Carleton University

The Politics of Graduate Student Funding: An Examination of the Graduate Assistant Negotiations at an Ontario Public Research University




This paper is about the challenges faced by graduate students in their quest to secure research and teaching assistantship at a public research university. My story focuses in particular on the negotiations which took place with respect to the graduate assistant strike at the University of Toronto in January 2000.The intense negotiations between CUPE3907 and the University of Toronto management lasted about two weeks. The issues of contentions were around pay equity and increased access in the form of additional appointments to these positions at the University. Pay equity concerns arose around the discrepancy between the income of Graduate students at the University of Toronto as compared to other universities in Ontario whose graduates earn higher wages and receive more benefits. This paper is thus a snapshot of a political moment in the history of the university as a site of struggle.

As a graduate student, I am particularly interested in how inadequate funding affects this student population. The lack of graduate and teaching assistant positions affect students psychologically, emotionally and financially. Psychologically, lack of funds means that one's ability to concentrate in the face of financial constraints is impaired. Economically, it means that students' academic survival may be in jeopardy as this frequently results in a longer time for completing their program. Academically, it means that students are unable to take advantage of career development opportunities such as conferences and mentor ships from professors. Altogether, financial instability detrimentally affects the quality of students' experience and scholarly achievement.Without institutional and social support, graduate students face a constant struggle for survival. This is the local context of this paper.

On the broader level, this paper addresses how the government dictates the rationale for decreasing funding (federal and provincial) in Canada.The crisis of governance in education that we are witnessing today is part of a broader trend oftransformation in thesocial relations of higher education administration. The funding process has implications for a much broader social analysis about the nature of contemporary academic institutional life. Hence, I will be examining boththe local and the broad systematic approaches in this process.


The methodological tool used in this paper is Dorothy Smith's investigative approach (1987), which she calls Institutional Ethnography. Smith's usage of institution has specialized meanings of a Acomplex of relations forming part of the ruling apparatus, organized around a distinctive function (McCoy,1998, p.398). This notion of institution direct the researcher's attention to the various ways in which the activities of many agencies, organizations, professional associations and individuals are coordinated into a 'functional complex' (p.398).The central role of documentary forms of knowledge in contemporary relations of 'ruling' is a major theme in Dorothy Smith's work.She uses the term broadly to encompass varied and interconnected practices of management, administration, government, law, finance, education, business and the professions (Smith,1987, p.3). Further, Smith posits that a mode of ruling has become dominant that involves the construction of the world as texts whether on paper or in a computer and the creation of a world in text as a site of action (p.3).

Smith argues that understanding organizational power in contemporary society requires attention to the textual practices through which they represent the social and physical world as the object of administrative and professional function (McCoy,1998, p.395).One way this carried out is through the ideological practices of the administration using text as its primary medium. This paper is especially concerned with how organizational power is manifested through bargaining relations and how it determines and shapes the lives of people within this structure.

Smith's method is most instructive for this undertaking as it describes how people's lives are determined beyond the scope of their everyday world. It also provides a way of exploring from people's standpoint, how the world works and how it is put together with a view in helping them to change it (Smith,1990, p.629). Research strategies employed by researchers doing Institutional Ethnography include in-depth interviews (Smith 1987; Griffith, 1995), participation observation (Ng, 1996), the collection of naturally occurring talk (Jackson, 1995; Turner, 1995; McCoy, 1995 and 1998) and textual analysis (Ng, 1995; Smith, 1996). My paper will stake out an ontological commitment of how social order is constituted in the practices and activities of people.This will be accomplished by using analysis based on meetings with administrative and union personnel and memoranda in developing a description of how the social relation of graduate funding works. To undertake this work, I will conduct a textual analysis of E-mail correspondence during the bargaining process. In so doing, I hope to start from the active knowers in the real world---that is the world of a graduate student.


