THE UNIVERSITY WORKS

BECAUSE WE DO

Play Promo

Scroll for More

A Letter From Stephen Lewis

“Given the rejection of the most recent tentative agreement by members of CUPE3902, I am cancelling my participation in the Munk School of Global Affairs Graduate Student Conference on Thursday, March 26.

I join the faculty members, undergraduate students and their families, writers, thinkers, and politicians from all parties and levels of government in calling on Online trading platforms south africa the University of Toronto Administration to improve its offer and come to the bargaining table to end the legal labour action of the 6,000 education workers of CUPE3902.

The University of Toronto is Canada’s premiere research institution and sits atop a number of global rankings. It plays a key role in the Canadian knowledge economy and produces original research of which all Canadians should be proud. Graduate students are an absolutely crucial component of this success. They do the bulk of the face-to-face teaching and the work necessary for the functioning of the university. But to focus on their labour as teachers is to ignore the fact that their primary role is as researchers and early stage academics. I can tell you first-hand that U of T’s graduate student research makes the world a healthier, safer, and more equitable place. Graduate students should be in the lab, the field, or the library—not on picket lines fighting to have their rights enshrined in a Collective Agreement to prevent another strike in a few years’ time.

The ongoing strike not only undermines U of T’s reputation, but damages its ability to attract top minds. In solidarity with CUPE3902, I urge other invited speakers not to cross picket lines and not to speak on campus until the University of Toronto Administration offers a fair and equitable deal to the members of CUPE3902 and recognizes their crucial role in the University’s success.”

-Stephen Lewis

Now that our dispute has been sent to binding arbitration…

Dear Comrades,

You have no doubt heard that our case has been sent to binding arbitration.

The strike is over.

This has been one of the most complex and rewarding experiences of my life. Sometimes when my mind is so focused on theory construction in my academic studies, it is easy to get lost. At times I have found myself sincerely wondering if what I am doing is of any value at all. There is no such ambiguity in the case of my membership in this union and my participation in this strike. It has been an honor and a privilege to share the picket lines with all of you, both physical and virtual.

Regarding the virtual picket, I want to express my thanks for having had the opportunity to communicate with you all through this platform. I hope that through this difficult time that some of what I have said has been of use.

For what it’s worth, I want to extend a deep bow of respect to the entire bargaining team. More than any of us, they have directly faced the terrifying and dehumanizing institutional forces that shape subjectivities in the University. They have had to battle it directly during negotiations. If I might be pardoned some harsh language, I submit that each and every one of them is a goddamn fucking hero. Thank you. Additionally, I feel personally obligated to extend a special acknowledgement to Ryan Culpepper. To my mind, he has held the fragile beating heart of our cause in his hands, and done so with guts, poise and precision. His leadership has been an inspirational example of grace under fire. To Ryan and the entire bargaining team, we all owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.

I also do not want to sugarcoat anything. I close with three thoughts:

I. Positive take away: I have met a lot of amazing people. I have felt the the pride of being on the right side of a just cause. I have found productive ways to manage my anger in the face of overwhelming odds. I have felt such deep feelings of respect and admiration for everyone I met on the picket lines. The graduate students were amazing. It was a fantastic experience to meet so many different folks and make new friends that I would not otherwise have made. Those faculty who stood in support can wield their privilege of place with solemn pride. I was happy that so many of them used their clout to speak on our behalf.  Lastly and most importantly, the undergraduates who stood with us were and are such an inspiration. If only the administration had a fraction of their sincerity and guts. This strike hit them the hardest and they showed us all what real class is all about. Solidarity forever, friends.

II. Negative take away: The administration of this University is a monster. I have no respect for any of those who worked against us. They have treated us with great psychological violence. They have actively manipulated the media and have taken every possible step to avoid dealing with us in good faith. I am absolutely disgusted. My faith in the ideals of higher education have been stripped away. Where once I saw a deep and intimidating meritocracy, now all I see is a commodified discourse economy that is fueled by a perverse set of power-dynamics and fiscal policies that simultaneously empower and enslave the individuals who come to occupy positions of affluence within its structure. Yes, I just called Meric Gertler and Cheryl Regehr slaves. They are slaves to their own institutional and financial privilege and it has blinded them to their moral obligations to the well-being of their students. Shame does not even begin to capture the severity of their misconduct. Academic continuity was and is a travesty and so was every single tactic they employed throughout the duration of the strike.

