As the strike at Mount Allison stretches into week two, I wonder if or when I can expect my next lecture.
I believe that the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) is, for the most part, correct in rejecting the university’s collective agreement proposals. But for all the right and wrong on either side of this battle, both sides need to reflect on their behaviour—one more so than the other.
This dispute is about complex issues that often can be interpreted very differently depending on your perspective. And unfortunately, misinformation has a habit of running rampant in labour disputes such as this. To this end, MAFA needs to do a better job of informing students of what exactly in the administration’s proposals threaten Mt. A’s academic mission.
As much as this ongoing dispute is a private matter between employer and employees, students have a right to more correct information than that faculty are “protecting the academic mission.” Instead put it in terms that I can readily understand as a student. Will administration proposals make my education less valuable in the future? Will I gain a comparable amount of knowledge when I complete my B.A. as my father did twenty-five years ago? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I bet MAFA does and could answer them in a few short blog posts.
However, these are fairly minor complaints with MAFA. Now, I come to the heart of the matter.
The Mt. A administration has done an excellent job of keeping students informed. The only problem is this information is inherently one-sided. Last week the administration posted online that they had not returned to the bargaining table because MAFA would not negotiate unless all their major proposals were dropped. Even if this claim is not a stretch of the truth, it reflects very poorly on an administration that doesn’t hear policy alarm bells if its faculty are crying foul and eighty-six per cent of full-timers are willing to walk out.
Forgive me for the simplification, but I think a basic analogy of generals refusing to listen to the troops applies here. A general may very well be convinced of a plan’s brilliance, but if the soldiers that actually carry out the plan think it is foolhardy, maybe it isn’t so brilliant after all. Faculty lead the charge for a quality education at Mt. A, and they have decades of experience that give them a unique insight. Overall, the administration lacks the firsthand experience of educators (to be fair, some have spent years heading classrooms), and they must reevaluate their proposals if the faculty in the trenches are willing to strike over it.
Indeed, it seems that the administration has a host of convenient excuses. The administration sent out an email last week that stated, “declining regional student population, a weak regional economy, and university revenue constrained by regulated tuition and uncertain government finances” make it difficult to accommodate faculty requests. Since when has the Maritimes not had a weak economy? And since when have government finances ever been certain? These are facts of operating a university in Atlantic Canada, not genuine barriers to accommodating faculty requests.
Ultimately, there is right and wrong on both sides of this labour dispute, but the majority of the wrong is with Mt. A’s administration. This isn’t to say that the administration has it out for students—quite the opposite—but they need to listen to their faculty and try to accommodate them as best as possible.