By Annelise Grube-Cavers
“There won’t be a prolonged strike,” said (Chris) Mota. “From my experience, that has never been an issue at Concordia. When students do participate in a strike, it’s usually a one-day strike, in solidarity; I’ve been here for 18 years and I’ve never seen a prolonged student strike.” The Link, 8 November 2011
Some sympathetic faculty members have been helping to keep students at Concordia University informed about what the university’s position is on the student strikes taking place across campus and the rest of Montreal. The university itself has not been very forthcoming with its plans and policies on the challenges facing the university community. As a result, and through the lack of foresight on the part of the institution (illustrated by the above quote from Chris Mota, Concordia spokesperson) parts of the university have been forced into a tenuous situation.
While the university has sent out some general information, they have neglected to mention how students in programs where almost no regular classes or lectures have occurred for five weeks are expected to cover all of their course material in order to complete their final exams and projects on time for the end of semester. The exam period, which starts next week, has not been changed even for the most affected classes. In fact there has been no communication to students regarding missed class time at all.
The departments fully on strike include the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment which has over 1100 enrolled students in graduate and undergraduate programs, all of whom are expected to somehow cover material without the allotted course time. It must be noted that the approach Concordia has taken differs considerably from other institutions facing similar problems, and that ultimately, no matter how it is framed by Concordia, the spokespeople do have an affect in how the functioning of the university proceeds. The University of Montreal, for example, has decided to extend the semester to ensure the completeness of the courses and the integrity of the diplomas being awarded to students.
Needless to say, institutions of higher learning in Quebec have been enduring a very challenging spring. Student opposition to the University Funding Plan has manifested itself in many different ways, both on and off campuses. Most notable in many institutions have been the significant number of students striking, the earliest having voted to start striking in mid-February. That makes this the 8th consecutive week without regular classes. At Concordia University, the earliest departments to go on strike commenced on the 5th of March, meaning that over the last 5 weeks class content has been interrupted, cut short or otherwise affected.
As of today, Concordia University has expressed no intention to accommodate the loss of course time which students in the departments on strike have dealt with. It seems the university is prepared to place the onus and weight of missed class time directly on students and professors.
This situation could have been avoided very early on through constructive action on the part of Concordia’s administration and upper management. As the number of striking students increased dramatically across the province, students at Concordia became more actively mobilized. Both the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and Graduate Students Association (GSA) had widely publicized the fact that strike votes would be taking place in early March, yet the university ignored its responsibility to students, staff and faculty by not preparing for all the potential outcomes of these votes.
The current position means that professors are feeling extra pressure and will surely be working harder to fulfill the needs of students, with little to no guidance. Although much of the university has continued functioning as normal, students in the departments on strike have been ignored by the administrative bodies of the university. Concordia has said that professors have the discretion to extend deadlines, but has made no attempt to address the important issue of missed lectures.
In effect, professors are being told that they have the flexibility to rearrange their courses, and the weighting of assignments and exams to reflect the situation. However, as the university administration is offering no additional class time, this will in many cases result in the loss of material.
Concordia’s inaction in this regard is consistent with the transformation in educational institutions from places of learning, to places which produce graduates. Universities should be striving for academic excellence. This includes actively supporting staff, faculty and students being adversely affected by the loss of class time. The sad conclusion of the institution’s attitude towards course time is that it is dispensable. Concordia, historically an institution committed to social engagement, has changed over the past years. It now appears to be a place to get a diploma, not an education.
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