The union representing Graduate Assistants (GAs) at OISE/UT [1] is the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3907, an outgrowth from Local 7 of the Canadian Union of Education Workers (CUEW Local 7).The CUEW began in 1973 as the Graduate Assistants Association at the Victoria College at the University of Toronto.In 1994, the CUEW merged with CUPE Local 3907 through a member's secret ballot and was certified as the CUPE Local 3907. The Canadian Union of Public Employees retained many of the CUEW practices and procedures such as walkouts, campaigning against homophobia and sexual harassment on campus. The union was certified to represent all graduate assistants sincethey are automatically registered members. However, membership is voluntary (CUPE3907 Members' Manual).The employees who organized the merger felt that their position was being eroded by inflation and budget cuts and felt that a more democratic way was needed to ensure that GAs were not arbitrarily exploited or eliminated.It was one method whereby GAs could take an active role in defining their working lives.

It is especially noticeable that the unionization of Graduate Assistants was initiated during an era of government fiscal constraints.The unionization of academic workers in Canadian universities emerged as a national pattern in the early 1970s.The process first took hold in Quebec, where by 1975, over 60 percent of professors were unionized.By early 1980s, over 50 percent of the Canadian professorate belonged to certified bargaining units.Seven out of Ontario's fifteen universities have faculty associations across Canada where there has been a formal collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment.The experience of university unionization in the United States followed similar patterns (Newson & Buchbinder, 1991, 88). Penner, (1978-79, p.72) a former president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) states that,

Collective bargaining seems to have appeared in Canadian universities for the same reasons as in the United States, namely, the poor academic job market, the erosion of rights and perquisites lacking legal protections, budgetary cutbacks, the increasein size and remoteness of university administrators, and the growth of unionism in the public sector.

Likewise, Newson and Buchbinder (1991) believe that the unionization of academic workers did not stem from any particular ideological standpoint in order to make the university a source of social transformation about workers conditions but was rather a response to economic contraction.Unions were needed to confront administrations who were agents or implementors of unfriendly government fiscal policies.

Historically, bargaining relations at the University of Toronto has been quite progressive in terms of the negotiation for better pay and working conditions of its graduate assistants. However, this changed in the collective agreement of 1996. CUPE 3907 members went on strike demanding wage increase and better working conditions, but none of their demands were met. The exception was new wording around constitutionally-based sexual harassment grievances.The only concession given was a deal to maintain the funding level for 181 GAs.Unlike other unionized workers in the public service, the GAs decided not to take a pay roll back. Giuliani, a CUPE representative, believes that a large part of the problem relates to the economic climate at the time and management's perception that GAs were not 'real' positions but a ploy used by OISE's faculty to get more funding from the University. According to the Union, part of this reasoning is attributed to the administration's hidden agenda to decertify all unions in the amalgamation process. This attitude continued throughout the amalgamation between University of Toronto and OISE administration where the 'us and them' attitude persisted. Inherent in this process is the deep-seated mistrust between the union and management.In that sense, bargaining positions are embedded in an ideology of opposition and confrontation between both sides not cooperating anymore.               

In the negotiations of January 2000, issues were centred around the Union seekinga guaranteed number of GAs whereas OISE/UT administration wanted to tie funding to scholarship. The administration's standpoint reflected its flagrant corporate-style management ethos of maintaining minimal student spending. The ultimate end was to make the personal cost of education to the student higher. The Union argued that GAs would be worse off as scholarships are highly selective and are only guaranteed for two years. Essentially, they were concerned about the implications for OISE students.Therefore, union officials felt that to tie scholarship with funding means that a large segment of the student population would be excluded. Additionally, the Union demanded pay equity on par with universities in Ontario where GAs and TAs earned twice as much as OISE/UT plus benefits (health, rental coverage and tuition reduction).

The union-management relationship in the January 2000 negotiations was especially hostile. When the agreement came up for renewal in July 1999, the Universityadministration cancelled meetings at the last minute or it would send a junior administrator who had no power to negotiate.This was construed by the Union as an attempt to break CUPE.The general belief among union representatives was that the final terms of the agreement could have been dealt with sooner and the strike would have been much shorter since they were not asking for anything other Ontario universities were offering their GAs (Personal Communication with Union Representative, 2000).


