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Students have a voice. So, use it!

Each day that the labour dispute continues, it seems to set another UNB first: the first time that UNB has had a strike, the first time private security was brought in to patrol the campus, the first time an entire semester has been in jeopardy. Though perhaps the most memorable part of this strike is the complete inaction of students.

Aside from the occasional and small groups of students who have joined professors on the picket lines or one of the recent demonstrations, student movements have been noticeably absent. Compared to the recent mass student demonstrations in Vancouver or Montreal, UNB’s student body seems to be suffering from a severe case of inertia. Senior citizens with a facebook account have more life than we do.

How much do you think the administration pays the university each semester? How much do you think the professors do? I can’t say for certain but I’m guessing that it is right around fuck all. Our tuition is a major source of the university’s financial intake, and it is the university’s finances that are at issue here.

At family dinners, whenever my brother and I would fight over the last pork chop, my mother would simply reach across the table and eat the pork chop herself. Do you know why she could do this? Because she paid for the goddamn pork chop! Soon enough, my brother and I stopped fighting over meat and would just split it because doing that was a lot better than having none at all. (And for a while my mother was putting on serious weight.)

Since it is our money that will decide whether it is the union or the administration that walks away the winner, we have the power to decide on what terms the strike ends.

The longer the strike continues, the more important public opinion becomes as the more likely the province is to enact back-to-work legislation. The most important voice within the public is the student body’s.

Anybody who reads the administration’s website’s analysis of the strike and then goes on to read the union’s realizes that the two sides are unable agree on a single thing. It’s a marvel that they’ve both chosen to use the Latin alphabet. The public will listen to us because we are the objective third party. Ironically, this is probably the most power any of us will have at effecting real change at this university within our academic lives.

We can either weigh in heavily, decisively swaying favour from one side to the other, establishing the student body as something to be respected and consulted on university affairs, a legacy that will last far after the strike is finished. Or we can sit this one out, and maybe watch some Friends reruns.

Despite the apparent apathy of students, the university does still recognize the power that students have when we are able to act as a singular entity. On Jan. 3, UNB’s Student Union announced that it was encouraging students to withhold their tuition payments in an effort to send a message to both the administration and the union that students “want a new collective agreement, [and to] continue our studies uninterrupted.”

In response, the university has agreed that the tuition deadline will be postponed “indefinitely,” temporarily parting ways with tuition late fees. This is no small victory. Getting this university to overlook a fee with which they can charge a student is on par with healing a leper: a miracle.

You know the improv game that beginner drama students play, where they pass around something like a spatula, all taking turns at making it into a different object? Jenny puts it up to her eye and says it’s a telescope. Devon holds it like a bat and says it’s a bat. (Real original, Devon.)

We are that spatula! The only difference is that the spatula actually has a class to go to. The administration and the teacher’s union keep passing us back and forth saying “Students think this.” “No Devon, you fool! Students think this.”

In this strike, both sides are claiming that the general student body is empathetic to their cause. Obviously, one side has to be lying. Let’s find out which side that is.

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9 Comments

  1. milner_matt Reply

    Bang on – students can decide this. The strike is more about governance and the long term value of your degrees that you think. There’s been quite a bit of bad press about salaries. But think of it this way – profs have over a decade of university behind them, most often three degrees or more, with all of the student debt that brings with it. The want to be able to pay it off, to start their lives, raise families, etc. They want to be able to pay that debt off; like all talented workers, they march with their feet. Getting young profs – world class faculty who can teach, lead labs, and give students the education experience that makes their degrees worthwhile – are retained by making sure they can do these things. Investing in faculty means investing in UNB’s national and international reputation. Trust me, I did my BA at UNB – first class education, hands down. And that’s because of the faculty. The worthiness or long term value of your degree isn’t just built on your marks, it’s built on the reputation of your program and your university – which comes from your profs. If you’ve got a large prof turn over and instructors instead of faculty (do you know the difference? find out! it’s all about governance and compensation), the value of your degree will suffer big time. Yes, NB is a have not province, but all the talk of the ‘knowledge economy’ is smoke and mirrors unless you’ve invested in the people whose job it is to produce and sustain knowledge production – the faculty. Universities are, by definition, made up of Professors and Students. Right now one of those groups is trying to defend your degrees; you should speak up and help them out, or at the very least try to appreciate that this is about the value of your degree and education.

  2. vicki_phillips Reply

    Agreed we need to do something collectively, however the fourth UNB students at the Moncton and Bathurst campuses have been working hard o get some movement.  The Global television interview as well as the CBC information morning interview with Jonna Brewer yesterday morning proves that. Letters have gone to the premier and more are going out today to Jody Carr, the premier and our local MLA’s,  I have also emailed the union and asked when the rally is planned to hasten back to work legislation so that we can join.  Someone just say the word, we will all be there with our posters and voices and with the entire student body, that will be one hell of a voice!

