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The Varsity

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The UTSU’s dangerous game

Why the UTSU’s support for the TA strike hurts undergrads

By Esther Mendelsohn
Published: 7:28 pm, 29 January 2012
Modified: 12 am, 2 February 2012
Vol CXXXII, No. 17 under
JESSICA MURACA/THE VARSITY
UPDATED

Once again, the UTSU has proven whom it is really representing — and it’s not U of T’s undergraduates. There is only one word that captures the UTSU’s support of the looming TA strike: gall. The UTSU purports to act in the interest of undergraduate students and yet this move suggests otherwise.

UTSU president Danielle Sandhu offered her complete support when she addressed those present at the strike vote press conference; this conference was held after CUPE members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, should an agreement with the university not be reached. Sandhu extended to CUPE local 3902, on our behalf, congratulations, and expressed a sense of pride and solidarity, arguing that supporting the strike is in the best interests of undergrads. However, she is supposed to be representing undergrads, who would undoubtedly suffer were a strike to happen.

Even in the sunniest scenario, classes will continue undisrupted, but tutorials will be cancelled and assignments may not be marked in time. This can have an especially injurious effect on those relying on final grades for graduate or professional school applications. I doubt that those schools would be satisfied relying on my word that I am an A student. In the gloomiest of cases, we may end up like the students of York University.

In 2008, York’s CUPE local, which includes TAs and sessional instructors, went on strike. The strike dragged on for three months, leaving students out of class and out of luck. Many felt betrayed by the York Federation of Students (a satellite union of the Canadian Federation of Students, like the UTSU). Students were overwhelmed with work after their Reading Week, and those who depended on summer income had to struggle to make ends meet when their classes spilled into the summer break.

U of T students’ tuition has been paid, and most people have made plans for after graduation — plans that hinge on the timing of their graduation. Neither the UTSU nor the university will reimburse our tuition fees, and no one can give us back the time we will lose.

CUPE has rolled out an advertising campaign, and the UTSU has echoed its message. There is quite a bit of talk about tutorial sizes — a serious problem, to be sure. No one will argue that a 50-student tutorial is a conducive learning environment. The only real solution, however, assuming that this were viable, would be to hire more TAs — and since they’re already demanding raises and resources are scarce, I doubt you will hear CUPE pressing for more TAs to share in the pie. When push comes to shove, this will likely be the first demand to be sacrificed. Including the tutorial size issue is little more than a transparent ploy by the UTSU to justify its indefensible actions, and to drum up undergrad support for a strike which clearly pits our interests against those of CUPE.

There are countless TAs and sessional instructors who are truly outstanding and deserve the best conditions. That being said, undergraduate students cannot afford and should not be forced to suffer the consequences of a strike. So why is our student government giving priority to CUPE’s agenda? Some may cite the supposed long-term benefits for undergrad students who may be considering graduate studies here at U of T. But what about those who aren’t? Others may claim that we must stand in solidarity with CUPE. But why should we lose time, money, and have our education and life plans disrupted? The “avoid a strike by supporting it” rationale implicit in CUPE’s literature and echoed in the UTSU’s justifications is nothing more than Orwellian double-speak, and U of T students are too intelligent to be duped. The UTSU is playing  a dangerous game with our time, money, and education; its support of the potential strike is both grossly irresponsible and an affront to the students it is supposed to be representing.

How the UTSU can continue with its preposterous claims of unity and that it works for the students is incomprehensible. If that were the case, they would oppose the strike, or at the very least they would abstain from making an official statement, let alone such a congratulatory one. The UTSU is not working for our interests, but rather against them. I am absolutely appalled, and you should be too.

  • NoMoreCFS

    I’m sure Ms. Sandhu believes that being voted in through a sham election that had no effective opposition against her and a voter turnout of less than 10%  is sufficient to give her the authority to represent the entire student body. Accountability is as foreign to the UTSU as democracy is to the people of North Korea.

  • Kenji Yoshida

    I understand the sentiments regarding us undergrads dealing with a strike as an undergrad the feeling sucks. But I feel that Ms. Sandhu position in regards to the strike is valid given the union’s emphasis on addressing tutorial sizes on campus. It also I think its an acknowledgement of the changing job market which sees many undergrads seeking post-grad studies to advance their standing in competing for decent jobs. As a result, I believe the fight for smaller tutorial sizes and better funding packages for grad students really do touch on my interests as an undergrad. Its hard enough for individual students to have an impact on our academic environment against the admin powers that be, so I thank the social unionist approach of CUPE 3902 – as a reflection on how labour stays relevant by taking to task the concerns that impacts all members of the U of T community.