The funding of graduate students can be viewed in context of government policy toward spending in post-secondary institutions. According to Newson and Buchbinder (1991 ), university funding experienced three phases of funding namely the expansion, contraction and decline. The 1950s and 1960s are referred to as the expansion period during which the university sector underwent spectacular growth.Undergraduate enrolments increased fivefold between 1955 and 1975; operating and graduate enrolments grew by a factor of twelve during this period and government spending rose in line with these trends (Hardy, 1996, p.21). As the numbers of universities increased, academic leaders were required (i.e., deans, presidents) to administer and manage larger budgets, expanded facilities, increased staff and a growing student population. A direct result of this expansion was an increase in the administrative function. By the late 1970s, the period of contraction, rising inflation and declining productivity signaled the beginning of an economic crisis in Canada (Newson & Buchbinder, 1991, p.14).

In light of this economic reality, the government began curtailing social spending.  The proportion of government expenditure for education fell from 22.2 percent in 1970 to 16.7 percent in 1975.The university'sshare of the education budget declined from 24.7 percent in 1967-68 to 19.5 percent in 1977-78 (Hardy, 1996, p.22).The outlook predicted at the end of the 1970s was one of contraction in enrolments and funds allocated to universities.However, in the 1980s, universities were forced to juggle increases in student enrolments with decreases in government support.The 1981 recession made things worse with all levels of government finding themselves hard pressed for cash.Accordingly, the federal government began to implement restrictions on transfer payments.At the provincial level, even when grants were increased, it did not keep pace with inflation nor enrolment increases (p. 22).All Provinces except Prince Edward Island saw a reduction in the grant per student between 1976-77 and 1986-87, ranging between 14 and 28 percent (p. 22). The pressures universities are now experiencing is a continuation of funding policies from the 1980s.Recently, the introduction of deregulation of tuition fees serves to exacerbate the problem as the various levels of governments seek to reduce funds to universities. These national funding pressures represent the financial backdrop of this paper.

In a real sense, inadequate funding from provincial governments have forced universities to look in new directions for the fiscal resources that they need to preserve the quality and viability of their programs and resources (Newson & Buchbinder, 1991, p.69). Universities now make a concerted effort to seek funds externally from corporate funding partners and other external bodies such as alumni.However, this has resulted in universities which accommodate their ruling practices to that of the private sector. The vision of the university as an arena for the pursuit of liberal education is no longer seen as efficient. Universities are now seen as an economic tool to help in the creation ofa technological advanced societyBthe best means for increasing the country's prosperity (p.64).For instance the current Ontario government's fiscal policies reflect its right agenda by bringing education into its corporate strategies.The introduction of private universities in Ontario is one such move. Slaughter and Leslie (1997) argue that this move heralds a new era that can be characterized as the beginning of marketization.Under marketization, faculties compete for monies, external grants or contracts, endowment funds, university partnerships and increased student tuition. In thatsense, universities must now be managedlike businesses in order to be more efficient in the allocation of their resources.This means that programs are more closely tied to the private sector and professors and staff is required to compete for scarce resources in funding research projects (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997, p.11).

This trend is not likely to disappear as governments, provincial and national, encourage university faculties to direct their efforts toward programs and research that align with the labour market.Slaughter and Leslie (1997) refer to this process as academic capitalism while Hardy (1997 ) calls it 'managerialism.' The thrust of managerialism is the need to take decisive action in the form of funding cuts.Managerialism concentrates on the role of the president that is decisive and unitary. It emphasizes cost cutting whereby areas viewed as inefficient are eliminated.In this sense, increase in employment and wages ofGAs necessitates increases in spending which management does not view as cost effective.It also means that faculty's work load increases as they must work with less personnel at their disposal. The problem with managerialism is that it offers little advice on how to implement these actions in a decentralized university setting (Hardy, 1997, p.6).  The diversified nature of universities and the highly specialized nature of expertise means that this style of leadership may not be appropriate. Centralizing power and increasing controls may only hamper strategic negotiations in academia.Hardy (1997), believes that more effective institutions have a relatively decentralized form of leadership.

