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York University faculty strike enters second week

Some departments suspend classes in solidarity with CUPE 3903

York University faculty strike enters second week

Contract faculty at York University went on strike on Monday, March 5 after members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903 Units 1, 2, and 3 rejected the university’s final collective agreement offer after six months of bargaining.

CUPE 3903 represents approximately 3,700 contract faculty, teaching assistants, and graduate assistants who teach 60 per cent of courses offered at York.

Striking faculty members are demanding equity provisions, prevention of further setbacks in their fellowship funding model, job security, and graduate assistant jobs as part of the new collective agreement.

In solidarity with CUPE 3903, the departments of Social Science; Sociology; Politics; Gender, Feminist & Women’s Studies; Cinema and Media Arts; Equity Studies; Anthropology; and Communication Studies, along with the Department of Politics and School of Translation at the York University Glendon campus, have suspended classes for the duration of the strike.

Students have a right to attend class and will be accommodated if they choose not to protest. University facilities, administrative offices, libraries, and food outlets remain open.

More than 800 graduate assistant jobs were previously eliminated during a switch to the current fellowship funding model. Teaching assistants still receive funding in the form of scholarships, fellowships, and research assistantships that advance academic progress, but they have lost other opportunities for work. Contract faculty see fewer full-time opportunities.

At U of T, a separate but related union called CUPE 3902 Unit 3 represents approximately 1,200 sessional instructors. In December, unit members voted to ratify their renewed collective agreement with the school.

Aida Jordao, a sessional lecturer in the Spanish and Portuguese departments at both York and U of T said that at U of T, CUPE 3902 Unit 3 “doesn’t have a lot of power. It also doesn’t have a lot of members.”

“Here at York we can establish a standard by which other universities could measure themselves.”

Jordao said that precarious academic work was harming the quality of education for York students. “Students will always feel it… There won’t be a throughline in their department in terms of curriculum because they will have different professors all the time.”

“I think it’s worse that sometimes we have two weeks’ notice to teach a course… You have to put so much work into preparing the lectures and each class that you don’t have as much time to give to the students.”

Editor’s Note (March 14): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jordao works in the English department. She works in the Spanish and Portuguese departments. 

Billionaire magnate named in Panama Papers a top McGill, York University donor

Victor Dahdeleh alleged to have facilitated bribes for Bahraini officials

Billionaire magnate named in Panama Papers a top McGill, York University donor

A billionaire Canadian university benefactor has been named as a key figure in an international bribery case.

According to a CBC/The Toronto Star investigation, the Panama papers reveal Victor Dahdaleh was allegedly the middleman involved in the international bribery scandal that resulted in Alcoa, one of the world’s largest aluminum companies, to be fined a staggering amount of $384 million USD for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Through Dahdaleh, Bahraini officials — including a senior member of Bahrain’s Royal Family — received tens of millions of dollars  in exchange for supplier contracts.

Dahdaleh, a trustee on the board of the McGill University Trust since 1994, has contributed more than $5 million over the years. A day after the investigation was released, McGill appreciatively accepted another donation of $3.5 million from Dahdaleh.

Also, York University has named the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health after him, following his donation of $20 million last year.

In addition, St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia awarded the magnate an honorary doctorate last December.

With files from the CBC and Toronto Star.

Privacy comes with a price

Revisions to York University's mental health policy may do more harm than good

Privacy comes with a price

According to The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, there has been a 67 per cent increase in the number of post-secondary students registered with a mental health disability between 2006 and 2011.

Recently, York University student Navi Dhanota won a two-year human rights complaint against York University. The policy in question required a student to declare their mental health disability in order to register for academic support. 

Possibly blinded by Dhanota’s own best intentions, Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane is describing the recent abolition of this policy as “a win for students.” On a broader scale, however, this change in policy has the potential to do more harm than good.

The revision of the academic accommodation policy that Dhanota, ARCH Disability Law Centre, and York University settled on undoubtedly coincides with the Ontario Human Rights Code. It upholds a student’s right to personal privacy and can be seen as a way to prevent discrimination based on mental health. 

When it comes to mental health, however, clinging onto every ounce of privacy may not be the best solution for providing students with accommodations. Marc Wilchesky, executive director of Counselling and Disability Services at York University, has already expressed concern over the complications this change in policy could create. In an interview with the Toronto Star, he stated, “…[I]t may make it a little more difficult to come up with the appropriate accommodation.”

Previously, like many other Canadian universities, York relied on the defining terms outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to register a student for academic support. These diagnoses are not merely labels meant to generically categorize individuals; instead, they act as a starting point for professionals to determine a student’s personal needs. 

