Algonquin students in academic limbo as faculty strike
Students concerned about how their classes and workload will be affected
Students at Algonquin College are unsure of how they can finish their semester as hundreds of the school's professors walked off the job.
More than 12,000 faculty at 24 colleges across Ontario went on strike Monday after talks between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and College Employer Council broke down.
The union is arguing for at least half of faculty to be full-time, for more stable contracts for employees of at least a year, better pay, more academic freedom, and a collegial senate model.
The College Employer Council said the demands would cost $250 million and result in the loss of thousands of contract positions.
Some students unhappy with strike
The strike isn't sitting well with students like Dylan Holcomb, a 31-year-old student in computer systems technician program, who was upset no one on the picket line, which he said was "in shambles," was willing to take his questions.
Holcomb said students are paying $3,000, and some international students are paying $10,000 to $20,000.
"We're stuck self-teaching for this next week, maybe two weeks, or until the government decides to mandate them back to work," said Holcomb.
He scoffed at the signs the strikers were holding that said "Quality Education" and said he's concerned about missing classes that could put his career prospects at risk.
"I'm concerned that my quality of education is going to drop because I'm not going to have as much time in the classroom as the next year or the previous year and that's going to affect my employability."
The president of the students association said she's heard similar concerns from other students.
Right now there's just a lot of uncertainty and that's really what's stressing students out the most.- Victoria Ventura, president of the Algonquin Students Association
"Right now there's just a lot of uncertainty and that's really what's stressing students out the most," said Victoria Ventura, the president of the Algonquin Students Association and a fourth-year student in the business administration human resources program at the college.
She said students are anxious about when the strike will end and what it could mean for them financially.
"What is my semester going to look like, post strike? Are we going to have to go later into December or into January? That could really mess up holiday plans," she said.
"We just don't know. Hopefully we don't lose our semester, but still … there's still questions on whether more tuition will be paid or will I be reimbursed."
Union wants better pay, stable contracts
The union argues students are already suffering because the college doesn't have enough full-time employees and many part-time teachers can't afford to keep their jobs.
"It's precarious work. It's very difficult for those workers but it's also difficult for our students because they get inconsistent course delivery. Some teachers leave part way because they can't afford to be at the college and that leaves the students in the lurch," said Jack Wilson, Algonquin's strike coordinator.
He said more than 70 per cent of faculty are not full-time. College President Cheryl Jensen told CBC Ottawa last week that more than 50 per cent of faculty across all of Algonquin's campuses are full time, and said Monday the numbers differ because of how the college and the union calculate what is a full-time employee.
Wilson said there are approximately 580 full-time professors, 250 to 300 partial-load employees and 1,000 sessional and part-time staff.
He admits the strike isn't ideal for students but hopes they'll turn their questions to the college as to how students can still complete their year, something Jensen maintains will still happen.
Jensen said the college's management is holding daily meetings to come up with contingency plans so students can finish their terms.
In the short term, she said online learning portals continue to be open.
Part-time pay not sustainable, professor says
Tim Bowstead got a job as a full-time professor in the arts and science department after only three years working part-time, but said from the picket line on Monday that he counts himself lucky.
I know people working in my programs who are working part time and, these are qualified people with master's degrees, and... would have had to borrow money to stay. So they left.- Tim Bowstead, arts and science professor at Algonquin College
"I know people working in my programs who are working part time and, these are qualified people with master's degrees, and … would have had to borrow money to stay. So they left."
His own partner, who he said has a PhD and nearly three decades of clinical experience, worked for a semester at Algonquin before having to quit because it wasn't financially viable.
"With the amount she was getting paid for part-time work, and if you include on all the extra time she spent on emails, lesson preparation, she only was paid for two hours [a week] to be here... it worked out to about $5 an hour that she ended up making."