Final update from Osgoode students

About 78 per cent of law students favoured resuming classes “as soon as possible”


This will be my last update on the resumption of classes at Osgoode Hall, while the CUPE strike has the rest of York University shut down. I appreciate the issues surrounding this relatively small group of students may be of less interest to a general readership. But I also think it’s a very interesting study in the complexities that result when one group of affected students is carved out from the whole and specially accommodated.

Mr. J.P. Rodrigues has been in touch with me. He’s the President of Osgoode’s Legal and Literary Society – their student government. He’s offered me some firm data regarding the survey they conducted among their membership, which I’ve been interested in for some time, and he wished to take particular issue with some of what I reported from Mr. Kevin Tilley (one of the Osgoode student reps on York’s Senate) in my last update. Seems only fair to give him equal airtime.

The survey conducted among Osgoode students, relatively early on in the strike, was answered by 505 students or about 60 per cent of the total. Of those who responded, 78 per cent were in favour of resuming classes “as soon as possible.” I reported in the past that I believed the sentiment was strongly in this direction but it’s nice to have clear figures. Personally, I’m still not sure how to take it that so many students at Osgoode were ready to cross a picket line less than two weeks into a strike. But I’ve acknowledged in the past that Osgoode’s student reps were right to promote the interests of their membership and to reflect their stated preference. That’s what good representatives do.

Mr. Rodrigues takes issue with the suggestion I quoted from Mr. Tilley that students were not adequately consulted on the resumption of academic activities. It isn’t for me to mediate between their differing views, but I actually think these statements are not contradictory. The Legal and Literary Society definitely sought and received a clear statement from students that they wished to resume class. But all the same many questions about what that would mean and how it would play out remained unanswered. I believe that’s what Mr. Tilley meant when he referenced a need for more consultation.

In particular, unanswered questions still relate to the status of students who have elected to not resume their classes and academic work during the strike – as is their right under York’s Senate policy. I do believe the Legal and Literary Society have done their honest best to see this topic addressed. I think they’ve done a great job all around, actually. But I also see a situation where the Osgoode student body has been split against itself, and the majority who have resumed classes have become an unwitting lever exerting pressure on the minority who wish to respect the strike. It may be at least some students who were hoping for business as usual are uncomfortable with these outcomes.

Mr. Rodrigues writes, “an overwhelming amount [of students] are relieved and happy that classes are finally resuming.” I’m sure that’s accurate. He also states that it isn’t true “students are feeling pressured to return to classes” and I’m sure that’s true for the large majority, though I continue to wonder about the remainder. He asserts, “[w]hile ensuring classes resumed on December 1st and the school year still ended on April 27th, we did not neglect those students who wished to exercise their right to not suffer academic penalty during a labour disruption.” And again, I really do believe that. I’m not sure that the administration has done as much as they might, but I have a lot of respect for student efforts on this front.

I first started chewing on this topic because I was interested in the effects of a labour action on the student body at a law school that is widely touted as progressive. I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my sense of disappointment. I’m not on side with CUPE here, necessarily. I’m on side with the labour movement generally and the importance of a picket line. I expected more students at Osgoode would agree with me. Apparently I was wrong. But that’s hardly their fault. Students are well within their rights to cross the picket line and God knows they’re paying enough for the education on the other side of it.

I hope this strike ends as soon as possible, for the sake of all affected. And to anyone who thinks I’ve got it a little too cozy over here at U of T, where I attend law school, CUPE 3902 (U of T’s contract faculty, TAs, etc.) is holding a strike vote starting today. A strike mandate doesn’t necessarily mean a strike, of course, but it’s one big step in that direction. I may yet catch my share of this experience from the other side.

Questions are welcome at This blog is still primarily about advising, and I do like questions.


Final update from Osgoode students

  1. Mr. Rybak,

    I encourage you to take a look at the “survey” that Osgoode student government sent out to the student body in order to obtain the student opinion about returning back to class. Not only were the questions poorly worded and full of bias, there was also no peer review process. I am so embarrassed at the “research methods” that were used by our school’s leaders and then used by our administration as persuasive evidence. There is no discussion about why close to 400 students did not answer the survey. Could it be that they did not understand the poorly worded questions? Could it be that they ethically abstained? We will never know.

    I am ashamed to cross the picket lines to go to classes, but with no formal remediation plan announced, can I afford to sacrifice the semester because of the results of this flawed survey?

  2. I am a member of Unit 2, (contract faculty) at York. The truth is that the majority of our union as well as most members of the other two unions (1 and 3) do not support this strike!!! We beleieve that this union should represent our professional interests, instead of acting as a political party! Unfortunately, a small group of socialists at York took over the union and it is hard for us to stop them. They care more about their own political agenda, than about us and our students. They rely on U of T and some other universities to join them and to expand this strike into a general political strike in this country!!! If that happens, this strike will continue for months. I ask my colleagues from University of Toronto: please, help us! By continuing your negotiations with your administration you can help us isolate the aggressive leadership of York’s CUPE 3903 and get back to our classes and our students as soon as possible!!! Thanks.


