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VIU semester on the verge of cancellation

Cowichan VIU staffers Robin Davies, Lynn Wytenbrock, and Marian van der Zon, staff the picket line along with Wilson the dog. - Andrew Leong
Cowichan VIU staffers Robin Davies, Lynn Wytenbrock, and Marian van der Zon, staff the picket line along with Wilson the dog.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Vancouver Island University students will most likely lose their spring semester.

Talks between the university and its striking faculty association, representing more than 600 professors, broke down Wednesday evening and with no further meetings scheduled, it is not likely class will be back in on Monday (April 11), the cutoff date the university set for finishing the semester on time, said university spokeswoman Toni O'Keeffe.

"We're anticipating that we will not be able to save the semester," said O'Keeffe. "The indication we're getting is students don't want the semester extended. Students can start applying for refunds Monday."

The faculty association went on strike March 10.

The university's negotiating team thought the two parties were making progress over the past week, with a number of concessions offered by the university, O'Keeffe said, but the faculty association is seeking concessions the university cannot agree to, such as management rights.

"We've given them everything we're able to give them," she said. "We can't give the management of the university up to them."

Dan McDonald, faculty association president, said the group is not seeking a management role, it wants some protection for course offerings and the faculty jobs attached to those courses.

He said the association wants a full discussion in the academic community and for the university's senate to declare a program redundant before it can be cut. And if a program is cut for financial reasons, the union is looking for a freeze on hiring administrative staff.

"Courses should be protected before other areas in the institution," said McDonald, adding that the number of administrative positions at VIU have been growing in recent years even when faculty are laid off and course offerings reduced.

"We're just seeking a mechanism where that doesn't happen," he said.

O'Keeffe said both the spring and fall semesters are now in jeopardy due to the labour dispute and the strike will also have huge financial implications in terms of lost revenue and damage to VIU's reputation.

The university does not have the money to cover tuition refunds, so the province will have to pay the bill, she said.

The VIU Students' Union plans to hold an open house on Friday to talk with students about the strike and potential legal action.

— Jenn McGarrigle

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