governance and Human Resources Committee will have the responsibility of proposing candidates for election to the Board as external members who will best serve the needs and interests of the University and who broadly represent the public community. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing such candidates shall be reflective of the Arts, Business, Industry, Labour, Professions, Sciences and the community at large. (Article VII, 1(c) ii at

Already in November 2016 during the Presidential Search I advised the York University Board of Governors that the Board’s composition was far from complying with its By-laws.

At that time, based on the biographies of Board members presented on the York University website (, all 21 external Board members came from the world of big finance (57%) and big business (43%).

In fact, 18 (86%) members of the Board were at the time or previously, Presidents or CEOs, and of the remaining three (14%), one was a senior partner in a corporate law firm, one a senior Vice-President of a financial institution, and one the spouse of a CEO in a pharmaceutical company.

This appalling situation is not representative of Canadian university Boards. While under-funding has led universities to search for financing in the private sector and generally increased big business representation on their Boards disproportionately, a 2016 study by Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) found that the ‘business world make up 49.1% of the membership of the boards of governors at Canada’s 15 research universities.’ ( At York University, it is 100%.

Furthermore, the gender gap on the Board boggles the mind. Of the 21 external Board positions filled at that time, incomprehensively only 6 (28%) were held by women and 15 (72%) or almost three-quarters by men. In the 21st century, such an imbalance is highly suggestive of gender bias within the Board. The Board is responsible for safety policy on campus. Certainly, this male-dominated Board has repeatedly failed to engage fully to prevent the frequent and persistent incidents of violence against women (including rapes and armed assaults) on campus, for many of which the aggressor has never been identified or punished.

The 2011 census shows that women outnumber men in Ontario, by a ratio of 95.1 men for every 100 women overall.

Statistics available on the Common University Data Ontario (CUDO) website show that from 2006 to 2015, women consistently composed more than 55% of university students (

In 2015, women constituted 58% and men 42% of full-time undergraduate students at York University (

How can the Board of a university predominantly frequented by women justify that almost three-quarters of its Board members are men?

  1. The Board stubbornly refuses to bring its composition into compliance with its By-laws and Ontario legislation on gender equity

To my knowledge, the Board has not taken any action since 2016 to change its composition to comply with its By-laws.

An analysis of the current composition of the Board based on information on its website shows appallingly that all of the now 20 external members of the Board continue to come from the big finance (40%) and big business (60%) sectors.

In terms of professional rank, 17 (85%) hold President, CEO or senior executive positions, and the remaining senior partner positions in the corporate law sector. Such a Board can in no way be seen to “broadly represent the public community.”

Moreover, despite current Ontario legislation to improve gender equality on corporate boards, the Board’s gender gap is still unacceptable. Of the 20 external Board members, 14 (65%) are men and only 7 (35%) are women.

In reality, women are even more under-represented on the Board than this already unacceptable statistic would suggest.

The Board has seven committees, only one of which, the External Relations Committee, responsible for fund-raising and out-reach, is chaired by a woman. Seen from this committee perspective, men control 86% of the Board’s activities.

The key committees of Governance and Human Resources, Academic Resources, Finance and Audit, Land and Property, Investment, are all controlled by men. Since the Executive Committee is composed of the Chairs of the other committees, it has only one woman memberWomen constitute only 14% of the Executive Committee.

In other words, at the second-largest university in Ontario where your government is working so hard to prevent violence against women and to promote gender equality, York University’s Executive Committee, arguably the most important committee of the Board since it can act for the Board as a whole, is 86% composed of men.

The Board is responsible for appointing its members and is therefore directly responsible for this non-respect of its own By-laws. The closed, internal nature of this process allows an unscrupulous Board, in defiance of its own By-laws, to define and perpetuate itself through controlled co-optation. It is clearly an old boy’s closed shop.

Current Board members must be aware of Board By-laws, but they have chosen nonetheless to co-opt members from a very narrow range of professional networks, and they have done this in defiance of a basic rule of university governance: the need to respect the By-laws set up to ensure that the university be accountable, not just to a small elite, but to the community as a whole.

