Students should support faculty strikes

Mobilizing toward a common goal is important

Strikes are meant to be disruptive. There is no way around it, because protesting for rights while meeting the needs of the administration workers are agitating against is simply not feasible or logical.

In light of Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA) voting in favour of a strike — which was only narrowly avoided on March 4 as negotiations with the university continued — anxiety around faculty strikes is rising. Student conversations on strikes should centre on acknowledging the needs of faculty and how supporting their cause is important to us.

My support for UMFA and other faculty associations comes from the understanding that the issues both faculty and students face, despite their different intensities, should be addressed by the administration. The increased tuition fees and free health care concern the students, while unfair compensation and an unmanageable workload distress the faculty.

However, by potentially pitting faculty and students against each other, the administration can create a series of bureaucratic bungles over the valid needs of the faculty.

The faculty at risk of losing their jobs are not tenured or tenure-track professors, but rather, those employed as contract workers such as instructors, sessional instructors and teaching and research assistants. The system exploits these workers, and they are on the verge of losing their compensation, job security, strike rights and benefits.

Unfortunately, this situation can become a reality for those who plan to stay in academia. And for those students who might look for employment opportunities elsewhere, the province’s employment shortage and unemployment rate of 4.6 per cent remain a reality.

A point academic faculty members often make is that they would much rather be in class teaching than at the picket line. In my opinion and experience, this is a genuine argument. These academics have spent several years working toward their positions, and they continue to choose academia by writing papers, mentoring students and more.

This, in contrast with the administration’s approach to the issue, is glaring. It was reported that when asked for a statement on the issue, Brandon University administration redirected the Brandon Sun’s question to the statement on its website. The sheer lack of information from the administration and the visible disconnect between the administration and others further points to the need for students to support faculty strikes.

The disruption to regular school years can affect students in many ways. As an international student who attended classes with a time difference over Zoom during UMFA’s 2021 strike, a lot of information was just not available to me. Many of my classmates who lived in Winnipeg also worried about being able to graduate on time and stretching finances to meet all their needs.

I understand that it can be hard to support a cause when one is directly impacted by it and has too much to lose. After all, students struggle with loans and tuition fees. Many of U of M’s students are from war-torn countries, many deal with mental health issues and many students live in Winnipeg without their immediate family or support system.

On the other hand, by supporting the strike, the students are acknowledging that the quality of higher education is at stake. A failed strike impacts not only the faculty but us too. Putting pressure on the administration to come back to the bargaining table is a joint effort, and the faculty certainly needs help with that. Through the strike, the administration — both at the university and provincial levels — should be forced to take action in favour of the faculty.

UMSU is notorious for being neutral, or worse, having endorsed binding arbitration in the 2021 UMFA strike. Not only does that approach read as incompetent, but student voices risk not being heard because of UMSU’s statements. Student support should be properly represented in negotiations, and this cannot be achieved solely by the individual councils of different faculties, such as arts, science or engineering.

We should keep our eyes peeled for faculty strikes and show support as we work toward a better future.