Life inside the U of M chugs on
Anxiety among students, but activity largely unabated on campus
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/11/2016 (2165 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Tuesday afternoon seems like a typical one at the Hub, the University of Manitoba’s campus pub. Until you listen to the conversations.
Ear-catching snippets cut through the relentless din of Top 40 and the Halloween party post-mortems. Two young men are talking about tuition fees, worried higher wages for professors will mean higher fees for them. Another group is discussing how much professors make. A young man and woman discuss the role of unions over chicken fingers. She eventually leaves to go to class; hers is still on. He stays behind and orders another beer.
Outside, in the slate November grey, some of their professors are walking the picket line as part of a University of Manitoba Faculty Association strike that began just hours ago. Not all professors are part of UMFA, so some classes have been cancelled, and some have not. Walking around campus, one wouldn’t necessarily know there’s strike going on. The halls have backpack-clad students hurrying to class. Coffee shops have lines. Lounges are dotted with laptops. The free flu-shot clinic is taking place as scheduled. There’s a certain comfort to be found in the steady hum of routine.
At the Hub, which is run by the University of Manitoba Students’ Union, servers continually express surprise at how many people are here considering the situation. There’s about 40 during the lunch rush, but it stays half-full throughout the afternoon, populated mostly by hoodie-clad students engaging in some light day-drinking. Other than a young woman doing a little happy chair dance because of a cancelled lab, the mood isn’t what you’d call celebratory — but people don’t seem especially stressed, either. But the students here seem listless and unmoored. It’s hard to say whether it’s because of the strike or just regular November ennui. Either way, a lot of time is being killed — by scrolling through social media, by picking at grease-spotted baskets of fries.
A couple plays several rounds of pool, ostensibly because there’s nowhere else to be.
Students are more on edge elsewhere. At a UMSU café down the hall from the Hub, a barista is telling a customer an animated story. Turns out it’s about the SUV that barrelled through the picket line early this morning. “What the f—,” he responds.
The barista is also anxious about her classes. She’s worried if the strike lasts more than four weeks, the entire semester will be shot.
“I already feel behind,” she says. “I’m so mad.”
“You shouldn’t be mad at the professors, you should be mad at the administration,” the young man counters.
“I’m mad about the whole thing,” she says, flatly. “I just want to get to class.”
Those kinds of exchanges are likely happening all over campus — about frustration and where exactly to direct it. Everyone is affected by a strike, directly or indirectly. Students whose classes are happening as scheduled are wrestling with crossing a picket line. Students who choose not to cross the picket line are still responsible for assignments. Students whose classes have been cancelled are dealing with uncertain futures. Everyone has an opinion, for or against.
Of course, students aren’t just talking about the strike Tuesday. One complains about a difficult co-worker who chronically calls in sick. Several talk about having to balance a large class load with a part-time job. Another laments having to work all weekend, every weekend. Seems everyone is affected by labour issues, too.
Back at the Hub, the bartender calls over to a server. “So, I guess you can work anytime now until class is back?”
The server nods with a half-smile and a shrug. “I guess so.”
She looks like she’d rather be in class.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 7:45 AM CDT: Adds photo