  • Kenji Yoshida

    Also check your facts, unless you consider a wage increase set to inflation as somehow being a massive raise? Unless you feel that working students should be worth less for more work. I’d like to go into grad school knowing that my schools got my back. Also what about the fact that the bargaining demands are worth less than 3 percent of the entire u of t budget? Why do you not call into account the administration for their actions that have also led to this pointl? 

  • Andrew Ursel (BOD)

    Ok, ok, ok,
    Andrew Ursel, Director of the Board for UTSU/UTMSU at your service. I think we need to get some things straightened out:

    First of all, since when has UTSU had a seat at the negotiating table with CUPE and the administration of U of T?? As we do not have this aforementioned seat, we have no influence in this ha matter, and neither do any of other fine student folk at U of T.

    Second of all, what would you like UTSU to do? Throw rocks at CUPE’s headquarters? Send them nasty e-mails telling them we don’t like them and we want them to stop striking?  If CUPE 3902, which is part of a very, very large labour union, wants to strike, they will. They have strike pay (not very good to try and live on for a long time), they’re well organised, they provide an essential and necessary service for the school to run properly; they don’t need us, we are not the critical piece which will make the admin give in to their demands and which will propel CUPE to victory.

    Third of all, conversely, why do folks think UTSU is going to somehow sabotage or prolong a TA strike by supporting it? Supporting a strike is like cheering on a football team: you aren’t making the big plays, and you also have no influence over how the game is played either. Anyone who says differently is greatly misguided because I wish we had that kind of influence; it would make all the members of UTSU’s lives easier. Currently, if we went and asked either CUPE or the admin to give in to the other side’s demands, we’d be laughed out of their offices.

    So,what UTSU IS able to do is raise awareness about this issue. What we are NOT are liscensed arbitrators, members of CUPE, or members of the administration, or some kind of legal authority which rules on labour law.

    Seriously folks, all we can do right now is hold on for the ride and pray for a good outcome for students.

    • Andrew Ursel (BOD)

      *the “ha” before “matter” is a typo,
      *license not “liscence”
      *multiple syntax errors,
      My bad, this is what I get for writing this this late at night and not taking the time to proofread things…

  • Ryan

    Disclosure: I am a (proud) member of CUPE 3902.

    As “Varsity” readers well know, this article’s author has a grudge against the people running UTSU. She will systematically rail against anything those people do. That’s fine and certainly her right. But let us not confuse her blind rage with even the beginnings of an understanding of what’s going on with CUPE 3902, UTSU and the U of T admin.

    She notes that tutorials are too large. She notes that there aren’t enough TAs working and more should be hired. (She speculates that CUPE wouldn’t push for more TAs to be hired. Are you kidding?! What labour union in the world wouldn’t push for more jobs?! And for the record CUPE’s bargaining proposals *explicitly* include demands for more guaranteed positions.) She notes that CUPE members are mostly excellent teachers and deserve better conditions.

    So, what’s the objection? What would she have CUPE members do? When our demands are so modest and reasonable—not to mention that they cost pennies relative to the University’s budget—and our livelihoods are at stake, should we simply take “no” for an answer? Should we not exercise our legal strike rights, now that we’ve spent 8 months exhausting every other method of bargaining possible?

    And if going on strike is a justified action, should others not support us? Where I come from, you stand with those who are doing right, and you stand against those who are doing wrong.

    Should undergrads follow Ms. Mendelsohn’s lead and ignore the issues at hand, caring only about their own marks and summer plans? Is it UTSU’s job to advocate for such myopic, short-term and individualistic thinking?

    I think not, and I hope not. Shame on this author for fear-mongering and skirting the facts of life on U of T’s campus.   

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502576321 Alex Mann

      If I may. I think the thinking here is simply in the idea that the strike would be a great thing. Smaller tutorial sizes, happier TA’s, etc, are all things that benefit the student in the long run. And yeah, this author seems to have an axe to grind against UTSU, but she also is laying down a clear message here. UTSU should have issued something more saying “we really hope there is a quick resolution to everything, and in the perfect world people get paid more, and tutorial sections are smaller,” but not come out right and support the strike simply for deadlines purposes.

      I personally think the strike’s a good thing. Having some tension, and seeking a resolution is always a good thing, but I do think that this needs to be addressed quickly. I don’t think U of T is going to drag it’s heals quite in the same way that York did though.

  • Herrovarsity

    Hear hear!

    I’m tired of hearing about unions that are pretending to do anything other than what they really do– look out for the interests of their members.

    The interests of greedy unions are not those of undergraduate students. They look out for their members, and seek to line their wallets, and make sure that they have cushy contracts the are not subject to public scrutiny.

