Sunday, December 28, 2008

York U's president is an asshole.

Read the condescending letter to sit-in protestors here. Note where he lies and says he has been available to meet with the protestors on two previous occasions. Note also where he lies and calls the protest "illegal picketing activity" -- if it were, then the University would have gone to the LRB and had an order issued to remove them. Finally, note where he says that the University is willing to meet the union at the bargaining table.

Then, read this, where CUPE 3903 points out that the University has done dick-all to negotiate over the winter break.

They don't want this to end. This is what this administration lives for. They don't want to run a University or provide an education for students or provide halfway decent employment opportunities. They want to play shallow power-games with people much weaker than they.

I'm running out of ways to express my utter disdain.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Responding to an open letter

The following was sent out today from a YUFA member. I've stripped identifying information, as the letter is not public. However, the arguments contained in it are sufficiently bad that they need a response:
I am one of the signatories of the letter referenced by the letter below. Here
is my response; it is in addition to my early letter at the beginning of the

[anonymizing snip]

The bottom line is that I would not have continued in a position I did not want. I wanted to be [academic field] so I could do my writing and research, and if the job I had did not offer me that, then I’d do something else. I certainly cannot imagine myself choosing a path I did not really want, and then demanding that the world change it into the one I really did want while in the process, holding a community of 50,000 and the University’s reputation hostage as well.
Poor reasoning on many levels. Here's a few. First, not everyone has other options: they take a path because that's the only path there is. (And, please, no existentialist nonsense about how everyone has a choice about what to do. Some options are non-viable; we can always "choose" to starve and die, but that's hardly a reasonable choice; no more is it reasonable to bear a crushing debt load to achieve a graduate degree, then go and bag groceries for minimum wage. No, shut up, it isn't. There should be fewer folks admitted to grad school such that the options never become this constrained.)

Second, demanding change is how institutions improve. Up and leaving is how labour conditions stay bad; it fills the ranks with those people who have no other options. The only way up and leaving can work is if it strips sufficient numbers of able folks from the ranks. That's not the case in the academy. We all know there are more graduate students every year, and thus more people looking for academic jobs every year, with increasingly high debt loads and thus limited options for their futures. So, even if every single TA and contract faculty member left today, there would still be enough (although it might take a few weeks to find 'em all) to fill the void. Thus, the labour conditions would not improve, and all that skill and education would be wasted.

Third, who's a hostage? Undergrads? They can demand their money back (by deregistering) and enroll somewhere else. Why is it reasonable to insist that contract faculty quit if they don't like the labour conditions and yet not reasonable to suggest undergrads quit if they don't like the strike? The latter are clearly more mobile than the former.

Who else is a hostage? The University's reputation? Isn't that really the University's problem? Perhaps the lousy reputation is a result of its regular inability to deal with a significant chunk of its labour force. Or its unwillingness to fund research at a reasonable level.

Who else is a hostage?
For that matter, I believe the contract faculty are also holding York’s graduate students hostage for their own, and sometimes contrary, ends.
Oh, for goodness' sake. (Appropriate, eh?)

Grad students have, IIRC, a three- or four-to-one advantage in CUPE 3903 over contract faculty. If grad students are being held hostage, then they are quite willing to be so held. This is obvious.
Contract faculty took positions knowing full well what they were, and now want them to be something different. You demand permanent slots, which you have de facto already, and will then demand lower teaching loads and time for research which you have not earned in open competition.
This last bit I agree with. But the former -- about full-time position "which you have de facto already". If the positions are de facto permanent, where is the objection to their being de jure permanent?

Answer: there isn't one. If it's a fact, why not admit it? Because the University wants to retain the power to treat its contract faculty as if this were never a fact. Admitting the reality is the first step to realizing how poorly the University has been managed over the years.
A separate non-research stream means nothing less than the college-ization of the university.
So, wait: on the one hand, contract faculty haven't earned research positions -- I grant that (although I attribute it to lack of opportunity more than anything else). On the other hand, there shouldn't be a pure teaching stream, because then the University would be "college-ized". (I imagine this being said with a nose in the air sneer -- at least, if I didn't know who wrote the letter. Since I do, I find the comment difficult to fathom.)

In short, contract faculty should continue to be used as disposable, temporary labour -- and like it! Am I the only one who realizes York is already a poor excuse for a research university? And should either do something about that, or admit it?
The contract faculty have work [sic] very hard; there’s o [sic] question about that. There are many fine teachers among them, and even some decent researchers. But getting through graduate school does not guarantee a position as a faculty member, and it should not do that.
Blatant non sequitur. There's a lot of space between the privileges of a tenured faculty member and the exigencies of a contract faculty position, and this space includes such things as a full-time non-research stream. Why not take seriously the possibility of filling in that space? After all, as the writer concedes, we already as a matter of fact have these people at York. So, what's wrong with recognizing that?
Let’s please just get back to work.
I don't think this will happen until the debate becomes a little more honest and open. Right now, I see a lot of privileged folks -- undergrads and full-time faculty alike -- taking shots at folks with little power or privilege -- TAs, GAs, and contract faculty.

It would be sad if I weren't so deplorably cynical.

Yeah, yeah. Merry whatever.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hey, I laughed.

There's a bit of a division within YUFA (York University Faculty Association, represents longlimited-term appointed, tenure-track, and tenured profs) about what to think of the ongoing CUPE 3903 strike. The official YUFA position is in support, as it should be -- without contract faculty and TAs, YUFA members would have 4/4 or 5/5 teaching loads, comparable to those at teaching-focused US universities. (I maintain, incidentally, that York is really a teaching-focused university with an identity crisis.) But, some YUFA members have decided that they want to be "neutral" in the dispute -- which means, as far as I can tell, they don't want to be bothered with solving York's split institutional personality.

Thus, the following is now making the rounds:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hey, Pope...

...'bout this:
It is not "outmoded metaphysics" to urge respect for the "nature of the human being as man and woman," he added.
You're right. It's bad ethics.

Glad I could help.

It's not just banks.

Video game companies that fail also have executives with ludicrously high salaries. See here.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Adam has defeated the grading!

Adam gains experience!

Adam has reached Level 2!

Adam learned a new spell!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Y'know... bad as things may get in Canada, opposition MPs never have to use a sledgehammer to tear down barricades to get into parliamentary meetings.

You know you want to click here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Doctor Who fans?

Then click here.

More on York U strike.

Just a hodgepodge.

According to this (.pdf), the York Senate has not yet cancelled the Fall term (which is surprising). Instead, if classes resume by Jan 5 (which requires a ratified settlement by Jan 3), then the Fall term will have an additional 13 days of instruction, possibly on weekends, plus a 12 day examination schedule. That would take the Fall term to the last week of January. The reading week is cancelled, and the Winter term will be comprised of 55 days of instruction and a 12 day examination schedule. By my count, that means that the Winter term (including exams) would end just before the end of April, and thus not seriously impact on the Spring and Summer terms.

Here we find a reproduction of a letter to the National Disgrace by humanities (history of science) prof Bernie Lightman. Lightman replies to a previous letter by Prof. Richard Wellen (social and political thought), claiming the majority of the faculty union (YUFA) support CUPE 3903. Lightman disputes this on the grounds that YUFA members defeated a motion at a recent meeting by a margin of 78 to 57; during the same meeting, a letter signed by 160 members of YUFA was circulated supporting the notion that YUFA adopt "dignified neutrality".

Following that so far? Okay, here's the rub: Lightman claims that this shows at least twice as many YUFA members support CUPE 3903 as do not. This is disappointing; I had thought that historians knew how to argue better than this. Lightman's clearly comparing apples and oranges: the actual margin of support is demonstrated by the vote, not by the letter. Given that only 57 of the 160, at best, bothered to show up to the meeting, we can conclude tentatively that there are actually more YUFA members than the 78 who showed at the meeting who support CUPE 3903; assuming the proportions of supporters vs. meeting-attenders are approximately same, the numbers should be 219 in favour of CUPE 3903 vs. 160 against.

Now, Lightman does say something else interesting, which I've been hearing from the YUFA side but didn't want to post until someone came forward about it publicly. Lightman's big problem with CUPE 3903 is the contract faculty -- not the TAs. The undergrads, at least the ones that I've been reading, tend to think contract faculty have a point but resoundingly condemn the "greedy TAs". And yet, those who actually know something about how universities and grad school operate, are seriously considering the opposite claim.

