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Faculty can strike, but spring break will go on as planned

Diana Forbes | Interrobang | News | February 13th, 2006

Fanshawe students can now bask in the sun during spring break, but colleges all over Ontario and their students may be left out in the cold if the faculty strikes on March 7.

Ontario Public Service Employee Union (OPSEU) CAAT-Academic members, who consist of all full-time college faculty members from across Ontario, voted 80 per cent in favour of hitting the picket-lines by the March deadline if a deal is not made with College Compensation Appointments Council (CCAC), which represents the Ontario colleges and provincial government.

According to OPSEU, the strike vote is the largest ever by the colleges. Almost 80 per cent of Fanshawe teachers voted for the strike mandate, with turn out standing at just over 72 per cent.

Fanshawe college administration made the decision to keep their spring break commitment to the students on January 26.

“We have now learned that postponing the break would cause academic problems for a significant number of students,” wrote Fanshawe's President, Howard Rundle, to students via email. “We have decided that we will not be able to postpone the spring break and it will remain as February 27 to March 3, 2006.”

Rundle added that other colleges around the province are not postponing the break in anticipation of a teachers strike.

In an interview last week, Rundle said some programs, such as dental and fashion design, have had educational experiences planned for months and would not be able to adjust if spring break was canceled.

Prior to the Christmas break, the Student Union recommended that the college postpone spring break until after final exams, so students would have adequate classroom hours to in order graduate or finish the year in advent of an academic faculty strike.

Rundle said if the cancellation decision had been made earlier by the FSU, the college could have committed.

In event of a faculty strike, Rundle said the college will consider canceling the final exam week in April, and marks would be determined by work done pre-strike.

Another option would be to extend the school year into the month of May, which he said would cause problems with student housing and leases.

“We have had a clear indication from the FSU to avoid that if we can,” Rundle said about the latter contingency plan.

“It's most important that students don't lose their year… Our main priority is to get a settlement so there is no strike.”

Paddy Musson, President of the Faculty Union at Fanshawe and Sociology teacher in the General Studies division, said the colleges and faculty representatives have yet to make a deal due to conflicting options concerning workload and salary.

“Administration has dramatically increased class size and we want to control [the growth],” said Musson, who added that Fanshawe would need 90 more teachers to accommodate the growth in student population.

Musson is also concerned with class size and teacher to student ratios, which she says is unfair to students and a main concern outlined in the Rae Report.

“What we are saying is if we don't solve the problem with ratios the students will suffer,” added Musson. “As teachers we have to make sure the conditions to do our job properly are there.”

But Rundle said the monetary cost of meeting the demands of the teachers would be huge.

“We are hiring more teachers,” Rundle said in reference to last week's $5.5 million investment in Fanshawe by the provincial government, which subsequently funded the hiring of 14 new teachers. He added that the school has plans to hire more full time teachers next year, as long as the province is consistent with funding.

In reference to the $5.5 million investment, Musson said Fanshawe isn't living up to its end of the bargain with the province.

“[Fanshawe] should spend that money on improving ratios,” Musson said. “The college is short changing the students and the government.”

The union is also lobbying for a pay increase that would rate the college teachers on a scale that would fall in between high school teachers and university professors.

“There is no reason to compare them with university teachers,” said Rundle. “The nature of their work is quite significantly different.”

Although Rundle ensured students that the college is doing everything they can to avoid a strike, he advised them to complete assignments, projects and readings as outlined in event of a teachers strike.

“If students goof off during the strike… they are going to have a problem.”

Rundle said the college would still be open if the teachers go on strike and facilities like the library will be available.
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