This trend has powerful implications for post-secondary education.It means that fewermonies are targeted for programs in education and social welfare functions of the state (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997, p.14).   National policy makers are moving discretionary research and training monies into programs that compliment high technology manufacturing, development of intellectual property and product services (such as life insurance, accounting, legal services).Higher education policies therefore encourage greater student participation but at a higher personal cost. This is reflected in a move away (in most Western countries) from a grant to a loan system and increased tuition (Slaughter and Lesley, 1997, p.16).The implication for graduate students is that they will be expected to pay higher tuition fees with far less funding from the government. The graduate and teaching assistants at the University of Toronto have fought for a feerebate, however, they were forced to abandon this idea as the strike intensified.A direct result of this cost cutting exercise is the increase in unionization of faculties as professors and staff fight with management to control autonomy over work.In that sense, the GA negotiation is not merely about pay increases but also about control over work. Control over work also include the need to partake in decision making process that affect staff and the need for respect. This brings up an important issue about the value of graduate students' work in universities. What are the economic benefits to the University in employing graduate students as opposed to external instructors? Should they enjoy similar benefits as faculty and staff? I argue that graduate students are a comparatively cheap source of labour and their advantages to the university outweigh the disadvantages (whatever they may be).


During the negotiation process, I have been trying to understand what it means to be a graduate student within the context of ruling and bargaining relations. Particularly, I was interested in finding out how the ideological practices of the University administration and the Local CUPE3907 achieved legitimacy and hence organized the lives of students and faculty as a whole.As I learned about the strike, I began to see those interactions as an experiential moment in the social relation between the personal and historical relationships of unions and the bureaucratic coordination of administration's relations.

The collective bargaining process involves a formal multi-step format geared toward an agreement between union and management. This process is inherently confrontational given the ideological positions of both sides. The unions goal is to seek the best interests of its members whereas management's goal is to keep the union out of the University's financial resources. The first round of negotiation entails the union presenting a list of demands to managementas contracts comeup for renewal. Typically, these demand entail better wages, improved working conditions for its members. Management responds with a counter offer much smaller than the union's demands, a typical case of 'low balling.' The bargaining teams will meet to negotiate a settlement that is acceptable to both parties.Usually, it is a midrange offer that gives concessions to both sides. If union and management representatives cannot agree on a settlement of the issues presented by each side, a conciliation officer is appointed by the labour relations board in an attempt to resolve the differences. When this is not possible, a conciliation board attempts mediation and compiles a formal report.In cases where the offer is deemed unacceptable, the union members can vote to strike or to continue bargaining.Ifa strike is called, bargaining usually continues until an agreement is reached. In the final step, both sides sign the agreement with the approval of the majority oftheir members.This is a very simplified version of the bargaining process.In reality, it is much more complex especially when a mediator is required to get both sides to 'hammer out a deal' (Guiliani, Union representative). The negotiation between OISE/UT administration and the Union followed similar steps.


The following is a textual analysis of various pieces of E-mail correspondence during the strike in the later part of January 2000.I have chosen to use computer mediated communication (CMC) because it provided immediate access into the opinions of the University community.Although the E-mail communication was not synchronous, it provided a rich source of information at one's doorstep and allowed people to interact with potentially thousands through the simple act of typing words on the keyboard. In that sense, efficiency and speed equalled 'nearness' because computer mediated communication 'shrinks' the world. (Ignacio, 2000, p.553).What was particularly interesting was the far reaching effects of the strike as coalition building became important. Supporters from Yale, York, alumni and the general public flooded the University website.The role of E-mail correspondence during this strike is integral to understanding the impact of the negotiations. It had forced both the University administration and the Union to make important decisions toward ending the strike. Both management and the union have made extensive use of this media, thereby changing the way in which labour relations are conducted in Canada.Although I have kept track of the correspondence, I have chosen to analyze selective pieces of E-mail which are indicative of the mood in which negotiations occurred. Additionally, I have numbered the lines of the E-mail correspondence as reference points to this analysis. These pieces of E-mail on the University's website are dated to the show the chain reactions set in motion by the Union's demands. The E-mail correspondence begins with the Union's demands, administration's response and ends with alumni's support for the graduate and teaching assistants.

