YUFA response to Dean's letters about suspending classes

Dear colleagues,

Many of you have heard that the CUPE 3903 leadership will be meeting with its members today to discuss the "final offer" from the York administration. The leadership has recommended that the members reject the offer on the grounds that the administration is still demanding significant concessions. It therefore appears that a strike is increasingly likely.

In the meantime, many of you have received messages from your Dean or Principal asserting the following:

  • That the University has decided that classes taught by instructors who are not on strike will go forward, even if there is a strike; and
  • That individual faculty members are responsible for deciding whether the academic integrity of their courses would be threatened by continuing their courses during a CUPE 3903 strike. Where the instructor believes academic integrity cannot be maintained, the faculty member may suspend their courses. The faculty member is expected to report and explain their decision to their Dean or Principal, and it appears that at least some Deans may see those decisions and explanation as subject to review or approval.

Some members have asked YUFA to comment and for advice in response to these messages. Although we don't yet know that a strike will take place, we can offer the following:

  1. Role of Senate in suspending academic activities: YUFA would like to reiterate that only Senate and/or Senate Executive has the authority to decide whether the University will or will not be adopting a University-wide policy of suspending courses. This authority of Senate is determined by both the Senate disruptions policy and the York University Act, which bestows upon Senate the power to make academic policy (of which the disruptions policy is a part). Hence, the administration's assertion of a right to determine whether classes will continue, and the issuing of the Deans’ letters to their faculty even before Senate Executive has met, contravenes not only Senate policy but also the provincial statute that determines the governance structure of the University.
  1. Departmental policies on suspending classes: In the absence of a University-wide policy, some departments have already decided on a unit-based policy that classes will be suspended in the event of a strike, due to the nature and impact of the disruption. We recommend that any individual faculty member in such a department need only cite that policy when they give notice to the Dean. In some departments, the department chair has communicated the policy on behalf of individual faculty members.
  1. Individual faculty members and judgments about academic integrity: The Senate policy on disruptions establishes academic integrity as one of its governing principles. Thus, it is incumbent upon individual faculty members to ensure the academic integrity of their courses. In the 2015 strike, Senate Executive clearly asserted that course directors are the best judge of how to ensure the academic integrity of their courses and whether those courses can be continued on that basis. This decision is still in force today. It is YUFA's view that Deans may not challenge the academic integrity decisions that Senate Executive has clearly assigned to the independent professional judgment of our colleagues. In other words, regardless of whether a University-wide or unit-based policy exists to suspend classes in the event of a strike, individual faculty members retain the right to suspend their classes if they believe that the academic integrity of their courses would be affected, and that such decisions are not subject to the approval of Deans or the Principal.

We will issue further advisories as the situation evolves.