  1. The Board’s composition skewed to favour of faculties representing only 5% of undergraduate student enrollments

But this is not all. The Board is out of kilter in other ways that also gravely undermine its legitimacy.

Of the 20 external members of the Board, 10 (8 men and 2 women) hold MBAs (one holds an equivalent business management degree) and 7 (6 men and 1 woman) LLBs. Of these 15 Board members (two hold both an MBA and an LLB), 12 hold one or other of these degrees from York University.

In other words, 75% of Board members are coming from an MBA or LLB background and 60% are graduates of only two of the 11 faculties at York University: Osgoode Hall Law Faculty and the Schulich School of Business.

Indeed, five (25%) Board members sit concurrently on advisory Boards of Schulich, including the Chair of the Board and the chairs of three important committees: the Executive Committee, the Investment Committee and the Land and Property Committee.

These unacceptable incestuous links between the Board and one York faculty mean that one faculty can unduly the influence the Board and unfairly advance its perspective and needs at the expense of the other 10 faculties at the university.

This imbalance aggravates the serious infringement of the By-laws calling for a broad public representation on the Board. Seen in the context of student enrollments at York University, however, it is even more troubling.

Statistics on enrollments by faculty at York University are not easy to obtain. The most recent statistics I found on the university website come from a White Paper produced by then Vice-President Academic Patrick Monaghan. That paper shows that for the year 2009-2010, and there is no reason to think that the general situation has varied substantially since then, undergraduate enrollments at Schulich and Osgoode Hall represented only 2.64% and 2.22% of all undergraduate student enrolments at York.

In other words, while 75% of external Board members come from law and business degrees, these two faculties account for less than 5% of the 46,400 undergraduate student enrollments at the University.

Nor is this disproportion attenuated by York alumni representation on the Board.

The Board’s website does not indicate clearly which members are serving as representatives of York alumni. Nonetheless the biographies of Board members show that two hold executive positions in the York Alumni Association. Not surprisingly one is a graduate of Schulich and the other of Osgoode.

While the Board website provides guidelines for the election of student, staff and faculty members to the Board (together these categories only represent 6 internal Board members), there is no indication that the Alumni Association provides for an election.

Finally, the narrow composition of the Board is exacerbated by other examples of undue professional concentrations. One can ask:

Why on such as small Board there should be two members who were senior executives at the same financial institution (Scotia Bank);

Why three out of 20 (15%) Board members have connections to the Ontario energy sector;

Why of the four members of the Board with a science background, three were trained as engineers (In 2015, engineering accounted for 499 or 1% of overall full-time undergraduate enrolments at York University and of these 499 engineering students only 79 or 15%, were women;; and

Why one of these engineer Board members should serve concurrently on the Board and on the family Foundation whose donation led to the creation of the School of Engineering at York University, allowing a university donor to exert undue influence over the university.

  1. A Board in defiance of its By-laws does not have the legitimacy and credibility to oversee the well-being of York University as an institution of higher learning

According to the York University Act, the Ontario legislation that created York University, the “objects and purposes of York University are

(a) the advancement of learning and the dissemination of knowledge; and

(b) the intellectual, spiritual, social, moral and physical development of its members and the betterment of society.” (

It is evident that the present Board is in no position to ensure, and indeed has shown no interest in ensuring that these objects and purposes are not only respected but nurtured.

A Board that represents the professional and educational interests of less than 6% of the York University’s undergraduate students cannot make informed decisions affecting the academic needs of the other over 94% of York’s 46,400 undergraduate students and the programs, research, staff and faculty upon which they depend.

The vision of such an imbalanced Board is inevitably skewed by the interests of two (or three if engineering is counted) faculties accounting for less than 6% of undergraduate student enrollments, and by the attitudes and practices from the business and banking world that are inappropriate in the context of a public institution of higher learning.

York University cannot present itself as a progressive institution respectful of diversity, as it does on its website, when its own Board comes exclusively from big business and big finance and only 35% of its members are women, relegated to secondary roles.

The Board has direct oversight on a number of issues with important gender implications, including questions of safety, the prevention of sexual violence.