Oh, and, the Toronto Sun (*snicker*) wrote a laughable editorial about how the strike should have been ended by back-to-work legislation. Something about how labour and management are employees of the undergrads (*chuckle*) and thus labour should lose all their rights (*guffaw*). The Sun's editors, in their infinite ignorance, also think that the government isn't getting involved because the last York U strike lasted 11 weeks and this one isn't there yet. (*giggle*)

I know, right? It can't be that the government knows that violating people's rights in non-emergency situations is a bad idea. It can't be that the government has other things to worry about -- say, the pending collapse of the auto sector, trying to manage the impact of the global financial crisis, all that good stuff. No, no: it's because it's not an 11-week strike yet. (FWIW, this is an instance of a pretty severe violation of the principle of charity, in accusing the government of nefarious motives as a first option.)

I knew the Sun papers are run by idiots, but this is a new low, even by their standards.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This is sad....

Like actually saddening, that is.


21 essays down. 37 to go. This is going to be a fun weekend (grades are due Monday!).

This is interesting.

Click here for video of a CityTV cameraman being thrown out after trying to shoot the sit-in protesters outside the York U President's office. Keep watching for his elevator discussion with grad students and his hallway discussion with Alex Bilyk, Director of Media Relations at York. Note particularly that Bilyk refuses to explain why he denied permission for CityTV cameras to interview the sit-in protesters.

(Can't embed it, unfortunately.)

Wow. He just digs himself deeper and deeper.

More on York President Shoukri. This is classic (emphasis mine, all mine!):
From: Carmen
To: all students, CUPE and friends
Date: Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 11:06 PM
Subject: sit-in update “Problems with Shoukri’s Response”

Wednesday December 17, 2008 11pm

Problems with President Shoukri’s response to students:

Around 3:45 pm on Wednesday, December 17, a letter was given to the 9th floor sit-in on behalf of President Shoukri where he commented that he would not meet with members of the sit-in. There were two main problems with the letter that President Shoukri wrote. First, it was addressed solely to CUPE 3903 and ignored the role of undergraduate students and non-CUPE 3903 graduate students involved in the sit-in. This is especially important considering the significant role of undergraduates in organizing, supporting, and maintaining the sit-in.

Second, Shoukri mentioned that he has made himself “available to community members in two Town Hall meetings - one as early as last Thursday.” The last two “Town Hall” meetings to which he referred were actually two Senate meetings that are not generally open to the public, were not well-advertised, and are very different from Town Hall meetings. In fact, the last York Federation of Students (YFS) Town Hall meeting was November 25, 2008, where President Shoukri was invited and refused to come. Furthermore, no other members of the York Administration came.

The two recent Senate meetings were open to the public, under a great deal of pressure from CUPE 3903 as a result of the strike, one of which, was organized at the same time as a GMM. As well, there was a Senate meeting at 3pm on Tuesday, December 16, that several sit-in participants tried to attend and were not allowed in. They asked if Shoukri would be present and were told he had said would not be there. The sit-in participants demanded that the Senate ask Shoukri to meet with the 9th floor sit-in, but were told that Senate would do no such thing.

We are waiting for a response to our two demands: (1) That Shoukri sign a commitment to hold and speak at a public forum about the strike in the first week of January; (2) That Shoukri answer 12 questions on-camera, to all of us, that the organizing group and sit-in participants put together and agreed upon. The questions demand responses from Shoukri regarding the strike, the financial priorities of the York administration and bargaining team, as well as the security of picketers.


9th floor sit-in participants (undergraduate and graduate York students, and Flying Squad)

York U president stays classy... continuing to bash the grad students, TAs, and contract faculty of CUPE 3903. I lost count of the number of concealed shots taken in this <A href="">"Message"</A>. In essence, he puts the blame for the strike and the cancellation of classes entirely on the Union. Pure bullshit, but clearly President Shoukri has decided that the legacy of President Marsden is just fine with him. Pathetic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

President Shoukri responds to sit-in protestors

Wow. Classy actions here from the York U president.
Dispatch #5 - President to Student Sit-In: “Let them sit and wait”

From: Carmen
To: CUPE and friends
Date:    Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 7:30 PM
Subject:    sit-in update: “York president’s response: Let them wait!”

Around 11am on Tuesday, December 16, York student Monique Huggins saw President Shoukri just outside the York University student centre.  Huggins reminded President Shoukri that there were students waiting to speak with him.  He forcefully interrogated who she was, and she responded that she was both a Masters student and a teacher. President Shoukri replied that: “MAs fulfill a transitive role, after one year you will be gone, a TAship is not a job, it is merely a transition”.
Ignorant and condescending, all in one! MAs at York tend not to hold TAships; they tend to hold GAships. I don't know what "merely a transition" is supposed to mean -- does he seriously think that people go from York U grad programs into tenure-track jobs or something? If so, he's an idiot. If that's not what it means, then what's the distinction he's trying to draw? TAs don't do anything important for the university, so they can get paid whatever? If so, why does the Senate have to shut down classes during this strike? Edit: 10:13pm. I just noticed he referred to MAs as "transitive", too. So, in the view of the University President, MAs aren't an important degree. They don't serve any purpose except transitioning from a bachelor's degree to a doctoral degree. Wow. Just wow.
Around noon on Wednesday, December 17, a group of students in Vari Hall saw President Shoukri.  Ali Mustafa, a fourth year York undergraduate student, asked President Shoukri: “There’s a lot of people upstairs waiting to talk to you.  Aren’t you going to go up there and talk to them?” President Shoukri’s response was: “Let them wait!”.

Around 3:45 pm on Wednesday, December 17, a letter was given to the 9th floor sit-in on behalf of President Shoukri where he commented that he would not meet with members of the sit-in.
Classy! If he wants to stay neutral, all he needs to do is show up, be polite and gracious, and not answer the list of questions the protestors have for him. But he can't even do that. I suppose he'd rather enjoy his chauffered luxury sedan while students, TAs, and contract faculty wait for his administration to get off their asses and negotiate. Nice to know we've managed to get another Marsden.
The sit-in began on Monday, October 15, just before 1pm.  It was organized by undergraduate students and members of the Flying Squad because President Shoukri has taken a disengaged approach to the strike in addition to being uncommunicative and unavailable to the York community, despite repeated invitations to interact with York workers and students.

The sit-in consists of undergraduate and graduate students and workers, and has two demands for President Shoukri: (1) That he sign a commitment to hold and speak at a public forum about the strike in the first week of January; (2) That he answer 12 questions on-camera, to all of us, that the organizing group and sit-in participants put together and agreed upon.  The questions demand responses from Shoukri regarding the strike, the financial priorities of the York administration and bargaining team, as well as the security of picketers.

The sit-in continues, and all are welcome to join us!
Apparently, like the University bargaining team, President Shoukri's strategy is to run from students, run from CUPE 3903 members, and negotiate through press releases and select media interviews. And people wonder why York has such protracted, vicious strikes.