    Don’t be fooled, undergrads! CUPE 3902 isn’t out there to fight for you. Likewise, UTSU supports the interests of unions, ensuring its executives can make a safe jump from student politics into a cushy union job, or job with the NDP.

    Greedy union organizers love to live off other people’s money.

    • Matt

      Is it not conceivable that the interests of CUPE3902 members may coincide with those of undergraduate students? Are smaller tutorial sizes not in the interest of both parties? What about TAs who receive enough hours of work to spend more than 5 minutes grading student assignments? What about TAs who have the financial stability to NOT have to juggle multiple jobs and stress about making rent, and thus are more prepared to run successful tutorials and help their students learn?

      And finally, as a CUPE3902 member, I can guarantee you that my wallet is far from lined. If it is lined wallets you’re looking for, perhaps shift your gaze to the university’s administration: wallets lined off of both rising undergrad tuition and the growing exploitation of graduate students. 

  • Herrovarsity

    Hear hear!

    I’m tired of hearing about unions that are pretending to do anything other than what they really do– look out for the interests of their members.

    The interests of greedy unions are not those of undergraduate students. They look out for their members, and seek to line their wallets, and make sure that they have cushy contracts the are not subject to public scrutiny.

    Don’t be fooled, undergrads! CUPE 3902 isn’t out there to fight for you. Likewise, UTSU supports the interests of unions, ensuring its executives can make a safe jump from student politics into a cushy union job, or job with the NDP.

    Greedy union organizers love to live off other people’s money.

  • Anonymous

    Well that was a laughingly one-sided and anti-union piece. Is that what my fees pay for at the Varsity? If I pay more, can I get some journalism or critical thinking on the side?

    • Herrovarsity

      This was published in the Comment section, which contains opinion pieces, duh.
      Why don’t you write a letter to the editor expressing your outrage that opinions are being expressed in the newspaper?

  • On how to prevent a strike…

    The writer’s assertion that a
    strike potentially holds serious consequences for undergraduate students is not
    altogether unreasonable. As undergraduate students, we should support efforts
    to prevent a strike. But how should we go about doing this? 

    The answer to this question is rooted in a context that the author conveniently leaves out of her article. Let me provide it (briefly), before attempting to answer the question.

    If you agree that tutorial
    sizes are too large; if you agree that we need more assistants in our labs; if
    you support fair wages for your instructors and teaching assistants; if you
    agree that the quality of your education depends on the working conditions of
    those instructing you; if you recognize that many of your peers (and possibly
    even you) will one day become graduate students, then you should, in theory, support the demands put forward by CUPE 3902.

    These demands include:

    • smaller tutorial and lab sizes to improve the
    quality of undergraduate education

    • maintaining financial support for underfunded graduate students

    • pay equity for undergraduate students

    • ensuring that experienced TAs remain in the classroom

    • increase the number of positions available in
    future hiring

    Since the last contract between the university and the union was signed in
    2008, tutorial sizes have grown to the point that 42% now have 50 or more
    students. Graduate-student funding is increasingly comprised of wages
    from employment rather than fellowships for research, and the real value of
    wages and benefits have stagnated relative to the cost of living and levels of inflation. Overall,
    things are worse for graduate students today than they were four years ago.

    As undergraduate students, we understand that the quality of education we
    receive in our classrooms depends on the working conditions of those
    instructing us. Our tutorials are too large, our labs are understaffed, and
    poverty-line wages keep our instructors from fully committing to our
    education. We also understand that these conditions are the same ones that will
    be experienced by many of our friends and peers who are currently applying to graduate school. CUPE 3902’s efforts therefore stand to make the University of Toronto a better place for all of us.

    Returning to my initial point… We all want to prevent a strike. But how should we go about doing this? The answer is that we should prevent a strike by posturing ourselves against those responsible for it! But who is responsible for it?

    If the union’s demands are entirely reasonable (they are); and if these demands have the potential to contribute in a positive way to the learning experience of all undergraduate students (they do); and if the university administration has refused to agree to a fair contract while demonstrating a complete disregard for both the union’s reasonable demands and the potential these demands have to improve conditions for undergraduate students (it has)…then the university administration has effectively shown itself to be the party responsible for the impending strike.

    We all want to prevent a strike. The best way to do this is to support CUPE 3902.

    ———

    Undergraduate Students Support CUPE 3902 (video)http://vimeo.com/35703264

    U of T Strike Information Group
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/UofT-Strike-Information-Group/206983516049078

    Join this group and help towards preventing a strike and winning a fair contract for our teaching assistants, instructors, lab assistants, exam invigilators, and writing instructors.

  • Jonathan

    What a selfish, ridiculous, and sloppy rant this is! On behalf of myself and damn near every other undergraduate I know- we support CUPE 3902.

