Nova Scotia

Students say they're left in limbo as Acadia strike stretches into 3rd week

The president of the students' union at Acadia University is calling for an end to the contract dispute that's kept students out of class for two weeks. 

Lack of negotiating very frustrating, says students' union president

The Acadia University Faculty Association went on strike on Feb. 1. (David Laughlin/CBC)

The president of the students' union at Acadia University is calling for an end to the contract dispute that's kept thousands of students out of class for two weeks. 

The Wolfville, N.S., university's 350 professors, librarians, archivists, and instructors walked off the job Feb. 1, and there have been no developments in negotiations since then.

Georgia Saleski, who is also a fourth-year student in kinesiology, said the students' union isn't taking a side, but urging both the school and faculty to move forward so that classes can resume.

"I think we've been left in limbo for so long, and from what I understand, negotiations aren't really taking place at this point, which is extremely upsetting and extremely disappointing," she told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Monday. 

Saleski said she has a lot of questions about whether she, and others, will be able to graduate this spring. Students are worried about getting reference letters to apply for jobs this summer and continue with co-op placements, she added.

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There's also the mental health toll of being out of class during a time when so much learning has already been disrupted by the pandemic, Saleski said. 

"I have friends who are telling me for the first time they are feeling so lost — without motivation, without energy," she said.

"These are the people that I know that are so inclined academically, that have bright futures, and are looking forward to what comes next. Right now, they're struggling to get out of bed."

Georgia Saleski is a 4th-year student at Acadia University and the new president of the students' union. (CBC News)

A spokesperson for the Acadia University Faculty Association said he sympathizes with students and is also frustrated by the process.

Jon Saklofske, a professor in the English and theatre departments, said the school is prolonging the strike by not "talking to us, by not getting back to the table. If they really cared about the students they would be negotiating."

He said neither his team, nor the conciliator, have heard back from the university since Feb. 1 when the strike started.  

The university, for its part, said in a statement to CBC News that even though the two sides have not been negotiating, "the university administration team is steadfast in its commitment to a negotiated settlement with the faculty association."

Faculty association says it's eager to sit down

The faculty association has said it's fighting for improved pay and benefits, including more tenure-track positions and better working conditions for part-time faculty, as well as a commitment to improve faculty diversity.

The faculty laid out its offer on Jan. 28, but Saklofske said the university's counter-offer a couple days later didn't respond to many of the faculty's most pressing concerns.

"It kind of seems like they're waiting for us, thinking that they've given us a counter-offer, but what they've really given us is an ultimatum," Saklofske said Monday.

"They don't seem to be willing to move from any of their positions, and that's not collective bargaining, that's not negotiation. We'd like to sit down with them at the table and work through the complexities of the contract."

Faculty at Acadia have been without a collective agreement since July 2021.

University says it's supporting students

Dale Keefe, the school's provost and vice-president academic, was not available for an interview Monday. 

However, in an email, Keefe said even though classes aren't in session, the university is offering support and resources to students and giving them access to campus facilities. He said university leadership has also been meeting regularly with student leadership.

"Many students are taking advantage of this downtime to catch up, get ahead of coursework, exercise, and rest," he said. 

"We recognize that uncertainty is challenging, and the university will keep students apprised as soon as we make decisions. Unfortunately, the answer to many student questions cannot be answered until the strike is resolved."

With files from CBC Radio's Maritime Noon and Emma Davie