Professors are striking for students

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Since the dawn of the 2016 faculty strike at the University of Manitoba, one phrase has become all too familiar in the mouths of students who are opposed to the picket lines.

“If the professors really were ‘for the students,’ then they wouldn’t be on strike in the first place.”

Coming from a place of entitlement, comments like these are being used in an attempt to validate arguments against UMFA members on strike. With the strike continuing for over a week now, faculty and supporting students alike show no signs of backing down. And why should they, if the administration has not made any significant strides in resolving the matters raised by UMFA through conciliation?

What we must understand is that this situation revolves around much more than a dispute over wage levels. This is a stand against the administration, and one that has been a long time in the making.

But even though UMFA has made clear that wages are no longer a primary issue, they still have a strong case to make for higher salaries. If workloads are increased, then compensation for employees carrying out the work should be increased as well. With the university operating in sound financial health, this shouldn’t be a problem. If the monetary benefits cannot be increased at the rate UMFA has proposed, a simple, transparent explanation of the financial report could have been conducted by the administration, outlining its implausibility, and then negotiations would have continued accordingly. After all, why would UMFA continue the argument if quantitative justification was put forward? I’m sure we can all agree that our professors are rational enough to cease fighting for a solution that is not realistically attainable.

Beside the issue of compensation, many faculty members are not necessarily professional educators. Rather, they are experts in their field of academia, sharing their knowledge, research, and passions with the student body. Contrary to popular belief, they have not been hired solely to cater to the beck and call of the students. The point I am trying to make here is that the role of a professor is multidimensional. They are more than just educators – they are also scholars, researchers, writers, and so on. They have a number of other responsibilities, and the goings-on of the classroom are only part of them. Be that as it may, I do find many professors are invested in creating and sustaining a rich educational environment for students.

The problem arises when they have to make a trade-off between priorities.

On one side, faculty have a number of undergraduate and graduate students that need their instruction and guidance. But on the other, there is an administration that is holding faculty to a standard at which they cannot be accountable to the students. At least, not to the extent that they want to be without compromising other parts of their role at the university.

The faculty is not the body creating these rules – it is the administration. They are perpetuating a culture in which the strength of the student-educator relationship is diminishing. If our professors were okay with this, they would simply allocate less time to the students, more effort towards getting promotions and published, and the semester would continue on as usual. But they are not okay with this, and that is why they are taking a stand: ultimately, for the students.

Let’s take a moment to consider this: if employees were passive about the way that employers treated the workforce, we would not have the pieces of legislation in place that we see in the labour world today, such as minimum wage and health and safety regulations. If employees, the faculty members in this case, fail to collectively take a stand, the problematic situation we find academia in will never change. So if not now, when? If we want to be a part of an institution that is proactive in shaping the future for all of its stakeholders, then the time to stand is now.