    Supporting our TAs in this endeavor is supporting other students.

    It is supporting safe and reasonable tutorial and lab sizes.

    It is supporting our instructors’ ability to grant reasonable amounts of time to grade our work and prepare our lessons.

    It is supporting our own futures as a group of students who are more likely to enter graduate school than any before us.

    It is a way of holding U of T accountable to its reputation as a public institution which excels in teaching and research, and which is not simply a soulless factory.

    It’s saying that, as a student, you actually care about learning at all.

    • Guest

      You must not know enough undergrads then.

      • 123

        Near ever other undergraduate? What planet are you from? 

  • Timjames1032

    At tonight’s General Meeting the CUPE 3902 membership voted yes to go on strike starting February 24th if the university does not come back to union with a better collective agreement.

  • Anonymous

    Simple logic:  If the Salaries of TA’s goes up, then expect the tuition of students to go up.

    • RP

      Wow, given your logic you must *really* be pissed at the U of T admin, who give themselves on average 10% increases on their already six-figure salaries every year.

      • Anonymous

        Why would I be?

        These people have ensured UofT is still a top University in Canada.  They run a smooth ship, drama free.  Do you not think these people don’t have have years of experience and a solid education to back up the jobs they work at today?

        After every negotiation the union declares victory.  When its time to renew the contract, they say things are horrible.  If you’ve ever studied Human Resources / have an MBA, you’d realize this is all theater.

        • RP

          Ah, I see. You’re in business. No wonder you don’t understand how value and reputation are created at a university (hint: not by HR wonks) or how a university budget works. CUPE 3902 Unit 1 accounts for 2.6% of the university’s budget. Even if we got every single thing we’ve proposed in these negotiations, that percentage *might* go up to 2.7% or 2.8%. Highly qualified TAs with advanced degrees who work around the clock for $15,000/yr. are not breaking the budget. We are not the ones driving up tuition. For that you should look to Simcoe Hall, or (if you are indeed at Rotman) at the bloated salaries of your own profs. Give me a break!

        • TAs support students

          Of course the “top university in Canada” that is born out by what evidence? According to the Globe and Mail the prestigious University of Toronto earns a B- in satisfied students, a C+ in class sizes, and a B- in faculty-student interactions.  In fact it ranks near the bottom in nearly every category the Globe and Mail assessed.  These are pretty pitiful grades in my book.  (Don’t believe me? see: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/campus-reports/2012-student-satisfaction-survey-results-for-universities/article2216455/

          And you know what? The University of Toronto administration does not care a bit.CUPE 3902 is bargaining for smaller tutorial sizes and more TA support for larger courses all of which would improve the education of students and the reputation of the University.  As for running a “smooth ship, drama free” I am not sure where you have been for the past two years.  See for example the FAS Academic Plan described as an “academic crisis” and “academic vandalism” that many students, faculty, workers, and even scholars outside the university have spent more than a year fighting.

          • RM

            Oh please, when you go into the workforce or apply for graduate school, do you think any company/institution cares about your class sizes, student/faculty ratio, or how satisfied your are with your education? They care about the reputation of your university, the reputation of the faculty in your area of study, high academic standards, etc, all of which U of T excels at. There is a reason why ARWU, THE, QS, and other university rankings place U of T among the best in the world. To claim that U of T is not a top in Canada (as a matter of fact, it’s a top university in the world), is ridiculous.

            CUPE 3902’s demands are not unreasonable, but the demands of some people in UTSU are. Indeed, many people I’ve talked to want student fees to be entirely eliminated. As a computer science student, I’m proud of the fact that my department ranks among the top 10 in the world, independently by both QS and ARWU (and no, I do not mean top 10 in terms of student/faculty ratio or class sizes because nobody cares about that). I’m proud of the fact that I’m attending lectures taught by some of the most famous faculty in the world, such as Stephen Cook and Geoffrey Hinton. I’m proud of the fact that my university is a leader in research in computer science, on the same level as Stanford and MIT, research that I was able to contribute to over the summer. I’m proud of the fact that when I graduate, my degree will be from one of the top institutions in the world. And, I do not want to see that jeopardized by the demands of UTSU. (Sorry for the unrelated rant.)

  • Ian

    UTSU wants better TA/student ratios, CUPE wants better TA/student ratios, and the administration doesn’t.  UTSU agrees with CUPE on this quality-of-education matter.  Therefore, UTSU supports the CUPE strike.

    How, exactly, is this not in the interests of undergraduate students?

    Another long-term benefit you didn’t consider: by improving the quality of undergraduate education, your degree will be worth more because the academic rigor of your school was increased.  In other words, it’s not simply graduate students who stand to benefit from this strike.

    Even *you* benefit in the long-term, whether you realize it or not.

