Why would any student choose York University?

Teachers at York University have been on strike since Nov. 6. That’s 81 days and counting that students have been denied the education they paid for.

OK, strikes are sometimes justified. But York University experiences more strikes than your average institution of higher education:

York University has a history of faculty/TA strikes. In 1997, there was a faculty strike by YUFA that lasted seven weeks. At the time, this was the second longest strike in Canadian University history. Key issues in the strike included retirement, funding, and institutional governance. In 2001, TAs and contract faculty went on strike for 11 weeks, when the university broke its own record.

York has now broken its own record again. (News media have inaccurately described this strike as the longest strike at a university in Canadian history. In fact, it’s the third longest, according to studentactivism.net.)

I was briefly a student at York in 1981-82, and I remember that classes were disrupted by a strike then. Chris, a commenter at CTV.ca, says, “I went to York from 1981-1986 and 4 of those” were strike years.

If memory serves, there was another strike sometime between 1987-1991. Add those strikes to the ones mentioned by Wikipedia, in 1997 and 2001. Now factor in the current strike, and it’s safe to conclude that the faculty at York University don’t give a shit about providing students with an education.

The provincial government has introduced legislation to order the York faculty back to work. I don’t agree with that decision:  I don’t regard a university as an essential public service.

(Here in Ottawa, we’re enduring a transit strike that has continued for a month and a half, with no end in sight. I think OC Transpo provides an essential public service and, in this case, drivers should be legislated back to work. The whole city has been disrupted, and a transit strike hits the working poor hardest of all. People in low-paying jobs may have no choice but to walk to work, no matter how long the walk, or they’ll be fired. And yet the government fails to act.)

In future, students should think twice about enrolling at York. Look at the history, guys and gals:  you stand a very good chance of having classes disrupted by a strike at some point in a four-year program. Maybe for as long as three months.

A university is not an essential public service, and teachers shouldn’t be legislated back to work. But students should enroll elsewhere:  let York University suffer the consequences of its appalling labour relations record.

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University made easy. And cheap.

When I was a high school student, Father Guido Sarducci used to appear occasionally on Saturday Night Live. Here’s his “five-minute university” sketch.

I’ve posted my all-time favourite Father Guido Sarducci sketch at Emerging From Babel.

The "Case" (For Free Education)

It’s not often that I read “junk” e-mail. When I get a message, if it’s not from a sender I recognize, I am very cautious about opening it. This precaution I redouble when I am dealing with any sent to the e-mail for the Trent Christian Fellowship — and address I manage as a part of my role as the group’s communication coordinator.

So, the fact that I’m doing a post about one such e-mail is droll, to say the least. Still, when the e-mail is longer than any I’ve ever received from a fellow member, it’s worth a few brownie points — just so long as it has no attachments!

Of course, the subject had plenty to do with it as well. A well-used subject box can change a great deal. When I look through my spam box (which captures most unwanted e-mail), I’m always graced by such titles as “imp0ve the s1ze of your masculini1y”. Why on earth anyone would actually open something labeled as such, I don’t know, but apparently they are convinced someone will — and trigger the oh-so-subtle attachment they have included, designated by a mere paperclip symbol that stands out on the page.

So when you see “The case for free education”, you start to muse, particularly since it didn’t make it as far as your junk box. It doesn’t look school-ordained, and neither does it seem to be from one of the TCF members. Still, no attachment and a good subject means I may as well flip it open anyhow to check it out. Sometimes these things actually are important.

And by the end of it, I had read what must have been close to 2000 words!

And it brought up some interesting points. Points which are not entirely valid, by me, but points nonetheless — and from a different perspective, to boot!

I won’t post the entire article here, but if you wish to go over it, I’ve uploaded a Word document you can check out here. For the sake of the post, I will pull out some quotes and give some context.

Firstly, the author doesn’t simply push for free education because it will benefit students (and herself, as is often the case). She begins by making clear that she is a teacher, and admits her slight bias — while also shooting down the possibility that she herself is a student! Then she sets in on the real argument, stating that the government has good goals in aiming to increase productivity and employment, but needs to shoot from a different perspective.

The first thing she takes down is the idea that funding childcare is a good way to boost the economy:

The goal of high tax income for government is also not really being met because even though a lot of adults are now earning full time, it is costing a lot to get them there.

