York University Special Senate Meeting • What the Hell Happened?

Disclaimer: This is not the official recap of the meeting of Senate. The only official recap are available via the minutes available on the Senate Website. I’ve done my best to be as accurate as possible with events and speakers but regret that a few errors may be made due to being stuck taking notes from an audio stream. If you have proof of any inaccuracies, send me a Reddit message and I will note the correction.

On March 8 2018, York’s Senate held a special meeting regarding the ongoing labour disruption with CUPE 3903. So other than the obvious answer (nothing, for those who listened or followed this live thread), what the hell happened?

Vari Hall, courtesy Wikipedia

According to the agenda, “the meeting of Senate has been called by the Chair, in consultation with the Executive Committee, in response to a petition submitted by 27 Senators to hold a meeting to discuss ‘the role of Senate and Senate policy in relation to the…strike.’” The Senate Executive Committee decided to hold the meeting on a Thursday rather than Monday as requested by the petition in order to maximize attendance.

I, along with all other non-senators, was denied access into senate chambers, instead being forced to listen to an audio-stream in the (not) lovely Curtis Lecture Hall B. CUPE and their supporters were denied access to chambers but were allowed to protest in front of the entrance to chambers, with a strong security presence.

The meeting began 5 minutes late with the standard indigenous statement, an acknowledgement of International Womens’ Day, and a note about the ongoing REDress project. The chair says that in chambers and CLH no audio or visual recordings are allowed as per Senate rules. She also mentions something about social media, even though the rules make no mention of it (ergo my thread is within the rules). Nobody challenged this or breached the rules, save for a student reporter who was chastised by a community member for taking a picture of CLH B.

The chair begins: “Special meetings can only deal with business in a petition. Motions are reviewed [by the SEC, who sets Senate agendas] to ensure they’re ready for consideration. The motion was deemed ‘premature’ due to lack of jurisdictional consideration.”

Immediately after, a Senator (who I understand to be Richard Wellen but cannot confirm) challenges the chair’s decision to rule his motion “out of order.” This is the topic for the next hour.

The senator and the chair argue back and forth about definitions and procedures. While the chair asserts that the motion was deferred and not ruled Out of Order (therefore unacceptable to challenge), the Senator argues that a deferral doesn’t exist as per the rules of Senate: It can be ruled in order or out of order only (and it seems he’s right).

The chair argues that the executive can delay a motion if it’s unclear or lacks rationale, before the senator reveals that information he provided with the motion was ignored and not distributed to the SEC. It’s at this point (15:27) that the chair decides to call a vote to oppose the deferral of the meeting.

Kaneff Tower, home of York’s Administration. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you? For the next odd half-hour, various points of order (POO) and points of privilege (POP) are called in what may be a filibuster. Regardless, the motion was defeated at 15:57 by a single vote (53 yea — 54 nay). At this point, no new motions are allowed except to extend the meeting, and the focus shifts to discussing whether or not Senate has the authority to suspend classes as a result of a labour disruption. As an hour was spent debating technicalities before a vote to accept a challenge, only a few senators are able to make their views known, summarized below. If you’ve read the live thread, skip to the end of the bullets.

