By Neil Powers
Centennial College students and striking faculty, counsellors and librarians returned to school on Nov. 21 after the Province passed Bill 178. Much has happened since then.
Bill 178 required Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council (CEC) to meet for binding mediation-arbitration. The government appointed arbitrator William Kaplan to work with the union and colleges to reach a collective agreement.
The binding arbitration agreement under Kaplan was announced on Dec. 20. It includes:
- The colleges’ original offer of a 7.75 per cent pay increase over four years stays the same.
- A key change in the agreement favoured by the union states “Academic freedom at the College includes the right to inquire about, investigate, pursue, teach and speak freely about academic issues without fear of impairment to position or other reprisal.”
- OPSEU did not achieve its goal of colleges having 50 per cent full-time and 50 per cent part-time staff, the union’s remedy in addressing “precarious work.”
- A task force of stakeholders, including students, will start in early 2018 to look at major college sector issues, including precarious work, mental health, accessibility and students being ready for the workforce.
One impact of the strike was Centennial extending classes by three weeks, ending Jan.12. Students were coping with a five-week break in studies and making up for lost time.
The Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development reported that 10 per cent of Centennial’s domestic full-time students withdrew from the fall term. Six per cent of international students dropped out. About the same per cent of students dropped out at Humber College.
Sofia Rodriguez is an international first-year journalism student from Colombia. She considered leaving Centennial but returned after the strike. “It was strange, especially since we had been at school about as long as the strike was going on,” she said. “We lost all momentum, we lost motivation. At first, I didn’t see the point of coming back.”
“I’ve been getting the hang of classes again and I’ve connected with a lot more people after the strike,” she said.
Rodriguez is concerned about the outcome of the strike for faculty. “Because it doesn’t just affect them, it affects the quality of our education as well,” she said. “So if we have angry teachers…it is also going to affect us as well.”
She praised the faculty. “They did try their best to accommodate us and make up for the time that we lost,” she said.
Staff at Centennial have been hearing from students. “I get this comment a lot that ‘I’ve lost momentum’ and that’s the biggest thing,” Sanjay Pettinger, a Student Success Advisor at Centennial, said.
“You are on your way, you are doing your classes, you’re in a rhythm, your routine is set…then it was, boom, the strike happened,” he said. “You almost go into summer mode, maybe take on another job and all of a sudden…you’re coming back again.“
“It was the interruption and having to do the (catch-up) school work that really is kind of jarring, totally understandable,” Pettinger said.
“We’re here to support students,” he says in describing the administration’s approach to students returning to classes. “If there is anything that students want to discuss, talk about, let us know.”
Centennial’s Student Association President Ravneet Kaur has been working to see that students are well served by the college. “I have spoken to so many students,” she said.
She described how most of the students she’s talked with were happy to be back at school and found faculty to be helpful in catching up with classes. She talked of “some students (being) stressed out.”
Kaur was part of Centennial’s working groups preparing for students’ return to class.
“No one (was) expecting (the) big numbers,” she said, describing the many students who withdrew from the fall term.
Kaur praised Centennial’s staff as classes geared up after the strike. “All departments have come together,” she said.