Confederation College students in Thunder Bay, Ont. could be heading back to class as early as next week, according to college president Jim Madder.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn called for back-to-work legislation Thursday that would end the nearly five-week-old strike by faculty members.

The move followed an announcement by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) that faculty had rejected the offer from the College Employer Council, the bargaining unit that represents Ontario's 24 public colleges. 

The NDP has so far blocked Wynne's legislation.

Party leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement that she wants to see students back in the classroom on Monday but she wants to see a deal struck first. 

 Madder "hopes all parties would support this legislation and move it through as quickly as possible," he said.

He's hopeful the legislation will soon be passed, allowing students to return to class as soon as Tuesday Nov. 22 or Wednesday Nov. 23, he added.

"In most cases, we'll just move the timeline ahead," Madder explained, "[so] what would have occurred the first week of the strike [will] start this coming week [and we'll] teach to Dec. 22 and then back on the 3rd of January."

"That sounds easy, but it isn't.  There's all sorts of challenges to have that occur."

He said the winter semester would go into May, which means students "may or may not have a March break."

Regardless of the challenges, Madder strongly disagreed with the idea of compressing semesters, as he wants to focus on providing students "with enough time to learn," he added.

Student support

"Patience, patience, patience, for everybody," Madder urged.

While the college's student union members have continually offered help to students throughout the strike, Madder said he expects to see more students requiring support once everyone is allowed to head back to work.

"There's going to be frustration," Madder said, but we just need to focus on "rebuild[ing] that learning community [and] rebuild[ing] the community that supports our students."

That includes financial, academic and even emotional support, he said.

More than half the students at Confederation College are from out of town and have made plans to travel back home during the holidays, Madder said, but with the strike, "a number [of them] were looking into making changes to their travel arrangements."

Which is why the college is offering financial help to students who have incurred unexpected expenses due to the strike.

"With our students, it's interesting [because] our international students have very expensive travel, but so do our students in northwestern Ontario getting home to some of our First Nation communities," Madder said.

Students who are in need of financial assistance can check out the college's website, and Madder recommends that students continually check their Confederation College e-mail accounts for up-to-date information.