When governments fund daycare at $32 a day while the parent pays only $7 as in Quebec, every child in daycare is costing the state a massive amount of money.  Daycare lobby groups are making the case that we need full-time daycare spots paid for for every single child in the country, and this would cost an amount they are reluctant to admit. But for 2 million children at $10,000 a space per year, the bill is $20 billion, per year.  An unthinkable amount just to ensure that women can earn.  What is more ironic is that the state by such a policy is actually right now funding the daycare of a family of two or three children at $30,000 a  year so that the mother can earn maybe $17,000 a year. The state is losing money on such arrangements.

And as the population ages, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg because eldercare is going to be very very costly. Taking care of your aging parent used to be private, personal and a household cost. Pressuring all adults out of the home to earn takes away the caregiver and the elderly will have to be put into state-funded care. Just imagine the bill and it is  a bill for government – because government wants women to work outside the home not to be home providing this care.

A solid blow, by me. Because many working mothers end up at a service-sector position, it really doesn’t matter how much more able they are to work, they are losing money on the deal. If you could get mothers into $100 000 jobs, that may be different, but statistically working mothers have it the hardest for wage-earning — probably partly because of university education limitations!

Her proposed solution? Funding towards child-rearing:

Yes I am talking about huge, massive investments in unheard of proportions. I am talking about a universal baby bonus of $2,000 and a universal children’s care allowance of $4,000 per child per year till age 18.  The cost is phenomenal, yes, but then let’s look at that. It is not any MORE than the daycare bill would have been. In fact per year it is less than the daycare will would have been for any given preschooler.

She follows this up with the points that this would also yield more children to stave our dwindling population, as well as far less child poverty, which tends to cause great harm to the economy.

Then she gets the the part that presumably is supposed to be relevant to me, as a student:

And here is the second suggestion- fund education massively. All public school education and the first post-secondary degree or certificate should be free.  Yes free. France has had such a system for some time and it is for sure very costly to government. Initially

Her case? That it would guarantee a well-paid population, it would help keep the population motivated and innovative rather than stagnating in jobs they didn’t want in the first place, and it would allow them to contribute to the economy immediately instead of fighting to get out of debt. These smile-inducing factors would combine with the first request in order to create happy people raising happy kids, perpetuating the situation for following generations!

My response? Ideally, it would work, and flawlessly. However, in reality she has a couple gaping holes in her logic.

The first is that everything the government does is to increase productivity. Though it is true that that is part of their motivation, movements like the push towards childcare have as much to do with women wanting to compete in the job-force as any real benefits. The government likely sees it as a lost-leader — something to put to rest the feminists that claim the opportunity isn’t equal, in order that people in “real” jobs can stop paying heed to the claims. And that way they seem to be supporting women’s rights; If the market forces women to work in low-salary jobs, hey, that’s the problem of the market, not the government, right?

Also, she points out that the cost for the child benefits would be cheaper than pre-school childcare… but that’s only per year. The cost of funding such a benefit until the children are adults would be phenomenal. Perhaps positive and well worth the cost in the end… but still a lot more than funding daycare for 4 years.

As for the free education, her biggest miss is in the assumption that a university education guarantees a high-paying job. The market doesn’t work that way — as can be seen today. We don’t need to look any further than our own neighbourhood McDonald’s to see that degrees don’t guarantee anything.

This is a common misapprehension on the part of students. The truth is, increasing qualifications doesn’t increase the number of jobs. Now that 70% of people go on to get a bachelor’s, it is being said that you need a master’s or doctorate to have a real edge. The result isn’t more high-paying jobs, it’s more people who never use their qualifications. And why not? When you have to pick someone to do a given job and you have 10 different people with degrees to choose from, clearly you’re not just going to open up a new spot for the 9 who fail the interview!

So, instead of funding free post-secondary education, the government needs to be focusing on discouraging people from getting university degrees — and subsequently helping them attain something like a college diploma in a field that is lacking workers! That way students won’t go into debt needlessly, since they will actually use their qualifications! Also, tuition will drop in price, so there’s no need to worry that everyone will simultaneously stop aspiring for a university education. After all, part of the reason the schools can charge so much is that they have students begging to get in. Less demand means lower prices to entice those who are considering it to come!

