June 11, 2018
York University Faculty Association
Members of the Executive Committee
Dear Members of the Executive Committee,
It was with genuine surprise that I read your open letter to me and the Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic distributed on Friday of last week (June 8).
During negotiations and throughout the strike I and my colleagues in the senior University administration have expressed our commitment to respect for diversity of perspectives on all manner of issues. We value and encourage freedom of expression, vigorous debate, and the interrogation of ideas and points of view. Dissent is a necessary and welcome inhabitant of this intellectual space.
Our expression of this commitment has not just been in words. As noted in the communication that is the subject of your open letter, we respect and have given considerable latitude to lawful picketing and peaceful protest in support of the legal right to strike and exercise of free expression. We have allowed CUPE 3903 to set up picket lines and strike-related items on York property and have not acted to remove the metal barricade gates even during CUPE 3903’s “hard pickets”.
At the same time, we have been calling on CUPE 3903 and all members of the community to join in upholding respect for diversity of points of view regardless of the issue or position held on the strike and how we find ourselves where we are. We have called for civility and compassion in our engagement with one another with a view to the need to come together when the strike ends. Most importantly, we have been clear that there can be no compromise of our obligation to protect the rights of all members of the York community to enjoy a safe environment for work and study, free of violence, harassment, intimidation and bullying.
None of these behaviours – whether publicly describing someone with whom we disagree as “an actual piece of garbage,” repeatedly shouting at someone while confining them, trespassing, or damaging property – represents or is in any way a part of civil or respectful debate or dissent. They cannot be excused as “conscionable” acts; to do so would be to privilege the rights of a few over the rights of the rest of the community. As you are aware we have obligations in law and policy to all community members and these do not cease to exist as a result of a strike. Civil disobedience is not an excuse for behaviour that is, for example, in breach of another person’s rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act or our Workplace Harassment Prevention Program. This is not vindictive, retaliatory or a reprisal. It is our legal obligation.
On its face, your letter reads as a rejection of our call for respect and compassion; it appears instead to be a call for us to ignore our obligation to ensure safe and supportive spaces for all members of the community and the accountability and responsibility we collectively have in our own behaviours to uphold safe and supportive spaces. Dissent is not unlawful; nor is vigorous debate and disagreement. We have never suggested so and I would find any retaliation for dissent unacceptable. Behaviours such as those noted above, however, are antagonistic to debate and dissent as open and respectful exchanges on different points of view.
Herein lies my surprise at your letter. I simply cannot believe that this reading of your letter truly reflects the view of the Faculty Association or its members. In particular, I am unable to believe that it is the position of YUFA or your members that behaviours such as these ought to be tolerated on campus in any situation where it may be claimed that they are “conscionable acts of civil disobedience.” I ask that you reflect on your letter and the message it conveys through the lens of your colleagues. Would you or your colleagues accept such behaviours under the descriptor of “conscionable acts” if they were directed at colleagues, their offices or other work spaces or classrooms in which they teach?
I will leave you with this request to reflect on the message of your letter and ask, again, that you join in expressing our collective commitment to respect for diversity of thought and to compassion in how we engage with one another.
Rhonda L. Lenton, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor
York University Faculty Association Letter to York University – June 8, 2018
Dear President Lenton, Provost Philipps, and Vice-Provost Students Fromowitz,
We are writing in response to the recent escalation of rhetoric on the part of the University administration against members of the York community.
We note that a May 28 letter from Vice-Provost Students Lucy Fromowitz threatens Reclaim York University student members with “fines, restitution, and suspension from University” for acts understood to be in contravention of the “University’s policies and health and safety standards.”
We remind members of the administration that the student code of conduct is not designed as a cudgel to be wielded against students engaged in conscionable acts of civil disobedience.
An unsigned open letter to CUPE 3903, dated June 6, threatens recrimination against CUPE members because of purportedly “illegal strike activities,” charges based on undocumented allegations and vague “reports.” The document references “lawful” behavior no less than eight times in a brief page and-a-half.
We protest the representation of dissent as unlawful. We find reprehensible threats of legal sanctions against members of the York community.
We are alarmed by the increasing use of censorious legalisms as a mechanism to quash debate. Such tactics have no place in a university environment.
We deplore the antagonistic tone of these letters. We condemn any reprisals that may be taken, individually or collectively, against community members, and in particular against our students who are already heavily burdened.
We believe such heated rhetoric, coupled to a threat to bring civil or criminal charges against protestors, does little to bring members of our community together and will serve only to harden and deepen divisions. Such an approach only prolongs the impasse and scuttles the possibilities for effective resolution.
In such trying times, we encourage the University to develop approaches that emphasize healing and reconciliation over recrimination.