Sides posture; students suffer
The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association has taken a small, but potentially harmful step, in their negotiations with Western administration.
The UWOFA passed a motion to set a date next week to vote on whether or not they are in favour of giving their executive the power to call a strike if necessary.
The various checks and balances in the mediation process ensure that many efforts will have to be exhausted before a faculty strike becomes a reality, but the prospect of a walkout is nonetheless disconcerting particularly to students.
Neither administration nor the faculty seem willing to concede on any of their issues, or even to move forward co-operatively in their negotiations.
This obstinate posturing amounts to strategic bluffing at this point and, while a strike might still seem unlikely, the path both parties are heading down could prove fatal if egos on either side of the fence replace a genuine desire to reach a resolution. It would alleviate a lot of undue stress if they would bypass the current game of chicken and work toward finding common ground.
As in any strike situation where there is a third party affected by the outcome, it is students who could ultimately pay the price. Of course, both the UWOFA and the administration will be quick to say they have the students best interest in mind. Forgive us as students if that ringing endorsement doesn't exactly put our worries to rest. We must wait with anxiety for the outcome of a strike vote and any subsequent negotiations.
In the event that the disputing parties eventually reach an impasse and a strike does result, students may have their academic year disrupted and their housing, tuition payments and summer employment put at risk.
A few years ago, the prolonged walkout of teaching assistants at York University provided ample evidence of the inconvenience and destructiveness caused by such a strike. The situation at York also revealed the bad publicity and student backlash that can result when labour disputes affect innocent third parties.
Western's administration obviously hopes to avoid a similarly negative reputation and preserve the university's public image. This is particularly crucial with the upcoming double cohort producing increased competition between Ontario universities who hope to attract the best and brightest.
Hopefully, the desire to avoid the negative publicity that would be engendered by a strike will motivate administration to collaborate with the UWOFA to seek solutions and avoid a strike.
It is unfortunate that negotiations have degenerated to the point where a strike vote is deemed necessary. It is unfair that students and staff alike must endure the stress of a potential strike because the parties involved have failed to find a collaborative solution.