With the threat of a strike by University of Manitoba professors next week, president David Barnard has fired a shot across the faculty association’s bow.
"I am disappointed that the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) leadership appears set on taking strike action next week," Barnard said in a message to staff and students Thursday.
"A strike will be harmful to our students and, indeed, the entire community. Let me assure you that we are doing everything we can to avoid a disruptive and unnecessary strike."
The faculty association has set next Tuesday as a strike date, though it has not yet made an official announcement.
The U of M has set up a website to keep students informed at www.umanitoba.ca/strikeinfo.
Conciliation began Wednesday and is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Marketing and communications director John Danakas said the conciliator would likely ask the two parties not to comment on the substance of talks while they’re ongoing.
UMFA members voted 68 per cent last week in favour of going on strike.
"The University of Manitoba has offered our faculty a four-year agreement with an 8.9 per cent salary increase," Barnard said in his message. "It is important that we compensate our faculty fairly and competitively. Our proposed four-year agreement would ensure long-term stability and certainty for our students."
UMFA has countered with a two-year proposal of 2.9 per cent each year, which compounds to 5.9 per cent.
The two sides are split over the union’s belief the university is threatening academic freedom and tenure, allegations the U of M denies.
UMFA also fears what the university’s plans to reduce the number of faculties by one-third by 2017 will do to tenure and to professors suddenly finding themselves swallowed up in a much larger body. Announcing the merging of several faculties into some form of health sciences faculty is imminent.
In an open letter to students posted on its website (umfa.ca) late Wednesday, UMFA explained why academic freedom is at the heart of the strike, and asked students to respect picket lines.
Barnard responded to the academic freedom issue in his message: "I want to be clear that we have not put forward anything in this bargaining process that would erode the academic freedom enjoyed by our faculty. We have not proposed a performance management system for UMFA members. Nor have we introduced any restrictions on research for UMFA members."
UMFA went on strike in 1995 and 2001 and came within hours of striking on several other occasions.