Well, sometimes it’s just hard to keep silent.
As many of you probably know, I’m a faculty member in Toronto at the business school of Canada’s third largest university, York University. As many of you probably don’t, given the international constitution of my blog audience (only a tiny, tiny minority of my readers are actually coming from Canada), York University is currently on strike — at least it is for undergraduates, about 50,000 undergraduates being affected.
There are 3340 striking teaching assistants, contract faculties and graduate assistants currently at York University. I’ve been following the strike on and off, as it started 10 weeks ago while I was away on my sabbatical travel. I’m still on sabbatical and the strike doesn’t affect me personally at all.
Scratch that. It affects me a lot.
First of all, when I go in to my office, I totally feel for the people on the picket lines. It’s obvious, even before the -20° weather set in Toronto, that they didn’t want to be there. Who would? They clearly are fighting for what they think is right. But these are tough economic times. And there are some difficult realities that all of us are having to face right now. In other words, it’s a really, really, really bad time to be striking.
My heart really goes out to the students. Our undergraduate program at Schulich has ground to a standstill. Fifty thousand students are sitting there waiting to be taught. Started classes, books are bought, tuition is paid. International students are twiddling their thumbs. If any of them want a part-time job, good luck getting it. You’re competing with the other 50,000 students, and what employer in this economic climate or any other one, is going to want to hire you knowing that within a week or two you could be called back your classes, and that will become your first priority. It’s an impossible, untenable, disgusting situation to be putting students into. It turns my stomach.
Furthermore, as an academic I can’t imagine why I would want to be unionized (I am though–no one gave me a choice). I just don’t see the point in it. I’m not a coal miner. I don’t work on some unsafe production line. I work in a business school, teaching business students. If I do my job right, and I teach my students well, and I inspire businesspeople, and I publish in the world’s top journals, and I play a part in my academic community, then why the heck would I need a union? I worked for seven years in a private American university as a junior faculty member. I sweated it out. There was no safety net. No union. And I did okay.
Let’s talk about online communities for a second. There is even a Facebook group for the parents of York students who are sick and tired of this strike. Recently, parents warned each other to think really carefully before they send their kids to York University. One parent was quoted in Toronto’s major newspaper telling other parents of that Facebook group that “the history of labor disputes really affects the learning.”
Well, duh! It sure does.
Karma is already coming to bite us back in the behind. The news story today on the front page of Toronto’s major newspaper, the Toronto Star, reports a dramatic drop in the number of students who are picking York University as their first choice for University next year.
Overall applications by high school students to universities across Ontario is actually up 1.1% over last year. But not to York.
Applications to York are down almost 15%. Not a surprise for me. I expected to drop to be even higher. I can understand why parents and students would feel threatened by this strike. It just wouldn’t make sense not to learn from the past.
So who benefits? Well, York University’s competitors in Toronto certainly did. Applications to University of Toronto are up over 4%. Applications to Ryerson University are up over 10%. And applications to the Ontario College of Art and Design are up over 20%. All of these postsecondary schools are in Toronto. The strikers handed them a huge gift. And in a tough economy, those admissions of those applications are harder to find. That money is money taken away from University, resources lost.
Where is the extra money to pay these striking workers demands going to come from? And the striking workers, who have been disrupting classes, marching in during examinations and singing songs, holding back students from Canada and around the world in their studies, messing up their summer work plans and their chances of getting hired for internships and summer positions… are they supposed to simply and seamlessly rejoin the community?
Even if the striking workers go back to work this year, the damage is done. People aren’t going to soon forget the strike of 2008 to 2009 and what it did to York University, York University students, and the future of the university.