Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/11/2011 (3601 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Brandon University administration’s entire bargaining team appeared at a Concerned Families for Brandon University meeting on Wednesday night at the Keystone Centre and told the crowd of 170 people that they want students back in class as soon as possible.
"The reason we have promoted binding arbitration is to get students back to class," BU president Deborah Poff said. "It’s impartial, it’s third party, it’s neutral. They aren’t in our pocket. They aren’t in the union’s pocket. These are people who are not committed to either side who are rational, reasonable and objective with the analysis they offer.
"They say in arbitration agreements that it’s good when neither side is happy."
The university’s chief negotiator, Grant Mitchell, also addressed the crowd, saying he has negotiated labour contracts for other universities in Manitoba, without a strike.
"The same settlement we offered (BUFA) was accepted by (the University of Manitoba Faculty Association) without even a strike vote, let alone having a strike or arbitration," Mitchell said. "It was always the goal of the university to get a negotiated settlement. The best settlement is a negotiated settlement. But if no negotiated settlement is possible, what is the alternative? Is it keeping students out of their classes? Or is it going to a third-party process that will sort out the differences on a basis of what’s fair, what’s reasonable and what’s comparable and so on?
"In 2005, this university and this faculty association settled their negotiations through arbitration. It’s not something that’s never happened before at Brandon University."
Mitchell said if the university made significant concessions to the faculty association, like it did in 2008, it would cause harm to the university.
"There would be financial setbacks and that will affect operating costs and budget cuts," Mitchell said.
While representatives from the Brandon University Faculty Association were invited to appear and speak at the meeting, no executive members were present. Mitchell attempted to address BUFA’s position for the benefit of the assembled crowd.
"The faculty association, in fairness to them, genuinely believes that the university has much more money than the pension actuaries described," Mitchell said.
"They say they can meet (a $3.12-million pension shortfall) with other money, that the economy is thriving and that it will be so much better in the future. Maybe they are right? Who is to say what the future holds? But in a situation where there is a fundamental difference in what the facts are, how are you going to reach a resolution?"
Mitchell suggested that arbitration is the likely path to resolution.
Parents, students and concerned residents had a chance to question BU administration on any topic of their choice, and got answers from the senior administrator who deals with that specific area of expertise.
One parent asking whether students would get tuition refunds.
"These kids are paying for an education and they aren’t getting it," one angry parent told Scott Lamont, BU’s vice-president of finance.
Lamont said the alternative most students are likely to take is a resumption of their studies once the strike is over, rather than a requesting a refund.
"The effect on a student of not finishing the term and not being able to go to the second term is greater than the financial cost, so we are thinking that is the greatest intention (of students)," Lamont said.
Later, one student told the crowd that she intends to drop out of all of her classes at Brandon University so she could "pursue another passion somewhere else."
Lamont confirmed that refunds would be considered if it was necessary.
"We are saying refunds are probably going to be offered," Lamont said. "Where it will not be necessary is when the student decides to finish the term."
Another parent asked how the term can be made up when as many as 60 days could be lost. BU academic provost Scott Grills said the fall and winter terms could be shortened to approximately 10 weeks each, without a reading week holiday, to ensure that summer employment plans and academic futures would not be drastically impacted.
The event drew many parents, as well as Progressive Conservative MLAs Leanne Rowat (Riding Mountain) and Reg Helwer (Brandon West). City councillors Jeff Harwood, Stephen Montague and Len Isleifson were also present.
A negotiation session took place between administration and the faculty association on Wednesday afternoon.
Mitchell said those discussions brought forward some movement in the negotiations and that talks will resume today.
However, Mitchell said if both sides are headed toward the 60-day deadline where arbitration can be imposed without a negotiated settlement, it may be worth considering arbitration sooner than later.
"Why should both sides bleed?" Mitchell said.
Premier Greg Selinger weighed in on the BU faculty strike during his regular appearance on CJOB’s Breakfast with the Premier.
"Look the parents and the students are frustrated," Selinger said. "People want to be back in school. We want them to consider the arbitration option. It’s on the table, the mediators recommended it, the university has said they’d accept it. We’d like the faculty association to give it some consideration and take it and really help resolve the situation in a fair and even-handed fashion."
When asked by the host whether binding arbitration would make sense, Selinger replied: "Agreed. Yeah."
Some issues remain unresolved, particularly in regards to the athletic programs.
Bobcat athletes and their teams had hoped to get their coaches back on the sidelines and won a partial concession from both sides.
Coaches will be allowed to travel and supervise their athletes under a memorandum of understanding signed by administration and the faculty association.
A second memorandum of understanding was signed by Lamont that would consider the coaches an essential service.
However, that document has not been signed by both sides. BUFA vice-president Dennis Olson said his group has received the document and is considering the matter.
"We won’t consider it (on Wednesday) because we have a negotiating session, but we will consider it as soon as possible," Olson said.
Any students who are considering whether to drop out of the term altogether may have more time to do so, after the university’s registrar posted a message on BU’s website.
While the normal deadline is Nov. 18, that date represents when the term is 80 per cent complete.
If that ratio is respected, the voluntary deadline may be moved by the university senate once the strike is over.