  3. milner_matt Reply

    Back to work legislation won’t really solve anything at all over the long term. The issue is prioritization of what the university DOES – shrinking programs, and failure to retain professors stands to profoundly alter the programs UNB offers in real ways. Back to work doesn’t address that; it also cuts out students’ voices because they legally have no place at the conciliation table. If students value their education, and its long term reputation, it will involve more than a legislative solution. It means illustrating clearly to UNB admin that sucking money out of programs and the retention of faculty is degrading and undermining that education. That’s where your voice should be, not on undermining professors who are trying to say enough is enough with the gauging of academic programs. You can’t run degree programs with ‘instructors’ – you need full time experienced faculty. And faculty with reputable program are what puts a university on the map, not admin.

  4. AdrianPark Reply

    Great article – Richard Kemick usually hits the nail on the head.  The only point I’d take exception to is the suggestion that being taught by ‘instructors’ rather than profs is somehow substandard.  Instructors are usually every bit as well qualified as profs – most have Ph. Ds, and even try to carry on their own research.  The difference is in their terms and conditions of employment – most are on contract year-by-year or even semester-by-semester, and as one of Richard’s earlier Bruns articles pointed out, paid just over $5300 per 3-credit course.  Full-time instructors (most of whom are also on contract) are also paid substantially less than profs, but carry larger teaching loads – up to six courses over the two semesters rather than 4.  Instructors are not expected to do research, publish and mentor graduate students, though some do.  Instructors are proliferating because they are cheaper to employ and do not usually enter the tenure-track – they are easy to replace (with someone cheaper once they have achieved any degree of seniority) – they are not less qualified, and being taught by them is not to the detriment of the degree program.

  5. DevonAshleyMcAllister Reply

    I’m on the side of the Admin. There’s no money around to increase salaries, much less boost them 20%+. Try to find a dollar that New Brunswick has to pay profs, much less the student body. I also guarantee our endowment won’t grow overnight, so the truth is that there is no money, and the profs should be smart enough to see that and be glad to get back to work knowing that they’re getting everything the province can afford (or can’t afford but pays anyways).

    Also, they’re not underpaid in comparison to our region, especially considering that the supply of professors is high, the demand is low, and the cost of living is low (especially in terms of housing).

    When the student union decided to stay neutral, I started looking at finalizing a business proposal I’ve been working on, because if this semester isn’t completed, I’m expected to dump another $10k into student loans in order to round out my program, or settle with having an undeclared major. I’m done paying tuition, let me finish my degree with the knowledge I was told I would attain in these courses, not with a shortened semester.

  6. milner_matt Reply

    AdrianPark Many instructors are trying to get on the tenure ladder because of job instability. you try running your life on small incremental contracts that go 3months at a time, without benefits, and see how it goes. Most do research because that is what will get them the TT job. It’s not detrimental to the degree program in the short term, but instructors can’t supervise graduate students, it’s difficult for them to hold research grants that fund student fellowships and stipends, and they can’t really influence or make administrative changes to the way a program runs. So not detrimental per se, but definitely problematic in the long term. So when all the tenured profs are gone, what’s to keep the program going?

  7. trish12321 Reply

    I am a nursing student and I am with the Student Union and I am not on either side.  Both sides of this are being ridiculous!  The teachers want comparable salaries of 14 other universities 12 if which are not in our region and it is like comparing apples and oranges.  In NB we have no industry and until we find one we can not afford to give 20% raises to anyone.  Where is this money suppose to come from.  Tuition hikes and government.  Being a student but also a worker that pays taxes in this province I will be quite upset if they get such a raise!  The administration is being uncooperative as well.  They should be giving dates and times to the union to sit down and try to deal.  And not giving huge pay raises to the president.  Especially when they knew the contract was coming up for renewal.  They brought this onto themselves.  I for one would be changing universities at this point, unfortunately they have their Nursing degree backwards from most universities and I am not  starting in 2nd year of nursing again.  Shame on both sides!

  8. Zedsteau Reply

    The feels for everyone in Nursing… You guys are getting it worst of everyone… 

    Following are, of course, are third and 4th years, like myself, who looked to switching into other universities… But that would put us in the same boat… A year behind, more money, and more 
    importantly, time wasted. 

    This strike is a joke… and it needs to end now. 

    Unrelated, but also interesting, I find it funny how AUNBT seems to think all of the students are on their side… Most of the students I’ve talked too don’t seem to feel this way. They’re either on no ones side, or the side of the admin (at least financially speaking).

  9. MatthewMitchell1 Reply

    There can be no real winner in a negotiation, the principle is that someone needs to think they beat you down, and at the same time they need to think they took you for a ride. The entire process is an exercise in saving face. For an article in a newspaper, all be it a student one, this seems to be rather biased. he point as I understand it is to encourage students to act as inaction is slowing down the process. This is fair, however it seems that the writter in question is attempting to slant this action towards supporting the proffesors. If inaction is the only problem that shouldn’t active student support of either side casue the opposing party to be more willing to bend? Although I do recognize this is an opinion it seems as though if the writter wished to tell people to support the proffessors then that is what they should have done instead of using suggestive writting style. 
    The begining of the article is entertainig in that it states this is the first time that private security has been used to patrol the campus. Where you under the impression the campus security was payed for by the tax payers? The only thing used to patrol this campus is private security. (Obviously without being pendantic and saying well some of the money that employs security must come from grants which come from taxes…because it doesn’t work that way).

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