  • Guest

    Reality Check

    Do you realize that graduates students currently take a ~3% pay cut every year? (this is called inflation)  CUPE seeks to make it a 0% pay cut.  I wonder if that 3% pay cut has a real-world impact?  In this comment, I’ll work through a real-life graduate student budget.  You can see where every penny goes.

    Try this math.  Start with the yearly TA compensation for a psychology graduate student: 14500.  Then, every year, pay that person 97% of the previous year.  Here we go:

    Year 1: 14500
    Year 2: 14500 * .97 = 14065
    Year 3: 14065 * .97 = 13643
    Year 4: 13643 * .97 = 13234
    Year 5: 13234 * .97 = 12837

    …so by the end of the 5th year, the administration is paying 88.5% of the amount they paid in the 1st year.  That’s a pretty serious discount!  Usually, people get paid more as they become more skilled, but here, the opposite is the case.

    So if “Year 1″ is paid in 2012 dollars, then the calculations above mean “Year 5″ is also in 2012 dollars.  That’s what it means to “adjust for inflation.”  So let’s see what happens if someone pays $700/month for rent plus $100/month in heating/electricity/water/garbage in year 5…

    800 * 12 = 9600
    12837 – 9600 = 3237
    3237 / 12 = 270

    After rent and utilities, this graduate student has $270 left over.  Well, to make a budget, you start with your income, then you take away non-discretionary spending, and what you’re left with is “your” money.  So let’s keep listing the fixed expenses in order to figure out how much breathing room our graduate student has.

    What about food?  Well, let’s say you spend $10/day on food.  Oops.  There are 30 days in a month, so you need $300 if you want to eat every day.  Oh well!  Guess they can do without food a few days per month!  

    Instead, we’ll just spend less than $10/day on food.  Let’s say they eat oatmeal for breakfast, ramen for lunch, and rice/beans for dinner (and a vitamin pill, just so they don’t collapse).  …and they drink water, only.  This could be $1/day.  No, let’s make it $2/day, to allow for things like butter, salt, sugar, and other normal kitchen things.  We’ll include soap, toilet paper, and other household stuff in that $2/day budget.  That’s $60/month for food and toiletries.  This is the bare minimum … honest-to-goodness, poverty-style minimum.

    Let’s not forget this is a full-time student we’re talking about.  What about Internet access?  A phone?  What about public transportation?

    Okay.  $210 left over after food.  Take away $30 for the bare-minimum Internet access.  Another $20 for a bargain phone plan.  $100 for a student TTC pass.  We’re left with $60 per month.

    What about clothes?  Every 3 months, this graduate student buys used pants and a few shirts at the thrift store ($15/month).  Every year, two pairs of shoes/boots ($10/month).  Every year, some generic socks and underclothes ($3/month).

    $32 left over.  How ever could we spend that?  Well, let’s allow our graduate student one yearly trip home, to visit family.  They have $384 to “waste” on a plane ticket, and if they time it right, they *just* might be able to afford it.  This is the only discretionary expense we will allow, per year.

    Now there is $0 left.  Could we find money somewhere?  Yes: through sacrifice.  Maybe this student doesn’t need a phone.  Maybe they don’t need to commute *every* day.  Maybe they could go to the library for Internet access.  …but this student is still a full-time student at Canada’s premiere university, and it’s really not extravagant to have home Internet access, nor is it extravagant to have a “bargain” cellphone, if only for emergencies.

    Could we come up with other expenses?  Obviously.  Where does the winter coat come from?  Xeroxing expenses?  Late fees at the library?  A lock for the bike?  Cold medicine when they’re sick (but they need to work anyway)?  …maybe a coffee here and there, so they can network with professors and other grad students?  Professional conferences?  Emergencies?

    There’s no “fat” in this budget.  There’s no “meat,” either.

    Anyone who has to deal with this stuff is going to understand what it means to have a salary that doesn’t keep up with inflation.  This is what brings us, in good faith, to the bargaining table.  

    Inflation-adjusting the salary preserves about $100 per month, by year 5.  This isn’t a pay  increase of $100 over previous years, but $100 that wasn’t lost to inflation.  With this $100, perhaps rice and beans could stand an upgrade?  Maybe that’s where the student finds money for a coat?  Maybe they can afford to print a poster for the big yearly conference?  …and, you know, be a good student themselves?  do well at their career?  Make UofT look like a good school, in spite of its unethical labour practices?

    In your dystopia, graduate students live a wretched life.  CUPE is offering a shot at eating chicken for dinner once a week.  With salt and pepper on it.  Everything in this budget is real, and this is reality, kid.  You can add these numbers yourself.  There’s no magical accounting at play.  If you think this is some kind of fantasy, then you’ve got a big surprise coming.