Given the gender imbalance in the composition of its Board, it is not surprising that York University has an abysmal record in terms of the prevention of violence against women.

But the gender imbalance of the Board has other far-reaching consequences.

Women still hold only 40% of faculty positions at Canadian universities  ( If the Board is not even committed to having equal numbers of women and men among its members, how can it contribute to reducing the gender gap among faculty?

Statistics compiled by the Ontario Confederation of Faculty Associations (OCUFA) for the Ontario Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee show that there has been an increasing trend to precarious academic jobs and that women far more than men are trapped in such low-paying and insecure academic work:

“59.5% of contract faculty respondents were female, compared with 33.3% men (the remainder chose not to indicate their gender). Moreover, women were more likely to be among the ranks of precarious contract faculty (i.e. contract faculty who earn their main income from sessional instruction and aspire to have a full-time academic career) than

men, whereas men were more likely to find themselves among the ranks of classic contract faculty (i.e. retirees and professionals who engage in sessional instruction as a supplement to a separate career)” ( Again, how can a Board that is not even to committed to ensuring its own gender balance equity be committed to reducing the gender gap caused by the precarization of academic work?

Finally and of great concern, the exclusively corporate background of Board members has led to sustained pressures to change the administrative culture at York University from the open, transparent and democratic culture required for public accountability to a narrow, opaque and outdated authoritarian culture not even effective anymore in business contexts. The Board is seeking to control the University as though it were the CEO, and the university, its company.

This is approach is leading to other important infringements of the York University Act. In the last Presidential Search, the Board usurped the power granted to the Senate under Article 12 of the York University Act to “make recommendations as to the appointment of the Chancellor and the President.”

Instead, it carried out a closed search, with little input from students, staff and faculty, under a Search Committee inappropriately chaired by the Board Chair, and unilaterally imposed the appointment of a candidate garnishing only 11% support from York’s faculty members (

  1. Should the Ministry consider placing York University under supervision?

I do not believe that a public institution of higher learning such as a university should be run like a profit-making business, all the more so in the present context where businesses too often put short-term profit goals ahead of responsible citizenship.

A university has broad responsibilities to society to support a vibrant democracy and to ensure the development of a lively and diverse range of knowledge, responsibilities that cannot be contained in a profit-based perspective.

Universities offer students an environment for personal and professional growth, beyond the contents of specific courses.

University professors fulfil, on a voluntary basis, important social functions through informed comments in the public space on topics of public interest and concern, through key contributions to professional associations that regulate professional accreditation in the interest of the public, and through the public dissemination of scientific knowledge.

The current Board has persisted in its defiance of the By-laws requiring a broad community representation. It has not diminished its ruthless and unscrupulous efforts to impose an authoritarian control over the York University at the expense of recognised general social goals, such as gender equity and women’s safety, and in contravention of the York University Act. It is clearly unwilling and unable to commit to any significant reform.

For that reason, I see no other option than to request that your ministry consider placing York University temporarily under government supervision, disbanding the current illegitimate Board of Governors, annulling its appointment of Dr. Rhonda Lenton as President, and appointing an interim Chairperson of the Board of Governors.

The first tasked of the interim Chair should be to oversee a transparent process for the appointment of a new Board respectful of the rules set out in the York University Act (1965) and the By-laws of the Board of Governors. The first task of the new, duly constituted Board should be the conduct of an open search for a new President.

Your government has undertaken important measures to prevent violence against women, to improve gender equity and to assist Ontario universities to develop their excellence. I hope that the present plea will be well received.For ease of reading, I have also attached a PDF version.

