Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Services open amid possible strike: U of M

Reassuring tone as conciliation talks begin

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Foreign students, paying much more than Canadian students, are the most fearful of a U of M strike.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Foreign students, paying much more than Canadian students, are the most fearful of a U of M strike. Photo Store

The University of Manitoba told students Wednesday libraries and student services will likely remain open during a professors' strike that could begin Tuesday, and their academic records and scholarships will not be affected.

Continue to attend classes, the U of M urged students Wednesday.

But vice-provost for students Susan Gottheil told students, "We don't know yet what effect a strike will have on class schedules, mid-term exams or final papers."

The U of M has set up a website to keep students informed at 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.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association has set next Tuesday as a strike date, though it has not yet made an official announcement and has not responded to numerous interview requests since a brief comment Monday.

Students are anxious to know what's going on and what could happen next week, U of M Students Union president Al Turnbull said Wednesday.

"I'd like to think, in the next couple of days, there'll be a lot of hashing out," he said.

"For sure, mid-terms are now until the middle of November," he said. "My inbox is getting filled up with worries."

Especially worried are foreign students paying triple the tuition rate, some paying more than $15,000 a year including their room and board.

"Obviously, this will affect them drastically," he said.

Turnbull said UMSU doesn't know if any classes will continue during a strike or if any professors will cross picket lines.

"It'll be interesting to see," Turnbull said. "There's still 32 per cent who disagreed" with going on strike.

UMFA members voted 68 per cent last week in favour of going on strike.

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 their website (umfa.ca) late Wednesday, UMFA explained why academic freedom is at the heart of the strike, and asked students to respect picket lines.

The U of M has offered a four-year raise of 2.9 per cent the first year and two per cent each of the following three years, which compounds to 9.2 per cent.

UMFA has countered with a two-year proposal of 2.9 per cent each year, which compounds to 5.9 per cent.

UMFA went on strike in 1995 and 2001 and came within hours of striking on several other occasions.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2013 A7

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