  • Realist

    This article should not have made it past the editorial process. Reason?

    Ctrl+F: “university” “administration”

    This article attacks the UTSU alone as if they want this strike and disregard the needs of students. A careful read of the article reveals several things: The author ignores the issue with the Teaching Assistants’ pay and the CUPE bargaining process with the university administration as if it was an irrelevant detail. Instead, the author focuses only on the strike’s effect on students. Well how about looking at the TA wages’ effect on student learning? Aren’t they at university of an education? My God.

    How on earth could this pass as news? The Varsity needs to run a counter-piece that at least explains why the TAs are striking, and which explains why the bargaining has gone so far south that a strike is now on the table. More importantly, it needs to explain the benefits of a strike. This article is barely stringing it together, and makes a false pass at representing true student interests, yet it doesn’t even once acknowledge that the university makes the decision at the end of the day, and their decision is to keep the TA wage as it is. 

    Fact is, UTSU is bargaining for the TAs because TAs give undergrads better education.

    Reflect on this. How much interaction do you as students have with your profs? Close to none. They are required to do a lot of research and cannot address large classes, which is why we have TAs to begin with. It is because the TAs are vital for your learning experience that you should support TAs that can’t make the ends meet. Don’t let them stand alone against the university because the administration will win if the students don’t speak up for the TAs. Let’s look at who caused this mess to begin with.
    It is completely unfair to blame UTSU alone for this process and the unfair outcome for TAs. To them, striking is a bargaining tactic, a last resort. The undergrads will suffer from a lack of TAs, but if this process is to be resolved then TAs need fair pay. This article, if it were a UofT paper, should have been given an F, and a punch in the face.

    • http://twitter.com/alexrosswrites Alex Ross

      Excuse me, but I think you’re being incredibly unfair. First of all, this is in the Comment section, which is the editorial section of the Varsity. This is not news. This is opinion. Furthermore, we do have a counter-piece that explains the other side of the issue and offers arguments for why undegrads should support the TAs. 

      I think you need to read our website more carefully before you begin making the accusation that we’re being unfair and biased.   

      • Realist

        In brief, my «mistakes» were: 1. To call for a
        punch in the face and 2. I didn’t see your paper’s pro-article. I think I can
        laugh at my own mistake for the latter, and if the first offends, then delete
        my post. I’m not being unfair. You can call me rude, and blame me for not seeing
        your other article, but unfair? Come on, I addressed more issues than the
        author did. Look at the other comments. They say the same thing. This is so
        narrowminded and it doesn’t represent the con-movement properly either.

         

        After having admitted my faults and rereading my
        post, I still think my argument is quite sound. To clarify my points further:
        This piece does a terrible job at arguing against a strike. The other piece is
        very good and informative for those students who look to the Varsity for
        information about the strike, why the TAs and university admin are arguing, and
        what it would mean for them if they strike. This is key to my criticism.
        Understand that your newspaper has a responsibility to inform students about
        issues related to their education. The media is the fourth estate. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Estate)

         

        The articles on both sides should debate the pros
        and cons of a strike, and explain why the conclusion is either for or against.
        This is what I demand from a debater, a journalist, and a newspaper. I could
        summarize this piece with the self-evident truth that a strike harms students’
        educational experience. But that’s one sentence, one single point (!), and this
        author harps on it as if that were the be all and end all. Compare and contrast
        with the pro-strike piece. This doesn’t hold its own. So I repeat: How can this
        pass without at least the author pointing out if she thinks the TAs wages are
        fair, and without her even addressing the university administration’s role in the
        issue? This is ridiculous. We cannot ONLY look at what the UTSU is doing without
        looking at WHO it is opposing, who it is for and WHY. You could have at least
        asked her to address these aspects in her article. That’s what I would expect
        of you. She can have an opinion I disagree with, but this piece makes her look
        misinformed, bitter and yes – that is why I reciprocate.

         

        The author is responsible for her words, and
        should show some understanding for what the UTSU is actually arguing for. The
        core of the argument is simple. The UTSU backs the TAs in the bargaining
        process between the university and the TA staff because the TAs are students
        and because the TAs are so incredibly important in providing students with an
        education. You simply cannot ignore this and call yourself a good critic of the
        strike. How can you criticize something you don’t understand? All the info is
        in the pro-strike article. How ridiculous is that?

         

        I’m harsh,
        but fair. You can evaluate these two pieces separately and tell me which has
        the most sound argument. Alternatively, set some higher standards for
        contributions. You can expect more from our students. Please don’t let this
        author write again without properly addressing her opposition’s argument.