Yours respectfully,
Agnes Whitfield, Ph.D., c. tran.
Professor/Professeure titulaire,
Department of English/Département d’études anglaises
York University/Université York, Toronto (Canada)
Founding Director/Directrice fondatrice, Vita Traductiva
Bilingual Joint Chair in Women’s Studies, Carleton University, University of Ottawa/Chaire conjointe bilingue en études des femmes, Université Carleton, Université d’Ottawa, 2009-2010
Virtual Scholar, Heritage Canada/Chercheure virtuelle, Patrimoine canadien, 2006-2007
Seagram Visiting Chair in Canadian Studies, McGill University/Chaire d’invité Seagram en études canadiennes, Université McGill, 2003-2004
Présidente, Association canadienne de traductologie /President, Canadian Association for Translation Studies, 1995-1999


Open letter to President Lenton in support of Conversion Program 1

March 19, 2018

Dear President Lenton, York University

Open Letter to York University,

We the undersigned, YUFA convertee faculty members, urge the York administration to improve conditions for contract faculty members and reaffirm its support of York’s “conversion” program.  In particular, we urge the employer to maintain the number of conversion appointments it made in the past contract. This program, prized by many in the university sector, has produced numerous dedicated tenure and tenure-track faculty that have taken on important administrative positions, are active in research and publishing, and comprise a myriad of York’s award-winning teachers. This program is unique in its support of contract faculty, has enhanced York’s reputation, and contributes meaningfully to the experience of York’s students. In the most robust years of the program, it has also served as a genuine demonstration of York’s commitment to social justice, equity and diversity.


Dr. Andrea O’Reilly, Professor, School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, FGS and LA&PS.
Dr. Jacinthe Michaud, Associate Professor and Chair, School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies LA&PS.
Dr. Allyson Mitchell, Associate Professor, School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, LA&PS.
Dr. John Simoulidis, Assistant Lecturer, Department of Social Science, LA&PS.
Professor Hernán E. Humaña, School of Kinesiology and Health Science, Faculty of Health.
Dr. Marlene Bernholtz, Assistant Lecturer, Writing Department, LA&PS.
Dr. Richard Wellen, Associate Professor, Department of Social Science, LA&PS.
Dr. Lykke de la Cour, Assistant Lecturer, Department of Social Science, LA&PS.
Dr. Robert Aaron Kenedy, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, LA&PS.
Dr. Alison Halsall, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities, LA&PS.
Dr. Esteve Morera, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Department of Politics, LA&PS.
Dr. Julie McDonough Dolmaya, PhD, C.Tr. (ATIO), Assistant Professor | Professeure adjointe, School of Translation | École de traduction, York University, Glendon Campus | Université York, Campus Glendon
Dr. Terry Maley, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, LA&PS.
Dr. Elicia Clements, Associate Professor, Cross-Appointed to the Departments of Humanities and English, LA&PS.
Dr. Andrea Medovarski, Assistant Professor, Department of Humanities and Transition Year Program, LA&PS.
Byron E. Wall, Senior Scholar, Senior Lecturer Emeritus, Departments of Mathematics & Statistics and Science & Technology Studies, LA&PS.
Teresa Holmes, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, LA&PS.
Dr. Ruby Newman, Associate Professor, School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, LA&PS.
Jon Caulfield, Associate Professor (retired, converted 1991), Department of Social Science – Urban Studies Program, Department of Geography – Graduate Program in Geography, LA&PS.
Audrey Pyee, Associate Lecturer, Department of History, Glendon College.
Elizabeth S. Cohen, Professor, Dept of History
Scott Forsyth, Retired, Cinema & Media Arts/Politics, AMPD, former Chair, Department of Film, former Graduate Director, Cinema and Media Studies.
Bruce Smardon, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, LA&PS.
Jon Sufrin, PhD, Assistant Lecturer, Writing Department, LA&PS.
Jon Caulfield, Associate Professor (retired, 2014), Department of Social Science (Urban Studies Program), LA&PS.
Kerry Doyle, Undergraduate Program Director, Writing Department, LA&PS.
Diana Cooper-Clark, Associate Professor, English and Humanities (former Master of Atkinson), LA&PS.
Daphne Winland, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, LA&PS.
Naomi Couto, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, LA&PS.
Marcia Blumberg, Associate Professor, English, LA&PS.
Deborah Davidson, PhD, Associate Professor, Undergraduate Program Director, Department of Sociology, LA&PS.
Rob Heynen, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication Studies, LA&PS.
Brett Zimmerman, Associate Professor, English Department, LA&PS.
Jean Saindon, SRC, Special Assistant Professor, retired, Cross-appointed: Philosophy, Faculty of Liberal and Applied Sciences, Natural Science & Science, Technology and Society.
Maggie Quirt, Assistant Lecturer, Chair, Committee on Curriculum, Curricular Policy, and Standards (CCPS), Department of Equity Studies, LA&PS.
Dr. Kym Bird, Associate Professor, Department of the Humanities, Graduate Programme Director, Interdisciplinary Studies, FGS AND LA&PS.
Dr. Frances Latchford, Associate Professor, School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, LA&PS.
Dr. Gail Vanstone, Associate Professor, Coordinator, Culture & Expression Program, Department of Humanities.
Dr. Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston, Associate Professor, Graduate Program Director, Theatre & Performance Studies.


