As the strike at Toronto’s York University enters its fifth week, students at Osgoode Hall Law School face the choice of crossing the picket line to attend classes, take all classes on a pass/fail basis or access a course remediation framework, which would delay 3L students in writing the June bar exam.
Osgoode's dean, Lorne Sossin, says there aren’t any bargaining sessions planned this week because the Ontario Ministry of Labour will conduct a supervised vote between April 6 and 9 online on the most recent offer, an action that will be taken at the university’s request that includes all units of CUPE.
Law students who choose to stand in solidarity with the union were given the option to declare their classes to be taken as pass/fail by March 29 or make up the missed course work after the scheduled term, but they had to make the declaration by March 26, as exam time draws near.
“We have a number of students who have indicated that they are going to exercise their rights not to participate in academic activities for the duration of the strike, and that is probably a little over 10 per cent of the total JD population, so just under 90 per cent will [participate],” says Sossin.
Those 3L students not participating in academic activities will only be able to access the remediation framework if they choose to delay taking the bar exam. Sossin says while the school grants students the right to not be penalized academically if they choose not to participate in classes, it will be up to the law society, not the school, to address the situation of students delayed because of the strike.
“We cannot guarantee that [students] won’t have any consequences from the law society and we really try to advocate on their behalf with the law society,” he says.
However, 2L Osgoode student Kylie Sier says that students at all levels of study are feeling anxiety over the strike’s continued uncertainty.
“I think there’s confusion, especially in the first two weeks of the strike, and part of that was that [the] administration was not necessarily communicating things,” she says. “I definitely think not releasing the remediation framework until March 14 caused a lot of uncertainty, especially for 1L students who are really fearful of what this will mean for being able to access summer job opportunities and articling positions in the future.”
Some law professors are opting to offer lecture recordings to students online, but Sier says some professors feel that this threatens the academic integrity of their classes due to limited group discussion opportunities. She says some students felt that this put the pressure on for them to attend lectures.
The Osgoode Strike Support Committee, a grassroots student-run group formed in 2015 during the last York University strike, intends to support members of CUPE 3903 by making fliers containing legal information, helping to fill up picket lines, creating letter templates for students choosing to withdraw from academics to give to professors citing the school’s senate policy (about no academic penalization), for instance. They also represent students and their interests to the administration during the strike.
Sier is part of this committee and says they don’t have a hierarchal structure; rather, the group of students collaborate together.
Sossin says the law school believes it’s great to see students “expressing their convictions” and they’d like to ensure they’re given the space to further their dialogue. Members of the Osgoode Strike Support Committee have been previously invited to speak during student leadership sessions revolving around students affected by the strike.
“The important Osgoode approach is really just to see our community come together to the extent possible in these moments,” he says. “So that means making sure the students on the picket lines, students supporting them, students just deciding not to participate and students who are looking to finish their academic term as close to the usual way as they can, to make sure they all really feel heard, responded to by the law school and that the law school is all about them.”
Sier points out what she sees as a paradox in the way the university administration is dealing with the strike because she and other students feel there’s little flexibility and little communication to students during this time.
“Osgoode benefits a lot from this image of being a social justice institution and a lot of students don’t feel like they’re able to live out those ideals,” she says.