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Reputation Management All For Naught At York University

York University is at it again.

Canada’s third-largest university is staring down the barrel of another strike, almost exactly eight years after its disastrous 11-week teaching assistant’s disruption.

Aside from causing huge rifts between York and its faculty, that strike was a public relations disaster for the school.  It drove off potential students and garnered  York a reputation as The Strike School .

Now,after spending the greater part of a decade throwing that bad rep off, York’s adminstrators, part-time faculty and teaching assistants appear ready to cement it in stone.

Labour disputes are never black-or-white, and neither are they easy to solve.  But alongside the debates over raises and benefits,  both the faculty and the school need to give weight to York’s academic reputation.

I should know. For a York alumna like me, it’s deja-vu all over again.

I lived through the nearly three-month strike in 2000-2001 and very nearly jumped ship on the university altogether.

Were it not for my work with the student paper Excalibur-then called excalibur; woe betide anyone who forgot it was a lowercase “e”-I would have been sitting in Ryerson by the fall of 2001.

Shortly after that,  York took steps to restore its reputation among its current student body.  One of its most successful initiatives was the York Is U program,  whose mandate was to bring spirit and pride to the student body.   It soon became one of the largest student groups at York,   initiating programs and events that had never been done before at York.

I became quite involved with the group in my final year-the journalist equivalent of crossing the floor, I suppose-and it was remarkable the number of students who wanted to both instill pride and be proud of their school.

York has taken great strides to restore its reputation as one of the leading universities in Canada.   It seems, however, that it has done little to solve its internal labour problems, because the school is right back where it was eight years ago.

I’m not suggesting the strike be called off just for the sake of York holding face.  But the impact the strike is going to have on its 50,000 students-and thousands more potential ones-has to be considered.

Whether a strike happens or not,   York is going to have to place a focus on solving its employee communications issues.  Until then, any campaign to rebrand and restore the university’s reputation will ultimately be fruitless.

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