So, IMO, there cannot be a case for free education — or at least, not if you consider “education” to be synonymous with “university”, which most people (including the author) clearly do!

And thus ends a whopper post, generated entirely from a junk e-mail!

University… [the transition]

In the article, the author wonders “why do we … try to go from adolescent to adult in a matter of weeks or months?”. Hello? What were those four or five undergrad years all about? Obviously, the writer thinks that university students are in an extended adolescence until the very moment of graduation.

This statement was made by MaryP in response to another blogger. While I agree with the core of what she argues, I would take her argument and run with it in a slightly different direction.

As an undergrad, I disagree with her statement. Perhaps it’s just my personal experiences, but I think the transition from adolescence to adulthood should taking place long before that. I moved off to school because I was ready to be an adult. A young, inexperienced adult, for sure, but an adult nonetheless.

The university years are meant to learn as an adult, not to transition. High school is about transitioning from adolescent to adult. Those four years, you still are at home, but hopefully are maturing both educationally and interpersonally. I like to think that I came out of High School with a mature perspective on how to work with other people, how to care for myself, and how to set goals for myself and make effective use of my education. If I hadn’t, then it seems odd for me to be stepping out on my own immediately. University shouldn’t be considered a transition year, it should be where the learning throughout that transition is first put to test.

I think the root of my argument rests in the notion that society seems to have that adolescence is a period of time when you’re supposed to be immature. I don’t think MaryP thinks that — just the opposite, I always appreciated how she paid me a great deal of respect as a maturing individual. Instead of expecting me to be stupid and always err, she treated me like someone who was developing his capacity to make the right decision as often as humanly possible, as did my father and mother. And the fact that they all treated me this way was key! I can say (I hope) that instead of being the “typical” teenager, whining about any work and dropping my responsibilities as soon as I could get my hands on a beer, I was pretty good at learning from mistakes and appreciating the hardships that made me a better person.

Of course I didn’t make every decision correctly. But that’s just the point — a transition tends to involve more misdemeanors than otherwise! I honestly feel that I came into university having mostly completed the transition to adulthood. I entered as a (basically) financially, emotionally, and morally independent individual. I was ready to tackle the role of adulthood.

And, while some people feel like tackling adulthood is enough to leave them lying in the dirt moaning, my experience (as a football player and a teenager 😉 ) left me ready to take the couple hits that would ensue, and ready to prove myself as a competent adult.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m past all of the hits. Financially, there’ll be problems from here until God decides otherwise — that much was made clear in the first couple months on my own. Emotionally, there were struggles with my role as an adult, most of which revolved around the fact that leaving behind your adolescent self isn’t always easy. But by the time I hit university, I was leaving behind the teenage Ben, and that’s important to my development as an adult. The university transition isn’t about learning to stop being a teenager — it’s about being an adult, fully, and transitioning from a young adult to a mature one.

That’s why I cringed when I came across this surprisingly relevant article in the Globe and Mail today. The question being asked is how a parent should handle it when their “kid” is partying, resulting in a waste of money on the part of the parent. The respondent says:

Some people major in English lit. Some major in economics. Your son just happens to be a major partier. Certainly, it’s disconcerting to think that all that money you earn by the sweat of your brow is ending up in a residence toilet at three in the morning. But before you freak out and turn off the financial tap, breathe deeply and relax. I bet if you think back to your own first semester in university, you’ll remember more about what when on between classes than in them. In fact, Evelyn Rodinos, a psychologist at McGill University’s counselling centre, even suggests that your son’s wild and crazy behaviour might be a good thing. For his development, and for his future in the job market.

“For freshman, it’s almost a rite of passage to do a lot of experimenting and try out a lot of different personas. As they’re trying to find themselves and choose who they want to be, academics isn’t going to be in the top three or four priorities,” says Ms. Rodinos. “Usually,” she laughs, “number one is having sex.” And according to the admirably realistic Ms. Rodinos, you shouldn’t necessarily curb your son’s careless behaviour, at least not right away. “Social status may be more important towards performance in the long term,” she says. “As long as you have social skills, you’re going to be successful.”

