Update from Osgoode students

Law caucus decides to reflect the will of their members and resume classes


I’ve had reports from two Osgoode students thus far, one who intends to cross the picket line and one who does not. Both wish to remain anonymous. A summary of their reports is as follows:

The Osgoode student caucus (their representative structure) surveyed the student body and found students were strongly in favour of resuming classes. For that reason, the caucus felt obligated to represent their will.

Concern is very strong regarding how students will be accommodated who choose not to resume classes, as is their right under Senate policy (see the second page). A special meeting is being held off campus on the evening of December 3rd with an Assistant and an Associate Dean of Osgoode for those students.

Part of the issue, here, is that standards for graduation are not in Osgoode’s (or York’s) hands alone. The Law Society of Upper Canada ultimately licenses lawyers in Ontario and thus Osgoode must observe their requirements as well as its own rules.

This issue has been very divisive among students. Some are ideologically aligned with union politics, but among this group there are those who feel this strike has been handled so badly that they aren’t inclined to observe it. Others … well, let’s just say that despite its reputation, Osgoode has its fair share of corporate-oriented law students. They are understandably less conflicted about this and simply want to get back to class.

For myself, I’ll add this commentary. I respect the decision of the Osgoode caucus to reflect the will of their members. I’d do the same in their place, even as I wouldn’t personally cross the line. I find it interesting, however, that the student consensus is so strongly in favour of crossing a picket line. It makes me wonder how much of Osgoode’s reputation for progressive politics is deserved, if it dissipates so easily in the face of paying a price for it. I do not have exact numbers from the survey, however, and I’d love some.

The most significant outstanding question is how students will be accommodated if they don’t cross. I think it’s unconscionable that Osgoode isn’t officially meeting with these students until three days after classes resume. It’s a firm statement about where their priorities are at. And I suspect it’s a deliberate pressure tactic, to push as many students back to class as possible.

If this goes on long enough, I’ll seek direct commentary from the Law Society on the consequences that students face if their year is too severely disrupted. And I also anticipate some reporting from within that Dec. 3 meeting, should we get that far.

Expect another update either tomorrow or on Monday, when I’ve got a well-placed student who is willing to go on the record. Students who will not cross the line are apparently meeting tomorrow evening to discuss the issue amongst themselves.

As always, I hope for the sake of all students affected that this strike ends soon and my updates never appear. But with the failure of provincial mediation, that doesn’t appear likely at the moment.

Questions and comments are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. In particular, I’d love to hear from more Osgoode students, and I respect your right to communicate off the record if you like. I’ll summarize your opinions as I have done with this update.


Update from Osgoode students

  1. I would like to seriously dispute your accusation that Osgoode’s progressive reputation is ill-deserved. The commitment that is held by many of the school’s faculty and students towards the cause of social justice does not require one to fall into lock-step with CUPE 3903.

    Besides, Teaching Assistants and contract faculty represented by the union only teach two first year classes – the vast majority of the school’s academic program is completely unaffected by this strike. Those that are affected remained suspended. We wouldn’t tell people to refrain from walking or driving during a TTC strike, why should we expect students to forgo classes that are similarly unrelated to this work stoppage?

    You can call Osgoode students ‘fair-weather progressives’ all you want, but it’s a little much for Teaching Assistants who have the privilege of being paid a salary while attending school to expect a demonstration of ‘solidarity’ that may cost students tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and delay or harm their future careers.

  2. Is there any word on if all the faculty will cross the line and teach? It’s all well and good for students to decide to go back to class, but what if faculty choose not to teach? Do you know if the faculty can choose not to cross the picket line or does the CBA require them to do so?

  3. Hi Chris

    That’s a good question, and one I should have addressed sooner. I’m pretty sure that as a general rule employees who aren’t on strike are required to show up for work and be available to do their jobs. There could, I suppose, be some term in their contract that that displaces this assumption, but since I haven’t heard anything about it yet I’ll assume not.

    Although it’s not normally productive to use a customer/employee framework to discuss relationships in university, in this case it is. Students are customers. They have no contractual obligation to cross the picket line and Senate policy clarifies they have no academic obligation to do so either. Faculty (other than members of CUPE 3903), just like management, and whoever else isn’t on strike at York, still have to do their jobs. I do hope no one holds it against them.

  4. Why are you accusing Osgoode students of not being progressive, as if you are equating CUPE 3903’s position with being progressive? Does that mean we must side with a position we regard as being ridiculous, selfish and fundamentally unfair?

    As an ACTUAL Osgoode student (which you are not), I will tell you a piece of ‘insider’ knowledge–it’s not just the ‘corporate oriented types’ that are willing to cross the picket line. In fact, many ‘progressive’ Osgoode students are opposed to CUPE 3903 and the strike.

  5. Hi bg. As you’ll see from this blog and from my more recent entry (up late last night) I’m certainly doing my best to interview actual Osgoode students, as you say. Their (your) experiences are the point of this story.

    As far as the progressive position on this strike is concerned, well, look. I genuinely don’t want to impose my politics on anyone else, but I’ll at least describe the progressive position as I’m referring to it. The pro-labour stance is to simply not cross a picket line. That’s got nothing to do with the merits (or lack of them) in CUPE’s position. The idea is to show solidarity with labour rights more generally. As I pointed out in an earlier piece, every right can get tested in some distasteful scenarios. It’s the unsympathetic cases that determine how committed we really are to the principles.

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