Students from colleges across the province have come together to create the Ontario Students United association in the aftermath of the faculty union strike, and have planned a walk-out for Dec. 15.
As of now, OSU representatives from 12 schools are participating in the event in a number that is expected to grow for the new “pro-faculty, pro-students” association that developed from an advocacy group during the strike.
The walk-out is to bring attention to seven demands as outlined in a Change.org petition posted online by the group that came in response to issues with the colleges and the Ontario education ministry.
Students that participate will be walking out on a Friday at 12:00 p.m. and will return to campus on Monday, in an event endorsed by the Canadian Federation of Students.
One of the largest complaints for OSU students is accessibility regarding the student strike relief fund that was introduced by provincial education minister Deb Matthews.
“Everybody I’ve spoken to so far has been denied,” key organizer James Fauvelle told the Post regarding a college reimbursement program that allows for students to recieve up to $500 in funds from their institution.
The top demand for the walk-out is that all 535,000 full and part-time students receive a full “refund without an application process”, and that students who withdraw from the semester would receive a full refund of tuition and service fees.
A critical bullet point for the protest is the disbandment of the College Employer Council that negotiates with the faculty’s Ontario Public Sector Employees Union academic division during collective bargaining.
In its place, OSU calls for the creation of a group that is one-third students, faculty and administration, as the colleges are taxpayer-owned.
Other demands include the request that international students are treated fairly, protection and respect for college professors, and that institutions should not profit from the strike.
The walk-out is taking place so far at the colleges of Humber, Sheridan, Durham, Centennial, Niagara, George Brown, Seneca at York, Fanshawe, Loyalist, Canadore, St.Clair, and Algonquin, according to Fauvelle, a 40-year-old social worker student.
Paula Greenberg is the Humber College representative, but there is no one involved from the University of Guelph-Humber.
The OSU has also set up a Go Fund Me web page in hopes of raising money for their cause.
No college or student association has commented at this time.
Frustration over student leadership
Ontario Students United made clear to the Post that a major issue with current student leadership across the province was the stance of neutrality a majority of the associations took.
“Our ’student leaders’ are yet another platform for the college’s power and propaganda,” OSU advocate Carina Joneit said.
“They [student unions] claim that they remain ‘neutral’- yet they parrot the administration and are paid by the same people.”
The College Student Alliance took a stance of “neutrality”, claiming to represent “students first” during the college faculty strike that lasted over a month long.
Joneit, a Sheridan College student, said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” quoting Desmund Tutu, saying students’ only means of representation was “compromised” during the strike.
Another Sheridan advocate, Alyssa Warnock, told the Post that “faculty and students are what make post-secondary intuitions, not the administrators or the CEC [College Employer Council].”
“We [OSU] are here with the true student voice: honest, unrestrained, and angry,” Joneit said.
Since day one
Ontario Students United is the successor to two student groups that came before it.
James Fauvelle told the Post that it started as the Centennial College Students March on day one of the college union strike.
The strike kicked off on Oct. 16 after the colleges and union could not come to an agreement before a deadline of 12:01 a.m. that morning, taking some 12,000 faculty, librarians and counselors off campus and on picket lines.
On Nov. 16, faculty resoundly rejected an offer from the College Employer Council after the negotiators went over OPSEU to call a forced forced vote.
However, back-to-work legislation tabled by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal Party passed in parliament just days later, re-opening campuses by Nov. 21.
The march was created in support of the faculty’s demands for a fair workplace, but soon after it evolved into a larger movement that spread across several campuses called Students for Faculty Fairness.
“After a few individual rallies with our social service worker program, I began to reach out to other student activist[s] who where doing the same in their respected schools or communities,” Fauvelle explained.
He joined other activists, including the “Socialist Vocalist” Mohammad Ali and Paula Greenberg, in creating the student group, and attended several rallies in support of better workers’ rights.
Fauvelle explained that when back-to-work legislation was utilized by Queen’s Park, despite the “record-breaking” 93% turnout to the faculty forced vote on Nov. 16 against the college terms, it showed “our rights can be violated at any time.”
The organizer told the Post the new student association will be “challenging systemic oppression in the college education system, and that faculty issues are our issues as they’re intertwined.”
What were the union demands?
According to a pamphlet made by two college librarians, there are five reasons faculty went on strike.
The first bullet point is the headline “we need more full-time faculty”, the top sticking point for a majority of union members the Post questioned.
The union says full-time faculty numbers are decreasing while the student population increases year-to-year.
Second on the pamphlet is that contract faculty members need job security.
Those on contract need to re-apply every semester to continue to hold a job, and a majority of college faculty are on this system.
Number three on the list is equal work deserving equal pay. Faculty that aren’t full time are not being paid for the time they spend preparing for courses, marking academic submissions and out-of-class support.
Paula Greenberg told the Post during the strike that many teachers in her Child and Youth Services program at Humber College worked in their field as well as teaching, as they were not employed full-time.
“Quality of life for my teachers is important because it effects my education,” Greenberg explained.
She said with part-time faculty they didn’t have enough time to properly “address questions, meet students outside of class and explain lectures”, causing both the teacher and the student stress.
The fourth pamphlet point is that academic decisions require faculty input.
Union local board executive Miles Magner called on a “senate or some way to craft academic work.”
OPSEU supporter Mohammed Ali has touched on that, saying that he had seen success at Ryerson where both faculty and students had input on their academic content.
The fifth reason for why Ontario college faculty are on strike is that the ratio between counselors and students need to be balanced for the sake of the students.
Strikers say the college administrations are now “moving to outsource” the work of counsellors, which OPSEU says gives “less accessibility to adequate and meaningful mental health coverage for students.”
More details to follow. Image 1 of faculty and supporting students at a George Brown College rally during the strike from CPCML.