Why cringe? Well, first of all I think the development theory is horrible skewed here. The “kid” shouldn’t be a kid by the time he’s in university. He should be beyond “learning who he is” and should be at the point where he can test to see if who he is is really going to work out now that he’s an adult. But even worse is the fact that the advise is to keep funding this behaviour, because it’s important for him as a growing “child.”

That’s bull, plain and simple. One of the wonders of university life for me has been complete financial autonomy. Yes, it’s hurt, and will have an impact on my near future. Yet, I’ve had to learn to be prudent with my money, which wouldn’t be the case if every one of my actions was “on the tab.” Having “the financial tap” flowing freely is simply encouraging this kid to be irresponsible and to continue blowing his money on booze. While the problem wasn’t booze for me, I can say that I had to learn to cut back on the fancy foods and other such “vices.” Fortunately, I had learned to budget and plan my finances responsibly before I had to be an adult — thanks to my parental figures — and so that new, adult experience was not so overwhelming that I will never recover.

Absolutely the parents should cut off the financial tap to their adult. If the author of this article were to announce that her mom pays for her bills and she blows what cash she earns from journalism on beer, I’m certain that people would be far less willing to stomach her articles. That same financial autonomy should have been embedded into the mentality of “Little Jimmy” throughout high school, and by the time he stepped out into the larger world he should have been able to realize that over-drinking was not a financially prudent decision.

Parents, give your kids credit. Treat them like blooming adults throughout high school, and they will be ready to step out into the world when they hit university. Stop throwing your money down the toilet; Let your “kids” be adults completely, not this teenager-adult hybrid that seems to exist later and later in a person’s life these days.

In short, want your kid to move out? Don’t just stop cooking with cheese; Stop paying for their cheese, period. Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt and let them risk buying their own cheese!

Drink, eat, and be pregnant!

At the Daily Mail, a newspiece has caught the attention of Diggers.  The article, which is adorned by a lovely photo of a pregnant woman apparently offering her stomach some wine, advocates pregnant drinking, on the basis of a new study released recently by NICE:

Instead of cutting out alcohol altogether, pregnant women should limit their intake to 1.5 units a day and, if possible, avoid it in the first three months of pregnancy.

A small glass of wine counts as one unit, as does half a pint of ordinary strength lager, while a bottle of alcopop counts as 1.5 units.

A NICE spokesman said it was anticipated the Department of Health would issue ‘clear advice’ on the issue when the final version of the NICE guidance is issued next March.

However, the Department of Health said its advice to avoid alcohol all together was ‘straightforward’ and ‘simple’.

The article then bounces quotes back and forth between the opposing parties, all the while giving the slight edge to the “reasonable” NICE representatives.

I am no scientist. I have to say that the author’s position is a little wonky to me. I agree with the statement by the department of health: Their instructions are clear and simple. The author states many times that the two different opinions will only confuse women, but what is more confusing is why the women are confused at all.

Here’s the department of health’s argument in a nutshell: While it is possible that a little bit of alcohol could be okay, there is no absolute, conclusive evidence for just how much that limit should be. Even the article concedes that there may be some risk in what NICE says, by quietly moving past one of their discoveries:

After reviewing a series of studies on drinking in pregnancy, the NICE advisers, who include doctors and midwives, said that other than possibly increasing the risk of miscarriage, it appeared small amounts of alcohol did not harm the unborn baby.

Wait, wait wait. “other than possibly increasing the risk of miscarriage?” The sentence jumped off the page at me; the author deliberately avoids it.

The truth is that even NICE cannot say for certain just how much alcohol is acceptable. The department of health gives the simplest advice going: Stay away from alcohol, and there is no risk. They are not “confusing” anyone. Rather, if anyone can be accused of confusing the populace, it is NICE, since they released the fact that it is possible that some alcohol is okay. The department of health’s statement is irrefutable. Stay away from alcohol, and there is no risk.

I always have believed the same thing in regards to sexual behaviour. We were taught in school all of the different forms of prevention. However, each teacher admitted that abstinence was the only 100% safe way to go in avoiding STDs and pregnancy — some because they truly believed the message should be taught, and others because it is mandated by the school board. And the argument in that case is the exact same as the department of health’s. Stay away from sex, and you will not get pregnant or infected. Stay away from alcohol, and there is no risk.

So, to those women out there who are confused about whether or not you should drink or not, my advice would be to stay away from alcohol.

That way, there is no risk!