Last Wednesday, undergraduate students, teaching assistants (TAs), and other supporters left classes at around 12pm to attend the Student Solidarity UofT-Wide Walkout in solidarity with CUPE Local 3902 Unit 1.
The event, hosted by the University of Toronto Students’ Union, attracted a large crowd that chanted in front of university offices in Simcoe Hall.
The reasons listed for the walkout included the university’s allegedly providing the public with misleading information, refusing to communicate with students, and refusing to meet with CUPE 3902.
UTM and UTSC held similar events last week.
In a press release by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union executive committee, executives acknowledged student concerns about the academic disruption, but endorsed the CUPE 3902 members. “The counter-offer that was recently proposed does not display any interest on the part of the university administration in a fair and equal agreement,” the press release said.
“The university should understand that, if they are ‘committed to our academic success’ then they must make every effort to negotiate in good faith with our educators who are the key to that very success,” the press release added.
Elena Basile, a Sexual Diversity Studies instructor at University College and an English lecturer at York University, made accommodations in her class so students could participate in the walkout. She is currently a contract faculty.
“The commercialization of education, and knowledge overall, over the past 15 years or so, has meant that universities increasingly run like corporations, with all of their verticalized and contracting-out logic attached,” Basile said.
She pointed to over-inflation of salaries at the top echelons of the administration and dependence on student fees and grants tied to industry as problems resulting from the corporatization of the university.
“This produces at least three sets of problems: a cohort of undergraduate students increasingly indebted just to make it through school; precarious graduate student teachers and researchers who can barely afford to do what the university is asking them to do, i.e. produce innovative knowledge and pedagogies; a disaffected cohort of precarious part-time faculty scrambling to piece together a living while also trying to keep up with research,” Baslie added.
Graham Hassell, a fourth-year student hoping to graduate this year, attended the walkout. He hopes the walkout shows the administration how undergraduate students are invested in supporting their TAs.
“I don’t appreciate being told that everything is alright,” Hassell says, adding “I have a class that is currently cancelled — things are not all right. I think that some people perhaps are going too far in accusing the administration of being misleading, but there is definitely some misinformation being spread.”
Brian Law, president of the Computer Science Graduate Student Benevolent Society, was also present at the walkout. “Maybe it’s for nothing, but even if it is nothing for the moment, even if it doesn’t bring everybody back to the table right away, it is a symbolic gesture of strength and unity from the [undergraduates] that this kind of thing can happen,” Law said.