Statement by the faculty of Cinema and Media Arts 1

March 18, 2018

The YUFA members of the Department of Cinema and Media Arts have considerable concerns around the academic integrity of courses during a labour disruption. We will respect the picket line and are suspending all classes during the CUPE 3903 strike.

We have taken this decision collectively on March 3, 2018  for the following reasons:

The academic integrity of our undergraduate and graduate programs would be compromised if courses were not to be suspended, because some students will attend while others will not, because teaching assistants are integral to many of our courses, and because CUPE course directors offer essential teaching services in the Department.

•       Many of our CUPE colleagues are also our students who face constantly increasing costs, eroding living conditions and uncertain futures.  Forcing them to cross their own picket lines is senseless.

•       Past and very recent experiences on the picket lines suggest that inconsistencies about which courses are resuming contribute to dangerous incidents.

•       The brunt of the work resulting from having some classes operate while others do not falls disproportionately to our YUSA colleagues, who must deal with questions, concerns, frustrations, and anger in ways that undermine the quality of their workplace.

We recognize that the strike has put students in a difficult situation, creating uncertainty for many.  We believe that by suspending courses, we can create clarity for students in our department.  We also believe that this will create a space for CUPE and the employer to focus on arriving at a fair and equitable settlement to this strike as rapidly as possible.  We are committed to a fair and equitable process of remediation after the strike.

Barbara Evans
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Cinema and Media Arts

Critical Disability Studies Students and Alumni Response to the CUPE 3903 Strike 1

March 8, 2018

Dear Critical Disability Studies Department Head, Dr. Nancy Viva Davis Halifax, Chair of the School of Health Policy and Management, Dr. Marina Morrow, Graduate Program Director of Health Policy and Equity, Dr. Dennis Raphael, Dean of the Faculty of Health, Dr. Paul McDonald, and all sitting members of the University Senate:

We are writing you as past and current York University Critical Disability Studies students with an urgent request to:

a)   Immediately suspend all classes that continue to be held in your respective programs (Critical Disability Studies, the School of Health Policy and Management, and Health, Nursing, and Environmental Studies) and
b)   Pressure the University Senate to immediately suspend all classes that continue to be run at York University both on campus and online for the duration of the CUPE 3903 strike.

As Critical Disability Studies students, we are immersed in reading, writing, and thinking about social justice every day. We recognize that social justice, and accessibility in particular, are inextricable from the issues CUPE 3903 members are striking over at present – including but not limited to generalized precarity; lack of job and income security; support for survivors of sexual violence; and proactive measures protecting and promoting diversity, equity, and accessibility in processes of hiring and promotion.

Contrary to what York’s official communication may lead students to believe, the continuation of some classes during the strike, along with the liberty granted to professors to make individual decisions about the continuation of their classes, runs contrary to the interests of students, staff, and faculty alike. York University’s cultivated fragmentation of our community pits students against each other, our professors, and our morals – including those that undergird the fundamental principles of our disciplines. Students are being told to choose between supporting a union fighting for the future we are taught to imagine and compromising academics into which we have poured significant time and monies. Despite Senate policy, classes that continue to run during the strike necessarily disadvantage those unwilling and/or unable to cross picket lines, both material and virtual. Students who do not attend classes still running miss accessing lectures, in-class discussions, and the opportunity to interact with course directors and peers, as well as the ability to follow syllabi as planned. While those who do not cross picket lines are entitled to appropriate accommodations following the strike, there is no way to ensure that, compared to peers who have continued to attend class, we will retain an equal ability to excel in our courses.