III. Ambiguious take away: We do not yet know the outcome! I have no idea when we will know. I trust the bargaining team to make the arguments they need to make. I hope that whomever comes to hold decision making power in this dispute considers our case with care. I can’t help but think that if there is any reason in the hearts of well-intentioned folk, that the arguments and evidence are clearly in our favor.

Goodnight friends. I’ll post on this blog once more when the decision comes down.

With love and in solidarity,

SMS

A FINAL STATEMENT ON THE REJECTION OF THE TENTATIVE AGREEMENT

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The following is a note regarding some of the reasons that the previous TA was turned down by the bargaining unit during the ratification vote.

There has been some questions from those outside of the unit about why this happened. The following letter is meant to address those questions.

In solidarity,

SMS

p.s. I did not write this letter. It came from the union’s media team.


 

A lot of people from the U of T community are questioning our decision to reject the most recent Tentative Agreement.

Our membership turned it down for two basic reasons:

1) we can achieve structural change, and

2) we believe we’re almost there.

We believe we can achieve structural gains which enshrine per member rights in the Collective Agreement. The most pressing issues for our membership were to bring those of our members who are at $15,000 to $17,500, and to ensure tuition relief to members in the second year of their Masters’ or beyond their fifth year in the PhD funded cohort. As most of you know, PhD students pay $8,000 per year in tuition even when we’re not taking classes! This doesn’t happen in comparable research institutions and we’re becoming less attractive to the best grad school applicants.

What the University Administration offered basically met our demands on a monetary basis, but came in the form of pots of money which CUPE3902 would have to administer to our members. We want the admin to take this money and include it in the Collective Agreement so that all of this sacrifice means something for future generations.

Our predecessors sacrificed for us in 2000. Their 3.5 week strike led to the establishment of the first guaranteed funding package. Most of us were still in high school or just entering our undergrads. Though we’ll never meet most of those people, we realize it is our responsibility not to take the money and run, but to harness our strength and push for per member rights so that the next cohort of grad students won’t have to bargain over those same pots of money in a few years. Structural changes mean fewer labour disruptions.

Most of us won’t reap any individual gain from these structural changes. But you will. Our union offers a venue for collective action and institutional longevity that will make U of T a better place to learn, work, and research.

As the admin has stated, most of the money is there. A few sentences in the Collective Agreement will end this strike. The Administration simply needs the courage to lead and make U of T a place where graduate work and undergraduate learning conditions are a priority.

We need your help making this our strongest week yet. Thank you to everyone for your solidarity to date. We wouldn’t be here without you.

A letter to Prof. Gertler by Kristen Manza

Good evening Mr. Gertler

I am sending you this email because of my frustrations (along with many other undergrads) due to the strike. ​It is my first year attending the University of Toronto after taking a year off so that I could attend this prestigious and honourable school. I went through many troubles just to attend U of T this year.

I am very disappointed with the outcome and the continuation of this strike and how it is affecting my studies. It is very frustrating to hand in assignments that do not get marked by their scheduled time and to have my professors/lecturers quite unsure with the situation and where it will be going. I understand that things like this come up and there is no way to predict when it will happen, but this is very disruptive. I am sure I speak for most of my fellow undergrad students when I say that this is causing a lot of anxiety, grief, and confusion, especially at such a crucial time of year.

I am in an Introductory Sociology class where we have had to complete a research project over the full year team that requires quite a bit of help from our TA’s, and now that the project is coming to its final weeks of being completed, it is extremely difficult to try and complete this project without the help of TA’s and solely the help of our ONE professor. It is quite unfair to not only the students, but also the professors who have to deal with our confusion and series of questions (from over 1500+ students).

As well, tuition has already been paid for and the services of TA’s was not fully received as stated AND paid for. If this were a company where a service was paid for and expected to be received , a refund would potentially be instated so that a reimbursement would be issued for the unreceived service. I am quite frustrated that I have paid for a service in my tuition that I have not fully received, and being a student who has to work 3+ time a weeks to pay for school, textbooks, and commuting, this is an irritating issue to deal with.

