VIU faculty to strike Thursday

UPDATE: Faculty strike confirmed


Classes could be cancelled for students at Vancouver Island University as early as Thursday morning when faculty would be in a legal strike position. Talks stalled between the university and the Vancouver Island University Faculty Association (VIUFA) on Tuesday, after a government appointed mediator failed to negotiate a settlement. Faculty had previously voted 84 per cent to give the union a strike mandate last month.

Negotiations broke down because VIUFA wanted a “no-layoffs” clause in the collective agreement, according to university spokesperson Toni O’Keefe. “We can’t do that” she said, citing the B.C. government’s demand that public universities freeze budgets. “We just can’t negotiate on cost.”

UPDATE: VIU faculty strike confirmed

VIUFA’s chief negotiator Dominique Roleants disputed the university’s claim that it cannot commit to no layoffs. “Virtually every university in Canada has language that severely restricts cuts to education and faculty layoffs, yet VIU won’t even meet to discuss this issue with us,” he said in a release distributed to media Tuesday morning.

The current collective agreement allows for layoffs “for reasons of demonstrable and substantial declining enrolment over a sustained period, and for reasons of a demonstrable need for program or service reduction, including the non-viability of non-teaching positions.”

VIUFA would like to see the language strengthened so that layoffs, for its members, would only be permitted if the university was forced to declare a financial crisis.

O’Keefe said that while the university refuses to include a no-layoffs clause, it is willing to work with the union when reducing staff and faculty. VIUFA president Dan McDonald says that that is news to him. “They’ve certainly never said anything like that to us at the bargaining table,” he said.

The faculty association also says the university plans to cut courses, but O’Keefe dismissed the claim. “They are trying to mix bargaining with the budget” she said. Although she couldn’t confirm whether the university’s upcoming budget would include course cuts, O’Keefe did concede that layoffs are a possibility. “I will anticipate that there will be reductions of some type,” she said.

In order to ensure no increases to the university budget, the administration’s bargaining position is to renew, unaltered, the collective agreement that expired last spring, and extend it until 2012. Wages would be frozen for the duration of the contract.

VIUFA is not calling for wage increases, however, and maintains that improving job security is its chief concern. “If they can’t give some job security, that’s a deal breaker,” McDonald said. “[Wages are] not as high a priority for our members.”

Patrick Barbosa, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Island University Students’ Union, says that while VIUSU supports the faculty association’s right to collective bargaining the organization is remaining officially neutral. “We’re not taking sides. We’re standing up for students,” he said.

More than 14,000 full and part-time students would be affected by a strike.

Unless the administration returns with a new proposal McDonald says “you can expect to see picket lines at 8:00 Thursday morning.”

Photo: VIU students taking introduction to digital media, by bex0r


VIU faculty to strike Thursday

  1. The communication of information and ideas is surely a basic requirement for all those involved in higher education, especially for delegates elected to represent faculty, staff and administration. Yet here we have a group of supposedly responsible people in already highly secure positions squabbling over a no-layoff clause impossible for any employer to guarantee.
    If the strike is implemented the 14,000 displaced students who trusted the faculty and staff with their future and their money would suffer the most hurt. They may seem powerless right now, but I can see an irate student body quickly organizing a class action suit against the university and the faculty association for breach of contract.
    Conservatively an all-inclusive cost for the lost semester, not including compensation for the trauma, would be around $3,000 per student. So 14,000 student claims plus legal fees would amount to a suit totaling around $60 million dollars.
    I hope that the squabblers have deep pockets.

  2. VIUFA, how can you ensure that a ‘no layoff clause’ will not hamper the incentive and drive for instructors and staff to do their utmost to keep with current educational trends and meet the demands of our rapidly evolving society?

    As a parent of a potential student at VIU I am far more concerned with the quality and relevance of the courses than the staff turnover. It is the quality of the courses that will bring in the numbers and thus the funds and security. As a university instructor myself, I am also well aware that when job performance is the key to our own job security, everyone benefits.

    • Camille – you hit the nail on the head. I believe the root of the problem is that the VIU administration cannot strategically lay off poor quality, stale, lazy instructors because of the current union rules which state that regardelss of merit – it is the least senior faculty who get laid off. When VIU advertises a committment to teaching excellence I can’t help but laugh. The instructors are not evaluated in any manner (by students or upper management)after 3 years. Even if the instructor gets 3 years of poor student evaluations I have seen them get regularized! VIU needs to get their HR in order. Keep instructors who work hard, are effective and dedicated and aren’t just taking up space. Put the emphasis on quality not quantity of instructors.