More nonsense from the York U admin

Lies, damned lies (.pdf). Count them with me.
Has the University’s proposal for binding arbitration prevented negotiations?
One. The University claims that they only started proposing binding arbitration after two months of negotiation. Hence, they say, this request has not stopped negotiations. Really? So why, in those two months, were there no significant moves on the University's part to get a negotiated settlement?
Is the University stonewalling to “wait out” CUPE 3903?
Two. The University acknowledges that CUPE 3903 has moved on the total cost of the package it is requesting. They then admit that they haven't moved in reply. How is this not stonewalling? Do they know what "stonewalling" means?
What will it take to get the parties back to the bargaining table at this time?
The University must see evidence through the mediator that CUPE 3903 is prepared to significantly modify its proposals to create a realistic basis for settlement.
Three. CUPE 3903 has revised its demands at least twice since the mediator declared talks over, and the University has made no significant movement in reply. (Indeed, I don't see any movement on their part.) Attempting to blame the Union for the shutdown of the University is yet another example of this administration's inability to negotiate fairly and honestly with employee groups.
Members of CUPE 3903 already enjoy wages, benefits and other provisions which are among the best in Canada - this has been repeatedly acknowledged by CUPE 3903 itself.
Four. This is a subtle lie, as it turns on ignoring one of CUPE 3903's central arguments, namely that their membership lives in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, hence needs high levels of compensation.
... especially in view of the very difficult financial context which exists both inside and outside the University.
Five. There are no good arguments to support the claim that the University cannot afford more than it has offered. There may be arguments to support the claim that the University cannot afford what CUPE 3903 is currently demanding, but that is the nature of negotiation: both sides need to work towards a middle ground. Right now, the University is refusing to move. That's not negotiation, and it's not something that can be justified.
Has the university asked for any concessions from CUPE 3903?
No. The University is seeking no concessions whatsoever in its proposals.
Six. The University's current offer would lead to a real-dollar reduction in compensation for 3903 members. Their offer doesn't even keep pace with inflation and cost-of-living changes, not to mention their continuing increase of the TA membership without subsequent increase to benefits funds.
Has the University provided a meaningful offer to address job security for contract faculty?
Seven. No one said they hadn't, so what's going on here is the University is swapping two similar claims around as if they are equivalent. On the one hand, there's a "meaningful offer" for job security. On the other hand, there's a "satisfactory offer" for job security. They have made the former, but clearly not the latter. So, they're not entitled to just sit on their current offer and wait for the Union to cave. And, when they claim that their meaningful offer is the same as a satisfactory offer, they are simply lying.
Is the University prepared to negotiate aspects of its comprehensive teaching stream proposal?
Eight. Lie of omission. The University won't negotiate the aspects that 3903 wants to negotiate. How hard is this to understand? Either all aspects are up for negotiation, or none are, but picking and choosing the ones that 3903 isn't all that worried about and claiming that as some sort of moral victory is absurd.
Has the University offered to continue tuition protection?
Nine. I don't recall anyone saying they weren't offering this.
What has the University proposed regarding fund enhancements?
The University has made a fund indexing proposal which is responsive to CUPE 3903’s proposed fund indexing for future growth in Union membership.
Ten. It still would lead to a reduction in per-member benefits. This is basic. And they clearly don't care to admit that, hence they make up weasel claims like this: that their proposal is "responsive" to CUPE 3903's proposal.
Is the University operating at a large surplus?
Eleven. Lie of irrelevance again. No one suggested that they were operating at a large surplus. What was suggested was that the deficits projected were not sufficient reason to continue to offer upper-level administrators significant pay increases and benefits packages while clawing back pay and benefits for front-line teaching staff. This point has still not been addressed by the University.
... annual deficits projected over the next 3 years, with 2% annual budget cuts being implemented in each of these years. Over the three year period of the budget plan, the cumulative budget cuts totaling 6%...
Twelve. You don't have to be an accountant to know that you can't just add up budget cuts across three years and call that a "cumulative cut" as if the final budget line at the end of the three years is 6% less than the budget line at the beginning of the three-year period. This doesn't take into account any possible changes in the financial situation over the three years which might increase the total budget monies available. In other words, it's a worst-case scenario -- which makes sense for financial planning purposes (expect the worst, hope for the best), but is pure spin in a labour negotiation.
Can the University afford CUPE 3903’s demands in excess of 20% over two years?
Thirteen. Not because they can afford it -- I suspect they can't. But because they treat this as a fixed number which cannot move based on negotiation. They also imply that their last offer is the best they can afford, which has not been established, nor is it particularly plausible. (After all, what kind of idiot makes their best offer before a looming strike?)
The University wants to settle this dispute by realistic and good faith negotiations at the table.
Fourteen. As long as they don't have to actually, y'know, negotiate on anything.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Why do students have to take ten words to say what two words say just as well? And why do they think adding "essentially" to things makes them more "essay-ish"?

The new one I'm seeing is saying such-and-such "is a result" of something, rather than is something. Example: "objects are the result of particles in motion", rather than "objects are particles in motion".

Guh. This is going to be a long few days.

A stupid voter that does not support the coalition.

Based off this. I'd need to register to comment there, so I'm doing it here.

This voter makes two basic errors. One she makes several times, and that's the claim that a coalition is undemocratic because Harper was elected. The stupidity of this has been rehashed again and again. But note that this voter mentions something about rewriting her "childs [sic] grade five textbook on politics". Which means that she wants to lie to her child about how politics work in this country.

There are coherent arguments to be made that we should reform our political system such that coalitions are not possible. But that's not the argument being made. The argument being made is that it's not democratic to have coalitions -- which is stupid (it uses a laughably limited conception of "democracy") -- and that's not how Canada works -- which is really stupid (because obviously false).

So, we see that ignorance about politics in Canada and how to argue about politics in Canada is not confined to Conservatives or even to them and the Liberals -- Greens can be dumb, too. (Which exposes how bad the coalition's messaging is.)

Second error is her claim, right at the end, that Harper should declare public transportation an essential service. AFAIK, he can't, for most transit systems, although he might be able to for Ottawa Transit, as it crosses a provincial border. But if transportation is an essential service, that doesn't eliminate service reductions, and it also screws the city but hard -- for the city would be on the hook for an agreement imposed by another level of government. But she doesn't see this; she only sees her own momentary inconvenience. An inconvenience, according to what I've read, that has been prompted by the madness of the city's mayor rather than the union.

I'm quite serious when I mention I have utter contempt for democracy in this country, given that people like this are part of the demos. Honestly.

Now entering grading hell...

I have three batches of essays. I'm working my way through the first. They really aren't great. Ugh. This is going to be an unpleasant few days.


Ah, the NDP-bashing begins! I was waiting to see more like this. The poor, poor Liberals, forced back to negotiating with Harper by that mean ol' Jack Layton!

Honestly. Is this meant as a serious objection to the coalition? That, during an election campaign, Layton was angling for the best advantage for his party? That, during parliamentary sessions, Layton was angling to get influence within government? Anyone got a fainting couch they can lend these Liberals?

(NB: I know not all Liberals are so dense as to blame the NDP for looking for the best deal to get their policies enacted into legislation. The Liberal Party does the same thing, hence the push for the coalition in the first place. I also know that most Liberals realize Harper is pretty damn bad, regardless of what issues they have with Layton's NDP. However, there is this vocal segment which tries to blame the NDP for the Liberal Party's problems, including its inability to not support their supposed blood-enemy, King Steve.)

Gotta question...

...for those who oppose bailing out the auto industry in Ontario. According to this, failing to bail out the auto industry would cost 517,000 jobs over 5 years (if all three big automakers go out of business). 141,000 jobs would be lost immediately if auto output in Canada was halved.

So, assuming those numbers are accurate projections (the article doesn't explain the reasoning, so it's one of those take it or leave it deals), that means that failing to bail out the auto industry could toss 4% of Ontario's 13,000,000 population out of work in 5 years (the first scenario), and 1% of the population immediately (the second scenario). What, exactly, justifies sitting back and watching that happen? What are we going to do with all these people?

York's starting to look desperate.

Remember that sit-in I mentioned yesterday in the CUPE 3903/York U labour dispute? York's apparently not happy. Original here.

8:05 am, December 16, 2008 - TORONTO, Ont.

Censorship is the latest dirty media manipulation trick to come from York University’s tactics in the current labour dispute with CUPE 3903. Cameras and crews from Global TV were denied access to the protesters, and a City TV reporter was evicted from campus for trying to talk the them. Students at the sit-in report that other media crews received similar treatment from York University security and an openly hostile Alex Bilyk, Director of York University Media Relations, was seen chasing reporters away from the protesters. Is he doing President Shoukri’s bidding in preventing the truth from getting out?

With all this manipulation, is it any coincidence that CBC TV gets it wrong? … Monday night’s report claims that students are staging a sit-in at Shoukri’s office because they are angry at strikers for causing an end to the term. That’s just not true. We expect a retraction immediately. And we demand that York let the truth out.
Seriously, guys, what are you afraid of the media seeing?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Academics will appreciate this one.

Bilking students

At a meeting of the York Senate on December 11th,* the President of York University Mamdouh Shoukri announced that he is asking the province to increase the $4,700 per term cap on OSAP, so that York and other universities can officially charge more for tuition. As one Senator pointedly remarked, Shoukri’s proposed ’solution’ to university underfunding is to throw the burden onto students by upping student fees and debt.

Bilking students and their parents’ long-earned savings for education by means of tuition fees, then siphoning that money away from the classroom to other projects has been a growing and menacing trend in

Canada’s publicly funded institutions of higher education. Now, richly paid University Presidents, their glitzy PR machines, and sky-high-priced legal teams and corporate-backed Senior Administrators are spinning the public even harder, using the economic downturn as their latest excuse for creating oversized classes, overstressed learning environments, and overworked teachers. Their notion of higher education allows for “just-in-time” education, as if student education and university degrees are products to be made on a factory assembly line.

