York U groups fight back as university seeks to punish activists for freedom of assembly, freedom of expression
TORONTO, ON – At a news conference held earlier this week at Queen’s Park, the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903 issued a joint demand for York University to halt a series of punitive student code of conduct investigations that aim to punish union members and undergraduate students for their participation in political dissent. They charge that the university’s actions circumvent the local union’s collective agreement; and place a chill on campus activism.
Professor Stefan Kipfer, a member of a committee of the York University Faculty Association that supports the eight students under investigation, is the academic supervisor of one of the students. Professor Kipfer also spoke at the news conference to add his support for the groups’ cause.
The university administration recently filed a number of complaints against union and student activists for their free expression and assembly during the CUPE 3903 strike.
“The administration, led by York University’s president and vice-chancellor, Rhonda Lenton, is singling out a handful of activists and threatening their academic careers and livelihoods, in order to scare students and workers from speaking out,” said Devin Lefebvre, Chairperson of CUPE 3903. “York University has a rich culture of diverse thought, debate and activism that is being attacked by the current administration.”
Senior-level administrators have targeted selected union members and undergraduate student allies for their participation in protests that took place during the strike and that were meant to pressure the university to return to the bargaining table and end the labour dispute. The students face penalties that include a fine of up to $1000, suspension and even expulsion.
“This is the latest example of York’s disdain for its students and workers,” continued Lefebvre. “In addition to prolonging a five-month strike by refusing to bargain seriously and inciting mass confusion with poor back-to-class communication, the university is now penalizing students for their critical views and activism.”
The union is promising to explore all channels, including grievances and unfair labour practice complaints to contest the university administration’s actions.
“York University is continuing to tarnish its reputation, both as an employer and as an educational institution, by threatening students with dire academic and financial consequences for demanding better,” said Hildah Otieno, Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario. “If York wants to salvage any respect, it must drop the draconian Code of Conduct process and focus instead on delivering high-quality public post-secondary education.”
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Notes for editors: CUPE 3903 represents more than 3,000 teaching assistants, contract faculty, graduate assistants and part-time librarians and archivists at York University. The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario has more than 35 member-local students’ unions in Ontario uniting over 350,000 full-time and part-time students.
For more information, contact:
Devin Lefebvre, Chairperson, CUPE 3903, 647-303-0437
Mary Unan, CUPE Communications, 647-390-9839
Source: CUPE Ontario