        • ship

          While I am critical of this article, and I do believe the arguments do not exactly hold up, that does not mean that the piece is not written well. We are more likely to think that something is dissmissable if it does not conform to our views. It was a well written article, and the Varsity was right to publish it.

          That being said, the writer makes unfair comparsions about the 2008 situation at York to the present day situtation at the University of Toronto. They are NOT the same, the demands are not the same and even if a strike did occur, the campus would not close. Professors would still teach, and depending on what Unit certain staff members are in, some classes could still have TAs (albeit a few). 

          While, the writer does do a good job in addressing the risks a potential strike holds to undergraduates, they neglect what teaching assistants should do as an alternative to a strike to benefit their position. Status quo, imo, cannot be maintained. 

      • Realist

        Apologies that I broke the format of your comment section. That was not my intention either. If I can repost it here, I will, and you can delete the one with the awful breaks.

  • dude

    So, a few things;

    1) While I’m not exactly “coy” with the UTSU, this writer’s article seem to be the same anti-leftist, anti-UTSU narrative rehashed over and over again. It gets quite old and boring after a while.

    2) A TA strike would not stop classes from being taught at U of T, from what I’ve been told. It would just stop tutorials + marking.

    3) The worst way to prevent a strike is to just sit on our ass and not care, or given that implication; this sends a message to the admin, that we students just don’t care. By supporting the TAs (not necessarily a strike — nobody wants that, but supporting them in their demands) , it increases the pressure on the administration to resolve this. 

    • Dylanfotiadis

      What exactly was the point of saying that? Your comment seems to be confused. 

      1) Does it matter that it’s repetitive? Sometimes the only way to drill a concept into everyone’s mind is to repeat it. Things often must be repeated or they’ll loose their gravitas. This isn’t a hollywood production, it’s politics; I don’t think they should change their “act” because it gets boring. Conversely the anti-capitalist, anti-U of T Administration sentiment gets equally if not more distasteful.2) Obviously the concern isn’t about lectures, but tutorials. As TAs are never shy to assert, the tutorials are crucial. How exactly will students function without the work of TAs, whose positions at U of T, by the way, are considerably more privileged (despite the class sizes) than at other schools? Their wage demands are outrageous.and finally3) No one supports sitting on their asses and not caring. We students are not even solely concerned about the deleterious effect a strike may have on our grades and learning, but many of us have a more global concern: that with the world’s economy in the state that it’s in, demanding things, from ridiculous wage increases (TAs at U of T lead considerably better lives, according to one former-member of a TA union, than those of other universities), to something as absolutely preposterous as charging international students the same tuition fees as tax-paying Canadians. If you think the only beef we have with the TA strike is the potential for cancelling classes, you’re mistaken. So no, I’m not one to sit on MY ass, in your words, and allow the Union to tighten their grip on the University’s balls. It’s about time we all say “no” to the shackles of this persnickety Union, so feverishly trying to draw water from stone in a time when everyone, even non-TAs (as fantastical of a thing that is to believe) must work harder and under more strain to even begin to reverse the woes we might face in the future. Look at the Greek riots, and tell me that the TA’s Union is doing the right thing.

  • Lame

    Just like ta’s, undergrads have budgets too. And guess when the most income for students come from? During the summer. Possible occurance of strike will definitely waste students’ time, money, and life plans. And I for one, do not want to suffer like the York students couple of years ago. Ask any York students from that time and ask what they got out of that 3month lock out. Absolutely nothing as they were screwed over for 3 months. In the end, undergrads WILL suffer while the TA’s will have their jobs back as soon as the strike is over

  • Drake Berwick

    I think the real point that everyone has been missing here is that the U of T administration doesn’t give a flying f*ck what the UTSU thinks, or what popular undergraduate opinion is. They’re not gonna cave on CUPE demands. 

    Also, how messed up is it that CUPE mocks/tries to hijack the Boundless campaign for their own purposes? Boundless is fundraising for our university, so that there’s more money to go around and so that we can afford to do things like, gosh, I dunno, restore graduate funding and pay TAs more? That idiotic campaign in bus stops around campus strikes me as the most selfish and reprehensible thing they’ve done. 

    • Dylanfotiadis

      Every time I pass them, I wish I had a carton of eggs or some spray paint.

    • Georglukacs

      I think you are correct in asserting that the UofT doesn’t care about undergraduate opinion (or education).  That’s why tutorial sizes have ballooned to the point where you have more than 100 tutorials that have more than 100 students.

      When it comes to the Boundless campaign, pointing out that the UofT falls short of the grandiose claims it makes is not the same as saying one is against fundraising for the UofT.  In fact, CUPE 3902 recently donated $160,000 — matched by the gov’t for a total of $320,000 — to 
      UTSC that will provide entry scholarships for 12 undergraduates in perpetuity (see http://boundless.utoronto.ca/recognition/donor-listing/).  Not exactly the act of a “selfish” trade union looking out for its own members.