  3. Apparently, the VIUFA has substituted their “no layoff” demand with a demand for a “financial exigency” clause. But a “financial exigency” clause for VIU is really a “no layoff” clause in disguise. The last time “financial exigency” was invoked in the Canadian university sector was in 1997 when the committee charged with determining whether such a condition existed at Algoma University determined that it did not. And it’s not the case that a majority of universities have such a clause. 50% do, and none among the kind of university that VIU happens (justly and proudly) to be.

    At a place like VIU, which does not have tenure, where its 550 or so VIUFA members have a status more secure than tenure, such a clause is ridiculous. Where other universities can lay off the non-tenured (not that this is necessarily right) in order to preserve the job security of the tenured, such a clause might make sense, might. But almost all VIUfA members have better than tenure, and VIU itself is not facing financial exigency. It simply needs to deal with a shortfall in its budget which, unlike many Canadian universities must, by BC law, be balanced every year. Further, the VIUFA contract already has a provision for the union to receive budget information which might trigger layoffs, and has a key role, by contract, in mitigating layoffs. Historicallly, management and the union have cooperated well in such efforts at mitigation.

    As to increases in admin salaries, well, VIUFA salaries have also increased over the same period, and many new admin positions are term contacts, paid by research and other contracts that are funded externally to the University.

    It’s hard to fathom what the VIUFA seeks to accomplish through job action. There’s only 12 months left in the contract that’s to be bargained, the BC government has set a zero mandate, the University cannot agree to no layoffs and balance its budget, the government in Victoria is spanking new, every other university and college who’s settled has done so within the government mandate, and the sector-wide implications of a “no layoff” or “financial exigency” clause (which are really the same thing in VIU’s case) are such that the government could hardly approve them . . . yup, students will suffer, and what about those seriously under-paid CUPE workers, without whom the university could not function, who will not be crossing picket lines? Neitehr CUPE nor the other faculty union, the BCGEU, while they’re likely to respect picket lines, are jumping to support the VUIFA. Maybe they’re the ones who really care about students?

    Don’t get me wrong. What the BC Liberals have done to post-secondary education in the province is unspeakable. But how VIUFA job action can help the provincial situation or the lot of faculty and students at VIU remains a mystery for many of us.

  4. I would like to point out that this is happening at universities all over BC (and across Canada & the world). The problem here is shown as two unions bickering over a scrap of funding – however the article does not point out what needs to be underlined.
    The BC government is cutting universities short and now we are left to fight over what scraps they leave us. Until people realize why this is happening, we will continue to pick sides and call names, and we will all lose. We need to unite against the crooks in the legislature who have destroyed the public services across BC. Universities are not the only places hurting!

  5. The no layoffs clause isn’t the only thing the VIUFA is looking for, and as a current VIU student I support the strike. Three layoffs were announced just within the last few days and just a week ago they were looking at completely gutting sociology. Why sociology? Nobody at VIU seems to have a reason to cut sociology in particular, just that they needed to cut *something*. It was a completely arbitrary decision, like many of their others. It was only after protests and public outrage that they’re backing off and planning to spread the cuts out more evenly instead.

    Thanks to all the program cuts made over the last several years, course availability is tanking hard and if VIU gets their way it’s only going to get worse. This could be mitigated by offering more self-directed online/correspondence classes or by transferring credits from other institutions more efficiently, but for some reason VIU can’t get its act together on this front. I know several people who have had to repeat a semester to a year in classes they’ve already taken at UBC or UVIC despite the curricula being nearly identical. VIU makes most of its money off tuition fees, remember. Self-directed classes are significantly cheaper to run yet cost the same amount in fees — so why aren’t there more of them? Any class where a large portion of the curriculum is lectures, reading, one-right-answer exams and assignments, or demonstrating a skill that can be verified automatically can be partially automated and offered online. QUME185 is offered this way. It still requires an instructor to answer questions and keep an eye on everything, but the elimination of lectures and reduction in marking means each instructor can teach more students per class and offer a larger number of classes. Contrast this to what VIU is demanding: the power to decide arbitrarily that it’s appropriate to have 200 (or ANY number) students in a live calculus or essay-writing class without veto power from profs. Having class size limits is not a problem for students. If there are a few people on the wait list, the instructor nearly always pulls some strings to get them in, and if there are more than a dozen, the class is usually offered frequently enough that they can catch it the next semester. The only ones -negatively- affected by class size limits are VIU, who wants more sweet, delicious tuition fees without having to pay for an adequate number of instructors. Honestly, only a handful of our classrooms are big enough to fit more than the current limit anyway. Where are they going to hold these classes, on the lawn? In the gym? A lot of students picked VIU *because* of the small class sizes, and VIU has used it as a selling point for both faculty and students alike for many years. It’s really no surprise that so many of both want to keep it that way. Students who want large classes, or who don’t care, don’t go to VIU.

