Mount Allison’s faculty union and administration have concluded an agreement to end a twenty-one-day-long faculty strike on campus in time for classes to resume Monday, Feb. 17.
On campus, costs and uncertainty remain. Faculty and librarians will return to work without knowing what their new collective agreement will be. And with a meeting of the university’s senate not scheduled until Wednesday afternoon, no-one can say what the rest of the semester will look like.
Negotiators from administration and the Mount Allison Faculty Association met with a provincially-appointed mediator for fourteen hours Saturday, Feb. 15 to decide the terms of an arbitration process that will decide on the terms of a new collective agreement. The return to class was announced just after midnight Sunday.
Late last week, confusion reigned as the university announced a return to class Monday morning, while the faculty association argued they had not agreed to end the strike.
In the end, the parties agreed to interest arbitration with a single arbitrator. This form of arbitration will see a provincially-appointed expert decide the terms of a new collective agreement issue by issue—but leaves both the university and faculty without influence on the final decisions.
The faculty union proposed interest arbitration Thursday night. The university’s administration had sought final package arbitration since Feb. 7—a form which would see an arbitration board or single arbitrator select the proposals from one of the two sides as the text of the next collective agreement.
Mt. A’s administration, faculty union, and students’ union welcomed the end of the strike with careful language, hinting at what could be a difficult road ahead.
“We are very happy that both our students and our faculty will be back in the classroom on Monday,” said Karen Grant, Mt. A’s provost and vice-president academic and research, in a statement. “We will now be working to ensure the integrity of the academic year.”
“I think it’s reasonable to say [faculty attitudes are] mixed: I mean, I think people are really happy to be back. Nobody likes to be on strike. We were on strike because the issues that were at stake were serious enough that we thought that was a necessary step, but I think members are glad to not be on strike, and to be back in the classroom, and working with their students,” MAFA President Loralea Michaelis told The Argosy.
“But there still is the matter of the [collective] agreement. We would have much rather been returning to the classroom with a tentative agreement behind us, still yet to be ratified, and a negotiated settlement that was satisfactory to both parties,” Michaelis continued.
The return to class Monday leaves the university community facing many questions, including how the rest of the semester will look—whether reading week might be cancelled, or if the semester would be extended beyond its current end date.
An email to students from Grant indicated that the registrar’s office had prepared revisions to the academic calendar which would preserve reading week. It did not say whether extension would come at the cost of an elongated semester.
The Mount Allison Students’ Union hopes it can prevent just that.
“We know what some of the big issues are: People are concerned about reading week, people are concerned about when the term will finish up,” Harley said.
Harley said that once he and Mt. A’s six student senators had held a consultation session with students planned for Monday evening, they would be able to bring a proposal of their own on how to rearrange the term.
Harley said he thinks keeping reading week and finishing the term on schedule are realistic options for the university. He said students needed the break to catch up on their courses and deal with new due dates after the disruption.
“Making sure that the end of term remains relatively untouched is another big priority because those commitments that come at the end of term—things like plane tickets, moving, and summer employment—those are the kinds of commitments that we really don’t think the institution should be asking its students to compromise on,” Harley said.
The strike began Jan. 27 when negotiations between MAFA and administration on a new collective agreement broke down. Faculty walked off the job when agreement on issues including compensation, workload, intellectual property rights, and performance evaluations could not be found.