  • http://spellchequer.com/ Mark

    The author’s analysis is based on an entirely self-centred and selfish view of the world.  Zoom out and take a wide angle view, and it’s very clear that supporting CUPE 3902 is very much in the best interest of students.  There may be short-term pain if there’s a strike, but if CUPE 3902 loses ground and/or doesn’t achieve better working conditions, what that does is set the stage for other workers to have poor working conditions.

    Guess what?  When you graduate, you become a worker!  If you spent your undergraduate years pissing on workers’ rights, then don’t complain when all that’s available to you once you graduate is a McJob where you’re paid poorly and your employer thinks of you as expendable and unworthy of being shown any respect.

  • Ox Lo

    I find it overwhelmingly difficult to entertain the idea that support the TA strike will have any positive benefit for undergraduate students. In contrast, I find that by following through with their intended strike they will be going against what the majority of TAs claim is the purpose of the strike, the quality of our education. How can you claim that this strike is in the interest of us students when the forefront of their disagreement is money. Its very easy for a TA to sit there and tell their students that they are striking to reduce tutorial size or to improve the educational experience of students…bullshit. In actuality this strike is happening because TA’s think they have a right to be paid a wage that will support them annually whilst only working 1-10 hours a week. In what world do you live in where working minimal hours constitutes a high wage. I even had one TA openly admit that her hourly wage was quite generous. If TA’s don’t feel they are making enough then get another job just like every single other citizen and student has to do.

    As a matter of fact, get rid of TA’s all together, lower my school tuition and ill work a little harder, read a little more and learn the material myself. Marking TA’s are the only truly necessary assets and if TA’s continue to stir up problems they should be made obsolete. 

    • Realist

      Ox Lo, I think that you and many others here make a grand mistake by assuming what the TA job includes, both in terms of time and money spent. You really need to compare them to any other teacher because this is their job, and they are supposed to do it well. 1-10 hours was a very conservative estimate and obviously a number that any person could pull out of their ass. The TAs are negotiating for a wage that rises in accordance to inflation. If you think that this is outrageous, then respectfully, I suspect that you don’t understand working life. The facts are that TAs are students paying far more than they earn from this menial salary. And yes it is menial because they spend more time teaching students the curriculum, indepth, and meeting with them personally, than any faculty members do. The income differential between a TA and a professor however is enormous, despite the relative difference in quality of service. At a university with no tuition, I wouldn’t expect them to be paid. But this university costs, and if you want good students to teach tutorials, you need to give them a respectable wage. Otherwise you don’t get good TAs. And this is where the undergrad students’ interests are at stake. Can we afford fewer TAs, and – frankly, that the uni can only hire those who are self-sufficient? That affects tutorial quality, and the quality of undergrad education.

      The TAs are only asking for an increase in wage according to the rise of inflation. If the university won’t give them it, they warn that they will strike. Why is this outrageous? Why is it outrageous that our union says they will be behind them 100%? You probably don’t know this, but bargaining between employers and employees is extremely strongly correlated to the employees strength of cooperation. Economic and political science research has proven this an untold number of times. Without the union’s support, the TAs have a weaker bargaining position. Do you have a job, and are you unionised? This matters.

      Note, TAs aren’t deluded about any of this. They know this isn’t a fulltime job but it pays less than it costs them, as students, to get the job done. TAs that mark papers and exams spend days and in some cases weeks finishing their marking, and spend more time with admin work, coordinating it with professors and other lead TAs, while also preparing new tutorials every week. Why do they do it? Because if you want to work anywhere, be it university, private or public, experience matters, and because grad school is expensive, so they teach. Be thankful for that.

  • TAs are incompetent anyway

    The article isn’t criticizing the strike. It’s criticizing the UTSU’s support of it. Whether or not the TA’s are “justified” to strike is irrelevant. The UTSU is payed to act in the interest of undergraduates. Graduates have their own union. The point about smaller tutorial sizes is also irrelevant. Most undergraduates aren’t willing to have their tutorials canceled and marking delayed/canceled in the mere hope that the result will yield smaller tutorial sizes in the future. Even if it came to pass, no one currently in their 4th year would give a crap. Same goes for those in 3rd year, as their tutorials next year will be tiny to non-existent.
    This concern really only applies to those in 1st and 2nd year. After seeing what happened at York, most are too risk averse to even consider it.

    An aside:
    If UofT simply contracted out the grading, as it does much of the lecturing, this wouldn’t be a problem. Can’t exactly protest a term-by-term contract.