100,000 students sign petition for tuition refund due to college faculty strike

As a college faculty strike continues, students are demanding a portion of their tuition back for each day of class missed

Strikes are formally treated as between management and the employer. But when the strike involves providing a service, as college faculty do, there’s a third side: the students.

In the age of the internet, students are making their position heard through a petition on change.org that’s gone viral, with over 100,000 signatures. Students are demanding a tuition refund for each day of class missed due to the Ontario college faculty strike.

Carla Rudberg is a George Brown business marketing student who signed the petition, which they explain is:

“By students, demanding that we’re paying so much for the semester, for the year for the week, and when you break it down its about $40 a day that we’re in a classroom,” said Rudberg. “Pay us back!”

The petition notes that “students pay the same tuition regardless of how much time and learning we lose if a strike occurs.” Because students generally pay by the semester, colleges do not lose revenue unless the strike drags on enough to cancel a semester of school.

Students have been posting to social media about the petition using the hashtag #wepaytolearn.

According to George Brown College’s (GBC) website, tuition for domestic students can be anywhere between $3,668 to $20,188 for two semesters, while international student tuition ranges from $14,931 to $31,515 for two semesters.

This would put the cost between $27 and $147 a day for domestic students and upwards of $109 to $230 a day for international students.

Greg Kung, a student who co-authored the petition, said that it’s a “true grassroots campaign” and the idea was sparked late one night with his friend Amir Allana who are both Humber college students.

Both Kung and Allana, have some public policy and communications background and they applied that background to representing students like themselves. They’ve been making the rounds giving interviews to every major media outlet, and Kung mentioned that they’ve been on at least 15-20 talk shows and radio shows.

“We weren’t actually expecting this, but we knew there was definitely a need for this,” said Kung “In our opinion, (there has been) no coherent student voice since the two sides began negotiations in May.”

Kung and Allana are adamant that the petition does not take a side between the striking faculty and the management, simply putting forward the economic interest of the students.

JP Hornick, a George Brown professor and faculty union spokesperson said, “students who are organizing around the tuition reimbursements and things like that, that’s amazing work and I wholeheartedly support that.”

The administration at GBC says that returning fees would suggest that the strike won’t be resolved and students would lose a semester. Something that has never happened in the history of faculty strikes at Ontario colleges.

“I understand that students are concerned about fees but also about the fact that they’re not in the classroom,” said Leslie Quinlan, GBC’s vice-president, human resources and organizational development. “I think any conversation around fees being returned really suggests that we think that we’re not going to get an agreement and that students are not going to be able to complete their term or year, which I don’t think will be the case.”

The union’s last offer included demands that there be a 50-50 ratio of full-time to part-time faculty, better job security for partial load faculty and academic freedom for faculty.

The College Employer Council’s last offer included a 7.75 per cent raise over four years, new salary caps for faculty, as well as “improved conversion of contract faculty to full-time positions, a plan to respond to Bill 148 when it becomes law, more faculty autonomy over personal workloads (and) enhanced benefits.”

The duration of strikes can be a result of a complicated calculus between the willingness of the workers to continue the strike, the intransigence of management and the political will of the government to enact back-to-work legislation.

The last strike by college faculty in Ontario was in 2006 and lasted for 20 days. In 1989 a faculty strike lasted 18 days. The 1984 strike by college faculty lasted for 27 days before the Ontario government legislated them back to work, according to the Algonquin Timeless who reported that spring break was canceled, Christmas break was shortened and the winter semester was extended.

 

With files from Steve Cornwell and Lidianny Botto.

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100,000 students sign petition for tuition refund due to college faculty strike