Students continuing to have education taken away as strikes go on in New Brunswick

By Ally Harris
Jan. 29, 2013

When Denise Porter first learned classes would be cancelled, she was excited.
But now, as UNB enters its third week of a faculty strike, she wants to get back into the classroom.
“I was kind of, like everyone else, excited for a few days off, but after a while it’s really annoying not having any classes,” said Porter, a second-year kinesiology student.
There isn’t much to do when there are no classes, she said.
“I’ve kind of just been back and forth for the past couple of weeks in between living (in residence) and living at home.”
Porter is one of many students whose education is suffering as a result of the strikes. That number increased on Jan. 27 when Mount Allison University became the second school in New Brunswick to go on strike.
Melissa O’Rourke, president of the Mount Allison Student Union, said there had been lots of preparations in case a strike did go forward.
The student union, however, will still operate as normal.
“Everything continues for us as it normally would, except for the fact students aren’t in classes,” O’Rourke said.
“Right now our top priority is making sure students have the information they need to be informed about the strike.”
But as a student, O’Rourke’s main priority is seeing the two sides get back to the table to find a solution.
“This is our education and it’s obviously in the best interests of students to be back in the classroom.”
Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton University managed to avoid a strike when a tentative deal was reached Jan. 21.
The three-year deal, which expires in July 2016, was ratified Jan. 27.
Scott Stewart, president of the Cape Breton University Faculty Association, was pleased the two sides were able to reach a deal.
“Nobody wants job action. It’s disruptive to students, it’s disruptive to faculty.
“Obviously people get into this profession because they like the work. We would all rather be teaching and engaging in research and service rather than walking a picket line.”
However, Stewart doesn’t think the ability to avoid a strike will put CBU in a better position than UNB or Mount Allison in the future.
“Labour disruptions occasionally happen.”
Most major schools in Atlantic Canada have had a strike in the last 15 years, he said.
“There’s probably a few small (schools), but this happens periodically at most universities. So they can suffer in the short term certainly. But typically, Maritime universities have a pretty good reputation of providing high-quality education.
“I think universities have been able to survive that short-term damage and hold their reputations in the long term. It’s not just in the East that there are labour disruptions. Everybody works to avoid them, but they happen occasionally.”
St. Francis Xavier University faced a strike last year, but enrollment did not suffer as a result. According to statistics from the Association of Atlantic Universities, St. FX’s enrollment dropped 1.5 per cent from October 2012 to October 2013. This was the lowest of all the schools that saw a drop in enrollment.
O’Rourke said it would be difficult to predict whether the strike would affect enrollment at Mount Allison next year.
“With that said, it’s also one of those things where we are having a strike this year, that means that a collective bargaining agreement will – cross our fingers – happen this year, so it’s not something that would actually affect students again for another two or three years.”
Porter said a strike would probably affect her choice to go to UNB if she was in the position of someone looking at potential schools.
“I’m sort of mad because they’re really just taking our education away from us. It’s just scary because they are holding it from us, so I don’t know what they would do in the future. I would be scared that I wouldn’t get the best quality education.”
Discussions are underway once again between UNB and faculty after they were ordered back to the table with an outside mediator Jan. 27.
A media blackout is in force so the Association of UNB Teachers could not be reached for comment.
It is unknown when negotiations will continue at Mount Allison.
“We don’t know at this time when they’re planning to return to the table. I have not heard anything about that,” said O’Rourke.