  • Senator Armstrong’s argument was hard to follow as there were some issues with the audio stream and CUPE’s protests were amplified by the microphone. She says the Senate Policy on Disruptions grants the authority to declare a disruption and monitor the impact while reducing the length of the term if necessary. She believes the authority to cancel is limited to the VP Academic & Finance. She notes that York’s bigovernance between the Senate and Board of Governors means that jurisdictions can cross but that each body is limited as to what they can do.”The absence of explicit rules to cancel isn’t an accident but a design. A request must come from the higher-ups first”
  • Senator Wellen speaks: “ In 2015 a motion to suspend was brought forward and not ruled OOO. You can’t interpret the York act as you wish. You don’t have to have intent from admin before the senate can cancel classes. Main antagonists in previous strike she have conferred to me that this isn’t the case. If the senate deems it doesn’t have authority it will become a legal challenge. This is not like a weather emergency [as Sen Armstrong had compared it to]. It’s clear we have the authority. York act says senate has authority over the university’s affairs.” He says this was also decided in Turner v York University
  • Senator Wu (unclear whether Henry or John)says that from his point of view “It falls within Senate mandate to make the call… We have the authority to extend [the semester] and remediate, this is an extension of that”
  • Senator Ferrara Says “ The academic policy underlines possibility of cancellations but doesn’t give us the power to cancel… We have to separate between what we’d like and what the language says”
  • A Senator who I heard pronounced as London but must be Lenton (the President)says that they need to “Make sure we don’t use senate to insert itself into collective agreements. In Ontario, labour law says those in a union not on strike have an obligation to preform their duties”
  • Senator Jacobs questions the role of the SEC — “ it would be collegial if we had execs listening rather than dictating. I understand BoG fiduciary understanding but when it comes to students it’s fundamental to engage the senators rather than SEC being unilateral? If we put all of our power in the SEC why have Senate?
  • Another Senator (unsure of his name) questions the purpose of the meeting if there’s no vote
  • Senator Mc(something — there are too many similar names to attribute to one) says that the senate has to do (and has the power to do) whatever’s possible to ensure academic integrity. She references the Senate Disruption Policy
  • A student senator speaks up: “ Glendon council made a motion to SEC to cancel academic activity due to safety, integrity, and mental health. 80% on Glendon are cancelled but uncertainty creates stress. If SEC doesn’t have jurisdiction why could we give them a motion in the first place?
  • Senator Goldberg, a professor in the Psychology Dept worries about the impact on cases he and his students work on. He adds that he’s recruiting next week and worried about this disruption tarnishing York’s reputation
  • Senator Leyton-Brown: “ Academic integrity and labour disruptions are, in fact, related. Lots of mention of two senate policies on disruption and class cancellation. Nobody’s questioned senates role in how they follow the policies. They don’t define the limits (I.e. Only this or only that) and are merely guidelines. If this can cause a cancellation, it’s legitimate for senate to discuss. The boundary consideration is academic integrity not a cancellation policy”
  • A senator connects the issue of academic integrity to a lack of trust between colleagues: “ Nobody knows academic integrity of their course better than the instructors.”
  • Senator Sergio echoes Senators Leyton-Brown and the one who spoke previous. Notes that as a member of the SEC, the SEC has a duty to listen to their constituents
  • A student senator delivers a monologue offering no opinion directly relating to jurisdiction. He alleges that York has a reputation and that Guidance councillors say don’t go to York as labour disputes may delay a degree. He recommends a clear policy be enacted for the future.
  • A senator echoes previous viewpoints relating to trust. He asks what’ll happen to the motion and is told that the SEC will make a decision on Friday March 9.
  • Another student senator: “People who receive accommodations want to continue. However not everybody is receiving these accommodations as there’s a lack of clarity [as to what that means]”
  • Another senator agrees and adds “ students face decisions between taking a 70% final or crossing Picket lines.”

The meeting ends with no decision being made, but with President Lenton saying that the SEC will have to determine the jurisdictions of the Board of Governors and Senate.

Scott Library, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Two hours were spent discussing an issue that will, apparently, be decided by another body. A full hour was spent on arguments between whether the motion was ruled OOO or deferred before a vote on a challenge occurred. The SEC declared that course drop deadlines would be extended but there was no time for discussion in Senate.

Why is it acceptable for our Senators to waste a two-hour meeting being pedantic rather than focusing on the real issue at hand? Why couldn’t Senator Lenton request the meeting be extended by an hour instead of 10 minutes, to give as many people as possible the chance to express their views? Why, after 5 disruptions in 20 years, does Senate not know what falls under their jurisdiction? Why did the Provost release a letter before negotiations ended, unilaterally declaring that “all classes that can continue, will continue”? Given how the administration is handling itself, it seems likely that these questions will remain unanswered.

Regardless of whether you support York or CUPE, yesterday’s senate meeting was deplorable. The University needs to focus on the matter at hand and make the decisions they are elected to make with the collegiality expected of academic governors. The last thing we need is more money spent on lawsuits, to make determinations that the university can decide to make.

President Lenton was right in that York’s in the midst of a constitutional crisis, but only because of the inaction of those who were Senators before. Senate needs to pick up the slack of those who came before them and codify whether or not they have the authority to cancel class once a decision has been made. This isn’t York’s first labour rodeo, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Arial view of York University, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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