Dalhousie students are not immune to faculty strikes. Four of them since 1988 is a testament to this, including the surprise last day deal that prevented a walkout in 2012.
We have some experience.
That’s why it’s curious to examine the faculty strike at the University of New Brunswick—the first in the institution’s history. As of mid-week, the second week of the walkout, the two sides have not met at the bargaining table. There’s a chance, of course, that an agreement has been reached by now, but it doesn’t look promising.
These tense battles between administration and faculty are always a shame because it’s the students who miss out; their education held hostage as bigger players argue over millions of dollars.
The central argument to this strike is wage demands—what else? Faculty wants a salary more comparable to peers at similar-sized universities in other areas of Canada.
Fine. In principle, it’s a fair request.
According to most recent figures (unfortunately, that’s from 2010-11), UNB professors average $102,144, below the Canadian university average of $112,578.
The UNB administration is offering to get them within range, a 9.5 per cent wage increase over four years.
The faculty’s request before the strike began? A staggering 23.47 per cent hike over the same time period, including 5.6 per cent in the first year alone.
The union says their demand will put their members in line with compatriot universities, but the faculty’s request is ludicrous. Wage parity is an admirable goal, but, frankly, other universities are not in New Brunswick, whose shaky economy recently produced an annual deficit now over half a billion dollars.
The professors want to be adequately compensated, they say, so the very best faculty can teach at what should be one of Canada’s premier universities.
To become one of the country’s finest—it’s a remark stolen from any good post-secondary administrator’s playbook.
Dal is as guilty as anybody of dreaming too big. We expanded at a reckless pace, ballooning from 10,000 to 18,000 students in under 20 years. We took tuition from many pockets. We didn’t care much for facility upkeep. Fast forward to today where we’re in the problematic state of trying to grow modestly, while fixing decrepit, at capacity infrastructure with a low provincial grant.
This is a reminder that all universities should live within their means.
At UNB, it means the faculty union needs to reconsider their argument. An over 20 per cent pay hike is not reasonable. Not at a publicly funded university in a province struggling economically. Not when it would rank faculty salaries in the top 10 in the country, above more prestigious institutes who outrank UNB in academic and research feats.
At Dalhousie, it means accepting that you’re at a competitive disadvantage when provincial funding has steadily lowered and will likely continue. Don’t make striving to be the best your primary goal. Rising tuition drastically or cutting too many programs to make budget room is not worth it.
Hopefully soon, UNB students will return to the classroom. It will happen after UNB’s professors acknowledge that, at this time, in this economic climate, they are not among the country’s best universities, and shouldn’t be compensated as such.
It’s a lesson for everyone, including Dal’s administration.