As a site that purports to focus on post-secondary issues, with an eye towards finance, I simply couldn’t ignore the Brandon University strike any longer. For those of you that are unaware of the situation, the professors walked off the job on Oct.12 (a month and a half ago). The profs felt that their compensation package was not competitive within in their field. At this point, it seems as if these Canadian students might be the first ones in a long time to lose an entire semester to a labour dispute. I honestly can’t believe it has gotten this far, and at this point I am almost ready to encourage a boycott of future Brandon University activities, even though I have been taking a Masters Degree through the institution. Their blatant disregard for students’ welfare reveals the ugly underbelly of academia that always influences events, but usually not so overtly as this.
Show Me The Money!
The professors main demands revolved around salary (what else). They wanted raises of 3-4% per year, for the next 4 years. When you compound those raises out, it is a very substantial increase indeed. This increase would NOT be in line with what other Universities in Manitoba are paying. It appears as if the two sides will likely finally agree to a contract in the range of a 1% raise for the first two years, and then a 3% raise for each of the next two years of the deal. The university claims that even these raises will ultimately hurt their ability to give students access to programming and infrastructure on campus. The fact that University management appeared ready to go to binding arbitration, while the professors refused, says a lot about the situation to me. Plainly the professors must realize that their demands are fairly outrageous if they are lacking that much confidence. Even if they agree on the above terms, the professors are now claiming they are entitled to all the back pay they missed during the strike (a choice they made) and overtime pay for any work they will have to do to try and make up course time for students as a result of the delay (if they try to make it up at all). Management has understandably blanched at these demands.
It’s All About Durable Competitive Advantage
Now Brandon University is a small undergraduate school that specializes in music, nursing and education programs. It has a small student population of about 4,000-6,000 and it has proudly served the surrounding rural communities for years. However, two strikes over the last three years (including this one, where it looks like students will lose a full semester) will set the school back decades. How can I as a teacher recommend this place in good conscience when they have so obviously proven that they cannot deliver a top rate education any longer without substantial delays? The fact is that BU relies on the competitive advantages of being a local university and low tuition in order to attract students. Part of that local advantage is their reputation within the greater community. That has been severely hampered. The tuition rates will also likely climb as a result of this strike, because the money to pay for these salary increases simply has to come from somewhere, and the school’s other costs can also be assumed to be rising at the rate of inflation. If the school loses these competitive advantages (which looks like a probability at this point), I can’t see how it will continue to function on the level it previously enjoyed.
We Got Student Loans, We Got Strikers, Picketers and Losers… I Love This University
I feel that all sides of this labour dispute will lose immensely. The University will suffer from much lower enrollment for years as a result of the negative publicity their school has received. They will also have a very difficult balance sheet to look at when these raises are calculated into the equation. I highly doubt the professors will get back pay from this strike, and will likely never regain the money they lost during such a long layoff. My guess is that their academic reputation will also be hurt if they try to get a job somewhere else.
It’s Always The Innocents
Of course it is the students that will be hurt most of all. If the semester is cancelled, or if their summer vacation/prime earning season is hampered heavily, the professors have effectively pointed a figurative gun at the heads of the student body and pulled the trigger. These students may have had their career path set back an entire year because of this SNAFU (if you’re not sure about this acronym Google it). That could mean tens of thousands of lost income, and just a major psychological setback as these young adults try to get some early momentum in their adult lives. There is also no guarantee that students will receive any refund for a lost semester (there has been talk of a partial refund for classes missed, but without the full credit, what good were those partial classes?).
Just Who Should We Really Be Protecting?
I think I have a fairly good understanding of labour economics and collective bargaining. I know that there is a need for unions and that strikes have produced some important labour advances during the last couple of centuries. That being said, I simply can’t get behind this one at all. I hate the idea of holding such a vulnerable part of the population hostage, and then refusing to go to arbitration because you don’t have a strong enough conviction in your demands. I honestly believe that the government should have stepped in after a couple of weeks and strongly facilitated an agreement (if this means forcing the professors back to work, then this is what should have happened).
Pick a Side Young Jedi
What do you guys think? Are the professors justified in using every tool at their disposal to try and leverage themselves the maximum available compensation, or have their tactics simply went too far? I believe that many people that have lived exclusively in the world of academia for a long period of time often lose the big picture perspective that the rest of society takes for granted. This strike is a prime example of that. I’m not a huge supporter of post-secondary administration by any stretch, but in this case I feel as if they are the only realistic ones at the table.
Within 1 hour of this post going up on our blog, news broke that a tentative agreement had been reached to end the the Brandon Uuniversity strike! My University Money is unofficially taking credit for single-handedly bringing the dispute to a natural and beneficial conclusion!