U of M bows to pressure, reinstates online course content


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The University of Manitoba has announced a U-turn to allow students access to readings and other course content posted online amid a strike by faculty — if instructors have not removed them — in response to community backlash.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/11/2021 (502 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The University of Manitoba has announced a U-turn to allow students access to readings and other course content posted online amid a strike by faculty — if instructors have not removed them — in response to community backlash.

Before professors took to virtual and in-person picket lines this week, some reassured students that material uploaded to UM Learn, a digital classroom platform, before Tuesday would remain accessible.

On the first day of the strike, however, administration made those courses inaccessible to students without notice. Teaching assistants and markers were suddenly unable to view assignments online.

Bethani Reid, a third-year science student, said she panicked when she realized course information on the platform was blank.

“You can’t say you value your students when, first of all, you’re the entire reason that our professors are on strike… and secondly, you take down course material and don’t even publicly state that a) you’re going to do that and b) it was your choice,” said Reid, who is involved with Students Supporting UMFA. “It begs the question: do you want segregation between your instructors and your students?”

Hundreds of professors, instructors and librarians walked off the job this week to call for hikes to U of M’s salary schedule, citing ongoing concerns with retention and recruitment. The faculty association has called on the Progressive Conservative government to withdraw its wage increase mandate, saying it amounts to interference in free and fair bargaining.

The province says mandates are standard practice, given governments are stewards of public funds and key funders of post-secondary institutes.

In introductory biology courses, physical lab manuals are typically in students’ hands, but the virtual versions suddenly disappeared this week when instructor Cassandra Debets and her colleagues went on strike.

“Having that content is essential for them to be keeping up with their studies and keeping up with activities prior to Nov. 2,” said Debets, who chose not to shut down her course content to create extra hardship for students who have experienced constant learning disruptions since the pandemic began.

In a community update, Laurie Schnarr, vice-provost of students, said administration heard that not being able to access all courses in the system was an issue. “We addressed this as quickly as possible to reduce any additional stress this caused you,” wrote Schnarr.

Neither Schnarr nor other senior leaders, who discussed the subject during a virtual Senate meeting Wednesday, disclosed the reasoning behind the decision to bar course content.

During the afternoon meeting, Senate members — some of them present with pro-union Zoom backgrounds — approved a motion to cement students’ rights to accommodation should they choose not to cross a picket line, be it virtual or in-person, to attend ongoing classes taught by members of the faculty association or other instructors.

Students must be reasonably accommodated with respect to any missed material, assignments or tests, and requests to defer exams are not to be denied “up to the point of undue hardship.”

Also Wednesday, U of M president Michael Benarroch called on the community to respect the right to strike. During the Senate meeting, Benarroch acknowledged some “unfortunate incidents” during the strike.

In one incident this week, a picketer was struck by a vehicle, but did not suffer serious injuries, the union said.


Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.


Updated on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 7:49 PM CDT: Corrects typo in second last graf.

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