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

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 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

Open Letter to the University of Toronto Community

March 9, 2015

To the University of Toronto community,

Since the beginning of the strike involving Teaching Assistants(TAs), Course Instructors(CIs), lab assistants, and other education workers, there has been some confusion about the key issues and the nature of the University of Toronto’s (U of T) commitment to graduate students. This confusion has often been the result of the University Administration’s attempts to misconstrue numbers and validate their claims that the offer rejected by our membership was “fair and reasonable.” To correct the record and inform the discussion, we want to share the following key facts with you.

The truth about the tentative deal

Late last year our members voted 90% in favour of authorizing strike action. The vote saw the largest turnout for contract academic locals in Canadian history. The text on the ballot read: “I authorize the executive committee of CUPE 3902 to call a strike in the event that a collective agreement cannot be achieved through negotiation.” Since that time, administration members have known that fellowship funding was a central issue for our membership. This should be no surprise to them, considering it has been more than seven years since the fellowship was last increased – despite significant rising costs of living in the city of Toronto, increasing tuition at the university, and across-the-board salary increases for administrative staff.

Clearly, the University Administration did not take seriously our historic turnout or the clear mandate we gave our bargaining team. Instead, Administrators offered a bare minimum of bargaining dates, ignored undergraduate students, and declined an invitation from a consortium of student groups to speak at an open town hall, dismissing concerns with the claim that negotiations were going well. They waited until the final hours before the strike deadline to address the issue of funding at the bargaining table, and ultimately put forward a proposal that offered no increase to the fellowship. Instead, University Administrators offered a temporary fund that TAs and CIs could apply to in order to receive some money back. The bargaining team unanimously endorsed this proposal because it would, at least, put some money in members’ hands – even if on a one-time basis. The following day, the proposal was presented at the CUPE 3902 membership meeting in good faith. It was soundly defeated in a vote completely in accordance with our bylaws and constitution. First, the proposed fund offered unspecified payouts and did not address the core issue of increasing the fellowship itself. Second, even on this half-measure University. Administrators were unwilling to make a firm legal commitment, opting instead to issue a letter of intent. This meant that if they failed to follow through on their promises, members would have few legal means to compel them do so. More information about the tentative agreement and our position can be found here. University Administrators have characterized this strike action as a wage disagreement. This is regrettable: the strike is about funding. The focus on hourly wages is an attempt by the University Administration to obscure the facts.

Who profits from the students at U of T?

Over the past decade University Administrators have put profits before students. Being a graduate student is a full-time job and the primary source of income for graduate students is the university fellowship. Historically, the fellowship has been at the core of what is called the graduate funding package and all other sources of income are considered supplementary. University Administrators have not increased the $15,000 fellowship in over 7 years. Since 2005, U of T revenues have gone up 64% but profits have increased 395%. Student fees have gone from constituting 28% of university revenues to 38%. Rather than distribute this money back to students through fellowships, the university reports it as income.

Who teaches the students at U of T?

TAs, part-time, and non-tenured staff are responsible for more than 60% of the teaching at U of T. University Administrators claim that U of T has highly competitive instructor-to-student ratios but it is important to note who actually does the teaching. The number of full-time tenure and tenure stream faculty has increased by 8% but the U of T student body has grown by 25%. These circumstances create a structural interest in keeping fellowships below the poverty line. As a result graduate students are forced to prioritize TAships and other work over completing their degrees in a timely manner. This model also suppresses the demand for full-time professors and therefore causes harm to those who have finally managed to complete their PhDs. These conditions are bad for undergraduates, who are taught in overcrowded lecture halls, receive little faculty-interaction, and are unable to form lasting relationships with the influx of temporary lecturers. They are bad for graduate students who must choose between being overloaded with work that has little to do with their degree or living below the poverty line. They are bad for professors who are slowly being replaced by the captive labour of graduate students. And they are bad for our city, our province, and our country. As the largest and best-funded university in Canada, we can do better.

Who supports the student of U of T

U of T fellowships constitute only 17% of graduate support. Students support themselves. The bulk of what Administrators misleadingly call graduate support is actually income earned by students through teaching or research, prize money from scholarships and merit awards, or student loans. In fact, when a student who receives a U of T fellowship later wins prize money through an award, University Administrators require that the prize money be used to pay back the fellowship. Undergraduate students should take a moment to imagine if they were forced to hand over external scholarship money to the university instead of using it to support themselves and their studies.