    Meeting many of the VIUFA’s other concerns would have no effect on VIU’s budget. For example, the VIUFA wants a requirement that members who do the work of running the VIUFA receive assistance in their class-running duties, AT THE FULL EXPENSE OF THE VIUFA. It would cost VIU nothing. Running the VIUFA is a lot of work, and knowing that they have someone to handle the gruntwork (marking and holding tutorial sessions is commonly delegated in many universities) would allow them to offer more classes. Of the board members, I’ve taken classes in the past from one and heard a lot about another. They are fantastic, passionate profs who really care about their subject matter and about educating students. I would imagine most of the other board members are the same just for the fact that they are willing to put what is currently their leisure time into ensuring manageable class sizes, course and program availability and other issues that affect the quality of my education. Yes, strikes are disruptive in the short term, but they’re doing it for long-term gains. Camille, do you really want your kids to be taught by the profs who are just phoning it in? Because they’re who are teaching the most once you waste the time of the profs involved as VIUFA leaders, faculty advisors, etc.

    The VIUFA has come up with over dozens of different solutions over the last year. VIU has just outright rejected every one of them without negotiation, repeatedly cancelled meetings with the VIUFA prior to the strike vote, and only brought in mediation at the last minute, seemingly just to disrupt the strike (because their only involvement in mediation has been to say that they cannot negotiate on any point). I believe the VIUFA when they say that VIU is being evasive and dodgy, because they’re doing the same to us. In the same update, they tell us that graduation plans won’t be affected, but can’t guarantee we’ll get credit for this semester’s classes. Students who are able to graduate after winter semester usually do, so I’m not sure who they think is going to be graduating without spring credit. They also say that if we don’t get credit, they’ll “make us aware of their policies” on refunds. You’re all familiar with PR-speak, right?I want to be aware of their policies NOW, but they’re too busy not-talking to the VIUFA to make them up, I suppose. Every email and update they have sent me has been full of contradictions and doublespeak.

    If this strike drags out and the semester goes uncompleted, I won’t blame the VIUFA. Every alumni donation letter I ever get will go straight into the shredder, though.

    • Meg wrote: “Contrast this to what VIU is demanding: the power to decide arbitrarily that it’s appropriate to have 200 (or ANY number) students in a live calculus or essay-writing class without veto power from profs”

      While it is true that initially VIU asked for some more flexibility on class sizes (though I’m pretty sure the numbers they had in mind were nothing like 200) that request was withdrawn quite some time ago. All that VIU is asking for is that the current collective agreement be extended for another year (until March 31,2012).

      “For example, the VIUFA wants a requirement that members who do the work of running the VIUFA receive assistance in their class-running duties”

      What they are actually asking for is that if a union member gets a leave for union duties the university will be required to offer the same number of classes in that employee’s department EVEN IF TEHRE IS NO STUDENT DEMAND. Currently the Dean has the option to take that money and apply it to other department priorities.

      ” I believe the VIUFA when they say that VIU is being evasive and dodgy, because they’re doing the same to us. In the same update, they tell us that graduation plans won’t be affected, but can’t guarantee we’ll get credit for this semester’s classes”

      I certainly sympathize with the uncertainty you face, but what would you expect VIU to be able to say about completing your classes or getting a refund when they have no idea how long the strike might last? The responses to a one day strike can’t be the same as they would offer if the strike went on for a month or two.

  6. I, too, am a VIU student fully in support of the faculty and VIUFA. The current administration has made a series of choices that hurts students: cutting full classes, constructing new buildings for programs that have neither instructors nor students to fill them, and ensuring that the president’s wife has a secure job in the biology department while no other faculty member has a secure job because any of their programs could be, at any time, arbitrarily under the knife. As a student, I have benefitted from the excellent teaching and the fabulous course offerings at VIU and I am upset that such professors and courses are arbitrarily under threat by an administration that seems able to fund itself – and fund renovations to their personal offices, as an example – while not able, apparently, to fund full classes. I am upset as a student, but I am also upset as a member of this community wondering, if the university continues on its current path *without* the faculty taking a stand, what will be left for the students who come after me? I see that, under tremendous pressure, VIU has backed away from its plan to slash 12-14 full classes of sociology – but who is next? Who might be next? And while VIU administration argues that the current 0-0-0 mandate from the BC government severely limits their budget, which undoubtedly it does, I agree that the faculty has every right to have the same clause in their contract that other faculties at universities in BC have – one that states that if the administration argues it can’t afford to continue to hold certain classes or programs – it must actually prove that this is so. This will stop the administration from doing what it seems to be currently be doing – which is removing finances from students (ie classes and the professors who teach them) and putting that money into shiny new offices and empty buildings. While I hope the strike ends early – as a student, of course I don’t want to lose my semester – I don’t want it to end early at the expense of my own and others’ future educations.

