UNB student union: don’t pay your tuition just yet

Students worried about impact of possible strike on classes

The University of New Brunswick Student Union is telling students they shouldn’t pay tuition yet this semester because of the possibility professors will go on strike and classes will be cancelled.

“If there’s no guarantee of classes,” says Ben Whitney, UNBSU president, “I’d rather have my money in my bank account.” After Jan. 17, there is a $50 late payment fee—a risk he’s willing to take.

Whitney says the UNBSU executives are not taking sides in the dispute but hope there isn’t a strike.

“Students really don’t want any sort of job action,” he says. “Folks have work terms or any number of things that job action would significantly impact.”

He says they do not have a position on professor pay, one of the sticking points. The professors were at one point seeking a wage increase and a $4,200 catch-up adjustment in each of the first two years of a new contract, according to the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers’ website. The Canadian Association of University Teachers reported that full-time UNB faculty were paid $102,144 on average in 2010-11, making them 31st highest paid out of 58 schools.

Whitney says he’s hopeful for a last-minute deal so that classes don’t get cancelled.

If a strike happens, he hopes it’s short so that the semester can be compressed. That could, however, mean losing March break. If a strike goes longer and the semester is extended, it could be especially stressful for people whose leases end in April or who plan to start jobs in late April, he says.

A three week strike at St. Francis Xavier University in January resulted in a week added to the semester. At Brandon University, a 45-day strike in 2011 also ended with an extended semester. At York University, students faced a semester that extended into May after a three month strike in 2008-09.

Whitney says students haven’t yet received enough answers from the administration about what might happen in the event of a strike. “It’s at the point now where we need to know the answers.”

UPDATE: The University of New Brunswick offered the following statement to Maclean’s:

We share students’ concern about a potential strike. That is why UNB continues to negotiate with the AUNBT and is committed to signing a new collective agreement that enhances the contract for faculty and allows the university to meet its financial obligations to students and other stakeholders. We made an enhanced financial offer to faculty in late December and teams for UNB and AUNBT are meeting today to discuss the offer.

UNB considers the enhanced offer as a significant change and a substantive offer comparable and competitive to recent agreements reached with faculty members in UNB’s agreed-upon comparator group of universities and the Atlantic region, and in light of the economic outlook in New Brunswick.

GDP growth in New Brunswick for 2014 is projected to be less than 1%. There are also limits on government funding (2%) in each of the next two years and tuition caps of 3%.

While active negotiations are underway we are not going to speculate on what will happen over the next two weeks. Obviously, students, faculty and everyone associated with UNB has a vested interest in reaching a new collective agreement. While no university in Canada has ever lost a semester to a faculty strike we understand students are concerned and we are too. Tuition covers faculty salaries, food, accommodation, on-campus programming and much more.