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An Open Letter to Dr. Leah Theriault

An open letter to Dr. Leah Theriault concerning your CBC interview against the strike.


My name is Richard.

First off, Dr Theriault, however much I whole-heartedly disagree with you, I still do recognize the amount of courage it takes for you to be literally the only one within your union to speak against the strike. Furthermore, since your main reason of opposition to the strike is that the labour dispute is detrimental to education, I also appreciate the fact that you are acting in the way you feel is most supportive of your students.

This all being said, however, please allow me to take up a bit of your time in outlining all the various ways I disagree with you. I thought that since you’re on strike and not on the picket line, your days can’t really be too busy right now.

Dr. Theriault, in your interview you situate yourself as a victim within this labour dispute and that the union is steamrolling you, an action directly counter to the benefits of the university. You state that “the law forces [you] to be a part of the bargaining unit…where [you] have no choice.” While technically that is true, it is also true of every closed-shop union in the country. Your objection therefore seems to be not with AUNBT but the very concept of organized labour.

Playing the role of the forsaken martyr is also dubious since despite the fact that AUNBT voted a near unanimous 90 per cent in favour of a strike, you are given 50 per cent of an interview debating the merits of the strike. Since, I assume, you were the 10 per cent who voted against the strike, that means you have fifty times more of a voice than you would have if the media did not love controversy.

It is not only the ways in which you presented yourself that I found at odds with reality, Dr Theriault, but also how you presented the rest of your union. On the radio, you said that the professors on the picket line are acting like “kids at a summer camp.” Dr. Theriault, if your idea of a summer camp is standing on a Fredericton street corner in January making buttons, I think that says more about the tremendously underwhelming summer camps you attended as a child than it does about the actions of striking professors.

But even if we pretend that the picketing professors are riding horses, swimming in the lake, and gluing elbow macaroni to pieces of paper, that shouldn’t matter. Just like it shouldn’t matter if a professor wears a fancy red jacket. A labour action does not need to be a dramatic re-creation of the Siberian gulags for it to be successful; for a labour action to be successful, it needs to stay on issue. In this particular labour dispute, that issue is comparability.

In your interview, Dr Theriault, you state, “This issue of comparability is nonsense…. [since] most of the universities on that [comparability] list are from Ontario.” And while it is true that six out of the fifteen universities within UNB’s comparability group are from Ontario, there are many universities not from Ontario which place well ahead of UNB, such as the University of Saskatchewan, Memorial University, and the University of Manitoba. (I’m pretty sure Manitoba’s license plate reads “Manitoba: Not A Part of Ontario.”)

Out of fifteen universities, we are currently third last. But nobody is saying that UNB must be at the top of this bracket. All that AUNBT is asking is to be average within the list. The union isn’t reaching for the moon, they’re just asking to be let out of the ditch. This idea that every professor at the university makes hundreds of thousands of dollars is a fiction. Has anybody else seen all of the professors’ cars parked along the picket line on University? Before the strike, I never knew so many Mazada 5s and Kia Sorrentos existed.

Now, I must admit that at face-value, most tenure-track professors do make a good wage. And, as a rule, I despise anyone who makes more money than me. (Needless to say I live a very dreary and lonely life.) But this administration has cleverly disguised the issue of this strike as being whether or not professors should make more. Though that is not what this strike is about.

This strike is about whether or not UNB professors should be comparable to other professors within like universities. This strike is about whether the university wishes to make the fiscal commitment needed for UNB to be academically competitive.

That is why, I believe, student interest ultimately rests with the professors. If UNB doesn’t want to turn into the northern equivalent of the University of Arizona, we need to ensure that we have the financial backing to attract the best professors in the field.

There is no point in being a university if we are willing to be a mediocre university. As students, our degrees will be worth nothing if our university is unable to attract top tier professors.

For instance, Dr. Theriault, you completed your Doctor of Juridicial Science at the University of Toronto. Your degree is noteworthy not only because it is the highest degree in your field but also because it is from arguably the best university in the country at which to acquire that degree. I’m not saying that UNB needs to pay their professors what UofT pays theirs, but your degree is so valuable because of those who taught you.

I stand with the union for the same reason: I want my degree to be worth more without elbow macaroni glued to it. The only way that I, or any other student, receives that value is through working with the best faculty possible.

Nobody chooses a university based on who the current Chancellor is. There’s no such website as RateMyVicePresidentOfFinanceAndCorporateServices.com. It is the professors that determine the aptitude of the student body and it is the intellect of the student body that determines the worth of the university.

Dr. Theriault, I actually work at a summer camp. And since you’ve publicly announced your resignation, I assume you’re in the market for employment. Let me know if you’re interested in applying; I can promise you it’ll be a lot more fun than standing in a snowbank and drinking lukewarm Tim Hortons.


Richard Kemick

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1 Comment

  1. Qwerty223 Reply

    As a former student of Prof. Theriault, I can tell you that she’s a rather smart woman who, no doubt, understood all this before you kindly dumbed it down for her. 
    Gauging from her website, her argument is that education is only improved by three kinds of collective agreement clauses (academic freedom, specifying academic workload, and lab setup funding for new scientists); the greatest improvement to education comes from addressing the issues of department underfunding, the decreasing numbers of full-time professors, and the skyrocketing salaries of high-level administrators. The last three canont be addressed through collective agreements.

    I look forward to your analysis of her position.

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