I hope to hear from you and hopefully this issue gets cleared up soon,

Kristen Manza

Some thoughts on moving forward…

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I was very proud to be a part of this union when I woke up this morning to find that the general membership had voted to reject the current TA.  It is courageous of us to choose to continue this fight. The stakes are high and I believe that we are equal to the challenge.

I wanted to offer a few thoughts moving forward.

  1. I feel a lot of gratitude towards people that I have met both on the picket lines and online. It is an honor and a source of great inspiration to work alongside such wonderful people: Ryan Culpepper, Brian Law, Jessie Lamontagne, Justin Stein, Adam Zen, the list goes on…

  2. We must find a balance between a lofty idealism and a shrewd pragmatism. As of March 13th, we had a combination of financial and structural gains that was deemed minimally sufficient, a line in the sand, as it were. Moving forward we should think carefully about if and how that balance might change, if for example the employer tables an offer that respects our structural needs but reduced our financial gains, or if another offer comes back similar to the last TA but with more money. A collective understanding of what we are looking for and what we are prepared to change or compromise on is essential.

  3. It is important that we stand behind the Bargaining Team. It is true that we will take a hit in the media because we have chosen to reject a TA that the majority of the BT endorsed. Nevertheless, we must, can, and will move past that. Solidarity is what is key now. Let’s get together and talk about what our options are moving forward.

  4. Lastly, this has been and will continue to be a psychological war. I do not use the term lightly or as a rhetorical flourish. I think it literally describes our situation. We are in a battle of wills and have chosen to escalate the stakes of that battle. Of course we fight on the picket lines and in the popular media over the public’s perception of our cause. We also try to recruit allies in the undergraduate and faculty populations. Expanding all these efforts will be essential now as ever. Nevertheless, as I have mentioned before, I maintain that the most important thing we do is take care of each other. We bear the cost of this strike physically through our fatigue after long hours on the line. We bear it professionally by being unable to do as much research as we might otherwise be doing and in not being able to instruct our beloved undergraduate colleagues. We also bear it mentally through our fear and pain at having been forced into this situation. Everyone deals with difficulties of this nature in their own way. My sincere hope that all of us find helpful avenues to manage the psychological costs of continuing this fight.

I look forward to seeing all of you in the coming days.

Stay strong, stay focused.

With love and in solidarity,

SMS

Some thoughts on how to vote, if you have not yet decided

Hi Everyone,

Today is the last day to vote on the current TA.

The following note from our strike coordinator is well-written and very much worth reading. I encourage everyone to take what is said in this letter to heart.

All the best,

SMS


Friends,

As we all know, the strike has reached a critical point. We had a strong week and were able to push the administration to offer us a deal we would never have been able to obtain without a strike. Today (Sunday) is the last day to vote for or against ratification and, should the agreement be rejected, we have a lot of work ahead of us. I had been under the impression that members were aware of what it would mean to continue striking, however it is clear that this is not the case.

To get a better agreement, all of us would need to make sacrifices, which include picketing at 7:30AMeveryday and making the strike a priority over thesis and course work. This also means picketing more than 4 hours/day and contributing to member, undergrad and faculty outreach voluntarily. The purpose of picket pay is to get striking workers through a strike while the bargaining team negotiates a better deal. The bargaining team has done a phenomenal job in negotiating a Tentative Agreement that will significantly improve working conditions of our members. However, if we want per-member rights or any other improvements, we need to increase the strike effort and commit to this until we win.

Everyone will make their own decision and in my view as Strike Coordinator, every NO vote is a commitment to make sacrifices. The number of members who voted against sending the TA to ratification is significantly greater than the number on the picket lines. This needs to change if we want a better deal. If you are not prepared to sacrifice your research and contribute to the strike on a voluntary basis (i.e. more than 4 hours/day) then I urge you to vote YES today. Otherwise, we may end up with a deal worse than the one presented on Friday. If you are prepared to make these sacrifices, I will see you on the picket line at 7:30AM on Monday and every day thereafter until we win.

In Solidarity,

Alex Ivovic
Strike Coordinator

Guest post – A short essay on the strike

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The following is a short essay by our comrade Bogdan Smarandache.

