KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In a time of unparalleled socioeconomic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dalhousie University students find themselves caught in the middle of hostile collective bargaining negotiations between full-time faculty, represented by the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA), and the Dalhousie Board of Governors.
The hot-button issues at the centre of these negotiations relate to proposed “strategic” changes to faculty defined-benefit pension plans, and a lack of tangible support for instructors who feel burnt out and overworked in the new virtual teaching reality. In sum: tensions concerning benefits and workload. But while Dalhousie faculty and the administration duke it out, students and grant-paid employees are left to wonder what the outcome may mean for them.
Literally. Students and grant-paid employees have no idea. At least, they have not received any explicit explanation from the University about next steps. Unlike individual faculty who address strike concerns to their classes or research teams every working week, Dalhousie has not been forthcoming about the impact of a potential strike on students. There has been no news release about how students will be impacted in terms of funding, jobs, grading, or more. Instead, the University has made vague promises in wordy news releases about doing “everything we can to ensure the academic term is completed.”
And yet, Acting Provost and Vice President Frank Harvey and Assistant Vice-President Human Resources Jasmine Walsh also wrote, “In the days and weeks ahead, you can expect to hear more from the university about strike preparations, including implications for courses, access to campus, research, and other areas of our operations.”
This release seems to indicate that there is currently no plan to ensure term completion. Students and grant-paid employees haven’t even been provided a strike contingency plan by the University. Labour action could occur as soon as November 6! Shouldn’t it be good administrative practice to already have a defined plan of action in place to support students and grant-paid employees?
Based on this alone, one can conclude that the University is entirely unconcerned not only with the well-being of their faculty, but they are equally unconcerned with the well-being of its students and grant-paid employees. In a time when the pandemic has made everyone vulnerable, the Board is attempting to exploit this vulnerability to achieve unexplained financial objectives.
This pattern of behaviour isn’t new. There is a pattern of exploitative and opportunistic behaviour from the Dalhousie Board of Governors more akin to a multi-million-dollar corporation than a university. For example, this is the same Board of Governors that reported a $39.5 million surplus in 2019-2020. Though in June they reported a potential budget shortfall due to lower enrolment and other factors, a summer update reported enrolment was better than expected and could result in a better financial outlook. Enrolment numbers remain unclear as of September 21, but were “higher than expected.”
This is also the same Board which imposed another year of tuition and administrative fee increases on students, many of whom lost their jobs and were reliant on federal financial aid due to COVID-19. And let us not forget, this is the same Board of Governors accused of entrenched racism time and time again by students and other Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. Now these folks are willing to “restructure” our instructors’ pensions and livelihoods and, by extension, are willing to disrupt the lives and learning of students to meet their financial bottom line in a time when students have taken a chance on online learning.
It is clear that the Dalhousie Board of Governors is not focused on governing a not-for-profit post secondary institution. These folks are here to make a buck at faculty, students’, and grant-paid employees’ expense.
To the students reading this: these negotiations and a potential strike are more than a Faculty-Board issue. A potential strike is also a student issue. And it’s an issue in which students should support our Faculty to the fullest.
A statement issued by the Dalhousie Student Union in support of the DFA clearly articulates why faculty deserves our support. They wrote, “The DFA’s working conditions are our learning conditions. For students to succeed in academic studies, Faculty must have access to a working environment that supports and respects them and their work.”
When our faculty lack the support needed to maintain a reasonable work-life balance and implement effective virtual learning, our Board and Executive team have a fiduciary responsibility to step up and support them. Instead, the Board is largely ignoring our faculty and trying to mess with their benefits, just like they ignore students and increase their tuition year-after-year.
Students need to show solidarity with faculty during these negotiations. While our Board focuses on the margins over the quality of learning, our faculty want to make sure they have the tools and supports they need to deliver the education we, as students, have paid for and worked endless hours to receive.
Noel Guscott is a Master of Arts in Political Science student at Dalhousie University.
See also: Conciliation between Dalhousie and faculty fails, making strike more likely
With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.
Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again. It’s free!
Salaries and benefits for full time faculty at Dal are extremely generous. What is wrong with them making some sacrifices to help the university (and the Nova Scotia taxpayer) at this difficult time? Whether you want to admit it or not, they are a privileged group in our society. Blaming administration for all of the problems is wrong.
But Rick, who is more privileged than the Administration and Board of the university? There pays will be unaffected, and the rate of tax they pay stays the same. The students say an increase in tuition of 3% and the pensions and pay of the faculty is also threatened. The DFA members live and work here and pay taxes here, if they leave because the administration treats them poorly then the taxes leave and so too do the students that help run the university and local economy.
No one is blaming the administration for all our problems, but the best interest of a business is making money for the board. The main interest of a university should be to teach. Dalhousie acts like a business, and I have yet to hear of any large corporation that asks for a few sacrifices that don’t turn into long term policies and memory loss (on the part of the Board).
If there are fiscal problems at the university, why don’t you look to the administration and ask them to make a few sacrifices, why does it always have to be the students and staff to make the sacrifices.
Speaking as a Dalhousie faculty member, but also as someone who was a student for many many years, and married someone who was also a student for many many years, I’d respectfully disagree. We ARE a privileged group but we worked and sacrificed for many years to attain that privilege. And that privilege cost all of us a great deal of money spent and time when we earned very low wages. Most new faculty actually make quite low wages, especially when you consider the amount of debt they are dragging and when you compare their salaries to others who have similar educational attainments.
Most importantly, Dalhousie faculty have offered to simply keep our contract as it is for the coming year. Dalhousie actually has increased enrollment and tuition fees for students while they have reduced costs by closing much of the physical space. The real sticking point in these negotiations, which again, is neither urgent or necessary, is the proposed reduction in the Dalhousie pension plan. Everyone, not just Dalhousie faculty, deserves to have a decent and comfortable old age after working hard. Since faculty spend many years earning very low or no wages (as students), we have less time to build a pension plan, once we do, finally, get hired as faculty. I hope this helps to explain more clearly what the issues are for us.
To be clear, my comment was in response to Rick McCready. Antar Dhar makes some good points.
I stand by my comments. I am aware of the salaries and benefits for Dal profs, and they are very generous. Many Nova Scotians go to university, earn a degree, and then get a job in the public, private, or non profit sectors and make much less than the average salaries at Dal. I do agree that if faculty members are subject to reductions in pay or pension benefits, that those working in administration should be treated in the same manner.