On Monday, the Mount Allison Students’ Union made a reasonable request to the university. Students, MASU said, ought to be reimbursed for the class time lost to the strike. We agree.
The premise is a simple one: Students pay tuition to receive, among other things, classes and access to the faculty who teach them. As Mount Allison’s faculty and administrators are either unable or unwilling to work out their differences, there was a strike, costing students twelve instructional days, and twenty-one calendar days where faculty could have been providing us with guidance. Therefore, the university ought to return the wages it didn’t pay its faculty for those twenty-one days—roughly $856,948—to its students.
On one hand, we have misgivings about MASU’s approach. Attaching a monetary value to education—especially the sort of higher learning that we are supposedly here to do—is problematic. And we remain disappointed by MASU’s advocacy during the strike, which was too little, too late.
On the other hand, we are paying for something, and if we’re not going to get it, we should get a refund—regardless of whether or not Mt. A is forced to pay faculty the wages lost during the strike.
The strike laid bare, for all to see, that students are not equal stakeholders in this university. We were marginalized by both sides during negotiations. And when the time came to clean up the mess, the university’s senate voted overwhelmingly against students’ best interests to gut the semester of an extra four instructional days, bringing the total to twelve.
Twelve instructional days is a lot of class time. Each full-time student at Mt. A lost roughly thirty-six hours of instruction, not counting labs—nineteen per cent of the semester. In the two days before reading week, classes and faculty scrambled to cut material from their syllabi. Most of us won’t have an opportunity to judge for ourselves whether these lost readings, assignments, lectures, and discussions would have been valuable.
A refund is further justified by precedent. In February, the University of New Brunswick announced it would compensate students after a strike similar in duration to our own. UNB’s directors felt that profiting from their strike and lockout would have been wrong. And in 2007, students at both St. Thomas University and Acadia University were compensated after job actions kept them out of classes.
Mt. A’s administrators would do well to pay attention to the Acadia case: Acadia’s then-president, Gail Dinter-Gottlieb, said that “providing students with a [tuition] credit […] lets our future alumni know that we appreciate their support of Acadia.” With this year’s enrolment decline, Mt. A’s future alumni pool is already short; the last thing Mt. A needs is four consecutive grad years of alienated alumni who will think twice about donating.
It is possible that the province will force Mt. A’s administration to compensate faculty for lost wages, as part of the arbitration process that ended the strike, but students deserve to be compensated regardless. If the university saved money during the strike by not paying faculty, then we, students, deserve our money back. If the university did not save any money, then we, students, deserve our money back.