Nova Scotia

Acadia and striking faculty eager to negotiate but neither side budging

The strike at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., has entered its second week. The union representing faculty says it’s anxious to get back to the negotiating table, but the university is adamant that its last offer is what's available.

350 professors, librarians, archivists, and instructors walked off the job Feb. 1

Members of the Acadia University Faculty Association picketing in Wolfville, N.S., on Feb. 1. The union has been asking for improvements to hiring processes to increase diversity among faculty. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Acadia's 350 professors, librarians, archivists and instructors continued to walk the picket line they first set up eight days ago on Wednesday, hoping to pressure administration at the Nova Scotia university to return to the negotiating table.

But both sides remain entrenched in their positions, and there's been no development in negotiations since the end of January.

The Acadia University Faculty Association wants improved pay and benefits, including more tenure-track positions, as well as a commitment to improve faculty diversity. For its part, the university in Wolfville is offering minimal salary increases over four years, and has rejected what it called setting an "arbitrary number" for full-time faculty.

"[It] does not make sense and is not a model used at any other university in Atlantic Canada," the university said in a statement.

Union spokesperson Jon Saklofske, a professor in the English and theatre departments, said the school's most recent offer doesn't address many of the association's proposals made on Jan. 28.

The school's vice-president, Dale Keefe, said in a statement posted online that the Jan. 31 offer "remains on the table as a basis to end the strike."

Dale Keefe is Acadia University's provost and vice-president of academic. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Saklofske said the university's wage offer of a freeze followed by one per cent increases in years two and three of the new contract and 1.5 per cent in its final year is below cost-of-living and inflation projections. 

He said the increases would most hurt the roughly 30 per cent of faculty who work part time. 

Many of them are hired per course and have contracts for just a few months, Saklofske said. Some shuttle between different university campuses.

He said failing to provide better working conditions will make it harder to retain staff and impact students. 

"It's more convenient from a budget perspective, but it certainly diminishes the kind of quality of education," he said. "In those precarious sort of situations, it does detract from the kind of focus that a faculty member can use to develop a course, deliver a course, everything from getting to know the students from involving students and various things like research."

Saklofske said part-time faculty have less time to mentor students and can't supervise someone's honours thesis, for example.

"They're working incredibly hard ... [but] what happens is you do lose a lot of opportunities for engagement with students," he said. 

Saklofske also said full-time faculty at Acadia earn less than counterparts at most other universities in the region, according to the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

"We recognize that a one-year salary freeze is not ideal and is difficult for the faculty association to accept," Acadia spokesperson Sherri Turner told CBC News.

"However, we also have limited ability to increase salaries during a global pandemic, especially when all other employee groups have endured salary freezes for two years."

The previous collective agreement outlines a wide range of salaries for full-time employees. For instance, instructors are paid anywhere from $56,383 to $93,007 a year, assistant professors between $76,984 and $97,585 a year, and full professors range from $115,897 to $152,521 a year.

In a public post online, Acadia said an agreement that does not respect "the fundamental need for financial stability" would "immediately jeopardize the university's ability to deliver on its promise to educate and serve students."

Acadia University Faculty Association spokesperson Jon Saklofske says they have been frustrated by a lack of direct response from the university to their offers during the negotiations. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Meanwhile, classes remain cancelled as they have since the start of the strike. The university administration said it will give 48 hours notice when classes return.

Acadia's winter break will go ahead as scheduled Feb. 21-25. 

If the strike continues through the break, the administration said in a statement it will consider options including extending or condensing the winter semester. 

"We recognize that any change to the term is undesirable and will only be made if absolutely necessary," it said in the online statement.

The association's most recent collective agreement expired in July. 

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With files from Elizabeth McMillan

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