  3. Jeff,

    There have been reports of Osgoode classes being disrupted by CUPE demonstrators. Have you heard anything about that?

  4. @Bill Wiliams

    “There have been reports of Osgoode classes being disrupted by CUPE demonstrators.”

    I can confirm this did indeed happen. A group of what I would call “rogue” elements went ahead and did this as part of an action of escalation. It’s not cool.


    “There have been reports of Osgoode classes being disrupted by CUPE demonstrators.”

    That’s a load of bull. I’m in Unit 2. I’ve been to the GMMs during the strike. Many Unit 2 people don’t like the way things are going, but they’re generally supportive. They certainly don’t have your attitude.

    M.T. seems to be running all over the web posting this crap. It’s simply not true.

  5. I am one of many students who are relieved that classes have resumed. We refused to be held hostage to the political whims and machinations of CUPE. Being progressive does not mean that students should, like sheep, blindly support any job action by the Unions. The merits of each case should be examined individually. As evinced by the general mood at Osgoode and York University against the strike, the Union’s position is not entirely reasonable.

    I am proud and happy to break the strike and attend classes.

  6. By the way, MT is correct. There have been disruptions by Union members. The Monday Immigration Law class was disrupted.

  7. Could have sworn I replied to this earlier. To answer the original question from Bill, I have heard some reports of disruptions, but I think they all relate to the one incident on Monday. I commented on that in an earlier update and I don’t approve. There are rules of engagement and in this instant CUPE members went over the line. I’ve also heard of some Osgoode students who don’t approve of breaking the strike getting a little unruly, but obviously that’s a different issue.

    All of my information on these subjects is third-hand and unreliable. I’d appreciate hearing from people who were actually on hand in any such incidents. Students are invited to either comment directly on their experiences, or if they prefer to e-mail them to me.

  8. @M.T. If your comments on Dec.3 are in fact true, I would suggest that you consider opening them to discussion on the York University Anti-Strike Facebook group or the Support Cupe 3903 in Barganing Facebook group. These groups have many arguably one sided arguments from CUPE members however there is not normally the dimension you present here.

    Anti-Strike Group:

    CUPE Support Group:

  9. The reason I chose Osgoode Hall law school, after completing my masters (in IR at the Munk Centre at U of T), as well as my undergrad at U of T, was precisely because of its progressive reputation. While I appreciate your analysis in this article, and special attention given to Osgoode, I have to disagree with your conclusions about progressive students at my law school.
    You write, “I’m on side with the labour movement generally and the importance of a picket line. I expected more students at Osgoode would agree with me. Apparently I was wrong.”
    I think when we look at the situation more closely we might find your original expectations were not wrong and the disappointment with Osgoode students may be misplaced. From my discussions with a number of Osgoode students there is wide ranging support for labour movements and the progressive gains they are uniquely positioned to achieve through a variety of means, whether in pre-strike negotiations or during picketing exercises, etc. You are not wrong to expect a number of Osgoode students to be progressive advocates for social justice.
    Firstly, while I cannot speak for Osgoode as a whole, my feelings about the Legal and Lit vote echo the sentiments expressed by ‘Survey Monkey.’ The wording of the survey questions was very suspect. Expressing the desire to return to school, within the context of the survey, was not phrased in a neutral manner and the exact conditions placed by individual students on the resumption of academic activities were not included in the results, as there was no formal space to express them. The remediation plan and the failure of those in charge to communicate its exact elements also remains a considerable concern for those students who have chosen to refrain from returning to school.
    Secondly, I fully support labour movements and recognize their importance. I would have to reiterate the point made by ‘Eric,’ specifically that supporting progressive politics should not equal “blindly support[ing] any job action by the Unions. The merits of each case should be examined individually.” As a former graduate student on a SSHRC funding package of less than the ‘poverty-wage-level’ much discussed by CUPE TA’s, I fundamentally disagree that graduate students necessarily deserve to be reimbursed to the levels desired by the unions, especially where other priorities remain in a resource finite world (I am persuaded more readily by the job security concerns of contract faculty).
    Thirdly, any classes that do require CUPE labour remain suspended at Osgoode. The law school is largely taught by faculty members and lecturers who do not belong to the union and a resumption in academic activities at Osgoode, in my opinion, does not significantly weaken the bargaining position of the labour union in their legal strike action. A number of my courses are not taught, specifically because the instructors are union members.
    Fourthly, the resumption of activities at the socially progressive Osgoode legal clinic, sufficiently disrupted by the labour action, is also a serious concern. The law school provides valuable social justice services which require the voluntary labour of students and the resumption of academic activities has facilitated the provision of these services. Also, law school students arguably have a special set of demands to attend to. We are dealing with unregulated tuition fees as well as strict regulatory requirements by official bodies, as I am sure you are very well acquainted with as a law school student. yourself.
    For these reasons I chose to return to school and have done so while maintaining my progressive political persuasion.