La Cité suspends professors over fall semester dispute

Ottawa's Collège La Cité has suspended four professors in its respiratory therapy program over a disagreement about the shortened fall term put in place following Ontario's five-week faculty strike.

Instructors felt college's demands would breach their ethical duties, union says

Mona Chevalier, president of the faculty union at Ottawa's Collège La Cité, said the suspensions should strike 'terror' into any educator willing to stand up for their ethical beliefs. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Ottawa's Collège La Cité has suspended four professors in its respiratory therapy program — including all of its full-time faculty — over a dispute stemming from the shortened fall semester put in place following Ontario's five-week faculty strike.

The suspensions were confirmed in a Nov. 24 letter sent by La Cité to one of the suspended professors and obtained by CBC News on Sunday, as well as by the union representing faculty at the college.

The suspended professors were asked to guarantee that respiratory therapy students would be fully prepared for the workforce — while also teaching a fall term that was suddenly three weeks shorter.

According to Mona Chevalier, president of La Cité's faculty union, the sticking point for the four professors was a demand that students would graduate without facing "restrictions" on their licences.

La Cité college has suspended four professors in its respiratory therapy program, one week after a province-wide college strike came to an end. (Josée Guérin/Radio-Canada)

'Life and death situations'

For example, Chevalier said, a student who lacked proper training on how to handle asthma attacks could have that noted on their licence — allowing them to practice in their field but not treat asthma patients.

The college wanted a guarantee, however, that students would meet all of the program's requirements in the allotted time and not face restrictions, Chevalier said.

The professors said that wasn't possible, citing an ethical responsibility to the College of Respiratory Therapists of Ontario, their regulatory body. When they refused to sign a list of goals put forward by the college Friday afternoon, they were suspended, Chevalier said.

We're talking about life and death situations here.- Mona Chevalier

Chevalier said the college's demand put the four suspended professors in an "impossible" situation.

"We're talking about life and death situations here. They're respiratory therapists. When we stop breathing, we die," she said.

"The regulatory body [which protects] the public wants to make sure that nobody is practising when they have not been able to meet the requirements." 

Collège La Cité said that despite the suspensions, classes in the respiratory therapy program are going ahead Monday as per usual. (Laurie Trudel/Radio-Canada)

Suspended without pay

The Nov. 24 letter sets out a back-and-forth between the La Cité professors and college administration, one that took place both in-person and over email, in the days after the strike ended.

It culminated with the college demanding the professors sign off on a number of expectations, including that they respect the school's post-strike timetable and also ensure respiratory therapy students meet all the "competencies" set out in their program.

"It is noted that, at present, no other situation of this magnitude or nature is listed in the 24 colleges of Ontario," the French-language letter said.

We are confident that our students will have achieved all the skills, knowledge, and skills required to complete the school year.- Statement from Collège La Cité

When the professors refused to accept the expectations, they were suspended without pay until Jan. 26, 2018.

The letter also accused them of insubordination and said comments they'd made to their students had "tainted" the school's reputation.

In a French-language statement Sunday, La Cité said they would not be discussing employee matters publicly.

The college said respiratory therapy courses would continue as planned on Monday, and students would continue to have access to labs, tutoring and other educational supports.

"We are confident that our students will have achieved all the skills, knowledge, and techniques required to complete the school year," the statement said.

"They will have reached all the competencies established by their professional order."

'We're not going to let that go'

The 77 respiratory therapy students at La Cité were among thousands of students across Ontario who returned to the classroom last week after back-to-work legislation brought the faculty strike to an end.

Programs like respiratory therapy are also beholden to a country-wide education plan and exam. One faculty member previously told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning she felt there wasn't enough time to teach the curriculum covered on the exams. 

Chevalier said overloading the rest of the school year will just add more stress into the lives of respiratory therapy students. 

"When you're cramming information and you need to give students time to practice with it and integrate it, what happens is if you just move on to another one and another one, then you're really putting all of those students at risk of failure," Chevalier told Ottawa Morning Monday.

No other faculty members across Ontario have refused to teach reworked semesters, but Chevalier said students in the same program at Algonquin College have asked management for extra weeks to complete their courses.

Chevalier said the suspended employees include the college's three full-time respiratory therapy professors, as well as a fourth "partial-load" professor.

The union will consult with its lawyers and try to re-enter discussions with the college this week, calling its disciplinary actions "a clear abuse of power," she said.

"This is creating terror in any kind of teacher who wants to assert their professional beliefs. And not just their beliefs — their ethics," she said.

"We're not going to let that go."