The University of Lethbridge faculty strike ended in March after 40 days, the latest agreement that had Alberta post-secondary students sighing with relief.
While Mount Royal Faculty Association executive Marc Shroeder doesn’t speak for the association, he personally sees the collective agreement signed in February between the faculty and MRU administration as more bittersweet.
“It’s nice to know that we’ll be able to keep doing the academic work that we love, teaching and doing our research, but for myself, I think that post secondary education in Alberta is under some fairly sustained attack,” Shroeder said. “It has been for the last couple of years, and will continue to be for the next couple of years.”
“I think we faculty need to find ways to change that.”
Year of labour unrest
Several university faculties across Alberta started the previous academic year without collective agreements, leaving the possibilities of strikes hanging over several campuses.
The University of Lethbridge faculty officially went on strike on Thursday, Feb. 11, lasting until Monday, March 21. They were the second university in Alberta ever to do so, following the Concordia University strike in January that ended with the faculty and their administration coming to a collective agreement.
The Mount Royal Faculty Association demonstrated its support of the Lethbridge faculty by releasing an open letter to their president on Feb. 25.
At the U of L, much of that time on strike was spent without ongoing talks between the two parties involved, faculty and administration.
“They’ve not even offered to come to the table. They have told our faculty literally ‘hell no’. Yeah, they’re not coming to the table at all,” said Amy Mendenhall, one of the members and social media organizers of the U of L Student Action Assembly in an interview before the agreement was reached.
“I have known about the possibility of a strike since probably August, but I wasn’t allowed to say anything because of confidentiality,” Mendenhall said. “That was known within that organization then, but nobody was allowed to say anything.”
Information hard to find
The Lethbridge faculty strike may have been the impetus for the MRU administration returning to negotiations after a notable period of time without mediation, leading to the deal that was ratified the week of Feb. 13.
For students at MRU, little information was sent out to students before an agreement was finalized in late Feb., avoiding a strike.
Students may have been told about the situation from individual professors, or made aware of the potential for a strike by the Students Association but the first official notice was not sent out until the announcement of an agreement having been made in principle.
Informing students of the situation was handled very differently at U of L, according to Mendenhall.
“They were finding out through admin email,” said Mendenhall. “Which have largely been disinformation, scare tactics, unsigned emails about it, that are really not real.”
“So they threatened to take away our semester which has never happened in the history of Canadian strikes.They threatened international students that it would affect them without actually telling international students what was happening. This email came out the day after tuition [had been paid].”
With the new MRU collective agreement only extending to July 2024, many current students, especially those early in their degree, will still be attending the university and could have their graduation plans heavily disrupted by another dispute.
The turmoil may have subsided, but Shroeder believes these agreements are not necessarily a good sign for Alberta’s academic future.
“I would encourage students to be quite critical about the way things are headed in terms of post secondary education in the province,” Shroeder said. “It could be that this strike is resolved in a matter of days, or maybe it’ll be weeks, but however it plays out, I would be hesitant to view it as a one-off.”
“The storm will pass, but is the climate changing?”