Barrie Advance | Striking Ontario college faculty reject offer

Barrie Advance | Striking Ontario college faculty reject offer

While striking college faculty voted to reject the current terms presented by the CEC (College Employer Council), post-secondary students may be back in class as early as next week.

The OPSEU college faculty bargaining team recommended its members reject the resolution, and with a 95 percent voter turnout, the decision was decidedly ‘no’ with 86 per cent rejecting the offer.

A statement released by Premier Kathleen Wynne said she will meet with representatives of the CEC and OPSEU to discuss options for an immediate resolution.

The two main factors that OPSEU and CEC are in disagreement on are academic freedom and the division of part-time and full-time workers.

“The final offer given to us by council did not address any of those concerns, but made things worse for our part-time faculty,” said Anita Arvast, OPSEU Local 350 chief steward in Barrie.

Arvast said the current agreement allowed ample room for colleges to hire more part-time faculty, resulting in a ‘gig economy’ for teaching staff.

“When you have precarious workers, they’re working over and above to respond to students. Often they can’t because they have to teach at other places or hold down other jobs to put food on the table,” Arvand said.

Part-time faculty, or precarious workers or partial load faculty, aren’t guaranteed benefits and their contracts aren’t secure year after year.

“I don’t want my children working in that kind of environment,” Arvand said. “We should all be entitled to secure work, and I think this vote put a huge dent in the concept of the gig economy.”

In terms of academic freedom, Arvand said faculty was negotiating for faculty to determine the course content, among other issues. 

“That’s a grave concern for us, if the students don’t have the knowledge they need to gain in the course, they aren’t prepared to be successful in the workplace,” Arvand said. “We’re in a danger zone now if we don’t get back in the classrooms next week. It has to be solved.”

Georgian College president and CEO, MaryLynn West-Moynes, said she had similar concerns about academic freedoms.

“Full-time faculty and partial-load staff are involved in new program development,” she said. New courses and material were developed and then put before an academic council of three administrators and nine faculty member.

“They make up a broad cross-representation of all the different areas of the college,” West-Moynes said.

A local advisory committee of employers looks over the curriculum as well.

“Faculty have the majority of the input on the curriculum, but we think it’s also a team job,” West-Moynes said. “If we were to agree that every single faculty member had complete control over the syllabus, we’d be breaking down the foundation of what differentiates a college from a university.”

For partial-load or precarious workers, West-Moynes said, “if they taught a course, they’d get first right to teach the course if it came along again.”

An effort, she said, to provide more sense of the future for part-time faculty.

“This is an incredibly difficult situation for our students and I truly regret that.”

Myja Hogendoorn, a second year nursing student at Georgian College said the strike has lead to a loss of motivation.

“It’s hard to understand what we’re coming into with all the curriculum changes,” she said. “The semester would have to be extended, our program is extremely content-heavy.”

In terms of academic freedom, Hogendoorn said she sided with the faculty.

“It makes zero sense that somebody with a bachelor’s degree in Education can tell a nurse what is important,” Hogendoorn said. “They don’t know. They haven’t been in the hospital.”