Partner Organizations

Topic: How Fair is That

Students stood with their teachers in Ontario college faculty strike

Paula Greenberg (right) and classmates support faculty action

PAULA GREENBERG HATES TO EVER MISS CLASS. But she hates injustice even more. So, she is stood with her teachers who abandoned their classrooms to go on strike October 16.

The12,000 community college faculty members in Ontario are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). They walked off the job to win a new contract that would improve education quality for students and treat faculty fairly. The best way to do both, say the teachers, is to offer more faculty full time jobs.

Right now a full 70% of the faculty are trapped in the so-called “gig economy” forced to work from one short-term contract to another. Perpetually worried about  how long, or if, their work will last.

Paula sees a strong connection between the bind her teachers at Humber College in Toronto are in and the world she will face after she graduates. “This gig economy of short-term, part-time contracts is not something only our teachers are facing. A lot of millennials are starting to see this become their only choice of employment.”

The college faculty wants a contract that well give them:

  • a 50:50 ratio of full-time to contract faculty
  • long-term contracts for faculty who now work on one-semester contracts
  • academic freedom to give faculty a stronger voice in academic decision-making.

James Fauvelle (back right) with fellow student supporters of faculty

Scared for my future

James Fauvelle, a student at Centennial College, is equally disturbed by what the teachers face: “I’m speaking up because I’m scared for my future. The whole reason I went back to school is so that I wouldn’t have to put in 80 hour weeks just to survive, the way I had to in my previous work. But teaching has now become a precarious occupation. If we keep going down this road, this country is just going to fall apart.”

The number of students at Ontario colleges continues to rise. The number of full-time faculty continues to drop. But the number of administrators shoots ever higher—now more than double the rise in the rate of student enrollment.

This means that instead of spending the money from higher tuition fees on teachers who actually deliver education to students, the money goes to bureaucrats who tell the faculty what to do, and often what to teach.

Paula Greenberg is concerned the relentless drive to make ends meet shortchanges both her and her teachers. “The teachers don’t have time outside of the classroom. So even though they try their best, they can only answer so many questions before they have to rush off to teach another class at a different institution.  

“The other problem is that they don’t have time to prepare a proper lesson plan or to arrange for proper equipment or resources because they often don’t know what class they’ll be teaching until the day of, or the day before it’s assigned.  I’m paying $1,500 to be in this semester and I want the quality of education I get to reflect the money that I’m paying.”

James Fauvelle agrees. “Personally, I don’t believe we’re getting the best education that we’re paying for. When somebody’s only paid 10 hours to be in the classroom but has twenty hours of marking, I don’t think they have the time to give us the feedback we need in order to get us to where we need to be. In all fairness, I can’t expect them to do twenty hours of unpaid work because I wouldn’t if it was me. This is affecting us directly as students.”

Wrong to treat workers like ‘disposable units’

“It’s wrong that the colleges are treating the faculty like they’re disposable units, says Paula Greenberg. “The goal of the 50/50 ratio of fulltime to part-time is so we have better access to our teachers, to their information.

“What our teachers are fighting for is not just for them. They’re going to set a precedent for OUR future.”

“These neoliberal politics are destroying our way of life in North America,” addsFauvelle.  “You see it in the breaking of unions. As it changes, it affects our overall quality of life, for all citizens in Canada, not just a few. We’ve got to stand with the faculty because we’ve got to stop it.”

*** UPDATE ***

Labour rights denied. Faculty forced back to work
The Ontario premier used the power of the state on November 20 to deny workers their right to fully exercise their right to free collective bargaining.

Despite labour rights guarantees in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and multiple Supreme Court rulings upholding those rights Kathleen Wynne used her majority in the Ontario legislature to make it illegal for Ontario community college faculty to stay off the job.

The law ordered the 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors and librarians to return to work on November 20.