Vancouver Island University students are preparing to lose their spring semester.
Talks between the university and its striking faculty association, representing more than 600 professors, broke down Wednesday evening and with no further meetings scheduled, it is not likely class will be back in on Monday (April 11), the cutoff date the university set for finishing the semester on time, said university spokeswoman Toni O’Keeffe.
“We’re anticipating that we will not be able to save the semester,” said O’Keeffe. “The indication we’re getting is students don’t want the semester extended. Students can start applying for refunds Monday.”
The faculty association went on strike March 10.
The university’s negotiating team thought the two parties were making progress over the past week, with a number of concessions offered by the university, O’Keeffe said, but the faculty association is seeking concessions the university cannot agree to, such as management rights.
“We’ve given them everything we’re able to give them,” she said. “We can’t give the management of the university up to them.”
Dan McDonald, faculty association president, said the group is not seeking a management role, it wants some protection for course offerings and the faculty jobs attached to those courses.
He said the association wants a full discussion in the academic community and for the university’s senate to declare a program redundant before it can be cut. And if a program is cut for financial reasons, the union is looking for a freeze on hiring administrative staff.
“Courses should be protected before other areas in the institution,” said McDonald.
O’Keeffe said the university is developing plans to extend the semester into May, but this might not be feasible. It depends on a number of factors, including cost, student interest and faculty availability.
The labour dispute could also affect the fall semester, she said, because the university anticipates a decline in enrolment.
“Right now, the plan is to run the summer semester,” said O’Keeffe. “That could all change on Monday.”
The university is working with the province on financial relief so that it can offer tuition refunds for students, she added.
The VIU Students’ Union held an open house on Friday to talk with students about the strike and potential legal action.
“From the point of view of the students’ union, cancelling the semester is the absolute wrong thing to do,” said executive director Steve Beasley.
If the semester is extended or lost, said Beasley, the union will seek compensation for students for living expenses and other costs, such as lost wages.
“The tuition fees are a drop in the bucket in terms of the amount of money the students have invested in the semester.”