Published on Oct 17, 2017

'How are we supposed to do stuff on our own?': Students anxious as Algonquin faculty strikes (Ottawa Citizen)

By: Jacquie Miller | Published on: October 16, 2017 | Last Updated: October 16, 2017

SOURCE: Ottawa Citizen

Raman Deed, 22, wasted no time in following advice from Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen that students should study on their own while their professors are on strike.

Deed and fellow student Carlie Espenant were inside a meeting room at the Algonquin Student Commons building on Monday morning, helping each other complete course projects while professors outside walked a picket line.

About 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians walked off the job across the province, striking to increase the number of full-time faculty and improve academic freedom. Classes were cancelled for hundreds of thousands of students, including those at Algonquin and La Cité colleges in Ottawa.

Deed said she supports her professors in their quest to boost the number of full-time teaching jobs and improve academic freedom. But Deed, who came from Dubai to take Algonquin’s interactive media management program, pays substantially higher tuition as an international student. “If this strike is going to happen, I’m wasting my money over here.”

Espenant said she believes professors deserve full-time jobs, but “it’s very stressful for me. How are we supposed to do stuff on our own?”

Both students were worried that the semester may be extended if the strike drags on. Deed has booked a plane ticket to Alberta for Christmas to visit relatives. 

Jensen has assured students they won’t lose their academic year. “No student at an Ontario college has ever lost their year due to a strike,” she said in the letter posted online. “I give you my word that this will be true at Algonquin College at the end of this work stoppage.”

faculty on strike

Picket lines are up at Algonquin College as faculty at Ontario’s 24 colleges began a strike Monday morning. About 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians, both full-time and “partial load” employees who work seven to 12 hours a week, walked off the job. 

However, it’s too soon to say whether courses will have to be extended, Jensen said in an interview Monday morning. She emphasized she hoped the conflict would be resolved quickly.

Jensen has limited control over negotiations because they are being conducted provincewide.

Meanwhile, she had some advice for students: “Treat the days ahead as a chance to review your course material and connect with your classmates. Form study or discussion groups. Read ahead. Work on long-term projects. You will eventually be returning to your classes and it’s important to be ready when that happens.”

The College Employer Council representing Ontario’s 24 colleges called the strike “completely unnecessary” and unfair to college students.

The employer’s final offer was comparable to or better than settlements reached by other public sector employees, including teachers, college support staff, hospital professionals and Ontario public servants, said chief negotiator Sonia Del Missier in a bulletin.

The final offer from the College Employer Council included a wage increase of 7.75 per cent over four years. The union has asked for a raise of nine per cent over three years.

However, money is not the big issue on the union side. A key concern is the increasing number of “partial load” contract faculty who teach between seven and 12 hours a week. The union presented a proposal Saturday night calling for equal numbers of full-time and contract faculty.

It’s unfair that partial load instructors have no job security, said Deanna Douglas, a full-time teacher in the hospitality department at Algonquin who was walking the picket line.

“Every semester they are told what courses they get and how many hours.”

The “partial load” professors are only paid for the time spent in the classroom, not for preparation, marking and consulting with students, she said. They are “passionate about what they do,” but the situation leads to less consistency for students, she said.

Jensen said the college needs a balance. Full-time professors provide continuity, but part-time faculty from the industry offer real-world expertise, she said in an interview.

 

 

Another key union demand is more control over academic programming. Faculty want more say in course content and delivery, said Jack Wilson, the vice-president of the Algonquin faculty union and a professor in the college’s police and public safety institute. He’s taught at Algonquin for 35 years.

Wilson said colleges employ an antiquated “top down” management style that ends up hurting students.

He gave the example of a professor being ordered by managers to use a free software program that wasn’t adequate and had to be changed after students complained.

“The people who know the best are being overruled by academic managers.

“Why wouldn’t you want to have the best minds brought together to make the best decisions? It’s at no cost to the college.”

The union proposed creating Senates such as those operating at universities, with faculty representation, to decide academic policy.

Management says that is outside the scope of collective bargaining. Colleges are not the same as universities, said Del Missier, chair of the bargaining team for the colleges, in an interview. Colleges must be more nimble, changing programs quickly to respond to the labour market, she said.

There is no indication of when talks might resume.

Both sides presented revised proposals over the last few days as the clock ticked toward a strike deadline set by the union of 12:01 a.m. Monday.

“Unfortunately, (management) refused to agree on even the no-cost items, such as longer contracts for contract faculty and academic freedom,” said JP Hornick, the chief negotiator for the union, in a release. “This leaves us with no choice but to withdraw our services until such time as our employer is ready to negotiate seriously.”

Hornick accused colleges of wanting a “Walmart model of education” based on “reducing the role of full-time faculty and exploiting underpaid contract workers who have no job security beyond one semester.”

Management says the union proposals are unaffordable. “The college cannot accept the union demands that would ultimately add more than $250 million to annual costs, eliminate thousands of contract faculty jobs, and jeopardize the quality of college programs,” said a statement from the Employer Council.

Three picket lines were set up at Algonquin’s Woodroffe Avenue campus, where strikers carried signs saying Quality Education and Same Work, Same Pay. 

OC Transpo has rerouted buses that go directly through campus, although Baseline Station is still open.

 

 

Publication of the Algonquin student paper and website, The Algonquin Times, was suspended by the student association because the paper is supervised by professors who are on strike. However, some students have set up their own news website with information about the strike. 

Information for students

La Cité: Regular classes are cancelled, although online courses continue

Algonquin College

What’s cancelled: Regular daytime classes and clinical placements.

What’s going ahead: Continuing education classes in the evening, unsupervised field trips, courses in collaborative programs with the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Nipissing University that are taught by faculty from those institutions. Email, Blackboard and Canvas remain accessible.

What’s open: Computer labs, study spaces, meeting rooms, residences, all Students’ Association facilities, such as Starbucks, the SA Sports Facility, the gymnasium, Algonquin Fitness Zone, The Observatory, The Landing in Pembroke, the Pride Centre, Food Cupboard and the Clubs and Communities office, Pro Physio, Connections: The Campus Store, The Print Shop, Parking, Lockers and Card Services, and Food Services locations on campus.

Picket lines: Three picket lines were set up: one on Woodroffe Avenue and two on Navaho Drive. 

More information: The Algonquin website contains the latest strike information as well as links to both the union and management side in the dispute.

college faculty strikingPicket line at Algonquin

jmiller@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/JacquieAMiller