It has been slightly truncated for the purposes of being shared on this page.

Take care,

SMS

A Short Essay on Quality Assurance in Higher Education [truncated version]

 

Over the past three weeks I have heard several strong arguments being presented against the strike, its aims and ethical justification, and its impact. In the following I attempt to address each of these problems. Much of what I say below draws on personal discussions I’ve had with individuals involved, opposed to, or witness to, the strike. I also draw on documents prepared by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and the University of Toronto. Due to the urgency of the matter at hand I have not thoroughly researched the material presented below but I include a brief bibliography of publicly available documents that inform the main arguments.

 

The Strike

 

In the case of a public university, the employer is not the owner of the organization but the administrator. Thus, the public pays taxes for universities, the government allocates funds for universities, the Ministry advises the government on how to allocate funds, and the university administration manages the funds. The employer is thus the university administration, while the owner and financier is the public. In the case of students employed as teachers and instructors, the employee is actually also a student. The student’s expenses are thus subsidized by tax revenues according to the tier system but the doctoral student contributes labour to the university as an employee. Furthermore, the primary commodity traded within the university economy is not merchandise but knowledge. Knowledge, comprising ideas, inventions, methodologies, concepts, explanations, analyses – diffused through seminars, conferences, publications, and artwork – are thus the primary product of the university, if we are speaking in economic terms. The graduate student thus gives the employer labour, which contributes to the accumulation of knowledge by students and provides the university with revenue, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, provides ideas, which enhance the university’s reputation, and also draws in revenue albeit in terms that are more difficult to measure. And graduate students require resources to sustain their work as learners, teachers, and researchers.

 

With regards to the employer-employee relationship, it is simple. The student as teacher or instructor requires acceptable working conditions and therefore has recourse to the union and striking. As a researcher, the student represents the university. In this relationship, the student takes the resources of the university and provides in exchange ideas that will always be associated with the intellectual environment that the university claims and correlates with its reputation. But the relationship between the university and the graduate student as a student suggests at first sight that the student has no prerogative to demand funding from the university just as no undergraduate student can expect free higher education across-the-board in a capitalist economy. However, since graduate students use the education acquired towards enhancing their teaching competence and producing better-informed research, it is accurate to state that the university in fact invests in its own graduate students as employees and researchers by offering education to the same graduate students. Overall then, the university must necessarily take an interest in providing students with the best available resources in order for them to become better employees and researchers, even if the student may be self-interested.

 

When, however, the working conditions decline over a long period as the costs of living increase, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the same level of research output. This problem is compounded by the government’s initiative to fund 6,000 new Masters and PhD spots in Ontario universities since current trends at UofT suggest that such funding allocations do not translate into better funding for each graduate student. Thus the working conditions have de facto worsened since the last bargaining round even though higher education remains a priority in the provincial budget.

 

Aims and Ethical Justification

 

At its core the strike is intended to sway negotiations towards meeting the union’s demands of the employer, which are primarily to secure acceptable working conditions for the employee. But broader issues are intertwined with the working conditions for the individual who studies, teaches, and researches. In the context of current trends, the largest threat to studying/teaching/researching (STR) conditions as well as original and meticulous research is the development of the neo-liberal university. The union therefore offers a vehicle – though not explicitly in line with its primary purpose – of addressing larger structural issues in the education system that nevertheless affect the STR conditions over the long term. Concerns have been raised over whether or not it is part of the union’s mandate, for example, to address the minimum funding package of all doctoral students at the university. This is a valid concern and the answer I have heard is simply that the union is the only organization available that can aspire to represent or advocate for all graduate students. Therefore, while the strike’s aims are specifically geared towards improving the working conditions of its members, it is an added benefit that it can also advocate for all doctoral students in one effort. My point is that the ethical technicality of what the union should or should not do is negligible when considered alongside what it can do, within the legal framework of defending acceptable working conditions for its members through legal strike action.