When the GAs' contract came up for renewal, the Union put forward proposals for changes in their membership's contract.The demands centred around equity and increased access to graduate assistant positions.The resulting negotiations were a demonstration in the use of power relationsby both parties.

The first document is a letter written by Mr. Sousa, a CUPE3907 union representative to the OISE/UT community.The letter dated January 17, 2000begins by stating that no new proposals have been tabled and that it will be in a legal strike position as of January 21st.Mr. Sousa's position is that the University's administration has consistently refused to negotiate and so the GAs are on the verge of 'joining our brothers and sisters, the TAs (CUPE 3902), on strike.' This strategy utilized by the union entails the use of symbolic language that hints ofsocialist/Marxist ideals, unitedin the struggle against workers' oppression.In forming an alliance with the CUPE 3902, the union presents a united front in seeking its ends. Thisuse of symbolic power lends itself to a collective strategy that is consistent with the bottom-up approach advocated by unions. It also shows how union representatives can shape the negotiation process by managing meaning. This means that calls to honourpicket lines will send the message to administration that it must come to the bargaining table with a fair deal.The hiring of a mediator is indicative of the gap between both sides. However, this made little impact in breaking the deadlock.

The Union'sdemands for equality of access and more institutional support for graduate students (Lines 1-3) are attempts to ultimately address the issue of inadequate funding.Each year 800 students apply for only 182 GA positions.It was seeking a baseline offer to increase the number of GAs to 300 over three years. The Union is apparently addressing broader issues and concerns such as lack of funding for minority students (Line 4).While most agree that student funding should be a top priority, the University's priority is to provide an education to students with as little cost as possible to itself.This means that students will be bearing most of the costs of their education. In terms of the funding protocol, faculties are allocated a sum of money by the University to administer all its affairs.The funding of GAships is therefore in accordance with the budgetary control process of administration.It means that GAships are predicated on how much money is available for such positions in any given year.

For the Union, the government's policy of deregulating tuition is very much in the forefront of this conflict (Lines 8-15).Deregulation of tuition fees was started in 1998 by which the provincial government removed the cap on tuition fees.This means that universities can charge tuition fees at market value.The immediate consequence of this policy has been the dramatic increase in tuition fees in the past two to three years.Consequently, students are finding it difficult to complete their education or, it is taking them longer to do so. This is essentially an issueabout access.Students who are aspiring toward graduate school are least likely to attend if they are from a lower socioeconomic background given high tuition fee and lack of administrative support. The union views this policy as inherently exclusionary and helps to maintain social inequality whereinonly those who can afford to pay for their own education will be able to attain it.This policy has consequences for international students whose population has decreased.As tuition doubled and medical coverage rescinded,international students' enrolment has plummeted.The administration's negative response is in keeping with its cost cutting objectives which entails low financial investment in students.

In their third demand, the Union has sought parity in terms of benefits with universities in Ontario. This includes: dental, vision, UHIP payment and the establishment of a child-care/dependent fund. In addressing this issue, the union has done its research in drawing connections to other educational institutions to build its case (Lines 16-20).The Union views this policy as exploitative as it highlights the differential treatment given to graduate employees in other universities. The premise here is the idea of being 'disposable' in that the University views the GAs asmerely casual workers and, as such not entitled to any benefits (Lines 16-20).The GAs position then is one of a bifurcated consciousness as students and as workers at the University.It should be noted that the casual workers at the University have just ratified their contract that gives them benefits similar to full time workers. The CUPE3907 believes that graduate assistants deserve the same.

