For U of M students, prolonged strike is a lesson in frustration

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More than a month after the University of Manitoba faculty strike, massive class disruptions and an ever-changing academic calendar are taking a serious toll on student well-being.

The last day of fall classes at U of M, initially scheduled for December 10, has been postponed to January 19 at the earliest. As a result, interrupted lessons will be sandwiched between a vacation break, a 13-day exam period will be condensed into 72 hours, and the winter reading week will become a reading day.

TYLER SEARLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Students Speranza Albensi and Jenna Solomon showed their support for the University of Manitoba faculty strike on Thursday, despite the impact a prolonged strike could have on their education.

The above plans may be overhauled for the fifth time, if academics don’t return to work by Tuesday.

“It has been stressful, anxious and my motivation level is dropping. A teacher told us to follow the readings as best as possible, but how are we supposed to do it when we have no context or motivation to do so,” said said Brittany Laminman, a fourth-year physical education student.

The irony of the university promoting mental health resources during an exceptionally stressful semester caused by the labor dispute between administration and UMFA, which represents professors, instructors and librarians, n Laminman is no exception.

The 24-year-old said she is worried about her grades, which will all factor into an average that will be used to determine if she is enrolling in a post-graduation program, as she feels so exhausted. The possibility of graduation being delayed is also a priority.

Dozens of students echoed similar concerns during a virtual chat in her only continuing class earlier this week.

In the chat box, the students wrote about their loss of motivation in the midst of the strike and the pandemic. Some have complained about having to study while on vacation instead of being able to travel and spend time with their families. Others said they were considering leaving U of M or knew someone who could go to study elsewhere.

“It’s been a lot not sleeping, being very frustrated and crying… I’m paying so much for this education, and I’m not even getting it,” said one participant.

Instructor Shelley Harms led the hour-long meeting so she could answer questions.

“As a person who teaches, I really care that I don’t want to hurt, physically, socially, emotionally,” said the kinesiology instructor, who chose not to go on strike. “There’s no way I could see that not hurting the students – no way I could, and it’s something I just couldn’t live with.”

A total of 6,220 courses, tutorials and other sections at U of M started at the start of the term. There are currently 2,576 continuing courses, many of which are taught by lecturers who are not members of UMFA. This means that nearly six out of ten courts are affected by the strike.

More than 200 additional classes, which have come back online in recent weeks, have also been suspended since the strike began on November 2.

Salaries – which have been stagnant for the past five years, aside from annual performance-related salary increases – are at the heart of the conflict.

“It’s mentally exhausting having to prepare for a million different outcomes.”
– Student Erik Rogalka

As an early career scholar Brooke Biddlecombe, a PhD student in Biological Sciences, wants UMFA to get a fair deal. But waiting for that to happen hasn’t been easy for her.

The 28-year-old’s candidacy exam, a key two-month test that requires months of preparation, has been suspended due to the strike; she said it was “devastating” to receive a calendar notification this week that reminded her of the fact that she should have taken her exam and celebrated by now.

UMFA claims that a Conservative government mandate interferes with the two sides reaching an agreement that addresses recruitment and retention issues. In the meantime, the province says public sector wage mandates are not uncommon for stewards of taxpayer dollars.

All the while, the university continues to maintain that it works collaboratively to craft a fair deal that resolves staffing issues, supports exceptional education, and is sustainable for the institution.

A mediator recommended that the dispute be settled by binding arbitration, but the union refused because it first wants to ensure that the new contract allows members to take their vacation in full and have the right to refuse to go. teach remotely in a post-pandemic environment.

If an agreement is not reached by the end of the month, the strike will end and arbitration will begin automatically, in accordance with provincial labor laws.

“It’s mentally exhausting having to prepare for a million different results,” said Erik Rogalka, a student in the post-graduate education program, who was due to start his month-long teaching internship a few years ago. weeks.

Education students could likely graduate later than their peers at other schools, as they have to complete a certain number of teaching hours, which could put U of M graduates at a disadvantage in seeking employment. job, said the 25-year-old.

He added that the loss of a winter break may not seem like a big deal to foreigners, but combined, the stress of the pandemic, the strike and the imminent resumption of in-person classes will certainly have negative consequences on the mental health of students. .

In a generic statement Friday, a spokesperson for the U of M said the school was supporting students during this time with “a strong offer of academic support, wellness and mental health.”

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Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Journalist

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the educational journalist Free Press comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.


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