 

Its Impact

 

There are serious problems attendant on announcing a set increase in the number of spots for MAs and PhDs without any mechanism to ensure the maintenance of current funding levels per student. First, the university risks falling behind competitors offering better funding packages. Before the administration takes the risk of exploring the effects of stipend freezes in the long term, the administration should very carefully assess how much funding package amounts figure into the decision-making process of prospective students in order to calculate estimates on how such funding decisions would affect its research output and reputation in the long term. As far as I am aware, this research does not exist although faculty representatives have expressed the conviction that students have opted to accept offers from other universities for this very reason. Analyzing survey results during the application process would be an elementary step in providing some indication of how better funding does or does not correlate with excellence. I think the results will not be surprising.

 

Second, by prioritizing quantity over quality, the university risks paying for more research conducted under less-than-optimal research conditions. This problem is debatable and once again requires investigation and analysis. For the present time the problem can be reduced to the following: does it benefit society more to have more numerous PhDs sharing less funding or does it benefit society more to have fewer PhDs with more funding? This problem is linked to how success is to be measured. Is the degree itself an indicator of success? Is the degree an indicator of success if it is used to its maximum potential in the workforce? Does the PhD increase the productivity or creative output of any individual in any occupation scenario? Ultimately, the problem requires further research. Problems in the extreme of the quantity-side of the debate can already be detected in the British education system. In History, for example the pressure to publish frequently has led to more frequent repetitions and reiterations of research and fewer original, ground-breaking studies. Here quantity requires that work be done fast to the detriment of work that is done carefully. The PhD, a Doctorate in Philosophy, in essence brings a contemplative, meticulous, and expressive mental endeavour to a culmination. The constriction of such an effort to arbitrary time constraints, as would be the implication of worsened working conditions, limits the scope for creativity and challenges the ideal of thorough research. The sciences too are affected by the prioritization of quantitative research output. Here a concern with research intended to address immediate problems supplants the speculative and ambitious research of the pure sciences, which has the potential to discover or solve problems of the long-term.

 

The strike cannot achieve “fair” working conditions but it sends a signal that an overriding concern with profit and quantity will not be met without resistance. The resistance here is more crucial than “justice” and this is why the strike must necessarily aim for lofty goals (e.g. bringing the funding package to the “poverty” line). This on-going debate about working conditions or the neo-liberal university is not a debate between some individuals enrolled at the University of Toronto not being able to afford life in Toronto and other individuals who think that they are being given enough to live in Toronto. Certainly not! This debate is about the future of research in Canada. Individuals participating in this debate should ask themselves the question: is my research, to which I have dedicated x number of years of my time on planet earth, now worth less than it would have been worth x number of years ago? To provide less per-student funding while accepting more students devalues research and the degree of higher education. Furthermore, it goes contrary to the mission statement of UofT, namely that “The University of Toronto is committed to being an internationally significant research university, with undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs of excellent quality.”

 

Conclusions

 

As seen above, the strike is one way to ensure that the working conditions of graduate students do not deteriorate in this larger context of capitalizing on education as a commodity. I would further suggest that if more students are to be enrolled, that this increase in enrollment is foremost adjusted so that funding levels can be maintained, if not increased. This adjustment can be facilitated through more stringent entrance requirements and less drastic increases in MA and PhD allocations. Fewer students can benefit from a greater range of TAships and RAships, thereby improving student-to-teacher ratios. Surplus funding can be used towards more professorships. A university education should be open and affordable for anyone. In what ways this statement applies to a doctorate should be placed under serious scrutiny. Open for anyone? Yes, provided ze has demonstrated an utmost commitment to learning. Affordable for anyone? Yes, but expensive for the university administration so that only the ones who have demonstrated an utmost commitment to learning can be afforded to pursue the degree.

 

Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017)

http://www.utoronto.ca/sites/default/files/about/final-signed-SMA.pdf

 

Towards 2030: Synthesis Report

http://www.towards2030.utoronto.ca/

 


 

The New TA has been sent to a ratification vote

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The newest tentative agreement has been approved for a ratification vote.

Below is a note sent out by the union with some relevant details.

