Skip to main content

Picketers block the Keele street entrance to York University in Toronto, Ont. on Tuesday March 3, 2015.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

All classes at York University will resume next Monday even if a strike by teaching and research assistants is still on, the executive committee of the school's senate has decided. The strikes at York and the University of Toronto are entering their third week without an end in sight.

The labour disruptions have become increasingly divisive, with a growing number of departments at both schools voicing support for the striking workers and thousands of York students signing a petition vowing not to return to campus until the strike is over. Classes in science, education and fine arts among other departments at York will begin Tuesday and the remainder will reopen next week.

On Monday, York University's faculty association (YUFA) released the letters it has sent to the senate and to York University president Mamdouh Shoukri objecting to classes being held while teaching assistants are still striking. YUFA has also filed a grievance against the administration for reopening classes in some of the professional schools last week.

"We don't have a sense of how much autonomy our members have. We have a professional responsibility over our courses and over determining the academic integrity of the courses," said Richard Wellen, the head of the faculty association.

A course may not be up to the educational quality that was promised if assignments or coursework have to be altered because teaching assistants are on the picket lines rather than in the classroom, Dr. Wellen said.

"Many of our members have told us … they have serious misgivings about whether courses that have been, or will be, resumed during the strike have any hope of meeting their academic objectives," the letter to Dr. Shoukri said.

But the university's administration said that 7,000 students are set to graduate this spring and the damage from continuing the academic suspension would have been acute.

"When you move from short-term to medium- and long-term disruption, the consequences for students are severe," said Rhonda Lenton, vice-president academic and provost.

The decision by the senate executive committee was questioned in an afternoon meeting of the entire senate. The governing body is holding another meeting on Wednesday to consider whether it is able to overturn the executive's decision.

"We would hope that our faculty members understand that it's not ideal but that there is no wiggle room left when you are dealing with the impact on students," Dr. Lenton said.

York students do not have to cross picket lines to attend classes, and professors are also faced with possibly teaching the same material twice to accommodate those who choose not to attend, the faculty association said.

"Faculty prefer that this strike end very soon. We know that this could do lasting damage to students and to York's reputation. We want the parties to go back and make progress at the table," Dr. Wellen said.

Only two out of three groups of workers at York are still on strike. Contract teachers voted last week to accept the university's last offer, but teaching assistants rejected the deal negotiated and recommended by the bargaining committee. Teaching and research assistants want stronger guarantees of frozen graduate tuition fees and an increased commitment to employment equity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered employees. The provincial mediator continues to talk to both the university and CUPE 3903 but no direct talks are planned.

At the University of Toronto, 6,000 teaching assistants remain on strike.

A major issue in the negotiations at the University of Toronto has been the funding package the university provides to graduate students and whether its terms will be negotiated through bargaining.

On Monday evening, CUPE 3902 announced that the university had rejected the bargaining team's latest offer, which it had put together over the weekend. The union added that it now anticipates "a protracted strike."

Interact with The Globe