Without them, specialists like Wilchesky are left to work backwards, most likely retracing steps that have already been taken and rehashing paths that have already been discarded. Ultimately, these definitions act as a foundational base that can accelerate the provision and efficiency of accessibility services. 

Aside from providing necessary information, detailed registration packages are also the first step in eliminating potential abuse of an accessibility services system. Basically, York has created a more lenient policy for a department that can easily be targeted for misuse. Also, York now provides interim accommodation, which allows students who are pending assessment to access this service as well. The conjunction of these two factors can result in the misuse of this new policy, which would hinder the students that it was meant to protect in the first place. 

Confident that the Ontario Human Rights Commission “has enough power and influence,” Mandhane is now urging other postsecondary institutions to follow suit and “bring their policies in line.” Hopefully, U of T’s Accessibility Services will fully consider the implications of such a change in policy before rushing to any conclusions. 

Instead of rewriting policies, it would be more beneficial for accessibility services departments to focus on creating environments where the ability to not disclose diagnoses is simply unnecessary. While this new privacy policy is perhaps helpful for students to cope in the meantime, it is necessary to keep in mind the more important longer term goal of socio-cultural change: that is, ensuring that our academic environments inspire enough comfort, safety, and open conversation to disclose diagnoses in the first place, not force students like Dhanota to respond with human rights complaints. 

York’s new policy is taking a step backwards in breaking down the social stigma surrounding mental health, in that it allows students to withhold the truth at a time when it should be expressed freely, when it can only be used advantageously. Mandhane wholeheartedly believes that this is “just one more step to destigmatizing,” but that is far from the truth; sadly, all she has managed to do is legally shove the elephant back in the room. 

Ariel Gomes is The Varsity‘s Associate Senior Copy Editor. 

Oops! They didn’t get in

York University's bureaucratic screw-up is an understandable mistake

Oops! They didn’t get in

On January 11, York University mistakenly emailed 500 acceptances to applicants who had not yet made the cut. These letters found their way into the hands of recipients who had their brief moments of joy abruptly interrupted by emails from the university, issuing corrections and apologies. Since then, the actions of the York admissions board have been highlighted in various news publications, including the CBC and the Toronto Star.

York’s error lends itself to clichéd complaints about universities and their failings, but this is hardly an issue that merits true indignation, let alone extensive media coverage.

On the surface, it appears that this is a mistake that could have easily been avoided, and that an error of such magnitude can only be attributed to ineptitude on the part of the admissions officials. Closer examination, however, makes this misunderstanding more justifiable.

Let’s crunch some numbers: York employs over 7,000 staff and faculty, and although the exact breakdown remains unclear, the admissions office has already received over 26,000 applications for the fall semester, with more to come. Regardless of what percentage of their total staff are responsible for admissions, there is an overwhelming amount of information for employees to process without resorting to shortcuts.

The overburdened admissions office also has to juggle specific logistics for different applications. This includes the paperwork resulting from the many hoops international students must jump through in order to study in Canada — with students from a multitude of countries, visas, English proficiency tests, and high school requirements may vary widely. Scholarships, disability accommodations, mature students, and transfer students also fall under the purview of the admissions office. This occurs parallel to the requirement that officers track an array of constantly changing marks, supplementary documents, and requirements across departments.

Additionally, employees have to coordinate with one another to send out acceptances not in one simultaneous event, but in a staggered manner, adjusted according to the number of acceptances being confirmed or rejected. Overall, this bureaucratic brain has impulses and orders firing off in every direction, under constant time pressure to get everything done, and all it takes is one misfired synapse for a mistake to happen.

Frankly, it’s amazing how well university admissions offices consistently run when you look at the depth and breadth of analysis required. One can imagine how, in the span of a day or less, someone could be sent the wrong names, quickly fill in the acceptance letter template, then erroneously send it out before realizing their mistake.

Luckily, York’s recognition of their error was prompt and courteous. Within 24 hours of the incident, the university sent out an amendment and apology. Given this short timeframe, it is doubtful that, of those applicants who had even checked their email, the individuals in question had abandoned all other offers and stocked up on York merchandise.

The vast majority of students applying for university do not bet everything on a single school. In fact, the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre — the database through which high school students submit their applications within the province -— includes application to three universities within their standard fee, with the option of applying to even more schools for extra charge.

Finally, it is worth noting that the students affected by this bureaucratic oversight have not been rejected from York altogether; in fact, their applications are still under consideration. It may well be that many of these students will wind up attending the university in the fall.

Most of us lament the bureaucratic backlog of universities, particularly given the enormous student population of U of T. But in light of the events at York, perhaps we should reflect more on the effort it takes to coordinate a colossal machine like a university, and we should tailor our responses accordingly.

Michael Chen is a second-year student at the University of Toronto Scarborough studying journalism.