As CUPE 3903 has stated before (see the links HERE and HERE), research shows that during economic hard times, enrollment goes up. In an interview published November 24th,** the interim Dean of Ryerson University’s Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Julia E. Hanigsberg said that research from Canada’s last recession proves this beyond a doubt. This fact begs the question, “where’s the money?” When enrollments rise, shouldn’t universities ensure that money from student tuition goes into teaching those very students, and supporting them to learn?

The trend at York University and other institutions of higher education, is that student money paid for education is instead misused and abused for shiny new buildings, Executive Administrator salaries, perks and bonuses. In the United States, the trend in this direction is now firmly in place, with the resulting student debtload in the tens and hundred thousands. Is this what we want for Canada? Is York University leading the way?

In the US, the public broadcasting program “Newshour” with contributions from “Learning Matters Television” recently broadcast a two-part feature on these issues, their tragic history and current legacy in the United States. They also confronted the myths of the economic downturn as they are used by universities to squeeze students.
Follow the original here for the NewsHour clips.

CUPE 3903 members occupy York President's office

Not sure how effective this will be, but good on 'em for trying. FWIW, 110 York undergrads = about twice as many as showed up at Queen's Park for the anti-union, pro-corporate "York Not Hostage" rally a few weeks back. Original here:
December 15, 2008 - TORONTO, Ont.

As we write, more than 110 York undergraduate students are joining graduate student members of CUPE 3903 in an occupation of the President’s Office on the 9th floor of the Ross Building at York University. They are demanding that President Mamdouh Shoukri come out, engage them, and address 12 key questions.

They also plan to present him a letter to sign, requesting that he commit to participating in a public forum of undergraduates and CUPE members, to be held in the week of Jan. 5th, 2009.

Since the strike began on November 5th, and the University locked out students by canceling all classes, Shoukri’s actions and those of his representatives have ranged from unresponsive to hostile to the majority of student concerns. Most recently, President Shoukri refused to participate in an undergraduate Town Hall organized by the York Federation of Students on Thursday, Dec. 4th. There, students discussed the YFS economic proposal* urging York to direct funds and fundraising dollars away from non-essential expenses such as luxurious celebrations, and huge raises and bonuses for York Administrators, back to the classroom where it belongs.

During an economic downturn, it should be the President’s priority to protect the most vulnerable members of the York community - the students - by putting money into the quality of student eduction first.

Since taking his post at York University, President Shoukri has refused to get his hands dirty by getting involved in bargaining, nor to help support a fair, equitable and agreeable contract that would end to the strike by Contract Faculty, Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants - professional workers who do more than 50% of the teaching at York. This is not acceptable.

Instead of relying on external abitrators, or provincial legislators to resolve the issues in the current strike, President Shoukri should step up and show some leadership on campus, by insisting that his bargaining team work round the clock with CUPE negotiators to settle the strike.

The students and CUPE members occupying the President’s office will continue their sit-in until President Shoukri meets with them.

Comments notification.

Due to the swill that the anonymous commentators have been producing lately, I have turned off anonymous commenting on the blog. All comments must be attached to a registered account of some kind (which does include OpenID).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Another lesson from Rate Your Students

On the face of it this is another rant about the stupidity of undergrads (which I'm becoming more accustomed to, treating it as evidence of youth more than anything else). But there's a pithy comment I wanted to draw attention to which summarizes my skepticism about so-called "experimental philosophy":
THIS is why the folk don't matter -- the folk are drooling into their purses at 1 in the afternoon, ignoring their professor's meticulous explanation of why their last paper sucked and exactly what they ought to do to improve their performance.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Okay, it's a little cheesy.

But, it's a start. I'm interested to see where they go with this:


This isn't good news, is it?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is this even legal?

Can the government do this? They didn't actually pass the change in regulation, and yet they're telling people to follow it? As I am young and stupid, I don't have retirement savings, so I'm not sure how this all works. Anyone else know if this is actually kosher?

More Harper cronyism?

Not sure what to make of this. Apparently, King Steve made a number of appointments the day after his government tabled that infamous economic update.

No back to work legislation.

So, a partial victory for CUPE 3903 thus far. The Ontario Legislative Assembly is now in recess until February 17. The government could, in theory, convene an emergency session of the House to pass back to work legislation, but I don't see any indication that this is likely. Indeed, the private member's bill (Bill 135) to compel the introduction of back to work legislation -- from douchebag Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman -- although scheduled for second reading, didn't actually get dealt with today. I'm not enough of a procedural expert to know whether it can come back in the new year or not; perhaps someone will enlighten me in comments.

That said, the University can still play the forced ratification card. For non-Ontarians (I think Ontario is unique in Canada in this regard), legislation introduced by the Harris government in the '90's allows employers to compel a ratification vote by the membership of a union. They can only ask for a forced ratification once, though, so the University has to be very careful about when to ask for it. If the ratification fails, then the option is completely off the table. The sense I get from the Union is that this is going to be the University's next move to try to avoid negotiating a settlement. I don't like the idea of forced ratification, as it's pretty obviously one-sided and a backhanded attempt at union-busting (by undermining the leadership). The only way I can see it being acceptable is if the Union has a similar right to bypass the University bargaining team, but I don't see how that right could be structured in order to have any teeth whatsoever.

Beyond that, I don't see any options for settling this beyond serious negotiation on the University's part -- the Union has already made significant moves, so the ball is really in their court. The Fall semester, if I read York U Senate policy correctly, is at this point a write-off. Unless hell freezes over and there's a ratified contract by Monday (logistically, this is basically impossible), the semester is considered unrecoverable. So, any courses taken thus far are as if they didn't happen. What that means in practical terms, I'm not sure. I suspect that the Winter semester would then be the next one threatened by the strike, and students' tuition would be banked for any future courses. (That is, they don't just advance the Fall semester to start in January.) I don't think students will get refunds unless they kick and scream in order to get them. (An interesting question is what happens to grad students like me who are ABD -- All But Dissertation, that is. If the Fall semester is scrubbed, given that I wasn't attending any classes anyway, does the semester count or not?)

I wonder, though, about the mediator in all this. Right now, my sense is that both sides expect the mediator to call them together for more talks. Why isn't he doing this? Officially, the reason is that the sides are too far apart, but isn't it his job to try to compel both sides to settle? What, exactly, is he being paid for?

This is a good idea...

...too bad it's a private member's bill. Anyone know off-hand when the last such bill became law? (Or even came before the Legislature as a whole?)

Give me a break.

So, let me get this straight. We're about six weeks into the York U strike and all of a sudden President Shoukri's in the paper crying about York possibly having a $250 million deficit in the next "two to three years". Why does anyone take this seriously? Why are we only now hearing that York is in such dire straits? And why are they still not clawing back upper-level administrative perks, and instead trying to make it through these alleged problems on the backs of teaching staff?

Frankly, I don't believe anything this administration says any more. If they told me the sun was shining, I'd grab my umbrella before going out the door.

Thanks, Michaëlle.

So, King Steve is going to fill the Senate with as many cronies as he can. Given the current composition, it's far from the end of the world, as his best case scenario winds up with 38 Cons, 58 Libs, 3 PCs (who did not align with the Cons when the PC Party folded), one "NDP" Senator, and 5 independents. However, note this. The NDP, who oppose appointments to the Senate in principle, won't even recognize the one Senator who wants to align with them. The Cons, who have claimed to want to reform the Senate, are now taking every advantage they can get to stack Parliament in their favour.

Money quotes:
"It's going to be people who are supportive of the elected government of Canada," the official said. "The government will probably proceed with filling every vacancy." ... "Partly this is because of the coalition musing that they would appoint people from the Bloc or the Green party," the source said.
The Star reporter only wakes up enough to note that no one has suggested appointing Senators from the BQ (and, seriously, does anyone think they'd accept?), but not to debunk the ONE MORE TIME! repetition of this month's Big Lie, i.e., that Canadian governments are elected.

This is why Harper cannot be the Prime Minister. He simply can't be trusted with any degree of power; he will abuse it to his own interests, regardless of what's good for the country.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Question for the hivemind.

