Remembering the Ross Building Ramp

As I walked from the newish subway station yesterday morning, across York Commons toward Vari Hall, I was reminded of how different this space used to be when I was an undergrad here in the early ’80s.

Instead of Vari Hall there used to be a rather large concrete ramp that ran up to the Ross Building.

Ramp at the Ross Building, York University

I grabbed this picture from the York University Photograph Collection that’s part of Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections. I wonder who that is on the bike?

Apparently, as described in L. Anders Sandberg‘s article, “The Ross Building Ramp and Terrace: Curse or Promise?“, the then York President Harry Arthurs, “hated and cursed the ramp,” he found it to be “ugly, useless and totally misconceived” and planned to have it removed.

As undergrads we used to wonder if they had tanks in mind when they built it. 🙂

But I do fondly remember my convocation ceremony taking place in the courtyard at the top of that ramp. We may have walked up that ramp to take our seats in the folding chairs that awaited us: don’t remember if that was true or not. If you’d like to see what that might have been like there are a couple of convocation photographs included in Sandberg’s article.

But Sandberg writes that Arthurs “neglected its symbolic and other utility functions, including the activities that took place underneath it and the emotional attachment it held to many members of the campus.” He provides a wonderfully different perspective and tries to “make the case that these spaces have some promise and endearing qualities that should be celebrated, remembered and perhaps even serve as an inspiration to do things differently.”

He begins by talking about the “modernist-brutalist” architectural style of the Ross Building. I particularly like this passage describing the symbolic shift away from a university education that “promoted critical thinking amongst students [preparing] them to be engaged citizens rather than mere professionals or workers”:

Brutalism does not sound very people-friendly but it was in fact part of a post-war movement to provide inexpensive housing to the masses, but also architects with large budgets adopted the style because of its ’honesty’ and sculptural qualities, and even, perhaps, its uncompromising anti-bourgeois nature (Wikipedia, 2014). To me, it is an illustration of the enlightenment university, the university that fosters citizenship and a broad-based liberal arts education. Vari Hall, by contrast, was built in a postmodernist style in 1992 and named after George Vari, a wealthy businessman who built and sponsored part of its construction. It is part of the neoliberal or enterprise university, the university where students are consumers and an education is conceived of as a commodity that yields a good job.

It’s funny what you think about as you make your way to your office.


York Strike Continues

What a mess …

We are into week 4 of the CUPE 3903 strike and there seems to be absolutely no progress with bargaining. As a member of the York U Faculty Association it makes me wonder about how things will go when our next contract negotiations start.

YUFA’s latest post on the situation provides a good summation of what’s been going on including the administration’s challenge to Senate’s authority expressed in last week’s chaotic Senate meeting:

Senate Executive stated that “Decisions regarding the business and affairs of the University are vested in the Board [of Governors] even where they may have an impact on academic policy.” Furthermore, they added, Senate “policy does not give express authority to Senate or Senate Executive to take the action of cancelling all classes at the commencement of a disruption.” However, this was Senate’s undisputed role in past strikes, and the statement about jurisdiction combined with the blocking of a vote in Senate raised alarms among many Senators. In denying the Senate’s power to decide on course cancellations on the basis of academic integrity during labour disruptions, the administration described labour disruptions as equivalent to weather disruptions, which like other “business matters” are under the purview of the Board of Governors.

You might also be interested in CUPE’s account of that meeting where they condemn the “use of violence and repression against our members – including a Senator – and undergraduate students.” The University’s response states that “security officials were on hand to manage crowds due to Fire Code regulations.”

This of course would not have been an issue if, as YUFA notes in their post, the meeting had been moved to a larger venue. There were no “no scuffles with security or violent incidents” when this was done in the past. And, unlike being sequestered into a Curtis lecture hall to watch a streamed version of the proceedings, a larger venue would provide an opportunity for non-Senators to voice their concerns and opinions and be heard.

What a mess …