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Letter to the Editor: A Student's Perspective on the Possible Strike at U of G

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

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Written by John Sakaluk

In light of the recent strike-talk that has been circulating the University of Guelph, I've been wrestling with some thoughts about where I exactly stand on the issue of a possible strike by the teachers at the University of Guelph.

The first thing that came to mind when I heard about the strike, "Whoa, I didn't know that!" might seem redundant, but I believe it captures a lot of students' reactions to this situation.

The first notice of this strike that I came across, came in the form of the Facebook group "University of Guelph Strike! Beware!", and initially just contained some student opinions and gossip, with a few copied and pasted letters from teachers posted as discussion topics. Next, the first formal statement made to the students that i was aware of was made on the same Facebook group by Nathan Lachowsky on February the 6th, and shortly following that, the CSA posted the same message on its site on the 7th.

While I wouldn't go as far to say that the students have absolutely been kept in the dark in terms of this situation, I will agree with a fellow student that the short notice from the CSA preluding the vote by the UGFA on the 15th does come across more as damage control than upfront and honest communication with the students.

It then seems that the both sides of this dispute are keeping the students on a "need to know basis", and it truly feels like the concerns of students aren't being taken as legitimate. True, as the CSA points out, these sorts of measures have been taken by other Teacher's Unions at other Universities without a strike actually. However, as a student, that sentiment isn't very comforting, as our time, money and education is on the line here. With so much at stake for students, it makes sense to err on the side of caution, and make a legitimate effort to address the student body preemptively to the situation being this far in development. However, this has not been the case and it is disappointing.

Also disappointing is that the key issues of disagreement haven't been made explicitly known to students, and this has left the door open for a lot of guess work for the students, and it shows, especially in the Facebook group. Obviously money is on the agenda, but what are the particulars, where are the hang ups, and what's next? However, i should make clear that i do not think this is to the fault of the CSA, as it seems they are also on a "need to know" basis. On the other hand, the UGFA has also surprisingly limited coverage of the situation on their website, and individual teachers have added their two-cents (and sob stories)both here on thecannon.ca, and the facebook group as well. Meanwhile, other than CSA involvement, the University Administration hasn't formally said much.

A large part of me finds the situation rather ironic given the skewed nature of this problem. (My disclaimer: don't read any longer unless you want a more biased opinion.) The teacher's at the University of Guelph are butting heads with the administration, and although specifics aren't well known, money is certainly involved. What should first be mentioned here, is that the lowest average salary by age group at the University is $74,475, the average overall is $96,069, and the highest average is 113,095 (UFGA website). In short--the teachers aren't exactly "hard done by" in terms of money making. But should they strike and demand more money, where would this money come from: didn't Guelph already suffer a tuition raise that was close to the maximum (if not dead on) allowed at an institution? Perhaps the most interesting and perplexing part of this situation is just the nature of where the students lie in all of this. The teachers want more money (and other things). Teachers teach. Teaching requires students to teach. Therefore, teachers should have a fundamental obligation to the students, who they require to do their jobs. Irony: The students would be figuratively held hostage by the teachers should a strike occur. I realize this is just the most effective way to get their demands met, i just find it fundamentally crooked given their profession, and given the amount of money they are currently making, and that we are paying as students.

That being said, the main issue was, and still is a communication one. Students, teachers and administration have a business relationship with one another, and surely one professor in the UGFA, or one administrator in the University understands that communication is needed for a relationship to be successful and healthy. Why then are student interests being put on hold in terms of keeping them involved and in the know?

My final sad thought, is that I don't imagine that a student strike would garner very much respect or urgent response in reaction to this situation. The current teacher vs. administration debacle has communicated one thing fairly clearly: student concerns and needs come secondary to administrative/union concerns, and students are only kept in the loop in the limited ways that they are to keep them complacent.

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  1. Posted by: Steve on Feb 20, 2008 @ 9:04am

    I'd like to comment on your point about money.

    I think points of contention with the UGFA are joint control over pension programs, student/instructor ratio and the trend of hiring sessionals and phd candidates rather than tenured/tenure track professors. In the end this does translate to money as lower class sizes requires more instructors and more tenured professors mean higher salaries but also higher quality of education.

  2. Posted by: John Sakaluk on Feb 20, 2008 @ 5:57pm

    True enough Steve, however, i'll fall back on the main point of my article, which is the points of contention should be clearly stated for all those affected, and to my knowledge, they haven't been. If either side would disclose the situation in its entirety to the students, it would remove all the hypothetical guess work on the students' part, including my own.

