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Strike action threatened at Vancouver Island University

More than 10,000 students could be caught in the middle of a dispute between the Vancouver Island University professors and school administration.

The Vancouver Island University Faculty Association set March 4 as the date it threatens to take strike action if management at the university do not sign a new labour contract and withdraw a proposal to cut the university’s budget by 10 per cent over the next three years.

The strike would include all VIU campuses, including Cowichan's.

Dan McDonald, Faculty Association president, said members voted 84 per cent in favour of a strike Thursday.

The university has been budget cutting since 2009 and faculty have worked without a contract since last March.

McDonald said the university is targeting instructional areas, primarily the number of classes offered, meaning professors could face layoffs.

“We’ve been in a situation where student enrolment has been going up about five to six per cent each year and the actual number of courses being offered, which of course have faculty attached to them, are being decreased and it looks like it’s going to continue,” McDonald said.

The association argues savings will be negated by tuition fees lost due to lack of course availability.

“It looks like that pattern will continue because Ralph Nilson sent out a message in the fall essentially saying that he intends to cut 3.5 per cent in each of the next three years,” McDonald said.

A worst-case scenario could mean losing 45 to 60 professors over the next three years, McDonald said.

Steve Beasley, VIU Students’ Union executive director, said the union supports the faculty, but does not blame VIU management, which is forced to operate under budget constraints imposed by the province.

“Per-student funding has dropped by 15 per cent since 2001 and that’s created extreme budget situations at Vancouver Island University and other institutions across the province,” Beasley said.

Jessica Molcan, a fourth year bachelor of arts student scheduled to graduate in June, worries students could lose course credits and tuition fees if a strike carries on for more than two weeks.

Students like Molcan could be forced to wait another year before they receive their degrees if they have to retake courses for credits lost.

“It’s kind of a very scary situation,” Molcan said. “It puts a lot of students at risk for, not only graduating, but any future plans for further education because there are a lot of courses that you can only take in the spring.”

Toni O’Keefe, VIU spokeswoman, said the university received no funding increase from government, but is confident a strike will be avoided.

If a strike should happen and last longer than two weeks, the university will ensure students are able to complete the semester. She added that no final decisions have been made regarding program or operational budgets.

The university is also in negotiations with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing VIU support and administration staff, and the B.C. Government Employees Union, which represents most non-academic instructors of trades, vocational and community programs.

BCGEU and VIU Faculty Association members have been without contracts since March 31. CUPE members at VIU have been without a contract since June 30.

— Chris Bush, Nanaimo News Bulletin

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