Dalhousie students strike back at faculty with lawsuits galore
By Brendan Howe
After not being able to attend classes since last Wednesday because of a faculty strike, students at Dalhousie University are saying it's pay-back time.
Twenty students launched lawsuits in small-claims court yesterday against university President Tom Traves and faculty association President Ismet Ugursal because of their failure to come to an agreement and the cancellation of classes. The faculty association went on strike March 25, after 24 hours of negotiations with the administration reached a stalemate.
"It was a way for students to take ownership for their school and ownership for their education," said Brian Kellow, a fourth-year student who is one of the 20 suing. Kellow is suing for $85 while other suits range anywhere from $50 to $200. He added both Traves and Ugursal are named in his suit but others have named only one of these parties when they filed.
Faculty members are asking for an 11 per cent pay raise over the next 32 months and guaranteed replacement when their colleagues leave.
Kellow said he served the university president with papers saying he was being sued yesterday and was pleased he got to talk to him in person. "He was pretty pissed off. He didn't like it too much."
Traves dismissed the action though and said he would pass the papers on to his lawyer, Kellow said.
University spokesperson Michelle Gallant said the university is protected from lawsuits. "There is a clause in the academic calendar describing the conditions that would be beyond the university's reasonable control and that includes strikes," she said.
Faculty association spokesperson Andrew Wainwright said the students cannot sue the association or its members because they have signed a contract with the university's Board of Governors.
The lawsuits, however, have been very effective in getting students' voices heard, said Chris Adams, president of the Dalhousie Student Union. "They have been successful in the fact that they've brought this matter to the attention of both parties."
The student union reached into their own pockets and spent the morning passing out $50 bills to students who were filing lawsuits to pay for their legal costs. It will also be holding a rally this Friday to try and get both sides to settle.
Kellow said another major factor in the suits was that students want to be part of the negotiating process and they are not being included.
The university has yet to respond to the latest offer by the faculty association, Wainwright said.
Gallant said the university improved its offer to faculty last week but would not give any further details.
With files from Canadian Press