Anyone know of an online archive of opinion pieces? I'm thinking sort of the length of an opinion piece in a paper like the Globe and Mail or the New York Times -- so, about three pages of newsprint at the most. I've checked the G&M's site and they don't have an archive of past pieces.

Any suggestions, on any subject, would be greatly appreciated.


CUPE 3903 disrupted a wine and cheese at York U's Glendon Campus on Friday. Why "nice"? Because the lead negotiator for the University was at the wine and cheese. On the one hand, the University criticizes the Union for organizing rallies to get support, claiming that this shows the Union doesn't want to settle (how it shows that being decidedly unclear). While, on the other hand, the University sees nothing wrong with having a little party while undergrads aren't in classes and TAs and contract faculty are walking uncomfortable picket lines and risking vehicular assault.

As I said: nice.

Oh, come on.

Seriously? We all know that the housing market was a bubble market. It was going to burst sooner or later. And the CD Howe Institute is actually suggesting that it's Miller's land transfer tax that's responsible? Give me a break. We know that the CD Howe Institute is against taxes and in favour of the interests of large corporations, so it's no surprise that they're trying to tag Miller's tax with the inevitable decline in housing prices. It's hard to find out who the analyst (Benjamin Dachis) actually is, but a quick Google search reveals that he is a contributor to the National Post and the Financial Post -- not exactly what you'd call an impartial observer.

I'm not enough of an economist to tell if his analysis is actually right or not (the study is here (.pdf)). I will note that the study appears to only compare Toronto to its surrounding suburbs, and those only within 10 km of the Toronto border (which would leave out, say, Aurora and Newmarket). There doesn't seem to be a comparison to other major cities in Canada (such as Vancouver and Calgary, which have also experienced serious declines in housing prices), nor to Ontario as a whole.

Overall, I find the source extremely suspicious, which leads me to suspect the conclusion is faulty. And the problems I have identified suggest that the analysis is too limited to be worth taking seriously.

The Comedy Network has the Daily Show clip on Harper's bullshit.

See here. I can't figure out a way to embed it, unfortunately.

Monday, December 08, 2008

More intellectualizing.

See here for a piece from U of T law profs Lorne Sossin and Lorraine Weinrib. They make the sensible point that we have no frigging clue why the GG made her decision nor, indeed, exactly what decision she made. Which doesn't say anything good about open and responsible government in this country.

Why does the G&M keep giving Tom Flanagan column space?

Good for a laugh, if nothing else.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

From the comments.

Thought this one was worth pulling up. Gene links to this, the perspective of a Kiwi on proroguing Parliament here in Canada.

Interesting note on prorogue.

A former prof of mine blogs irregularly, and has posted something here about what Michaëlle Jean actually knew when asked to prorogue. The essence of the argument is this: there's a distinction between what the people know and what, constitutionally, a GG knows. Everyone knew that Harper had lost the confidence of the House, but the GG technically may not have because, constitutionally, the only evidence she had was the support of the Throne Speech (which indicates confidence). Similarly, while everyone may (or may not) know that the coalition is not a legitimate government, constitutionally, there is nothing which counts as evidence for or against the coalition. The election results don't measure whether Dion can be PM, and there has been no expression of non-confidence in the house.

However, what also follows is that the GG doesn't have to take the advice of Harper if he loses the confidence of the House in January. That is, because she will then know that the House lacks confidence in him, she doesn't have to take his advice and can decide, on her own, whether to allow the coalition to govern or not.

Read the whole thing. You may also want to read this one.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Polls are fun.

These numbers are floating around:

Ipsos: CPC 46, LPC 23, NDP 13, BQ 9, GPC 8
Ekos: CPC 44, LPC 24, NDP 15, BQ 9, GPC 8

So, for the sake of democracy, the argument goes, Harper should still be king PM. Except, by my count, the CPC is still below 50%; the Libs+NDP+BQ are one point back in the Ipsos poll, and four points up in the Ekos poll; and in both polls, the Greens have 8% support yet still no seats in the HoC.

Yeah. Democracy's awesome, isn't it? At least, if your definition of "democracy" includes almost a tenth of the voting population having no representation in Parliament and picking a PM arbitrarily out of a statistical dead-heat. To say nothing of the biased questioning and unmeasured effects of the Con message machine, both points being dealt with adequately elsewhere on ProgBlogs.

Honestly, if this is the best argument Con-bots have, then they should quit now to save themselves further embarrassment.

Ideas for how the coalition should use the internet to its advantage.

[From here originally.]

I think we need less partisan suggestions around here; much of what I read is useful for the Liberal Party, but not for the potential coalition government. E.g., the suggestion that the Liberals and NDP unite. There are so many things wrong with that suggestion, but the worst is that it overlooks the fact that we wouldn't need a "united left" party in a PR voting system.

Still, focusing on online resources:

(1) A blog aggregator for coalition-supporting blogs, a la the Progressive Bloggers or the Blogging Dippers.

(2) Coordinated online messaging, using YouTube to release short informational videos (not just commercials). The Obama team used YouTube to great effect in this regard. That would require the Liberal Party have a better video operation than some guy and a broken camcorder. (Not entirely a cheap shot, as it seriously detracted from what Dion was saying). The point would be to, in an effective and persuasive manner, present political arguments that people can trade around online.

(3) Blogging. How many MPs do what Garth Turner did and conduct a full-blown, free-for-all blog, for anyone to come to and speak their mind to an MP? I can't think of any. But it was a good idea. Y'all are supposed to be accountable to us, but the only means we have of communicating with you online is Facebook wallposts and email. Pretty primitive, and pretty hierarchical.

(4) (or something pithier). Like

(5) Microdonations. Canadian financing laws may be getting in the way here, but part of Obama's strength online was his ability to get millions in small-dollar donations from millions of people. And that was coordinated through his website.

(6) Text messaging announcements. Why are we relying on email and Facebook as the only means to announce important events? Text messaging is far more effective: everyone has a cellphone with texting capacity these days. It would give the ability to reach thousands in a matter of seconds.

(7) A database. No, a good database. Again, I pick on Obama as an example: one of his strengths was the database of information his team collected on volunteers and campaign staff, allowing them to determine instantly who was available to perform basic tasks such as calling supporters, driving people to polling stations and rallies, etc. It also included such important details as where these volunteers and staff lived (so they could be assigned to work with people close by) and how much time they could devote. His website was also set up to allow people to volunteer themselves, for any useful tasks, for any length of time. In that regard, no one should have to invent tasks for themselves. Campaigns and political organizations of all stripes know what tasks need to be accomplished. So, let the potential pool of volunteers know.

(8) I still don't see the purpose of Twitter. Sorry!

Support the coalition.

Brought this up out of the comments here:
Again I need to thank you. Your engagement is fantastic and it is because of people like you that I have created ProjectYV: Your Values. Your Voice. Your Vision.
This weekend we are having a Brainstorming Blitz - What can I and WE do online?
I encourage everyone to check out the event on Facebook and post suggestions there, on Twitter or here on your blog. We need to work together in the best interests of Canadians.
- Martha
What's your MP doing to support the coalition? If they're not doing anything -- why?

Friday, December 05, 2008

CUPE 3903 Ads

CUPE 3903 has recorded a series of ads in a very familiar format.

This one's fun:

The punchline to this one is quite apt:

Encapsulates exactly the problem with "Arbie":

Not the best overall, but the punchline is just devastating -- how many York administrators/BoG members could truthfully say it?

Remainder can be viewed here.

Time to lighten up.

This is kinda fun. If you don't have a lot of time, skip to about 4:50. That is hysterical.

I get... comments?

Martha Hall Findlay has found my blog, and replied to my original letter (hyar) in a comment hyar. Apparently, some Liberals are still serious about the coalition. You may also want to look at her Twitter feed -- the general tone is of deep discontent with King Harper.

Am I cheered? Slightly. Am I satisfied? Not in the least. We've all been sold down the river by the Liberal Party of Canada before (in the last Parliament). But the signs are thus far good.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Bring on the Canadian Republic

We are a country of idiots.

I see why The Cynic decided to take the day to drink. Would that I could join him. Anyone else seen this? Apparently, Canadians want King Harper. Fuck.

I get letters.

My letter here.