We know that disabled people face disproportionately high rates of poverty, are subject to un/under-employment, and continue to struggle to access and remain in institutions of higher learning. Those of us who identify as neurodivergent, Mad, D/deaf, and/or disabled are dependent on the kinds of measures being advocated for by CUPE 3903. Health benefits, long-term job security and stability, and financial support, among others, would help address structural barriers and alleviate the enormous stress and anxiety already steeped throughout academia. No one is served by a rotating door that disproportionately expels disabled students, staff, and faculty who rely on whatever material and emotional certainties academia can provide to them. We also recognize that issues of disability and accessibility are compounded by and entangled with other forms of marginalization; the advancement of rights and protections for LGBTTQ* people, racialized people, Indigenous people, women, trans, and non-binary people – as advocated for by CUPE 3903 – are, in fact, advancements for all.

We are writing following suit of other Departments, Faculties, and student groups who have already requested the immediate suspension of classes during the strike in solidarity with CUPE 3903, including Faculty of Environmental Science graduate students; the York Federation of Students Access Centre; the College Presidents Association; and the Departments of Social Science; Sociology; Politics; Gender; Feminist & Women’s Studies; the School of Translation; Politics, Cinema and Media Arts; Equity Studies; Communication Studies; and Social Work.

The School of Health Policy and Management has stated by e-mail that they support CUPE 3903, but we are asking that this sentiment be translated into meaningful action. Rather than continue to allow YUFA faculty to make individual decisions about their courses, we ask that professors set an example to their students of active allyship and praxis by immediately suspending all classes in Health, Nursing, and Environmental Studies.

We do not want to cross picket lines of any kind representing our and our professors’ futures and livelihoods. We do not want to endorse the perpetuation of a two-tiered system of recognition and compensation in academia that leaves us with access to only 40% of all available faculty members at York University for supervision. We do not want to place our professors, colleagues, and peers on the picket lines at greater physical risk by inadvertently stoking animosity among our community and encouraging community members to continue to come to campus. And we do not want to contribute to prolonging this strike; given collective bargaining practices to date, we feel that the strike is much more likely to be effective and resolved in a timely fashion if we respect and respond to the pressing concerns of CUPE 3903 and allow them to disrupt the university’s habitual functioning as per their legal rights.

Precarity, either explicit or condoned through a lack of action, serves no one and its perpetuation represents an inequitable, unsustainable, and untenable future for all those involved in academia and all those yet to be involved.

We urge you to take seriously our request and respond with concrete action by suspending all classes still running.

Sincerely, and in solidarity with CUPE 3903,

Caroline Kovesi, MA Critical Disability Studies
Lorena Moltisanti, MA Critical Disability Studies
Jessica Doberstein, MA Critical Disability Studies
Raya Shields, MA Critical Disability Studies
Rylie Whitchurch, MA Critical Disability Studies
Michelle Shelley, PhD Critical Disability Studies
Fallon Burns, MA Critical Disability Studies
Sara Liden, MA Interdisciplinary Studies
Aisha Farra, MA Critical Disability Studies
Kimberley Sauder, PhD Critical Disability Studies
Hilda Smith, PhD Critical Disability Studies
Kevin Jackson, MA Critical Disability Studies (Alumni)
Dr. Jen Rinaldi, PhD Critical Disability Studies (Alumni, President of the Canadian Disability Studies Association 2017-2018)
Cath Duchastel de Montrouge, MA Critical Disability Studies (Alumni)
Bridget Liang, MA Critical Disability Studies (Alumni)
Fiona Cheuk, MA Critical Disability Studies (Alumni)
Fran Odette, MSW (Past-President of the Canadian Disability Studies Association 2016-2017)
Jenna Reid, PhD Critical Disability Studies
Julia Gruson-Wood
Estee Klar, PhD Critical Disability Studies
Jenna Caprani, MA Critical Disability Studies
Amber Reid, MA Critical Disability Studies (Alumni)