Last winter’s strike may have lasted four weeks, but for some students, its effects continue months later.
As reported last March, the Unit 1 strike ended by a vote to go to binding arbitration for a new agreement that would last for another two years.
“Last term was incredibly stressful,” said Amy Mullin, UTM’s VP academic and dean in an interview. “Professors were affected, students were incredibly affected, and the TAs were affected, both who struck and those who didn’t.”
Mullin said the strike was the longest she had seen since 1990.
According to Mullin, six half-year courses and two full-year courses were “disrupted” during the strike, which means that due to the delays resulting from the strike, those courses had to undergo changes without a student vote. Normally, any changes that are made to courses have to be voted on by students.
Regarding the impact of the learning experience during the strike, forensics and biology courses had their labs cancelled, but Mullin said professors still managed to deliver “key concepts” to students, so they mainly missed the “hands-on experience”.
While Mullin acknowledged that the learning experience was affected in courses where labs and tutorials were cancelled, she said their cancellation did not result in “any sort of a significant impact in terms of not learning what students were supposed to learn”.
Additionally, one course in the Department of English and Drama was affected. Although not all of the theoretical concepts that the professors wanted students to learn were taught, the course was not a requirement, so no adjustments had to be made for upper-year courses to make up for it.
Some courses, however, were affected more than others.
”We missed a significant chunk of content—and entire course text,” said Lindsay Sidders, the Unit 1 instructor who was teaching a fourth-year history seminar at the time of the strike. “I think the students missed out on class dialogue that I thought was very fruitful most of the time.
“There was no time to discuss final assignments and much of the class did poorly as a result,” she added. The history seminar was among a number of courses, including some from the PWC and language studies departments, which were suspended during the four weeks of the strike.
There were also concerns especially for first-year students to get into their subject POSts. One of the main departments that were affected was biology. For students who took the CR/NCR for enough courses that they didn’t end up with four courses with a grade, the result was a delay in their acceptance into the program.
The biology department said those students “would not yet be admitted to the subject POSt” because the department would need more information to assess students. This could mean some students would have to wait a year to enter the program and could meanwhile enter a department that doesn’t have a CGPA requirement until they get accepted.
The management department, on the other hand, had informed students beforehand that they required their prerequisite courses to have a grade rather than CR/NCR.
As of September 10, Mullin said that departments hadn’t heard about any negative effects of the strike on students entering grad schools.
In order to accommodate for the impact of the strike, Mullin said that the Academic Skills Centre staff increased their hours following the strike to offer support to students. The staff held one-on-one appointments to work on communication and literacy skills, especially since students weren’t able to receive the same amount of feedback that they would normally get from their TAs.
Looking forward, some professors believe that if Unit 1 members’ demands are not met through the new contract when the current one ends, another strike could take place. Linda Kohn, a biology professor who is among the bargaining team of the faculty association, which was not involved with the strike, said, “TAs are members of a union […] and were bargaining for health care and some kind of financial support.”
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure a strike doesn’t happen again,” said Mullin.
Kohn said that there are many discussions going on among faculty members regarding the aftermath of the strike. This Thursday is the first of a monthly series of faculty meetings “for people who are disturbed by the aftermath of the strike and wonder where to go”. The meeting will be held at the Tranzac Club in Toronto.
The current Unit 1 agreement is set to expire on December 31, 2017.