A refund is not enough

No matter the outcome students are the real losers in VIU strike

If the Vancouver Island University strike is not resolved by Monday, the term may be extended, and students will be eligible for a full tuition refund if they choose not to complete their classes. That would be an unacceptable outcome and relations between the university and the faculty association should have never deteriorated to the point where the semester is so clearly in jeopardy.

UPDATE: VIU Strike ends

The position of either side does not matter at this point. Even if the university has to concede to concessions it claims it cannot afford, or if the faculty union ends up having to live with a lower level of job security for its members than it would like, the real losers will be students. A certain standard of education at a set time and place is owed to them.

Some students may have to postpone graduation and those in professional programs may be ineligible for provincial accreditation if they don’t complete their studies on time. And many others, if they choose to complete an extended term, as opposed to taking the refund, will lose out on the summer job race.

Giving students the option to get their money back is the least the university could do, but it doesn’t rectify anything. Through no fault of their own, many students will have to face the reality that the semester has been lost and that they will be responsible for making up the time.

If by some last minute breakthrough, a deal is reached between the union and the administration and classes do restart Monday, both sides will likely claim that the semester has been saved. That will hardly be comforting to students.

Compressing the rest of the term into the last three weeks of April, and eliminating the examination period, as the university says it will do, still deprives students of what they were owed.

In some ways a compressed, albeit saved, semester is a less desirable outcome than losing the term altogether. At least if the term is lost, students can register for the same courses next year, secure in the knowledge that they will receive the quality of instruction they expect. The same cannot be said for a drastically shortened term.

Unfortunately, there is not much students can do about the situation, beyond shouting from the sidelines.

One of the clearest expressions of just how few options students have to stand up for themselves came about a year ago when an Ontario judge dismissed a class action suit against York University. The plaintiff alleged that because of the 2008-09 strike, the compressed term forced students to accept lower quality teaching.

However, the judge refused to rule on educational standards, stating, that “(t)hese are matters that fall within the discretion of the university.”

So, presumably because of the convention of university autonomy, institutions can claim that cutting corners, which is what happens after a strike has ended, has no impact on educational quality and students are expected to accept it.

While not inconsequential to a university’s finances, students cannot exert the sort of influence that consumers can in sectors that are not subsidized and regulated to the same extent as the education sector. It is easy to wonder if students are even a factor in collective bargaining.

When labour negotiations break down, students are sometimes described as “bargaining chips.” If only that were true.

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