Pictou County university students discuss Mount A strike

John Brannen
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SACKVILLE, N.B. – It’s been over a week since Mount Allison University faculty and librarians went on strike, though there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Mt. A student Leah Hagerman

Several of the university’s roughly 2,500 students hail from Pictou County and are enduring the strike first-hand.

New Glasgow native Leah Hagerman, a second-year student at Mt. A, went to NNEC and studied music with Donna Hargreaves and Andrew Alcorn. She is majoring in biochemistry with a minor in biology.

Her class time has been brought to a halt.

“I am personally being most affected by missing lab time,” she said. “Also, without class time, students are losing guidance from their professors. This is especially true for upper-year students and honours students, who are unable to meet with their mentors.”

Since university faculty aren’t allowed on campus, Hagerman has watched as events such as lectures and concerts are cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

It was announced Monday that the university administration and Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) would return to the bargaining table on Wednesday at the request of the provincially appointed mediation officer.

While MAFA, which represents 154 full-time and 56 part-time academic faculty, librarians and archivists, and university officials have yet to find common ground, students are beginning to feel the pinch of suspended classes and reduced services in certain areas.

“What is at stake in this negotiation is the future of the academic mission at Mount Allison,” said MAFA president Loralea Michaelis in a press release last week.  “The quality of our students’ education depends on our working conditions.”

Faculty and librarians at the university haven’t been on strike since 1999. Hagerman hoped when collective bargaining got tough, as it had at sometimes between then and now, that a strike would be averted.

“The last time there was a strike labs were able to continue, so I figured it would be the same this time around,” she said. “We didn’t find out, students and profs alike, that all labs would be cancelled until just this past Thursday.”

Skylar Cameron, a Westville native, is a second-year music student at Mt. A and said she was shocked when news of a strike hit campus.

“As a music student I have been greatly affected,” she said. “One of my biggest struggles is not being able to have voice lessons until the university administration and union come to an agreement.”

Cameron studied voice with Monica George Punke for eight years and is co-social chair of the Music Society and a member of the Elliot Chorale on campus. She was disappointed when a benefit concert that was being held for Scott Jones last Saturday had to be postponed due to the strike.

“We are all trying our best to keep things going as they normally would. We have people stepping up to conduct bands and choirs and others willing to meet during regular class hours to help each other understand material,” she said.

She said there are days when it is hard to understand why she and her fellow students are paying for an education that can be taken from them.

According to Dr. Karen Grant, Mt. A’s provost and vice president academic, the mood on campus is one of uncertainty.

“I’ve had some interaction with students and they said at first it felt like a few snow days,” Grant said. “There’s a real desire for this uncertainty to be overcome.”

She feels the university has been clear about its proposals and the importance of language that satisfies both sides.

“Maintaining the quality of the institution as a whole and the investments that it makes in academics must be done in a way that is fiscally sustainable.”

Her advice to students is to focus on their studies, stay up to date on their readings and stay informed with the bargaining process.

Five days after a strike has concluded the senate will determine how the term will be completed. At the University of New Brunswick, where classes are resuming after two weeks of a faculty strike, the university’s senate has yet to approve a plan involving cancelling reading week and extending the school year.

Hagerman is still optimistic that her academic schedule won’t be negatively affected by the strike.

“Having only lost a week so far, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get back on track,” she noted. “But the longer the strike goes on, the more both will be impacted.”

 

john.brannen@ngnews.ca

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn 

Organizations: Mt, Mount Allison Faculty Association, Pictou County university Music Society University of New Brunswick

Geographic location: Pictou County, New Glasgow, Westville

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