The reply arrived today.
Reg: Your university strike

Dear Mr. Rawlings,

Thank you for the email regarding York University strike.
Please note that the employer and the union are responsible for
resolving their differences at the bargaining table.
It is the responsibility of the employer and the union to make every
effort to conclude new collective agreements (technically there are
three agreements being negotiated).
Mediator has been assisting the employer and the union at the bargaining
He continues to remain in contact with the parties with a view to
getting them back to the bargaining table when the circumstances
I have read your email carefully and will pass your concerns about Bill
135 to the government.

Thank you once again for sharing your views,

Yours truly,

Office of David Zimmer M.P.P

Memo to Zimmer: Generally, when writing emails from notes, it's a good plan to turn those notes into complete sentences.

But, on the whole, cheering news. The position of the Liberal government seems to be what it should be: hands off.

I write letters.

Seems to be a week for writing letters. My MP (Martha Hall Findlay) tends to be a do-nothing MP, who can't even be bothered to reply to letters. But, who knows.
Dear Ms. Hall Findlay,

Stephen Harper is clearly unfit to be the Prime Minister of this country. He has nothing but disdain for elected parliamentarians from the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. The former, in his view, are little more than useful pawns. The latter are “socialists” – a political perspective far more respectable than his own proto-fascism. He believes that receiving slightly more than a third of the popular vote constitutes a “mandate” to do entirely as he pleases, to ignore parliamentary traditions, and to call anyone who disagrees with him a “traitor”. Mr. Harper does not understand that he is a Prime Minister, not a President and not a King. He is a coward and a weakling, who has lost the confidence of the House but refuses to face the consequences. He is not worthy of the legacy of the Progressive Conservative Party, nor the Reform Party; and certainly not the mantle of Prime Minister of Canada.

The Governor-General’s decision to prorogue Parliament is simply despicable. I am almost at a loss for the words needed to adequately describe this decision. It represents an entirely unreasonable interference by the Crown in the democratic operations of the government of this country. Mr. Harper’s government clearly did not have the confidence of the House; for the Governor-General to allow him to suspend Parliament for a month and a half despite this fact demonstrates that she either does not understand how, or simply does not care, to do her job in a responsible manner. Her Majesty deserves better.

I urge you, as my member of Parliament, to continue to work with the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois to bring forward a government that represents the will of the majority of the electorate. The proposed coalition is a sensible response to the divisions that exist within the House and within the country. It is a fundamentally Canadian solution to a political problem, rather than Mr. Harper’s American-inspired divide-and-conquer politics. The foolishness of the Governor-General and the panic of Mr. Harper and his cronies are not sufficient reason to drive the country into yet another pointless and expensive election campaign in the spring of 2009. They are certainly not sufficient reason for the Liberal Party to, as they did in the previous Parliament, cave to Mr. Harper’s every whim.

Please understand that if this Coalition falters, I will hold you personally responsible and will work to my utmost to defeat you and your party in the next federal election.


Adam Rawlings
Willowdale, Ontario

CC: Jack Layton
Stéphane Dion
Gilles Duceppe
Stephen Harper


So, why do we need a Governor-General again? I'd much rather have a President. At least then we'd have someone we could throw the hell out of office in an election.

Full steam ahead for the coalition in January.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Letter sent to Ontario Parliament.

I am pissed, folks. I sent this to my MPP (David Zimmer), as well as a bunch of other folks (in the CC line). I will be mailing a hard copy to all noted as well.
Dear Mr. Zimmer,

I am a graduate student, but neither a TA nor a member of the contract faculty, at York University. I have recently been informed of Mr. Shurman's Bill to require the Legislature to not only legislate an end to the strike by CUPE 3903, but legislate a three-year contract. I urge you as my representative in the Provincial Parliament to vote against this bill as an unreasonable and unjust use of legislative power.

In my view, this Bill, if passed, would represent an irresponsible interference by the Legislature in the negotiation process between the University and the Union. While the negotiations have been difficult and many students, undergraduate and graduate alike, have been adversely affected, for the Legislature to intervene and force a contract on the striking workers would do nothing to resolve the outstanding issues between the two parties. Graduate funding at York would still be inadequate and would become more inadequate as more graduate students are enrolled. Contract faculty would still be underpaid and treated as disposable labour. The tensions between the two sides would still exist. And, in three years, the process would repeat again, with greater militancy on both sides. It is clear to those who do not see this strike as a chance to force an ideological agenda that a forced agreement is no path to labour peace at York U.

Furthermore, if the Ontario Legislature passed this Bill, then the Legislature would be in clear violation of a reasonable understanding of the rights to peaceful assembly and association spelled out in Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Canada's international commitments to human rights. As noted by Associate Professor David Doorey of the York Faculty of Law (

"'Back to work' legislation is controversial because it is a violation of Canada's obligations under the International Labour Organization's Convention 87, which Canada has ratified. Therefore, if the Liberal government orders the York employees back to work, it will likely also then face a ILO complaint, and a rebuke by the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association. ... it is an embarrassment for Canada that it's [sic] governments keep violating international human rights laws by limiting the right to strike through back to work legislation. ... It undermines Canada’s ability to speak with credibility to other countries about the need to respect human rights."

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23) also clearly states that all workers have a right to just and favourable conditions of work and to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. None of these rights, recognized in Canadian and international law, would be served by a Bill which compels members of a trade union to accept contract terms that they have already overwhelmingly rejected.

Once again, I urge you, as my representative in the Provincial Parliament, to vote against this Bill and to ensure it is defeated in the House. It is not the right of government to force citizens to accept a labour contract that they do not want to accept. If the Legislature is serious about attempting to use its power to resolve the York University strike, I am sure there are more productive methods, consistent with basic principles of justice.

Yours truly,

Adam Rawlings
Willowdale, Ontario

CC: Peter Fonseca, Minister of Labour
Dalton McGuinty, Premier
John Milloy, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities
Elizabeth Witmer, Opposition House Leader
Robert Bailey, Labour Critic (PC)
Jim Wilson, Training, Colleges and Universities Critic (PC)
Peter Kormos, Labour Critic (NDP) and Third Party House Leader
Rosario Marchese, Training, Colleges and Universities Critic (NDP)
Peter Tabuns, Greater Toronto Area Issues Critic (NDP)

Breaking on CUPE 3903 strike.

Here's what I know:

Bill 135, An Act to require the introduction of legislation to resolve the strike at York University by December 11, 2008

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): All those in favour will rise one at a time and be recognized by the Clerk.


Arnott, Ted

Bailey, Robert

Barrett, Toby

Brownell, Jim

Chudleigh, Ted

Colle, Mike

Dunlop, Garfield

Elliott, Christine

Flynn, Kevin Daniel

Hardeman, Ernie

Hillier, Randy

Hudak, Tim

Jaczek, Helena

Jeffrey, Linda

Jones, Sylvia

Kular, Kuldip

MacLeod, Lisa

McNeely, Phil

Miller, Norm

Munro, Julia

O'Toole, John

Runciman, Robert W.

Scott, Laurie

Shurman, Peter

Van Bommel, Maria

Wilson, Jim

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): All those opposed?


Balkissoon, Bas

Bisson, Gilles

DiNovo, Cheri

Gélinas, France

Hampton, Howard

Horwath, Andrea

Kormos, Peter

Mangat, Amrit

Miller, Paul

Moridi, Reza

Prue, Michael

Ruprecht, Tony

Tabuns, Peter

The Clerk of the Assembly (Ms. Deborah Deller): The ayes are 26; the nays are 13.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): I declare the motion carried.

First reading agreed to.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): The member for a short statement.

Mr. Peter Shurman: This bill, which I consider very important, requires the Minister of Labour to introduce legislation no later than the final day scheduled for sitting of the House, December 11, to resolve the strike by the employees of York University, who are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903, if the strike is not resolved by that date.

The bill requires the Minister of Labour to make all reasonable efforts to ensure the legislation is passed. The legislation must specify the terms of a new contract between the university and the union. The new contract must be for a term of three years.

Although this is a private member's bill, I might take note that it carries the full weight of the entire Progressive Conservative caucus.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Spread this far and wide. Apparently, the Cons were lying their asses off when they claimed that they had already done things to stimulate the economy. As an added bonus, their economic statement would, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, actually contract the economy.

This is funny.

According to the G&M, federal public sector workers -- counting pensions and other benefits -- make about 41.7% more than private sector workers. Is there a call herein for private sector workers to be better treated? For everyone to come together and demand fairer wages, increased benefits, and adequate pensions?

