A Second Student’s Letter

So this one didn’t come in through the mailbag — it was an open letter written by a student at Seneca College, evidently on the eve of the strike.  I’m passing it along as is, but I’ve removed the identifying information, just in case:

I am a student at Seneca College, working towards an accelerated diploma in [my program].  I am writing in support of my professors and all Ontario college faculty.

As a student, it is very important to me that the College Employer’s Council works with OPSEU to negotiate a fair contract for the faculty who work so hard to teach me.  My education is important, but so are good jobs in Ontario colleges.  Fair pay and stability for my professors are things that enhance my experience as a student.  Poor working conditions, low wages, and precarious work all have a direct negative effect on my educational experience.

Not all of my professors have equal financial and job stability.  Faculty with full-time jobs, job security and a dependable income can develop better curriculums and deliver quality classes to their students.  They have the energy and time to be available to their students outside of class.  There is nothing more frustrating than seeking out time with a professor only to realize that they are on campus just a few hours a week.  Sadly, this is a reality for faculty who must work at multiple institutions to make ends meet. 

I came to Seneca to better myself and get an education that will allow me to prosper and contribute to Ontario’s economy.  It is alarming to realize that some of my professors are in the same type of low-wage, short-term jobs that I am trying to leave behind.  During the course of my legal education, my professors have trained me to recognise fairness and equity.  I am certain that precarious work isn’t fair for college faculty.

I am also certain that if the province continues to short-change the colleges, the quality of education students receive will decline.  Our college system is vitally important.  Not everyone in Ontario can afford to attend university.  People of colour, immigrants, children of immigrants and those who struggle financially are often able to find opportunities through our college system.  The students who attend college deserve the best education possible.

I have followed the news carefully and read press releases from each side of this labour dispute.  It is clear to me that OPSEU and the faculty bargaining team are strongly committed to staying at the table right up until the strike deadline.  It is also clear to me that the College Employer’s Council has tried to strong-arm the union into capitulation by walking away from the bargaining table.  As a student who is affected by a potential labour action, I am VERY angry at the CEC for refusing to work constructively with OPSEU and thus, compromising my education.  I am currently using my life savings to cover my tuition and expenses during this year of school.  I value every minute I spend with my professors because I want to learn as much as possible and be an effective and skilled paralegal after I graduate.  I cannot afford a strike that will take me out of my studies.

Please do everything you can to ensure a fair contract. I want to go back to school tomorrow.



Student, Seneca College




One Student’s Observations

So…we’re on strike. And I’m a wee bit busy.  Thanks for your patience.

One of the truly remarkable things to me about this strike is the level of support that we’ve seen so far from students.  And yes, just because you’d expect me to say that doesn’t automatically makes it false.

I’m not saying that students are applauding a strike (at least, not the ones who had studied for midterms), but I’m struck by how familiar students were with the general themes of the strike — academic quality and fairness — in a way that we didn’t see back in 2006.

That’s just a lead-in to a letter that I wanted to share with you — I found it to be quite remarkable in its thoughtfulness and rigour, and I hope you feel the same.  The student offers a candid comparison of their experiences at a College, a University, and an International Baccalaureate (if I understand the acronym correctly) program.

I’m struck by the student’s thoughts on the effects of full-time employment, but I’m also struck by their observations about a lack of coherence and harmony between their College program’s courses.  I can’t be sure, but I do wonder if this might have its roots in the fact that so many college faculty (unlike their University counterparts) have one departmental meeting per semester, to maximize the number of weekly classroom hours that management can assign them.

Why might there be some college programs where the instruction in classes don’t fit together neatly, with clear connections and minimal overlap?  Possibly, I supect, because of the number of faculty who have absolutely no involvement with their program’s curriculum, or even their courses’ curricula.

Anyway, on to the letter.  The next few posts will probably be devoted to your reports from the picket lines, although any other student opinions are most welcome.

Hi Prof, 

First of all, I’d like to thank you for creating and running this blog. As a student looking to learn more about the issues at hand and the perspectives of Ontario-wide faculty members, the site has been immensely helpful. Thank you for your veracity as well as your dedication to improving the Ontario college educational experience. 
I’m in my second year of college now and I’ve met some amazing professors, but to be completely honest, the programs themselves have not been as impressive. I’ve been to two different high-schools, I’ve been in the IB program, and I went to university for 3 years before coming to college so it’s been interesting comparing the experiences though it’s not a huge sample size. Also, I’m a lot more involved with the student body and faculty at my college compared to high-school and university because I’m a leader for a student-run organization and it’s a more tight-knit community here, so there may be some selection bias. 
Compared to University:
  • it seems like the contract-faculty to full-time-faculty ratio is a much bigger issue in colleges than in universities but I’ve read about how they’re dealing with a similar issue 
  • my courses in college don’t feel as up-to-date or as professional as university courses and the college courses don’t harmonize well together to create a complete, efficient curriculum
  • college has been a lot more hands-on (which I love) and less theoretical than university and tuition obviously costs much less
Compared to the IB Program
  • the IB program curriculum was absolutely incredible: courses tied into one another really well, they were well organized, content was up-to-date, and the quality was so much higher than college or university
  • most of the teachers had been there for years and were able to build on course content and teaching strategies because of that – they knew what worked and what didn’t 
  • if they were not full-time employees thinking long-term, the program at the high school would not have progressed so much
  • every single IB teacher was passionate, intelligent, and well-trained – I cannot say that about every single prof from college or university
So I absolutely see one of the main problems with replacing more and more full-time faculty with contract faculty. The curriculum suffers greatly. In one semester last year, different profs would repeat the same concepts in different classes. It was like getting the same lecture multiple times. On the other hand, profs would teach about concepts that built upon lessons from other courses that we hadn’t learned yet. Furthermore, many of my classmates have talked about how many courses are outdated, which is concerning when you’re in a tech-related program. The program is in need of reform which is difficult when so many of my profs are part-timers with multiple jobs, little prep time, and no office hours even though they’re great professors. 
Last year, I thought this was just an internal issue with my program, but apparently not. Because of the strike mandate, I’ve been learning more and more about the same issues happening in other departments at my college and at other Ontario colleges. A lot of this learning had initially been through anecdotal evidence so I thought I’d try to dig up more information. This has been a little more difficult than I anticipated. 
After countless hours of trying to read through:
  • the expired agreement,
  • the union proposals 
  • the collegefaculty.org website,
  • the CEC offers of settlement 
  • the CEC staffing statistics,
  • the Academic Workload Surveys,
  • news articles,
  • my college’s annual report,
  • the CEC negotiation updates,
  • my college’s student association website,
  • the CSA website,
  • and of course, your blog, 
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is sadly no transparency when it comes to the number of contract faculty members at Ontario colleges… and I tried really hard to find these statistics from both sides. *Sigh* 
Many of my friends and family members are telling me that I’m sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong or that it’s not like I’ll be able to change anything, but I like being informed. I’m a student; a strike will affect my education this year and the outcomes from the negotiations may affect the quality and cost of my education in the years to come. And it’s not just my education, but the education of all current and future students which may even be my kids one day. Is it not my responsibility to be involved in the discussion or at least try to understand what’s happening? 
I did find some data to extrapolate from. I’ll share those findings with you in my next email if you don’t mind me sending another. Please feel free to send me any relevant information/ resources I may have missed. Hope to hear from you and good luck! 
An Ontario college student 
P.S. Sorry for any spelling or grammar mistakes or lack of professionalism. Feels like I used more dashes than I’m comfortable with today… Needs more cowbell.  I’d revise my email more if I had time, but alas, school awaits.