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It will be classes as usual for VIU in September

It's business as usual this fall at Vancouver Island University.

The university's board of governors and its professors have accepted a mediator's proposal on how to resolve their differences.

The VIU Faculty Association ended a month-long strike in early April when a settlement was ratified by the union and the board, but there were outstanding issues around layoffs and program cuts.

Both parties agreed to meet with a provincially appointed mediator to discuss those issues. Mediator Mark Brown released non-binding recommendations on May 11, to which the groups had until Saturday to respond. If either side rejected the recommendations, the union had the right to strike after Sept. 1.

Brown prefaced his recommendations by stating that he found the parties were so polarized in their positions that an agreement was not possible on the outstanding issues.

"The parties' relationship is strained," he wrote. "Even though there have been virtually no layoffs for many years, there is a lack of trust between the parties with respect to the budgeting process, VIU's administrative approach to budget shortfalls, and the reaction from staff to decisions made by the administration."

Brown recommended including a clause in the collective agreement to ensure layoffs could not occur if they in effect suspended a program, unless the program was officially declared suspended. The agreement negotiated in April already includes that clause for programs declared redundant.

The April agreement also made provisions for more transparent and open dialogue between the two parties with respect to alternatives to layoffs.

Brown recommended further measures to improve communication about layoff decisions, such as requiring the university to give the union information it deems pertinent to budget shortfalls or its remedy.

If the union makes alternative proposals that are rejected, staff must inform the association why the proposals were rejected.

Dan McDonald, faculty association president, said members voted 90 per cent in favour of Brown's recommendations and the union is optimistic meaningful dialogue about the budget will occur.

"My sense is the difficulties in bargaining is a result of deteriorating relations," he said. "I think both sides will have to work hard to repair that before we go into another round of bargaining."

The two-year agreement expires next March.

VIU spokeswoman Toni O'Keeffe said the agreement will mean stability for the university next fall.

"It allows us to focus on our core business and that is supporting students, delivering services and engaging with community," she said.

The university will work to ensure budget information, which is already posted online, is easily accessible, O'Keeffe added.

The university's budget for 2011-12 is scheduled to be presented to the board of governors June 23.

— Jenn McGarrigle, Nanaimo News Bulletin

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