This is a reply to Mr. Howard Elliott’s Editorial titled “The Spectator’s View: Put students first and end college strike”.
Disclosure: I am a full time professor teaching at Mohawk College, presently on strike with OPSEU local 240.
I read your editorial with interest and there are many points we can agree on. Ending the strike as soon as possible and getting students back into class is a paramount concern among the instructors and professors I have been walking the picket line with since mid-October. How to ensure students will be able to complete their courses without loss of academic integrity is something we discuss with one another. Many of us set students up with extra resources before the start of the strike so that they would be positioned to accept an accelerated pace when we return. We have not been part of the discussions for how students will recover the lost time, management has their own plan that they will deploy. This goes to the heart of the question of the academic freedom that you questioned. We can accept the realities that there will be some need to be creative in examining our deliveries. Some assignments or tests may need to be combined, extra hours might be needed. We are talking about it on the picket line. We have not been invited to talk about it with managers. They will decide without the subject matter expertise on how to best “save the semester”. Academic freedom is not about taking control of the college system. It is about having a voice at the table. When managers decide that courses must have multiple choice exams to save time and money in a course that had tests and assignments that looked like the real working world, authentic assessment which is widely praised, that is a violation of academic freedom. When some of the people hired to teach in these courses have neither professional experience or substantial academic experience in teaching and are not able to articulate meaningful answers to student’s questions, that’s an academic freedom issue too, even if it does touch on Human Resources’ ability to hire whom it wishes. That we have had instructors hired to teach at Mohawk College in September who graduated from our program in April underlines that willingness to put any warm body in front of the room demonstrates the need for academics to step up and say enough.
Issues of program quality and academic freedom are not just our fight, they are the students’ fight as well, just as combating precarious employment standards are. We are not simply altruistic, we want an working environment where we take pride in our work, where we believe that we are preparing top quality courses that are as interesting to us as they are to our students. It’s not about dollars and cents, it is about pride and passion and the feeling that we are contributing towards a better society by helping to shape the next generation of thinkers, voters and workers.
We largely believe the strike was entirely unnecessary but that the college council repeatedly refused to engage in meaningful negotiations over the summer months, indeed that the only real sign of progress began the morning of the OPSEU rally at Queen’s Park. A cynic might say that there was an attempt to detract attention from that rally by sitting down at that moment. A cynic might question how long it takes to prepare a full page ad to print in a local newspaper after you decide to end negotiations. Let’s not be cynical however, let’s focus on something that is apparently misunderstood in the opinion you have presented. The offer, where the two sides were close together, is off the table. It is not the offer we are being asked to vote on. We are being asked to vote on a contract that substantially reflects the same position that started this strike: continued high rates of contract employment, language that subverts the intention of Bill 148 by stating that contract employees are not performing the same work as full time staff. If the offer being voted on were the one where the parties were close together, perhaps there would be some trust, some good faith … but alas, there is not.
Professor, Mohawk College
Department of Engineering Technology