The fourth demand for increased wages is one of the most important issue of the negotiation process. It was the rallying point for many union supporters. The Union is seeking four per cent across the board for two years andincrease working hours in order to attain parity with that of other universities. Management's counter offer is (Lines 24-25) typical of the bargaining process as it seeks to offer the bare minimum. The University agreed only to tie wage increases to the number of hours worked. It has given the Union much less than what they were seeking namely, 1 percent in the first year, 1.5 percent in the second year, and 1 percent in the third year.In drawing attention to the administration's exploitative practices (Lines 25-26), the Union is making a brilliant case about injustice emphasizing the disrespectful treatment of its members.

In the final demand, the union seeks a rebate on par with other universities and a tuition waiver not unlike that given to many employees at the University.The union believes that itsdemands are neither unfair nor unjust rather it is in seeking to legitimize its terms.The contradiction inherent in the governance stems from the management's abuse of 'prestige' in its recruitment of graduate students. Slogans such as 'Great minds for a Great future' attest to the University use of prestige as a selling point to potential and existing students. The University of Toronto has been referred to as the Harvard of the North. Indeed, the University's slogan is entrenched in the ideology of 'the brightest and the best.' The union feels that prestige should be reflected in the way the University treats its graduate assistants. Here too, administration's response was negative.

If we were to situate the context of this letter, it is apparent that the Union is referring to the bargaining relations/outcomes with other workers on campus.The teaching assistants (TA s) have been on strike for two weeks with no possibility of a quick resolution in sight. The University was also bargaining with grounds-keepers andcustodians in reaching a deal. The part-time administrative staffaccepted an offer on January 12, 2000 with their union, the United Steel Workers of America by voting 90 percent in favour of the deal. This included wage increases of 5 per cent over three years and extending benefits to casual staff. Likewise, the library workers were also threatening to go on strike. The University administration was busily prioritizing its bargaining positions. On January 21, 2000 the administration appeared to offer an olive branch.

The second document is a memorandum from Dr. Fullan, Dean of Studies at OISE/UT. On Friday January 21, 2000, Dr. Fullan, sent out a memorandum to the OISE community about the latest bargaining developments. The letter could have been a response to the Union's strike mandate as of January 21, 2000. The administration's stance is that the money it had could be used for research and scholarship funding.The Union on the other-hand proposed that this money could be utilized to increase GAs wages and to increase the number of GA positions since graduate students are in dire need of additional financial support. The position of either side became positioned along a line of fault that separated administration and Union who knew the administration's position to be otherwise.The Union is aware ofthe University's $1 billion surplus so it is not struggling financially. The conflict becomes more intense since both parties envision quite different views on how this money should be spent.

Dr. Fullan's letter aimed at doing two things. First, he is putting forward an offer to the Union. The offer includes: a four-year guarantee for GA students, an increase in available work hours, wage increases, and reinvestment of unallocated funds in the following sessions (Lines 1-7). Dr. Fullan proceeds to set down terms of the administration's offer suggesting that 'it is significant, substantial and fair.' When one compares the University's offer with that of the Union's demand, theyseem worlds apart.The administration did not address issues regarding tuition rebate and dental benefits.It is important to note that this letter was issued on the same day that the union and administration were scheduled for mediation talks.This could have been apolitical move on the part of administration to be seen as co-operative in offering a solution to the problem.

Second, Dr. Fullan is telling the OISE/UT community that while the union is in a legal strike position, the University remains firmly in control of the bargaining process.Although it makes mention of the strike mandate given to the union by its members, it immediately proceeds to inform the OISE community that the University has decided 'not to lock out CUPE 3907 in the foreseeable future' (Line 13). Therefore, the fact that the University has 'decided not to lock out CUPE 3907, at least for the foreseeable future' attempts to maintain power firmly on the side of theadministration. The threat of a lockout is an attempt at social control which places the union in a reactive situation.

The negotiations highlight the fact that ruling does not take place in a vacuum.It is also affected by external forces/bodies that have connection to the University. By January 28, 2000 supporters from other universities (Harvard, Yale and York ) and alumini/friends of U of T show their displeasure with administration. The deadlock in negotiation was broken by the attention given to the above issues in the media. This letter by Margaret Atwood, a renowned writer and graduate from the University of Toronto is indicative of the kind of response that can influence the stance taken by administration. I believe that their action was an underestimation of the collectivepower of the OISE/UT community.

