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)

Important links to the presidential search Reply

York University site on presidential search – Official documents and links

Urgent call for action: Say no to Rhonda Lenton as the next president of York University – 10 November 2016

Statements regarding the consideration of Provost Rhonda Lenton for President – 14 November 2016

Letter from Prof. Agnes Whitfield to the Presidential Search Committee – 14 November 2016

York profs slam presidential search in open letter – 18 November 2016, Excalibur

Follow-up letter from Prof Agnes Whitfield regarding the presidential search – 20 November 2016

YUFA poll results on presidential search – 22 November 2016. Detailed poll results are here.

York University urged to make search for new president more transparent – 22 November 2016, Globe and Mail

YUFA statement on the presidential search – 23 November 2016

YUGSA Statement on York’s Presidential Search – 23 November 2016

York Cross-Campus Alliance – Joint-statement about presidential search – 25 November 2016

York community members decry university corporatization – 26 November 2016, Excalibur

GHSA statement on presidential search – 29 November 2016

Open Statement to the York University Community on the Flawed Integrity of the Presidential Search Process – 14 December 2016

York Cross-Campus Alliance response to Board of Governors’ statement on York’s presidential search – 10 January 2017

York Board of Governors appears ready to appoint Rhonda Lenton as president despite overwhelming rejection from cross-campus constituencies -Statement to the York Community – 23 February 2017


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“The question of what is to be done to fight against academic precarity, strikes into the heart of the involvement of academics with politics. …The neoliberal short-term flexible contracts, the enormous work-load of teaching and publication under the “publish or perish” imperative, and the incentive for short-term project based research-oriented fundraising all compartmentalize the experience of research. In a life of accelerated mobility and inflated demands of work and activist involvement, they create a fake dilemma between political commitment and thorough academic work. It creates a dichotomy between those in permanent position, who can afford time to research, think, and write, but who are critiqued as becoming a part of the establishment, and the precarious academics who have none of these privilege, and whose political work is often seen as a lost cause for their academic advancement. And while the new ethos of academic-activist requires a reassessment of the relation between political involvement and knowledge production, meaningful public intervention still stay beyond the scope of overworked scholars cast invisible as workers and human beings.” “The Age of Precarity and the New Challenges to the Academic Profession” by Mariya P. Ivancheva.

Life in the Accelerated Academy: anxiety thrives, demands intensify and metrics hold the tangled web together. Reply

“At all career stages, though perhaps most harmfully amongst PhD students and early career researchers, a sense of commitment to a calling helps license acquiescence to precarious and exploitative labour relations which make a lie of the ideal of collegiality still alluded to within the academy.” Life in the Accelerated Academy by Mark Carrigan on The London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Warwick University to outsource hourly paid academics to subsidiary Reply

“Teach Higher is a company which will effectively outsource hourly paid academic staff, whereby they will no longer be employed directly by the university but by a separate employer: ‘Teach Higher’. Teach Higher has been set up by Warwick University-owned ‘Warwick Employment Group’, and is about to be piloted at Warwick University. But it is a national company, which intends to be rolled out across UK universities.” Warwick University to outsource hourly paid academics to subsidiary on Fighting Against Causalisation in Education.

Essay on Earning Tenure and the Responsibilities of Faculty Life Reply

“My biggest concern as I face down another 25 years or so in this profession is not that I will become disaffected or stalled in my research. It’s whether or not I can convince my fellow tenured colleagues to agree that we not pull the ladder up behind us and abandon the others in the interest of careerist gain.”  Tenured and Happy by Cynthia Wu on Inside Higher Ed.