Following York’s return to in-person classes, the department of social science passed a motion in early September to make all in-person classes remote due to the Delta variant of COVID-19. Other departments in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) were contemplating passing similar motions, but were unsure of the ramifications.
In support, York University Faculty Association (YUFA) issued a public statement on September 13 declaring that academic units should have the right to determine the structure, format, and mode of course delivery.
YUFA invoked article 18.08.3 of the York University Board of Governors and YUFA Collective Agreement, which states, “Normally, the structure, format, and mode of delivery of courses shall be determined by the relevant unit(s) in conformity with the requirements of the curriculum as approved by Senate and with established practices.”
Members of LA&PS departments now worry whether non-tenured faculty would be penalized for switching in-person classes to remote.
Kim Ian Michasiw, former vice-dean of LA&PS, says that the first paragraph of article 18.08.3 “provides shelter for Unit 2 CDs, and for all members of CUPE 3903 working as Tutor 1s. Normally, the unit determines the format before posting the course for contract teaching, but in a circumstance like the pandemic, that determination may follow. In either case, the contract employee is employed according to the terms of the unit’s determination.
“‘Normally’ can, however, cut both ways, and that’s the word I’d worry over,” Michasiw continues.
A letter from the dean’s office stated that any motion was based on “inaccurate references” and that the right of instructors to “determine class format and mode of delivery” is not actually present under article 18.08.3.
The dean’s office stated that any change in the mode of delivery would be “unfair” to students and “would have a significant negative impact on them, their families, and hence the university.”
In this case, any course that was planned and is scheduled to be taught in-person from September 13 onwards must remain in-person.
There has, however, been some success for the students and faculty fighting for course delivery autonomy. One instructor, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, “we compiled data, gathered the evidence, and the admin ‘heard us’ because we gave them evidence that clearly indicated student demand for going online.”
Somar Abuaziza, a first-year political science student, says they “feel that student voices were taken into account regarding the delivery of courses because students that wanted online had the opportunity to do so and vice versa for in-person.”
Meanwhile, Brandon Ying, a third-year professional writing student, says that there is still plenty of student demand for in-person classes. The in-person section of a course he is taking “unsurprisingly filled up quickly.
“All of my courses outside of my major are in-person when they could have easily been online,” Ying adds.
Faith Toma, a first-year law and society student, notes that although she had a “convenient experience” choosing between remote and in-person classes, she hopes that York “works with students to ensure that their desired learning style is achievable.”
On September 20, YUFA issued an additional statement regarding its ongoing dispute with the employer over section 18.08.3 of the collective agreement. It states that they have made note of the fact that “instructors are not ‘refusing’ to work, but rather making necessary modifications in order to ensure that they are able to perform their work safely and in a way that meets their pedagogic and academic responsibilities.”