5,000 students resume classes at York

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Several thousand students at York University are returning to class on Monday as the strike between the administration and the union representing contract faculty and teaching assistants nears its 12th week.

York’s Senate announced yesterday that four units, including the undergraduate school of business, can return to regular classes without replacing any work normally done by striking instructors.

The decision affects about 5,000 of York’s 50,000 students.

“What can I say? I wish they would focus on the other 45,000,” said Tyler Shipley, spokesperson for the Canadian Union for Public Employees local 3903 " which is representing York’s striking workers.

Hopes for ending the feud fizzled again Tuesday after CUPE members rejected York’s latest settlement offer, though Wednesday saw Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty promise to bring in a new provincial mediator to “bang a few heads together.”

Catherine Divaris, co-organizer and co-founder of the action group York Not Hostage, believed the new mediator signaled the first step towards back-to-work legislation.

“I think that [McGuinty] is just exhausting his options and I think he wants to basically cover himself in case he does enact back-to-work legislation,” she said.

While the groups met with the new mediator in Toronto yesterday, many are speculating how York’s administration will accommodate its students for missed classes.

“Right now at this stage we’re not pushing that far into the summer, but as time goes by it just gets worse for our students,” Alex Bilyk, media relations director for York, said. Bilyk explained starting the winter term now would mean eliminating York’s Reading Week and creating a condensed exam schedule in May.

Shipley said cancelling the winter term would cause a major financial burden for the university, as a refund on tuition would represent a significant loss to the school’s operating budget.

The long-term effects of the strike may cause the institution further grief. The number of graduating high school students choosing York as their first option has fallen nearly 15 per cent from last year.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if parents started talking to their kids about not enrolling at York because of this ongoing strike,” Joan Timmings, head of student services at Toronto’s John Fraser Public High School, said.

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