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Why we no longer have confidence in York University’s administration

Students, teaching assistants, and faculty should not have to pay for the financial mistakes of the university’s administration

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Recently our union passed a motion of non-confidence in the York University senior administration. A special meeting of the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) was attended by close to 500 faculty members, librarians, and archivists, the highest turnout we have seen in over a decade. Given the wider crisis across Canada’s university sector, in Ontario specifically, and at York University, we felt it necessary to support this serious claim of non-confidence for the following reasons.

First, there is both an abuse of taxpayer funds and a lack of financial transparency taking place at York. In December 2023, Ontario’s auditor general raised alarm bells concerning $1 billion in deferred maintenance costs, close to $750 million in new capital expenditures without value-for-money audits or oversight, and growing reliance on international students as a primary source of revenue. Faculty and staff have repeatedly asked management to share how much they have spent on lobbyists and consultants to no avail.

Second, York University management is undertaking an aggressive top-down program of campus-wide program cutting and restructuring. Already, $12 million in cuts are proposed for the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies alone, with millions more elsewhere shrouded in secrecy. This generational restructuring follows the Laurentian University model of starving and then closing programs. York has hired some of the same administrators who ultimately saw Laurentian fall into financial ruin with 150 faculty members dismissed and over 50 vital programs closed. This corporate restructuring is not how things work in a public institution legally bounded by collegial governance. Academic staff are not only employees; they are also the ‘collegium’ charged with academic governance of universities. Without consulting with students, faculty and staff, the university recently spent $8 million to hire Australia-based NOUS Group consultants to develop a plan for campus-wide restructuring. This is the same controversial agency that guided the problematic restructuring of Laurentian and the University of Alberta which resulted in numerous program and job cuts.

Third, during the recently settled CUPE 3903 strike, York students were adversely impacted by management’s growing infringement on the academic freedom of faculty members. While some faculty deans took a cooperative approach, a number indiscriminately overruled the expertise of hundreds of full-time faculty members exercising their right to suspend courses over academic integrity concerns. Even though the Senate—the university’s highest academic decision making body—asserted faculty members’ professional competency to determine the educational integrity of their own courses, management continued to disregard these rules. We fully support student efforts to recover their tuition costs in light of this progression of poor managerial decisions that have interrupted their studies.

Fourth, faculty, staff and students are exhausted by a precipitous decline in labour relations. Despite giving themselves generous pay raises since the start of the pandemic, York administrators continue to low-ball wage negotiations below the rate of inflation. For our CUPE 3903 colleagues, this includes efforts to weaken job security provisions, reduce workloads, available positions, and decimate total remuneration. This follows with similar attempts to extract concessions from maintenance, services and plant operations workers, as well as administrative, laboratory and technical staff. In this regard, the university is hardly a model employer.

The Ford government’s contributions to these problems loom large. The government’s own Blue Ribbon Panel on Higher Education found that Ontario’s per student funding is 57 percent lower than the national average. The 2024 Ontario budget will reduce this further by a whopping 25 percent. This aligns with the government’s approach to virtually every major social expenditure which sees the province dead-last in program spending. Constant pressure to do more with less has contributed to the widespread devaluation of higher education, along with efforts to make academic work even more insecure.

York management have made a bad situation worse. Faculty, staff and students are exhausted by these working conditions, attacks on collegial governance, and the lack of adequate public funding and respect from governments. This broad assault against education and public services must end. This requires pursuing a model of decent work, financial transparency, shared governance, and real respect for taxpayers through adequate funding for academic and professional programs. We strongly urge York University to take the lead in developing this model, and that is why we supported a vote of non-confidence.

Another University is a collective consisting of the rank-and-file members of the York University Faculty Association. Together we are invested in popular education about practices and politics in Ontario’s public universities.

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