By putting profits before people, University Administrators are creating an academic underclass at Canada’s largest post-secondary institution. We are pleased that the provost believes U of T students are among the very best and brightest. Nearly half of the graduate students in this group are on strike. Professors from across all three U of T campuses have issued statements of solidarity with this student movement. We urge University Administrators to return to the bargaining table and treat our concerns seriously. Universities are not for-profit corporations. Undergraduates are not customers. Graduate students are not interns. Faculty members are not expendable. This is not a matter of wages, it is a matter of reasserting our commitment to higher education, undergraduates, and graduate students.

Sincerely,

CUPE 3902

printable version here:Open Letter to the University of Toronto Community.pdf

Open letter to the U of T Provost Cheryl Regehr

Ryan Culpepper, the vice chair and chief negotiator for the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 bargaining committee, has written an open letter to the University Provost Cheryl Regehr:

Dear Cheryl,

We know each other. We have sat across the table from each other in previous rounds ofbargaining, and we’ve worked in collaborative ways on task forces and working groups. We share a commitment to graduate-student support. We believe in negotiating fair deals. You are an honest person and a social worker who’s attuned to the needs and vulnerabilities of your fellow human beings. But members of CUPE have not witnessed you acting that way.

I’m asking you the following questions in an open letter because your Bargaining Team is not meeting with ours, and because when hundreds of freezing student-workers came to your office yesterday, and again today, requesting to hear from you, you refused to come out. We’re in the dark here. Without answers and with no communication, and with untrue and insulting information appearing in the media, people are getting increasingly frustrated and angry. The possibility of a negotiated settlement is becoming more remote. I sincerely don’t think that’s what you want to happen.

Can you please clarify the following?

1) You and I both know that graduate funding is insufficient. You’ve said that to me and others. We haven’t agreed on the ways to raise it, but we agree it needs to be raised. On the graduate-funding working group, you proposed departmental slush funds to top up the funding of only certain students. The student representatives insisted on an across-the-board increase to the minimum.

Now you’re speaking to the media and saying grad students are flush with cash and have no need for improvement. Your “Globe” interview included absurd claims that every CUPE member can see through. I’ll spare you a catalogue of the colourful responses I’ve heard. So which is it? You are publicly portraying us as base, greedy and deceptive people who issue threats to fellow member that we in fact have never issued, and in addition to stationing campus security at each of our picket lines, you are spending thousands of dollars every day on a private investigation firm with no function other than to collect evidence toward injunctions against your own students peacefully exercising our legal rights, as if we were criminals.

I know that’s not how you see us. Will you please just confirm your longstanding position that grad students don’t receive enough funding and that the funding must be increased? Is it really your position that the funding minimum will never go up? I can’t believe that’s the case. And if not now, after 7 years, when?

2) You know how the funding package is structured. We spent over a year in a working group discussing the relationship of employment income to the rest of the funding package—something the media have not yet accurately portrayed, largely due to your own knowing misstatements. CUPE, the Graduate Student Union and your administration issued joint recommendations regarding the work/funding relationship. You know that, unless the structure of the funding package fundamentally changes, proposed wage increases are meaningless for people on internal funding. Will you state that publicly and stop focusing on wages? This is a dishonest message, and you know that.

3) The numbers you’ve publicized to the University community regarding average graduate income at U of T are flawed in many ways. You know that, because we’ve been through the numbers on your working group. When we discussed them, your representatives— including a few social scientists—freely admitted the problems with the way the averages were calculated, and the problem with relying on averages more generally (a topic covered in every Sociology 100 class).

The distortions are obvious. CUPE’s membership includes statisticians and economists who can easily expose the ridiculousness of the numbers, as well as computer scientists who can recover the hard data your administration has inexplicably deleted from the School of Graduate Studies web site.

I know you to be a person uninterested in deception. Please provide the necessary context for these numbers or remove them. The Union can also provide this context if you are unwilling.

I believe this labour dispute can be settled relatively easily if your administration simply does the things you’ve known and admitted for years that it needs to do. Increase the funding minimum. It’s been 7 years! Stop charging full tuition to unfunded students who take no classes—anyone with a moral compass knows that’s wrong. If we could take your word that these things would happen without a strike, we would. But when we last bargained in 2012, you sat across the table from me as we negotiated the creation of the graduate funding working group. You and your colleagues looked me in the eye and said, “Ryan, I know that if this working group doesn’t produce results, we’ll never be able to get an agreement with CUPE in this way again.” You knew you had three years or there would be a strike. Here we are, three years later, and you were right. Let’s get together, produce results and get to an agreement. We’re willing if you are.

Sincerely, —Ryan Culpepper
CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Chief Negotiator PhD Candidate