Campus Contracts: A Striking Chapter in Education ; York University Yesterday Began Its First Full Week of Classes after an 11- Week Strike

Article excerpt

The strike that almost ate Christine Shakespeare's freshman year is over.

Students at Toronto's York University yesterday began their first full week of classes after the settlement of the longest-running university strike in the history of English Canada.

But this is probably not the end of campus labor strife in this country. And given the increased level of university unionism in the United States of late, some version of the York scenario could conceivably play out there, too.

The strike at York, where unionized graduate students and contract faculty virtually shut down the campus since Oct. 26 - mostly over a wage dispute - occurred at the juncture of several different lines:

*Cutbacks in government funding, and several years of tuition hikes above inflation.

*More and more of the academic workload shifted from tenure- track professors to less costly university employees.

*Rapidly expanding demand for public higher education, both because the baby-boom echo means there are more university-age Canadians and because they and their families see higher education as essential to career success in the new economy.

University education "has become an essential service that should be protected against strikes," as one caller to a Toronto radio station put it.

"Full-time university enrollment will likely increase by approximately 25 to 40 percent by the end of the next decade," a study by the Council of Ontario Universities found. The same document also projected that as a major demographic bulge of academics heads toward retirement, 11,000 to 13,000 new full-time faculty hires will be needed over the same period.

"I approve, in principle, of the strike," says Ms. Shakespeare, of Oshawa, Ontario, as she enjoys a snack at the student union. "I just wish it hadn't taken so long to settle." She says there may have been a desire "on the part of the union and administration to show, 'We mean business, we're not going to have to negotiate all these things again.' "

With the settlement ratified, both sides are claiming victory. "We have achieved settlements which compensate the employees without jeopardizing the academic and financial integrity of the University," announced York's president, Dr. Lorna Marsden.

"We were able to hold the line on access to higher education," said Joel Harden, a spokesman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3903, which represents the strikers.

The union was able to retain in its contract a provision - unique among Canadian universities - linking the salaries of teaching assistants to the tuitions they must pay as students. …