York University seeks meeting with union over ‘toolkit on teaching Palestine’

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York University faces calls to decertify student union over statement of solidarity with Palestinians
RELATED: York University is facing calls to decertify a major student union over a public statement that called Hamas’ attacks in Israel “justified and necessary.” – Oct 13, 2023

York University officials say they are asking to meet with a union representing teaching assistants over a teaching toolkit calling on staff to divert class time to talk about conflict in the Middle East.

A document circulated on social media called a “toolkit on teaching Palestine,” which bears a CUPE 3903 symbol, calls on union members to “collectively divert” tutorials to teach “on Palestinian liberation” during the week of Jan. 21.

CUPE 3903 is a union local representing staff at York University, including teaching assistants.

“Across all YorkU departments… we must collectively refuse the current ‘status quo’ that upholds a culture of fear and academic silence around Palestine and Palestinian solidarity,” one section of the toolkit explains.

York University said it had not received any reports of tutorials actually being switched to discuss the conflict in the Middle East or Israeli and Palestinian history.

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Global News made multiple attempts through various different channels to contact CUPE 3903 but did not receive any responses in time for publication.

The toolkit was shared online by a social media account that appears to be affiliated to the union, which is followed by the CUPE 3903 account. Global News, however, could not independently verify if the union or one of its subcommittees distributed the material.

Barbara Joy, chief spokesperson for York University, said calls for teaching assistants to be divert from the curriculum were not “in accordance with the rightful expectations of the University as an employer, the needs of the students and the legitimate claims of the community.”

Joy said the university had contacted the union to “discuss the matter” with its leadership.

“York’s commitment to support and uphold academic freedom, and freedom of expression within the limits of the law, stands,” she said.

“While there will be some courses and seminars where dialogue on world events could be relevant; this should occur in a respectful manner that allows for the expression of diverse perspectives in an inclusive learning environment.”

The university’s president and vice-chancellor shared a similar message with a faculty staff mailing list Monday evening.

Hugh Pouliot, senior communications officer with the umbrella CUPE organization, said individual locals are given significant autonomy but are still expected to operate within the organization’s bylaws.

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“CUPE locals are expected to operate within CUPE’s constitution and bylaws and are ultimately accountable to their membership in all their activities,” he said.

“All locals have internal mechanisms should a complaint arise.”

Bargaining updates available on the union local’s website show it has made Palestinian concerns a key part of its ongoing negotiations with York University.

“The (bargaining team) remains committed to challenging the Employer’s lack of response in the face of the genocide taking place in Palestine,” one update from early January said online, referencing Israel’s ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip.

“We drafted a Statement on Palestine to show the employer and the Conciliator that genocide is a labour issue, especially since members are being disciplined by the Employer for their support of the Palestinian people.”

Earlier this month, South Africa asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to order an emergency suspension of Israel’s devastating military campaign in the Palestinian enclave, accusing it of carrying out a state-led genocide.

Israel dismissed the genocide allegations as “grossly distorted” and said it had a right to defend itself and was targeting Hamas, not Palestinian civilians.

In the initial ruling the ICJ will not deal with the main question of whether Israel is committing genocide. The court will just look at possible emergency measures, meant as a kind of restraining order while the court looks at the full case, which usually takes years.

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— with files from Reuters

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