If the faculty goes on strike, what happens to you?

Monday, February 18, 2008


Written by Josh Dehaas

While you’re mourning the first half of reading week on Wednesday, take a moment and think about the kids at St. Thomas University who who are dealing with the loss of three days of their break. The faculty of the small Fredericton University went on strike for four weeks in January and now the university is making up for lost time by rescheduling classes during reading week. When the strike ended on February 4th, the administration announced exams would be pushed into early May. Yes it was only a few days later than usual, but it presented a huge inconvenience to students whose leases end April 30th. Not only were the university’s 2,700 students expected to pack up and move during exams, but they were also expected to find somewhere to crash for the first few days of May. You can imagine how that much that would add stress during an already stressful time of year. Luckily the administration changed their tune on Tuesday and finals will instead conclude on April, 30th. The possibility of exams getting pushed into May makes any student cringe. Never mind the possibility of not graduating in time to start a Master’s program or to teach overseas. Could it happen here at Guelph?

Last Wednesday, the University of Guelph Faculty Association voted 84.5% in favour of strike authorization, making a strike this semester more likely than ever before. So what exactly would happen to your semester if the professors do go ahead with the strike? The university administration says it has “contingencies”. That’s all they’re saying. Here’s a look at how a few recent faculty strikes have affected students at other Canadian schools:

York University, 1997

A 55-day strike resulted from a year of unfruitful bargaining over salaries, intellectual property, workload, equity– all the usual stuff. On March 20th, the York University Faculty Association, representing about 60% of the school’s instructors, walked out in protest. Many non-unionized professors, graduate students and sessionals supported them by cancelling their classes as well. Nearly a month into the spring strike, the university announced that it would proceed with the normal summer session beginning May 14th, 1997. YUFA vowed to stop it, but York was able to go ahead with the two-thirds of its summer courses which are taught by non-tenure (and thus non-YUFA) staff. It seems the university knew that they could rely on finding instructors for summer courses. The younger non-tenured professors who teach most summer courses are too poorly paid to ever say no to work. The University Senate claimed that it had a responsibility to open in time for the summer semester because students receiving OSAP might have their funding jeopardized. (That’s right, strike or not, if you’re not taking classes full time your loans start accruing interest right away.) On April 18th, the Senate supported a motion that classes would still be rescheduled after the strike was over, but that in classes where exams were worth 35% or less, the mark would be based entirely on the other 65% of course work at the student’s request. The strike ended May 14th, just in time for the summer session. Students who missed classes (including those which took place during the strike) were given opportunities to reschedule coursework and instruction.

Trent, 1991 & 1996

In 1991, Trent’s professors were the lowest paid in Ontario and wanted more more control over their pension plan. After a year of negotiations, the faculty picketed for 23 days – the longest strike in Ontario up to that point. Two days into the strike, part-time faculty were laid off and all classes were cancelled. Many students transferred schools. Classes and exams were condensed during the rest of the semester. (Does't that sound fun?) The Trent professors went back to work on the condition that they would receive pay in line with the provincial average. It didn’t happen. Five years later, on November 18th, 1996, the professors went on strike a second time. The second strike lasted three weeks and students were expected to return to class the day after the strike ended – quite frustrating for those who had left Peterborough.

Acadia, 2004 & 2007

On February 23rd, 2004 faculty at Acadia walked out over a disagreement about faculty recruitment and retention. Classes resumed March 11th, just under three weeks later. When Acadia’s professors went on strike on October 15th, 2007 this is what students were told: “If you are in a term-based course... [not distance education] some sort of adjustment to the course will be made if necessary when the course resumes. Because these courses vary in how they will be impacted by the strike and, at this point, we are unable to say how long the strike will last, we cannot specify what adjustment will be necessary. We will, however, strive to ensure that the impact of the strike is minimized for our students.” (http://conted.acadiau.ca/strike_faq.html) The second strike lasted fifteen days and the money the university saved by not paying professors' salaries was credited to the students' accounts. Canadian students got $275 off their tuition in January while international students received a $375 credit.

Bishops, Mount Allison, U.B.C. and Manitoba are just a few more Canadian schools which have seen faculty strikes in recent decades. While usually resolved in fewer than three weeks, the length of strikes can be very unpredictable. In the event of a strike at Guelph I guess we’ll just have to stay at home and get as much work done as we can. Classes can start up again with only 24-hours notice as the strikes at Acadia and Trent have shown. And when it comes to faculty strikes, we can expect a little leniency from the administration and professors. If worse comes to worst, and they do strike, I’m rooting for no finals.

http://www.acadiau.ca/whatsnew/newsrelease/2007/winter_credit_19nov.html http://defencefund.caut.ca/english/Reports/Spring2004.htm http://www.trentu.ca/admin/library/archives/rg15-TUFA.htm http://www.smufu.org/documents/volume%202,%20number%208.pdf. http://www.trentarthur.info/archives/000955.html http://www.gazette.uwo.ca/1997/March/25//News7.htm http://www.yorku.ca/mediar/releases_1996_2000/archive/043097.htm http://www.carillon.uregina.ca/jan23.97/features/feature2.html

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  1. Posted by: Jammin' on Mar 2, 2008 @ 3:39pm

    What has CUPE actually ever done for students in regards to campaign for lower tuition fees??

    I want to propose the complete opposite of what is going on. CUPE and the faculty association demand higher this and higher that. It's a shell game and it's the student's pocket that the university dips into to support the unions. And you can't blame the admin because we're a break-even budget anyway, so, the money's gotta come from somewhere since it can't come from profits.

  2. Posted by: Hmm on Mar 4, 2008 @ 4:45pm

    In this strike, from what I hear anyways, one of the main issues is that professors are upset about rights to intellectual property. The University basically wants rights to whatever the professors do; research, course notes, undergrad lab protocols, every little thing. You discover a new use for and want to contract it out? The University wants rights, and profit. From what I hear, that's one of the main reasons that people are ticked. I might be totally off base here, if someone has more facts they would be great to hear.

    That's the link to the IP rights if people are interested...it's kinda scary that if you have "an invention or suspected invention" that you have to tell the University immediately, and then the vice-president of the University for some reason decides whether or not the University wants to "proceed with commercial exploitation"...it's out of the researchers' hands.

    I feel for the undergrad folks in this crappy situation, I really do...but at the same time I can somewhat sympathize with the faculty. All I know is that hopefully things get sorted out so not to interrupt classes and the like.

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