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U of M unions riled about privatization, cuts

Rally just the start, professor warns

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Wednesday's union protest rally on the front steps of the University of Manitoba administration building was only the beginning.

Union protesters could show up at any administration-organized event, faculty association president Prof. Sharon Alward warned.

"We're going to plan our next step -- we're not finished," Alward said moments after she and five other union leaders, including student union president Bilan Arte, addressed a crowd of about 500.

The campus unions literally demonized their bosses, dangling a huge satanic effigy from the top steps of the administration building.

Union leaders accused the U of M of widespread privatization and contracting-out, of plummeting morale and of students and staff suffering from spending cuts. They said this transpires while the administration pumps millions into advertising and more front-office staff.

Arte said the university is "being sold off to private interests. We are not mere stakeholders, we are the university. Without us, this university does not exist."

Especially irksome to the University of Manitoba Students Union is the International College of Manitoba, the Australian-owned, private, for-profit company teaching pre-university courses on campus.

"Those students have no student representation, no one to advocate for them. We commodify knowledge and turn it into a tool for exploitation," Arte said.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3007 president Frank Wright had a long list of alleged mistreatment of caretakers and food services staff by Aramark, the private company the university contracted to oversee U of M employees in those fields.

Since Aramark arrived, said Wright, members' sick leave has soared 350 per cent, much of it due to stress.

"Morale is zero. People start to go in a survivor mode here," he said.

Alward said the U of M ignores all feedback from employees and students, preferring to concentrate on a "glitzy ad campaign. They're more concerned about the external impression they make."

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association fears the effects of U of M president David Barnard's plan to reduce 20 faculties to about 13 by 2017, said Alward. Professors have no idea what will happen to their autonomy, tenure, promotion or the accreditation of their academic field.

Barnard had a previous travel commitment, but said in a campus-wide email Tuesday the university welcomes "engaged debate on crucial issues we face together. As a community, we are continually looking ahead and asking ourselves how we can best advance our mission of learning, discovery and engagement as Manitoba's only research-intensive university."

Barnard noted the U of M has reached a record enrolment of 29,000 students, had donor gifts last year of $26 million and nearly $160 million in sponsored research income, none of which "would have been possible without support and input from our university community."

He said hundreds of staff members have been involved with projects to find efficiencies and have participated in discussions, town hall meetings and faculty council sessions around the faculty reorganization.

Barnard's next town hall is March 1 at 10 a.m. in University Centre.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 A5

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