The third document was a letter sent in by Margaret Atwood , on January 28, 2000 to voice her disappointment in the way management is handling the strike.This letter highlights the importance of voice and power. As an alumni, Atwood is showing outright indignation about the way her money as a funder is utilized.She is putting forward a counter position of education as just being about money by squeezing students. She is targeting the liberal education ideal and is appealing to that ideal to get fairness for the GAs and TAs. Essentially, she is adopting the language of a donor in using righteous indignation to get management to change its course of action.

Power relations are implicated between the University as employer versus students (GAs and TAs) as unionized employees.What does it say about social relations in a unionized setting? It draws on a bifurcated consciousness on the part of students. As employees of the University, students feel that they are entitled to certain rights. On the other hand, as students, they feel that they are betraying the notions of collegiality inherent in the university system.The letter therefore expresses the contradictory nature of the students and the University. In questioning the administration's ruling relations in a liberal democracy, Atwood is also questioning their managerial practice such as their use of threats to lock out the GAs.The contradictory nature of collective bargaining in the academy is the adoption of the industrial style of ruling relations.

This in itself creates enormous ideological conflicts between management and the union since the university is not a production line.In many ways, work to rule does not necessarily work to the benefit of anyone but only serves to destroy working relations with those on campus who will ordinarily support the union. The letter highlights the powerful impact of local protest, of informal sites of power and the use of the media in bringing about public awareness. Worried about tarnishing its public image, administration quickly sought an agreement to end the conflict thereby averting a strike.

The final agreement ratifiedon January 30, 2000 is a compromise for both sides.The GAs were given 1.5% increase effective January 1, 2000 and a 2% increase effective September 1, 2000. Although the Union originally sought4% increase, it settled for 3.5%.The graduate assistants did not receive the extra benefits, however, they settled for more working hours per term and guaranteed appointments for the duration of their four-year study period.Unlike the University of York graduates who held out for tuition waiver, the graduate and teaching assistants at the University of Toronto had chosen not to pursue that issue. Many felt that it was the least they can do since they were promised a commission would be formed to examine the issue of graduate funding at the University. One of the most important outcomes of the negotiation is the establishment of a special graduate assistant fund valued at $45,000 for the creation of research and development projects. In bringing attention to the severe under funding faced bygraduate students, OISE/UT agreed to set up a committee to examine the situation and forward recommendations for action.


The OISE/UT negotiation offers many lessons about organizing for equity.It demonstrates that collective struggle creates the space to name, share, and support complex needs of different groups. However, the process highlights the adversarial nature of bargaining. Very often, this happens in a highly legalized contextby which management and unions must interact within certain guidelines to mutually determine terms and conditions of employment. The fact is where contracts are negotiated in an inflexible manner it creates an atmosphere ofopen warfare which inevitably results in divisiveness (Birnbaum, 1981). Alternatively, collective bargaining can be seen as representing the activities of groups already in conflict.When this is the case, bargaining becomes a game designed to defeat or harm an opponent as each side seeks its own interests as we see in the strike at the University of Toronto.   The strike also confirms that the power of seeking broad-based alliances with other equity seeking bodies (TAs faculty and external university support) only serve to increase the union's ability to influence positive outcomes for its members.   In reality, bargaining is more about seeking a consensus.Birnbaum (1981) views this as a Amixed-motive@ game in which both elements of competition and cooperation are necessary in order to attain favourable results for both sides. Most importantly, bargaining is a recurring game, so that both parties must consider how today's outcomes will impact on future negotiations. Ultimately, unaddressed issues will continue to simmer until the next round of negotiations. Hence, it will not be surprising in the next round of negotiations for CUPE3907 to negotiate for tuition waiver for its members since that issue was not completely dealt with.