Well, there's this:
The CFIB [Canadian Federation of Independent Business], which represents small and medium-sized businesses, said the gap makes it tough for private firms to compete for staff.
So, according to the CFIB -- an astroturf group if I ever saw one -- the fact that they can't just pay their workers anything, that their workers might look at public sector counterparts and say "hey, how come they make a decent living?", is unfair.

I'll just let that one sink in.

Oh, and, avoid the comments section on that piece. It's usual Con-bot swill. You know how it goes: unions are relics, fire them all, references to the "real world", etc. Here's a nice comment I found, though, which encapsulates why everyone should be demanding -- not requesting -- the treatment public sector workers get (emphasis mine):
Hero Hero from Canada writes: When you can't beat 'em, then join 'em. After nearly ten years in the private sector, I eventually left for the public sector. As a professional/technical person, I find that the public sector provides a good work-life balance, stability, reasonable pay, good benefits, a pension that is better than most, as well as opportunities for advancement. I found that the private sector absolutely bleeds its employees, raises are few and far in between, and there is minimal stability. In terms of career advancement, there really isn't much since the organizations have become flattened over the years. At the end of the day, you come home absolutely dead tired, with no time and energy to spend with your family. So, what good are you for your family if you're bagged at the end of each day? The private sector might pay you more initially, but the raises can become non-existent. In contrast, the public sector might initially pay less, but as salaries are indexed, the pay does go up, and eventually can and does exceed private sector pay. So, do I want to go back to the private sector? Nope. Like many of you, I used to be jealous and full of hatred for these so-called "lazy government workers", but I decided to apply for government jobs, and after a long, long time, I did get eventually get one.

Anyone watching CBC Newsworld?

Well, the Con-bots are pretty clearly swamping Newsworld with bullshit emails about the "coup". Congratulations, kids, you can use a webform!

What's disturbing, though, is the ignorance displayed by the "ordinary folks" that they're talking to on camera. I just saw one guy say "I never voted for Dion!" -- but he's in Burlington. He didn't vote for any party leader. And one guy said "Harper should take over -- everything!" Harper for King!

I return, at last, to my contempt for democracy, given the failures of the demos we have today.


Here, we see the idiot brigade of the Star's editorial board advocating, once again, the violation of international labour agreements, internationally recognized human rights, and basic standards of human decency and respect by forcing CUPE 3903 members back into a labour situation that has been going wrong for years. Apparently, temporary inconveniences for undergraduates are more important than the ongoing destruction of stable academic work and reasonable graduate funding.

However, here, in the same paper, someone who actually knows what's going on says intelligent things. Apparently, the irony of this contrast was lost on the Star.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Now that's entertainment.

I've just been informed that I apparently have the ability -- despite not being in the Union nor being employed by the University -- to determine the outcome of the CUPE 3903 strike, simply by expressing my views about it.

Cower, brief mortals! For I will be a vengeful and brutal god!

(Some folks are getting a bit paranoid, methinks.)


So, two right-wing premiers (Wall and Stelmach), over here, decry the horrible, nasty coalition. The premier facing an election (Charest) and the left-wing premier (Doer) don't want to say anything other than platitudes about needing a stable government.

But here's the money quotes; first Wall, then Stelmach:
Wall said there was hope after last month's federal election that Parliament might succeed. But he said "somewhere along the line, political interests began to overtake the interests of Canada." This is not the time, he added, for Canada to have an unelected government dependent on the separatist Bloc Quebecois for support.


He said there's a huge risk Canada will lose momentum as a country if the federal Conservatives are replaced by a coalition government, and he noted stock markets have "dropped quite a bit" in reaction to developments in the nation's capital.
Regarding Wall, he's clearly an imbecile, and I feel bad for Saskatchewan. No government is ever elected; and, as I pointed out earlier today (in which I was echoed by Senator Elaine McCoy), if the Cons survive, it will be due to the evil separatists. Regarding Stelmach... seriously, dude, WTF? Does he honestly believe that the stock markets really give two shits about what's going on in Ottawa, given the (metaphorical) nukes going off everywhere else?

I note Gordo Campbell (BC) is keeping his head down. Probably wise. As extreme as he is, he's technically a "Liberal", so he's probably trying not to commit himself to anything. I wait with bated breath to see what pearls of wisdom McGuinty (ON, of course) will bestow upon us tomorrow.

Hang on.

So, it's supposed to be a bad thing that the Liberal-NDP coalition would have to be supported by the BQ. But, given the makeup of the House and the current enmity between the Libs/NDP and the Cons, who exactly would support the Conservatives?

Sunday, November 30, 2008


So, is this coalition dealy really happening? Or are we, once again, being set up in order to be kicked down?

Negotiations update from CUPE 3903

Original here.

November 30, 2008 - TORONTO, Ont.

CUPE 3903 has requested a continuation of talks with York University on Tuesday, December 2, but union officials say university negotiators are holding up an agreement by refusing to address the key issues at stake in the strike.

The two sides met for three days last week and some progress was made, but union representatives say university negotiators have stubbornly skirted their main concerns: job security for contract faculty, a reinstatement of benefits and funds to 2005 levels, and subsistence wages adequate for the cost of living in Toronto.

“York would rather sit back, fold their hands and let 50,000 students lose their term than make us a workable offer to take to our members,” said union spokesperson Rafeef Ziadah.

Members of CUPE 3903 do more than half the classroom teaching at York yet their contract represents just 7.5% of the university’s $848 million annual budget. Even as the economy slows, revenues are growing as a result of tuition fee hikes, increased graduate enrolments, bigger provincial transfers, and donations to the York University Foundation, according to the university’s own recent financial documents.

“Hiding behind the current economic recession is downright deceptive,” said union member Katherine Nastovski. “They’re obviously putting the classroom at the bottom of their priorities, so we want to know where the fees paid by hardworking parents and students, tax dollars and public fundraising are going.”

Ziadah says she finds the attitude of the York administration and negotiators toward employees and students “shocking.” “What is the university’s game here?” she asked. “We are indispensable educators at York and we’re asking for peanuts relative to the university budget. Their four-year accumulated surplus of $139.9 million by itself is worth twice a much as our annual contract of $62.5 million.”

“Before encouraging the province to get involved, we need to see some leadership from our new university president,” said Nastovski. “President Shoukri needs to step in and press his negotiators to get serious at the bargaining table. “It’s time to stop spending precious university funds on high priced lawyers and public relations flacks and start valuing students and educators by showing some goodwill and negotiating a fair contract,” she added.

The union representing 3,400 teaching assistants, contract faculty, graduate and research assistants has been on strike since November 6.

Hey, Toronto Star: quit lying!

This says the talks between CUPE 3903 and York U were "suspended" by the mediator. This is simply not true, as can be seen here:
CUPE 3903 has requested a continuation of talks on Tuesday, December 2nd. In the meantime our bargaining team is using the time to streamline proposals with a view to accelerating progress towards an agreement.
The University's continued attempts to bargain through the media are doing nothing to improve increasingly toxic labour relations with crucial teaching staff.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wait... it's back? Do these people have any idea what they're doing?

So, the public financing thing is off the table...

...and? What about the rest? What about legislating public service contracts and stripping workers of the right to strike? What about Harper's failure to propose any sort of economic stimulus package of any kind? Financing was a smokescreen; hopefully, the Libs and Dippers have the sense to keep trying to bring Harper down.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We'll see.

But things may be about to get interesting.

Jesus H. Christ.

If the NDP, Liberals and BQ don't vote this shit down, I'm voting Communist (or possibly Nazi, if I have the option) from here till the end of my days, just to stick it to 'em.

Holy hell, where can we start?

It's been pointed out all over the place that cutting the public financing of political parties, while possibly good policy, is irrelevant to the current economic situation. It's also been painstakingly pointed out -- but clearly not in small enough words for Mister Flaherty -- that selling off government assets of any kind during an economic slowdown is a recipe for disaster.

When it comes to stripping civil servants of the right to strike for a year, not only is there no reason to suppose this will actually save the government money -- for removing the right to strike generally involves mandatory binding arbitration which tends to lead to greater costs than negotiated settlements -- but it's morally abhorrent and illegal under international law. Is this government really so petrified of its own employees that it can't stand the possibility that they might dig in their heels during contract negotiations? Is this what conservatism has become in Canada, a refuge for cowards?

