TORONTO, August 30, 2000 -- York University is launching a unique experiment in education this fall with a new course on Social Justice and Political Activism which will open the academy to community activists and offer students of political science insight into social justice issues in the 21st century.
Sam Gindin, former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) and the first Packer Visitor in Social Justice at York University, will direct the course as part of a program of teaching, outreach and research on social justice issues. Funded by the K.H. and W.A. Packer Endowment in Social Justice, the course is an innovation in learning that will bring students and union, anti-poverty, and non-governmental organization activists from around Ontario into the classroom to link and mutually reinforce the worlds of social activism and university education.
The first semester course will accommodate about 24 students, half of whom will be community activists. The students will survey various philosophical notions of social justice, discuss past approaches to constructing a better world, from utopias to revolutions, and address social justice in the context of modern capitalism, the limits of the welfare state, the meaning of globalization, and the impasse of radical politics.
York political scientist Leo Panitch, who spearheaded the initiative, calls the program an opportunity, both for activists to study and advance their thinking in the principles of social justice, and for students to gain from the practical experience of activists while studying theories of political action and change. "Mr. and Mrs. Packer believed that York was the kind of place that would use their donation positively, and open the academy to individuals active in the community who have not had the benefit of formal study to further their ability to advance social justice in the 21st century," said Panitch.
Gindin praised York for trying to meld the intellectual and the social to show that there is a link between studying and trying to change things in the world. "This course recognizes that experience actually matters; that learning is integrated with doing and that doing has an intellectual context. And it's about opening another space for activists to think about what they are doing. The real innovation is that York is integrating the community in this kind of thinking about social justice," said Gindin. "It's a much more interesting way to think about education than viewing it as an isolated space."
During his three-year term as the Packer visiting professor, Gindin will teach this course regularly as well as direct several other courses for graduate and undergraduate students, examining the relationship between the workplace and the broader political economy. He says the widespread dissatisfaction with traditional politics today can only be overcome by attempts to clarify the link between social justice and the possibility of a new political culture. "One of the barriers to talking about social justice has been that people think it's just an abstract philosophical discussion, and that there is nothing we can do about current economic and social problems," said Gindin. He said his course will also address the uncertainty about the effects of globalization and the powers of states to set boundaries in international trade and commerce.
Gindin retired this year as Assistant to CAW president Buzz Hargrove. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, he worked as a research officer for the New Democratic Party in Manitoba and later taught at the University of Prince Edward Island. He obtained his MA in economics from the University of Wisconsin, but while working on his PhD dissertation in 1974, he took up the position of first director of research for what was then the Canadian section of the International Auto Workers Union. As he developed his role within the union to become assistant to the CAW president, he participated in major collective bargaining, the formation of union and social policy, and strategic discussions on the structure and direction of the union. He is author of a book on the history of the CAW entitled The Canadian Auto Workers: The Birth and Transformation of a Union.
York University established the K.H. and W.A. Packer Endowment in Social Justice in memory of Prof. William A. Packer, who, together with his wife Katherine, bestowed a generous endowment for the promotion of social justice in the 21st century and beyond. The Packer family are from Toronto. Katherine worked as a librarian at York's Glendon College, and William taught German for many years at the University of Toronto. The endowment awards scholarships to graduate and undergraduate students, while York University pays the salary of the Packer Visitor in Social Justice. As the first Packer Visitor in Social Justice at York, Sam Gindin will deliver an inaugural public lecture next January.
For further information, please contact:
Packer Visitor in Social Justice
Dept. of Political Science
Prof. Leo Panitch
Dept. of Political Science
(416) 736-2100, ext. 33891
(416) 736-2100, ext. 22091