  7. Hey Meg,

    You have made some valid talking points but nothing you have said addresses the most important question, “how VIUFA job action can help the provincial situation or the lot of faculty” as alas has so eloquently put it.

    You make an execellent spokesperson for VIUFA though, are you?

  8. Personally I am furious abut the VIU strike and I do not support the faculty, I don’t feel they care about us students, if they did they would be willing to negotiate. It’s not fair they have received their education and they’re putting us in a position to not be able to graduate. One thing I can guarantee from me is that I am not willing to simply cave in and take a refund. It’s not about the money it’s about time that we can’t get back. I will take legal action if needed and most certainly will not return to VIU next year. With VIU trying to grow and be respected as a new University, their actions certainly are ruining any chances of that.

    • Jenn said: “I do not support the faculty, I don’t feel they care about us students, if they did they would be willing to negotiate.”

      I think you need to get your facts straight. VIUFA IS willing to negotiate, ANY day, ANY time. VIU administration, despite saying they are willing to meet any time and are committed to reaching a settlement, is the one that has been cancelling negotiation meetings for the past year (try 13 or more last fall). VIU administration is the one that called in the mediator, only to refuse to meet until 10 days after one was appointed and then say in the end that they refuse to even DISCUSS anything.

      Some VIU students may feel that VIUFA is “holding their education hostage”. But ask yourself this: In what way does VIU cutting FULL courses benefit students?

      Part of the strike is about programs and courses, and part of it is in fact about job security for VIUFA. Why don’t we have a right to both those things?

      VIUFA is wanting job security (either through a no-layoffs clause or a Financial Exigency clause), but that goes HAND IN HAND with making sure that our courses are not cut. No layoffs = no course cuts, and vice versa.

      Before deciding that VIUFA is the “bad guy” students need to look at what VIU is saying and VIUFA is saying. VIU administration has, despite what they say, refusing to cooperate the entire time, and their emails are full of contradictions. VIUFA is the only one actually giving real updates on negotiations and being way more transparent than VIU.

      At Jamie Hodge: You ask: “how VIUFA job action can help the provincial situation or the lot of faculty”

      By bringing this out to the public front. Not only have there been multiple news reports on the VIUFA strike by A-Channel, CHEK News, CBC, Shaw etc. but we’ve also had other presidents from VCC and Langara faculty associations come over to support VIUFA on the picket line. Kwantlen Faculty Association also sent a letter of support. This will help to bring more awareness to the lack of post-secondary education funding from the BC government. We all have to think about the BIG PICTURE here. Not only about the future of VIU, but also the future of post-secondary institutions in BC as a whole.

      • Courtney,

        Perhaps you need to apply your critical thinking skills a bit more rigorously. You appear to believe everything VIUFA says and to disbelieve everything the university says. The world is never that black and white.

        If the VIUFAs position is “no layoffs” (as it stated on their website until Saturday afternoon) then what is there to discuss?
        Do you really think “no layoffs under any circumstances” is a reasonable position?

        The last media quote I’ve seen from Dan McDonald was “our position hasn’t changed”. Again, what then is there to discuss?

        If their position is now “financial exigency” then what do they mean by that. Is it the CAUT “model language” at http://www.caut.ca/pages.asp?lang=1&page=274. That language could cause real problems for the university (I gave some thoughts on this at http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2011/03/09/viu-strike-begins-tomorrow/).

        If that isn’t their position then what is it they actually want?
        The university has said they want the existing agreement to continue for another year. This is apparently unsatisfactory to the faculty. As the party that is asking for a change it is incumbent on the faculty to be clear about what their bottom line is if they really want a deal.

        If the VIUFA’s position has changed then I assume they have contacted the university and are arranging for another meeting with the mediator. In that case maybe we can expect some good news in a day or two. If you have ever been in labour negotiations you probably know that the time for informal discussion is before a strike is declared – now is the time to get concrete proposals on the table and hammer out a deal.

        Maybe they have done this, but the information we’ve seen in public leads me to suspect not.

        If the issue is really about post-secondary funding in BC (and here I agree with you 100%) then why is VIUFA so focused on demonizing the VIU administration (and in particular the president) instead of going after the real culprits in Victoria?

        Is it possible that the faculty association’s true objective is to make this labour dispute a public policy issue and that they are waiting for some other institutions to catch up with them and walk out too? If that is the case then nothing VIU could do would end the strike.

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