Concordia University students upset over elimination of semester break following strike

Students at Concordia University of Edmonton are upset the school has eliminated the week-long semester break following a two-week faculty strike.

Petition for return of winter break garners over 1,800 signatures

Some students at Concordia University of Edmonton are upset with changes to the school calendar following a labour dispute. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Students at Concordia University of Edmonton are upset the school has eliminated the week-long semester break following a two-week faculty strike.

An online petition with over 1,800 signatures as of Monday asks that the institution reconsider reducing the semester winter break from a full week to the Family Day long weekend.

Christine Ryvers, a student in her last semester of an education after-degree program, started the petition.

She said plans with family or vacations will be dashed for many of her peers. For Ryvers, who lives in Fort McMurray but stays in Edmonton during the semester, it means less time with her fiance.

Eliminating the break will affect students' well-being, she said.

"A lot of it is like a mental break from classes too," Ryvers said. "University is hard. We may choose it, but it is a struggle to push through it sometimes."

An additional week has also been added to the end of semester — time that could be spent applying for jobs or getting into the workforce, Ryvers said.

Demanding course load

Anika Downham, a second-year science student, signed the petition.

Downham says that time off from classes is crucial for keeping up with a demanding course load — especially for those, like her, who are working full time.

She would like to see the university find another way to make up the lost time, "because this is just punishing the students for something that was out of our control."

Concordia president and vice-chancellor Tim Loreman said universities in Alberta must provide students with a minimum number of instructional hours and, because of the strike delay, the school must make up two weeks' worth of instruction.

"I appreciate the challenges the strike has caused our students and I sympathize with them," Loreman said in an email. "It wasn't easy to cancel reading week, but it was better than the alternative — extending the winter semester into summer."

Loreman said the university will give students an extra day off on Feb. 22 and is asking faculty to reduce students workload that week.

The calendar change was announced on the same day a four-year collective agreement was reached between the university and striking faculty.

The agreement was ratified by 89 per cent of the membership, according to a statement from the Concordia University of Edmonton Faculty Association, bargaining agent for 82 full-time professors, librarians, placement co-ordinators and lab instructors.

The strike, which began on Jan. 4, was a first for faculty associations in Alberta and halted the start of the winter term for more than 2,500 students.

The university is set to begin classes on Wednesday. Classes will be online until at least Jan. 31.