A faculty strike at one of Canada's largest universities has gone on for more than five weeks and an end to it seems far off now that the administration has rejected binding arbitration.
Full-time academics at York University in Toronto went on strike on March 20, suspending classes for most of the 40,000 students.
Strikes are inadvertently becoming an annual affair in Canada, after faculty associations set up pickets at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, for more than two weeks last November, and the University of Manitoba for more than three weeks in the autumn of 1995.
York professors have seen many classes doubling in size annually, diminishing support staff overworked, students' tuition fees rising by more than ten times the inflation rate and their university becoming increasingly dependent on commercial interests.
Canada's third-largest university, York has long been known as a quality college with a diverse population of many first-generation Canadians. It is an institution that has also traditionally welcomed others who would not normally find a place at McGill and the University of Toronto.
Sociology professor Lorna Erwin says she has seen teaching conditions deteriorate over the past five years. One of her union's 1,050 members out on strike, she appreciates the education York gave her at a time when her opportunities were slim, and has always wanted to return in kind. "But it's becoming more difficult."
For fellow sociology professor Mike Ornstein, who has been at York since 1971, the university resembles a private-sector operation with a corporate mentality. "More and more, university management is like any other management and the university professor is like any other worker."
Although formal talks have broken off twice, some contact is continuing between the parties and a mediator. One main issue is the faculty association's desire to have professors who continue to teach after 65 to be able to retire at 70.
The administration agrees this is more humanitarian than mandatory retirement at 65, but says the provision will cost too much. Both sides agree on one thing: the Ontario government of Mike Harris, who last year cut university funding by 15 per cent, should bear much of the blame for the strike.