It's everybody's problem when 50,000 York students can't go to classes
|Toronto Star Photos|
|York Student protest.|
You can't live in the GTA (and many other places) without being affected by what's happening to York University students who haven't been able to go to class for well over two months. We all know somebody who is affected by the labour dispute between the administration and 3,340 teaching assistants, contract faculty and graduate assistants. Maybe it's a student, perhaps it's someone in their family. More than that though, when this many (mostly young) lives are in complete limbo and kids are living scared about their futures, it must be seen as a larger societal problem. They have sacrificed financially, they can't make plans, they don't know whether they'll lose their year - or even their degree.
Today is the deadline for applications to universities for next year; it seems apparent York management wasn't overly concerned about the potential of losing students too cautious to apply to York. I have followed this strike through friends and the capable coverage of Toronto Star education reporter Louise Brown and, probably like many others, react to failed negotiations with an attitude of "a pox on both their houses." However, it has been particularly disheartening to see the administration refusing to meet with students (taking questions only at two pre-Christmas senate meetings) in the open way the union (CUPE 3903) has done. Surely such an imperial style will facilitate neither ending the strike nor improving labour relations when it's over.
I hear about the strike at my gym. One of my biggest extravagances is keeping in shape with the help of a terrific trainer, Michael Fong, and I've watched him wait week after week for some sense of what's going to happen with his life. At the beginning of 2009, he and other trainers who go to York thought settlement was only a matter of days away, only to have hopes dashed. Mike is in his 3rd year of the Kinesiology and Health Science program (at a cost of about $4,000, not including books), and I asked him to jot down some of his problems and send them to me. He replied:
"-Not being able to work extra hours because I cannot commit to clients when I don't know when classes will resume, therefore, even with the break I'm maintaining same hours as if in school.
- Worried about writing exams in a more condensed schedule (2 weeks instead of 3 weeks). This creates a problem when trying to maintain a high G.P.A which is important for admission into graduate school.
- Summer school may be cancelled. I was depending on summer school in order to keep up with program requirements, as I work during the school year so I generally carry a lighter course load and make it up in the summer.
- Feel like I've been ripped off because I paid for a full school year and will now be getting fewer classes, less learning material, shortened exam schedule and no money back. "
He also wrote about others who face difficulties, including:
"- Unable to find jobs during strike since they are unable to tell employer when they will be back in class
- If classes go into summer break they will have difficulty finding summer jobs because most will be taken by the time York students finish school.
- Many students depend on summer jobs to pay for school.
- Some students have lost money that they had spent on plane tickets which were purchased prior to strike. Tickets were purchased for January but had to be cancelled because they did not know if we would be back in school by then.
- Some students have lost all motivation to study and keep up with school work and will likely pay for it once school commences again. They were doing well before the strike but with such a long lay-off it has become easy lose motivation and drive.
- One student I know started a student organization prior to the strike. She had put in a lot of work in organizing and starting the group only to see much of her hard work go to waste. She is afraid that once school resumes it will be difficult to get the group re-organized since school will be so chaotic and nobody will have any free time. She had started the group in order to diversify her resume for law school.
-Students who are graduating this year need their marks submitted in order to apply for graduate school. Since marks will be submitted late this may affect their chances of being accepted into graduate school."
This is a miserable economic time, frigid weather saps the will to survive and everybody has problems. But this is the perfect issue for citizens to make their views known to everybody they can think of, including politicians. I don't have an easy answer because I don't want to see a legislated end to a legal strike (which wouldn't apply here anyway), or even a forced vote, but put negotiating teams in a room, lock the door, send in food - and don't let them out until these kids have their lives back.