U of M students anxiously await word on faculty strike

Anxious students at the University of Manitoba are flooding their student union with questions ahead of a possible faculty strike on Tuesday.

U of M president disappointed faculty appear set to take strike action

Anxious students at the University of Manitoba are flooding their student union with questions ahead of a possible faculty strike on Tuesday. Nelly Gonzalez reports. 2:02

University of Manitoba president and chancellor David Barnard put out a statement late Thursday that has students even more on edge about a looming strike. 

"I am disappointed that the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) leadership appears set on taking strike action next week," he said in the statement.

Barnard said the university has offered faculty a four-year agreement with an 8.9 per cent salary increase.

He said nothing in the bargaining process would erode academic freedom, said to be the key issue.

Anxiety was high among students on campus Thursday, with the student union reporting it is being flooded with questions from worried students. 

University of Manitoba Students' Union president Al Turnbull said he is getting emails from students concerned about classes, mid-terms, and finishing their degree.

"They don't know if it is going to be a week if there is a strike, or if it is going to be 45 days, like Brandon," he said, referring to a strike in the western Manitoba city in the fall of 2011.

"There's obviously some worry, especially with the precedent here in Manitoba."

A dispute over academic freedom between the faculty association and the university has not been resolved.

If there is no agreement by Tuesday morning, professors will walk off the job.

Turnbull said UMSU is trying to help students navigate the choppy waters, and have posted updates on its website.

"We want to make sure that we're not picking a side before all the information is on the table," he said.

He said most of the calls into the student union are from foreign students, who have the most at stake.

They pay almost three times more for tuition than Canadian students, in addition to room and board.

"They pay differential fees between $12,000 and $16,000," he said. "They are obviously concerned about their degree getting delayed... So those are the ones that are really concerned."

UtshabUtchal is one of 3,700 international students at the U of M.

He arrived from Bangladesh two months ago and plans to major in biotechnology. Utchal is worried a strike would affect that.

"Being an international student is pretty hard, because we're staying away from our family and (we are) totally on our own," he said. "And yeah, spending a lot of money, giving a lot of money to the university."

Utchal said he accepts the higher tuition fees international students must pay, but when things go wrong, it becomes really difficult.

"We're OK with that, but, in spite of paying so much money, if our studies get stopped or harmed that's really sad. That's really scary for us," he said.

Utchal said he wants issues resolved without a strike, and he wouldn't cross a picket line.

LolakamariHarri, from Nigeria, said he came to Canada to get a better education, and get away from political feuds back home.

"I thought I was going to go through school and do four years and I'm done," he said. "I was shocked when I heard teachers saying we're going to strike. I was like, I thought that never happens here."

The faculty association posted an open letter to students early Thursday, explaining their position.

A conciliator has been appointed. 

Read U of M president David Barnard's statement

I am disappointed that the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) leadership appears set on taking strike action next week.  
A strike will be harmful to our students and, indeed, the entire community. Let me assure you that we are doing everything we can to avoid a disruptive and unnecessary strike. 
The University of Manitoba has offered our faculty a four-year agreement with an 8.9 per cent salary increase. It is important that we compensate our faculty fairly and competitively.  Our proposed four-year agreement would ensure long-term stability and certainty for our students.
I want to be clear that we have not put forward anything in this bargaining process that would erode the academic freedom enjoyed by our faculty.  We have not proposed a performance management system for UMFA members. Nor have we introduced any restrictions on research for UMFA members.
We have suggested moving to binding arbitration to take the threat of a strike off the table. Arbitration would ensure the uninterrupted continuation of the academic year. This process would require UMFA and the University to present their cases to a third-party who would have the authority to mandate an agreement. 
In a show of good faith, the University of Manitoba expressed its willingness to use a person UMFA had recommended to act as an intermediary, to serve as an arbitrator. Unfortunately, UMFA leadership rejected this offer. Accepting this offer would have avoided a strike and enabled students to continue an uninterrupted academic year.
We strongly encourage UMFA leadership to accept our offer to resolve this dispute through arbitration so as to avoid an unnecessary strike. Let’s put our positions before an independent arbitrator, call off the strike and continue building an excellent university. Our students deserve nothing less.
Students – who are at the heart of my concern today – can access updated information at www.umanitoba.ca/strikeinfo and be assured that you will receive information the minute it becomes available.
I also encourage the entire university community to review all of the information available including our rationale document that was provided to UMFA leaders in September. The document is located at www.umanitoba.ca under the bargaining updates icon. It is an accurate, detailed presentation of where the University of Manitoba stands on matters.

The University of Manitoba remains committed to bargaining in good faith and will work diligently to prevent any disruption to students. I remain hopeful, even at this eleventh hour, that we can reach an agreement, or at least a process, that allows us to move forward without disrupting our students and the university community.
David T. Barnard, Ph.D.
President & Vice-Chancellor


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