To help faculty better understand what the strike, academic continuity, and graduate student funding packages meant for members, the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) held a special meeting on the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 strike on Wednesday.
Prior to the meeting, the strike committee called for members to wear academic gowns and similar symbols to show their commitment to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as to academic integrity.
Participants assembled at Simcoe Hall and walked to the hotel together with CUPE 3902 members.
Despite the rainy weather, anthropology professors Sarah Hillewaert and Alejandro Paz said they participated in the walk because they did not accept the idea of academic continuity. “The fact that we are being asked to change our syllabi, change our grading scheme — the university is claiming academic continuity, but we cannot. It is not business as usual,” Hillewaert and Paz said in a joint statement.
David Mackenzie, UTFA’s special assistant to the executive, said the meeting covered the main issues raised by the strike. According to him, there was a frank exchange of opinions but no formal debates. “We hoped to accomplish a wider understanding of the situation at that moment, and to give our members an opportunity to speak frankly and ask questions,” Mackenzie said.
At the beginning of the meeting, UTFA members heard presentations by strike representatives and by the university administration.
Omar Sirri, a second-year political science PhD student who serves as communications representative for the strike committee, said that CUPE hoped to show that the union and university faculty were on the same team.
“If the university administration thinks that it is [okay] to alter course[s] to be credit no credit or to be granting full marks for 20 per cent of the marks is ludicrous and dilutes the value of the undergraduate education,” Sirri said. “Undergraduates should be up in arms about this.”
Separate from his role as the strike committee’s communications representative, Sirri and Banafsheh Beizaei, a fourth-year student, wrote an open letter to the UTFA. The pair asked the UTFA to endorse a minimum funding package of $17,500 guaranteed to each individual member.
“The vitality of graduate education and its associated funding model is absolutely critical to the research support faculty receive, the teaching that undergraduates are provided, and ultimately the overall function and future of successful post-secondary education in this country,” Sirri and Beizaei said.
In a media release, U of T president Meric Gertler addressed the university and CUPE 3902 Unit 1’s agreement to binding arbitration.
Despite the strike’s end, syllabi for many courses have already been changed.
Gertler acknowledged the academic difficulties posed by the strike.
“To the students who have had to endure uncertainty and anxiety at a crucial time in the year — and especially those who are in the final year of their programs — thank you for your patience. We are enormously relieved that the strike is over. And we share a commitment to resolving all remaining complications caused by the strike as soon as possible,” said Gertler.