Good lord, this is just pathetic. We're doomed. I'm moving to the US, Obama's at least sane, and sane can always learn how to be principled.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Louise Brown needs to go.

Seriously, this is just ridiculously biased. CUPE 3903 and York are finally going back to negotiations on the 27th. And she throws this into the middle of the article:
It invited York officials to resume talks Nov. 13, but discussions broke down in less than two hours after York officials said the union had not made significant changes to its demands.

York is offering a wage hike of 9.25 per cent over three years, a deal it says reflects settlements being signed across a number of sectors. Already York's teaching assistants are the best paid in Canada. CUPE has asked for 11 per cent more over two years.
The first paragraph is a blatant lie, and anyone following the negotiations knows it's a lie. The Union changed several demands, and the University refused to alter its offer. Kinda hard to negotiate in those circumstances. The second paragraph, second sentence, states as fact university spin. Depending on how you count these things, York TAs may not pan out as the "best paid in Canada". Furthermore, she ignores -- probably because she doesn't know -- that CUPE 3903 represents contract faculty as well as TAs, and York contract faculty are far from the top of the payscale in Canada.

I also note York's idiocy here:
But the university's statement asks why the meeting will come a full week after union members at a general meeting gave their bargaining team the go-ahead to revise some of its proposals.

"Given what is at stake for our 50,000 students, this one week delay in getting to the bargaining table does not suggest urgency on the part of the union to reach a negotiated settlement," said the posting.
If they want to settle the strike, maybe they should stop trying to piss the Union off? When negotiations are resuming after two weeks of silence, it's usually a good plan to keep your head down and see what happens.

Unless, of course, you're not serious about settling the strike through any means but back-to-work legislation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Stay classy, CFRB 1010.

York slashing services to save money during strike.

York has, reportedly, introduced the following changes:
  1. 1. York shut down its chilled water system to save power/money. The university operates its own internal chilled water system for things like cold rooms, coolers, condensers, etc. They shut this system down and didn't bypass to city water. This caused all of the cold rooms and freezers in a number of buildings to fail, with nasty consequences for research involving live samples.
  2. 2. The university has cut its internet commit. Internet service on campus is subsequently slowed, as well as off-campus email access. (And I'm still paying my fucking tuition.)
  3. 3. Most faculties have now implemented an emergency hiring freeze, and cancelled all tenure-track position searches -- even ones that had already started and been budgeted for. In one instance a hire was already informed he had the position and then had it revoked a few days later. (Classy!)
  4. 4. All departments have been ordered to slash their budgets across the board. Some of which have cancelled planned entrance awards for January admissions.
I'm honestly not sure whether to read these points as York trying to solve whatever minor budget issue they have by prolonging the strike, or York realizing that the strike is having serious financial consequences and they need to save money to keep themselves from serious trouble. If the former, the strike will continue for quite some time; if the latter, the strike may be coming to a conclusion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


So, current word is that Schulich (business) international students are already back at classes (or soon will be), and the Osgoode (law) students may be back next week. I think this is hysterical.

For Schulich, it's completely arbitrary: there are other international students facing the same problems across the university. It also means the YUFA members are being asked to cross picket lines, and I don't believe they can be compelled to do that. They probably shouldn't in any event, as they may end up having to teach the same course twice to all the non-international students; and they would also have difficulty marshalling grad student and contract faculty support for themselves when needed.

As for Osgoode, their faculty aren't in YUFA and the current plan is apparently to record the lectures for those students who exercise their right not to cross lines (because that's clearly the same as being taught the course). There are two courses taught by 3903 members that simply won't happen, so I'm not sure how far the program can actually be completed. That said, having dozens more trying to cross the picket lines is going to make traffic jams worse and probably cause further problems with threats and other aggression against picketers.

It's worth noting that trying to hold classes during the strike was one of the major problems in 2000-2001, hence why the Senate decided not to bother this time around. These cracks in the administration's facade suggests to me, first, that they don't really give a crap about the potential consequences for their students' education of crossing picket lines and related disruption; and, second, that the various pieces of the University realize that the upper-level has no particular interest in resolving this strike in a timely fashion.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Finally, the Star sees the light.

At long last, there is a fair article on the CUPE 3903 strike in the Toronto Star. See here. The few negative comments I see are, as I read them, from folks who simply aren't on the same planet as the rest of us. They want the institution of the university to be something other than what it actually is. Which is what the article is about. So, go read.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The internet is awesome.

Click already.

Edit:12:03am. Shoot, it's down. Try this instead (not quite the same effect as it doesn't loop).

More CUPE 3903 number-crunching.

See here.

  • The combined annual income of four of York's bargaining team members is equivalent to the annual salaries of 46 TAs.
  • A classroom of 60 undergrads brings in $100,000 in revenue, but only $14,000 goes to pay the course director.
  • York has been steadily receiving more income from tuition, through provincial funding for grad studies, and via the York Foundation.
  • CUPE 3903 members do 50% of the teaching at York, but receive 7.5% of the total operating budget.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Someone at CUPE 3903 did the heavy-lifting and dug up York's 2008 Financial Reports. They quote them here, but here's what matters:
Operating revenues are running ahead of last year due to the impact of the increased tuition rates... and the cash balance is very strong.
In other words, budget cuts? economic downturn? inability to pay? All, as I said here, bullshit.


From here.
We must be mindful of the impact of the current global financial crisis and the significant budget cuts that are being implemented at the University over the next three years. In these difficult and uncertain economic times our offer is fair, reasonable and comparable to other settlements across the Province.
What budget cuts? Driving down TA and contract faculty salaries and benefits seems to me to be the only "budget cut" on the table. What other budget cuts are being proposed, and why are we only hearing about them now?

The proposals the University has chosen to highlight are here. Which of these are supposed to be unreasonable, exactly?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A modest proposal.

(Well, no, not really "modest".)

Given that York undergrads are busily whining about their education being "ruined" and their being "held hostage", I propose that CUPE 3903 members should consider, in future, advocating only for a reduction in graduate tuition fees, and an increase in undergraduate fees to cover the difference. After all, if undergraduates refuse to recognize that there is common cause here, it seems ridiculous for TAs and contract faculty to continue to suppress their own best interests in favour of the interests of their students.

After all, turnabout is always fair play.

Yup. This about sums it up.

Message to York undergrads from CUPE 3903

Original here.
York Undergrads… Frustrated by the Strike?

Published on 17 Nov 2008

So Are We!

Why are we frustrated?
We’ve been at the bargaining table with York University’s administration since July, trying to get a fair contract for over 3000 contract faculty, teaching and graduate assistants. The administration has refused to present us with a reasonable contract offer and has forced us to go on strike. This was our last resort.

We are going without pay from York for as long as we are on strike, and most of our members are students who paid fees this term so this is neither fun nor economically stable for us.

The administration is trying to turn our students (and the public) against us by misrepresenting our needs and demands in the media.

Why are we on strike?
Our contract was up for renewal and we asked for job security for contract faculty, some of whom have been teaching at York for many years; fair wages for all; and funds to catch up with the growth in our membership since our last contract.

Right now we do more than half the teaching on campus but less than 10% of York’s budget goes to our contract. We want more money going into teaching and learning in the classroom. That’s what you pay for.

We want to negotiate a fair settlement but the University is effectively refusing to bargain.

CUPE 3903 members, as students and teachers, have no interest in disrupting classes. Education is what we do every day – it is our main concern and our job. For many us, our studies have also been interrupted.

Striking is our only option

Going on strike is our legal right and it’s the only option we have to pressure the administration to deal fairly with our membership.

You can help end the strike…

Send a direct message to York U President Mamdouh Shoukri by going to:

Come out and march with us on the picket lines!
We’ll be at York’s Keele and Glendon campuses from 7am-7pm, Monday to Friday

Tell York what you think:

• Support your TAs, contract faculty and GAs in CUPE 3903.
• Value our teaching, support and research.
• Classroom teaching should be THE main priority in York’s budget.
• Negotiate at the bargaining table ASAP – NOT in the media.
• Respect CUPE 3903’s legal right to collective bargaining instead of using forced arbitration to score cheap PR points.

Write or call these people:
• Mamdouh Shoukri, President Tel: 416-736-5200 Fax: 416-736-5641
• Peter Sadlier-Brown, Special Advisor to the President,
• Ken Fasciano, Manager, Communications,

Thanks for your support!