In a "Significant Achievement," Dalhousie Faculty Strike Ends

After 4 weeks of strike action and disruption to the academic year, relieved Dalhousie University faculty members went back to their classrooms and labs on 1 April. This followed an agreement reached between the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) and the Dalhousie Board of Governors on 27 March, after five consecutive 15-hour days of mediation by the province of Nova Scotia.

The agreement, which was ratified by 92% of voting DFA members, "represents a significant achievement for DFA," DFA president Andrew Wainwright tells Next Wave Canada, "though at the price of great disruption of the academic year and shredded labor relations."

In a 28 March university press release, Dalhousie president Tom Traves said that he was pleased with the settlement. "This is a fair agreement for our faculty members and the University," he said.

Much to the surprise of DFA members, the faculty won what they consider a significant victory on the issue of complement: The Board of Governors entered a binding agreement to not reduce the number of members of the faculty bargaining unit for the duration of the 3-year agreement--provided the university's operating budget remains stable. Meanwhile the agreement also allows the university to retain flexibility over assigning faculty positions on the basis of greatest need, as defined by student enrollment. Stacey Lewis, spokesperson for the university, tells Next Wave Canada that the board entered this binding agreement willingly. "We had stated from the beginning of the negotiating process that we had no intention of cutting faculty numbers; in fact, we expect numbers to increase."

In addition to job security, DFA negotiated a salary settlement of 2.8% each year for 3 years, with an additional base salary increase of $1000, bringing the overall salary increase to approximately 9.5%. Additional financial changes include increases to the minimum and maximum salary levels for faculty positions and improvements to parental leave packages.

Another key issue in the strike was the university president's power to veto tenure decisions. In the new collective agreement, DFA secured an expedited arbitration process of 90 days when the president overturns the peer-review decision of the university tenure committee. The decision ensures job security for DFA members while their case is being reviewed, and it minimizes the amount of time they spend in career limbo, which in the past could be as much as a year.

"All in all, a vital accomplishment for the association in the face of intransigent board attitudes. We have a collective agreement that other faculty associations can look to, in important ways, as a model," says Wainwright.

There is some relatively good news for students, too. Lewis says that because the cost of the faculty compensation package was lower than the university had originally anticipated, next September's tuition increase is unlikely to be as high as the 17% that the board had projected.

Faculty and students at Dalhousie are, for the most part, simply grateful that the strike is over and that some semblance of normality is returning. "It's been a very long 4 weeks," says Stephen Cheung, an assistant professor in kinesiology. "As soon as a tentative agreement was announced, I think there was a huge sense of relief on everybody's part. I know the students were also very relieved, except for the anxiety of how compressed the semester would become." The Dalhousie school year was originally set to end on 9 April but has now been extended to 25 April, compressing a month's worth of lessons, assignments, and on top of that, exams into roughly 3 weeks. "All of the students in my program are very eager to get back to class and to learn, and I have felt absolutely no resentment," says Cheung. So was the strike worth it in the end? "Yes, I do think so. There had to be a stand at some point," says Cheung. But he concedes that he doesn't "ever want to have to strike again."

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