SMS


 

Dear Members,

The results of the vote on whether to send the tentative agreement to a unit wide ratification vote are as follows:

· Yes Votes: 789
· No Votes: 739
· Spoiled: 8

This means the unit wide ratification vote will continue Saturday and Sunday, 10 am-4 pm at the following locations:

· UTM area: Glen Erin Inn & Spa (1695 The Collegeway)
· UTSC area: Holiday Inn Express (50 Estate Drive), Suite 245

· Downtown:
– Union office, 180 Bloor Street West, 8th floor
– Victoria University Goldring Students Centre West Foyer, 150 Charles St. West
– St. Michael’s College – Carr Hall Lobby, 100 St. Joseph Street

Dr. Erin Black | Chair | CUPE 3902
803-180 Bloor W | Toronto ON | M5S 2V6
chair@cupe3902.org | 416-806-3902


 

Please read this in advance of attending the TA ratification meeting today

Dearest Friends and Colleagues,

I realize that the title of this post might seems a little pretentious. Who am I to demand anyone’s attention? Nevertheless, I do think that what I am about to write, needs to be read. So my apologies in advance, if I appear to be up on a proverbial horse. My apologies also to those of you who for whom the following is obvious.

Today is an important day. We will meet to vote on whether to ratify the current tentative agreement (TA).

I am not going to use this space to broadcast my own personal opinion on how I think things should go. Part of the reason for that is that I don’t think it would be a reasonable use of the privilege I have been given to address you all through this medium. The second reason is that I really don’t know what to think right now.

For me there are a lot of different vectors of relevance, and their appropriate balance is currently opaque to me. Further, without such a balance, or at least a strong sense of what that balance ought to be, I do not think I (or anyone else for that matter, who is in a similar epistemic situation), am/are in a position to make a decision. My hope is that the meeting this afternoon will go some way to clearing this up so that  I can vote with a clear mind and in good conscience.

Some of the things that I am struggling with are the following:

a) What should the proper balance be between net financial gains and structural changes in how the University must deal with us as employees in the TA? Does the current TA embody such a balance?

b) To what extent should I vote according to how this agreement will address my personal concerns vs. the concerns of the union vs. the concerns of post-secondary students in other institutions (like York), who are also on strike right now, for comparable reasons. In other words, what is the appropriate self-other balance that should inform my decision and what is the scope of reference for ‘other’?

c) I strongly suspect that if the TA is sent out for a vote from the entire membership, then it will pass and the strike will end. How should that suspicion impact my vote on ratification today? Does it mean that I should vote to ratify even if I end up deciding I want the deal to be rejected?

Anyways, I am sure these and other questions are in your minds as well. Moving forward, I have two suggestions that I hope will be of use to anyone who ends up reading this.

Suggestion 1 – For those who remain on the fence: Hold these and any other questions you might have in tension. Don’t just try to resolve them. Allow yourself to sit sincerely with your uncertainty. Try to let go of your agitation around this and accept ambiguity and see if anything shifts for you cognitively.

My apologies if that sounds new-agey or ridiculous, but I think it’s a really important epistemic practice, especially when it comes to important decisions like this one. I have found personally that finding a balance between following the arguments where they lead in an inferential way and working to be in a state of more-or-less affective equipoise is super important. What I mean by this, is that dropping aversion and other affective-biases towards uncertainty or confusion can help allow latent cognitive processes to contribute to your general goal of moving through the problem space towards a solution. Insight into the resolution of such problems often arises spontaneously and thus, much of one’s movement through such problem-spaces is often non-linear.

Long story short, try to relax with it. Hopefully today’s meeting will provide some much needed information that will make your decision easier so that you can vote in good faith and with clear conscience.

Suggestion 2For those who have a strong sense of the appropriate course of action: Be respectful. Use arguments and evidence to leverage your position. Do not abuse the capacity of rhetoric to move people’s votes.

Let me provide some context for this suggestion. I attended the general meeting at Convocation Hall where we rejected the TA and went on strike. I found the tone and quality of argument on both sides of the question to be mostly poor. People allowed their emotions to take control of their speech and the situation became very heated. Passion is one thing and it can often be good. Completelack of reason for believing your position is another and is not good. Bear in mind, this is only one person’s perception of the Con Hall meeting. Nevertheless, I stand by it and am willing to argue about it, if folks think I am being uncharitable.

I was not at the last general meeting at the Metro Convention Centre where we narrowly passed a motion to table a version of the current TA to the University. My understanding is that this meeting was far worse than the aforementioned Con Hall meeting on at least two fronts:

i. Tempers were even higher (witness the virtual fall-out on the FB threads in the days following the meeting).

ii. There were serious issues of procedure raised given how narrowly the motion passed.