  3. Posted by: TBK on Feb 21, 2008 @ 6:03pm

    I don't see there being much point in using the argument "you have no right to complain, look how much money you already make". Sure the professors make a very good living however they have worked hard to get where they are and one of the rewards for working so hard is to be payed more. I realize that is probably not the main issue however I hate hearing students using their (the professors) current wage as an argument against them.

  4. Posted by: j on Feb 21, 2008 @ 7:11pm

    Sure, they deserve to be rewarded well after a lot of hard work. However, I can't have a lot of sympathy for them if they're going to try and get more money at the expense of the students.

    Perhaps if they couldn't sustain a decent living would I support a strike, but well... they can. The amount of money they make is nothing to balk at and UGFA can go to hell if they want to get more money by striking, which will just cause more of a financial burden to students, who ARE generally hard pressed for money. (Read: Losing summer jobs, paying for another semester's worth of tuition)

  5. Posted by: Shane on Feb 22, 2008 @ 7:13pm

    You seem surprised that the UGFA website and Administration aren't saying much........that's what a media blackout is all about. We won't know anything more until it ends on the 13th.

  6. Posted by: D on Feb 29, 2008 @ 8:23pm

    It is also important to note that profs make a large sum of their income from research. As the profs may be entitled to wage increases, I am just hoping that they consider the students and how valuable a short period of time without education truly is.

  7. Posted by: Jammin' on Mar 2, 2008 @ 3:43pm

    Friggin' unions! They want more and more and it comes out of the pockets of the students. Don't believe their strategy when they want student support and say in turn they will support students with our campaign (ie. lower tuition). It's all crap, they don't give a shit about the amount students pay for tuition, certainly don't care enough to take a pay cut for it.

  8. Posted by: Yeah.. Right... on Mar 2, 2008 @ 10:29pm

    Jammin's right! The Profs are a bunch of lying greedy fat cats with the sole agenda of sucking all the money they can from the student body. The whole teaching and research part is just a front for their real agenda.

  9. Posted by: Mandy on Mar 3, 2008 @ 9:01pm

    I have to disagree with the comment made by Yeah...Right. Although Paying profs more would hurt the students pokets, I do not think that they are greedy fat cats. They work hard, and yes I agree they are already paid alot especially compared to what most students make but I don't feel students know enough about what is going on to start name calling.

  10. Posted by: Charlie on Mar 3, 2008 @ 9:45pm

    I am a grad student, so I see this problem from both sides. I don't think the profs' grievances are not specifically about wages, but rather the treatment the university gives them. I know there are several profs who are not happy to strike but feel the need to stand up for themselves or their colleagues. As a student, I am as unhappy as anyone else about the fact that my education (and financial situation) may suffer, but ultimately the issues the profs are fighting on will impact on every student.

    It's not pleasant, but students need to be used as leverage, because the thought of losing our tuition money is the only way and university will listen to anyone. Blame the fact that the university is most focussed on money and reputation.

  11. Posted by: Yeah.. Right.. on Mar 3, 2008 @ 11:16pm

    Mandy,
    My comment was supposed to be satirical.

  12. Posted by: Ken on Mar 4, 2008 @ 6:40pm

    I`m a grad student and a Teaching Assistant, currently part of the TA's Union (CUPE)... at the same time, I have a guaranteed job offer waiting for me when I graduate and this strike can delay my graduation, which will ultimately affect my job offer.

    I can definitely see both sides of the story. Having done my undergarduate at York, which has had its share of strikes, I can tell you this will definitely hurt students significantly.

    However, for those who argue that professors wages are fair. Lets consider this, it takes most profs on average 13-15 years to complete a PhD's

    Toronto TTC Bus drivers have no more than a High School Education.

    After 10 years of research, a prof can potentially get tenure ship, which starts at 70K annually. 10 year veteran Toronto Bus driver with no real education are paid 70k. So you see the significance here?

  13. Posted by: Shane on Mar 5, 2008 @ 2:19am

    Though salary comes into any bargaining process, there's a lot more at play here than just salaries, like intellectual property and tenure and promotion policies. Its worth considering that the UGFA is may not be solely interested in money.

  14. Posted by: John L on Mar 7, 2008 @ 10:02pm

    We do all know that CUPE 1334, the skilled trades, cleaners, groundskeepers(think snow), etc. will be in a strike position as of tomorrow, right? Picture the library after a couple of days of not having the garbage picked up, washrooms cleaned, etc or the snow not being cleared. The faculty are important, however there's a more immediate problem for students to think about.

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