CUPE 3903 Chairperson’s response to the York administration regarding the Palestinian Solidarity Working Group’s Toolkit

On Thursday, February 1st, CUPE 3903 Chairperson sent the following email response to the York administration in response to the administration’s request to meet regarding the Palestinian Solidarity Working Group’s Toolkit:

1 February, 2024

To: Laina Y. Bay-Cheng, Interim Vice-President, Equity, People & Culture Lisa Philipps, Provost and Vice-President Academic

Dear Laina and Lisa,

I am writing in response to your January 29, 2024 invitation to meet with me about the Toolkit on Teaching Palestine.

Please clarify the purpose of this meeting. Does the University have a practice of calling Union leaders in to discuss our internal communications with members? This would constitute unacceptable interference in Union governance. The events of the past several months indicate that this level of overreach and intimidation is reserved for policing any discourse on Palestine that is not in alignment with the University’s position.

Your letter contains several factual errors about the toolkit’s provenance and content that lead me to question your intentions and your comprehension of this matter. The toolkit is a resource developed by and for CUPE 3903 rank-and-file members in response to a call for global solidarity with Palestine. Members felt the need to produce such a toolkit as a result of the reprisals students and faculty have faced for simply speaking about Palestine in the workplace. Most egregiously, you fail to acknowledge the toolkit’s clearly stated alignment of solidarity with Jewish activists and a diversity of Jewish communities.

If you review the document more carefully, you might see that the toolkit does not contain a directive to members to participate in any action, but rather informs members of their rights, responsibilities, and resources in the event that they should choose to take up the call to action. This is consistent with CUPE 3903’s past communications in similar circumstances, such as the Scholar Strikes of 2020 and 2023.

Your communication comes on the heels of media coverage that denounces the toolkit and incites abusive behaviour towards CUPE and towards me in particular. As a direct result of this coverage, my CUPE 3903 email account has been inundated with hundreds of unwelcome and inappropriate messages. Your letter and President Rhonda Lenton’s message to faculty on January 29 neither mention nor discourage such doxxing. Your silence condones this ongoing harassment campaign. This has become a pattern in the University’s approach to those who speak up for Palestine.

In the midst of this vitriol, your framing of the issue as one of academic freedom is particularly galling. How does the University propose to uphold academic freedom when its senior administrators are actively perpetuating public attacks on a labour union representing thousands of graduate students and contract faculty members? What steps is the administration taking to mitigate harm in this extraordinarily repressive political climate?

Further, as senior administrators at the helm of one of Canada’s largest universities, how will you be accountable to the call to divest from the violence being perpetrated in Gaza? Last week, the International Court of Justice’s preliminary ruling indicated that it is plausible that there is a genocide underway in Gaza. Are your offices prepared to heed the calls of numerous global human rights organizations to halt arms sales to Israel and to demand an immediate ceasefire?

Unless you can present me with a clear agenda and rationale for this meeting that will not further threaten my ability to carry out my responsibilities as an instructor and as the Chairperson of CUPE 3903, I am not willing to meet with you at this time.


Stephanie Latella
CUPE 3903 Chairperson