Inherent in the notions of ruling relations is the recognition and the use of different sites of power. Power is used to influence outcomes by overcoming opposition through the use of instrumental power, or by trying to prevent opposition and conflict from occurring altogether through the use of symbolic power (Hardy, 1996, p.181). This type of power was utilized by the Union to achieve consensus and collaboration around the demands it was seeking.It was therefore important to avert conflict and present a united front to management.This could have only been achieved through the use of symbolic language in evoking the image of brotherhood and sisterhood in the struggle against capitalist oppression. More specifically, symbolic acts such as Atwoods letter and political language were used to legitimize the Union'sactions (or delegitimize those of administration) and render them acceptable to the broader university community by producing agreement and avoiding opposition and conflict. Symbolic power is effectively used unobtrusively to influence attitudes. It helps to secure agreement, prevent opposition, and elicit collaboration where differences in opinion might otherwise occur. Indeed, it was the symbolic acts (or informal players) that were effective in bringing an end to the deadlock in the negotiations.  

Unlike the Union, OISE/UT utilized instrumental power.Instrumental power is conferred by control over scarce, valued resources to which others are dependent. The utilization of instrumental power is premised upon an industrial model made to fit in an academic setting. The objective is to influence behaviour directly. What people think about the use of this power is not taken into consideration, as long as their behaviour is affected in the desired way.In this case, the Dean who has considerable power over faculties can regulate/control work by locking out the GAs. The administration's stance that the money could be use for research and scholarship is in line with the University's marketization policies in terms of its budgetary control policies. Likewise,the cancellation of meetings and the sending of junior managers are indicative of other sources of instrumental power available to the University administrators.

Consequently, instrumental power has an alienating effect, creating the A us and them@ syndrome.Hence, it is not surprising that faculty, GAs, students and alumni rally against administration's stance. This type of power is therefore highly visible because it is used as a blunt instrument of social control (Hardy, 1996, p.186). The effect of this letter was immediate as the OISE/UT community began to consider the ramifications ofa looming strike. Faculty and students began to consider their course of action which resulted in restructuring and cancelling classes since many refused to cross picket lines.

What is especially interesting about this strike is the fact that conflicting goals served to inhibit positive progress in the negotiations. Conflicting goals are not necessarily the result of greed and self interest but it is due to the result of differing power relations strategies.The University administration was primarily concerned with managerialism which tends to focus on instrumental power based on formal lines of authority.Opinions diverge because both sides have different perceptions of the funding problem and the means to solve it. When administration believes in spending the least amount of money per student through the distributing of scholarships, the Union thinks that more graduate assistant positions should be created. Since both sides are not bound by a conception of the GAs common interests, they are in effect pursuing different agendas in the face of seemingly scarce resources. The increase function of management is unlikely to remove this potential for conflict in the future.


Universities are the ideal places to study the ebb and flow of organizational politics.The variousgroups, both inside and outside the institution, that influence university decisions havedifferent world views and objectives which must be addressed equally. The unionization of the University's staff is one arena in which conflict and contradictions result from the pursuit of differential objectives. However, not to engage in collective bargaining would render graduate assistants more vulnerable to the processes that had begun outside of the University.The conflict between Union and administration has mutually reinforced ideologies which shape relations between management and unions as they struggle to control academic work processes. The use of symbolic power lends itself to collective strategy-making has practical advantages over the top down approach because it is easier to achieve a consensus. The concept of power in universities therefore, must be that of achieving common goals and not only power over others (Hardy, 1996, p.10). The present centralized authorityadvocated by the OISE/UT administration is inadequate in bringing about change because it fails to take into account the political realities of university life and ignores the role played by symbolic power. In the context of deep cuts in education spending, sustained attacks by the right on collective bargaining, and the corporate driven marketplace mentality reshaping universities in Canada and elsewhere in the 1990s, we need to better understand how to build communities of both resistance and renewal (Briskin & Newson, 1999). This paper is an attempt to make some contribution to that end.



1.OISE/UT is the abbreviated form for Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.The two organizations were merged in 1996.


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