Now let’s briefly consider the lead-up to today’s meeting.

To say that responses to the current TA have been divided and emotional is an understatement. People are clearly feeling the pressure right now. Being on picket lines for three weeks is hard and the current TA is a controversial one. Further, whether related or no, I woke up this morning to see that some fool has taken it upon themselves to vandalize Simcoe Hall.

I know I speak for everyone when I say that this is an absolutely ridiculous act.

I mention these points by way of justifying my expectation that today’s meeting will be similarly problematic, perhaps even more so. The last two meetings were problematic, and conditions have escalated since then. I feel this is sufficient evidence to conclude that my expectation is a rational one.

Therefore, I am forced to insist, in no uncertain terms that:

I. It is essential that we treat each other with respect and kindness right now.

We must do our best to respect differences of opinion on the best way forward and we must not demonize those who disagree with our view, regardless of the outcome.

II. We must strive for clarity, rigor, and precision in presenting our views during today’s meeting.

In previous meetings I was deeply saddened by the dominance of emotionally charged rhetoric at the expense of reasoned argument and evidence. Ideally, there should be a fusion of the two. That is how you win hearts and minds in good faith. We need to hold ourselves to high standards in our upcoming discussions of this TA so that we can be informed when we vote.

In closing, I urge everyone who has already made up their mind to reflect seriously on their current position and to consider opposing views in the light of charity. This means that you consider the strongest and most coherent version of the opposing view. Those who disagree with you are not obviously wrong and they are not your enemy. I submit that an obvious course of action is not clear right now. I hope that folks attend today’s meeting with an open mind. Practically speaking that means the following:

If you choose to speak to the group today by speaking into a microphone, do so only if you are willing to change your position if presented with persuasive arguments and evidence that are contrary to your currently held view. And you can only do this if you are open to the possibility that your currently held view might be incorrect. Humility and respect are essential here.

Okay, that is enough from me. I am jumping down from the proverbial horse now. Again, I apologize if I came across as preachy in any way.

See you all later today.

With love and in solidarity,

SMS

Letter from a privileged person

The following letter was sent to me by a good colleague and friend named Cory. I hope you all appreciate it as much as I did.

SMS


 

Letter from a privileged person

Dear Fellow Strikers,

Throughout this strike, I’ve been acutely aware of how lucky I am. Do you know how many things have lined up so that I could enjoy a comfortable life? So many things. Probably the main thing is that I have a wonderful and supportive family, who helped me through every stage of my education. I didn’t earn that, it’s just where I happened to be born. I’m also a white anglophone male with an able body and so on and so forth – all completely un-earned factors which made things easier for me. On top of that, I also ended up with a great thesis advisor, who has made every effort to keep me afloat and above the minimum funding package.

So I feel a bit of discomfort at identifying with our collective claim that we’re being treated unjustly. Forget justice, I personally have been treated with favoritism.

But realizing this doesn’t make me any more inclined to accept UofT’s terrible offers. Quite the opposite. People shouldn’t have to be as insanely fortunate as me to go to grad school. If we accept anything below a living wage as the minimum funding package, we are saying that you need to have privilege like mine to get a graduate education. You need the right citizenship, and a family that has both the resources and the willingness to support you, or a credit rating good enough to get a big loan, or some other form of access to support.

Anything less than a living wage as the minimum makes a load of privilege the requirement for participation in the academy, and that’s unconscionable.

It’s also detrimental to UofT, and to Canada. For a few measly million dollars, we can invest in people who enrich the intellectual culture of our country. It’s an investment which has paid off enormously in the past, and I refuse to believe that as a country we’re in such a crisis that we can no longer afford to invest in the future. By making the minimum funding package less than a living wage, you restrict the recruiting pool of talent to the small cross-section of the population who both have cash to burn and a desire to work furiously on hard intellectual problems. You exclude a huge number of people from Canada and abroad who have real contributions to make, if only they’re given the opportunity.

So as a privileged person, I think I have an obligation to spend something of what I have been given on making sure other people get to have some too. I’m willing to fight this out, until we secure a living wage for current and future UofT graduate students.

Best,

Cory