‘Scholar Strike’ at Canadian Universities Stole Students’ Valuable Class Time

Canadian universities had been shut down since March because of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, during the first week of classes in September, university professors went on a two-day “Scholar Strike” […]
Published on September 28, 2020

Canadian universities had been shut down since March because of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, during the first week of classes in September, university professors went on a two-day “Scholar Strike” to protest against “anti-black violence.”

One wonders why this strike didn’t happen on Labour Day, the ideal time for left-leaning professors and their unions to remember their victories and scheme for the wonderful future they will create.

Having a strike on Labour Day, before university classes began, would create a lot of neo-Marxist rhetoric, but it would not directly affect the education of students.

For professors who are striking during the academic year, the goal, so it seems, is not to keep their collateral damage to a minimum, but to hurt students, particularly undergraduate students.

University strikes never happen during the summer months when most students are not on campus. If strikes did occur in summer, millions of dollars in salaries would be saved, which of course could be used to lower tuition fees. The reason is that employees do not receive salaries during real strikes, and since very few students take summer classes, the university would have a good incentive to not settle, thereby saving the salary money. It’s quite a different situation in the regular school season where the university wants the students to finish their courses and is under great pressure to settle the strike as soon as possible.

But this has not been considered by the striking scholars.

So this strike had to happen at the beginning of the fall term when for two full days on Sept. 9 and 10, professors “paused” from their teaching and administrative duties so they could allegedly protest the behaviour of police toward black and indigenous people in the United States and Canada. Over the two days, online sessions on a variety of topics related to racial justice were held.

No professor or administrator lost salary for failing to perform their assigned teaching and administrative duties.

So was this “pause” a real strike? No, it was a strike in name only, the kind of underground protest that neo-Marxists increasingly organize.

A statement on the Scholar Strike’s website signed by numerous professors from universities across the country calls for provinces and universities to:

  • Defund the police and redistribute the resources to black, indigenous, racialized, queer, and trans communities for the creation of sustainable and healthy communities;
  • Decommission campus police or at least end their co-operation with local police forces;
  • Hire more black and indigenous scholars on the basis of their colour and background rather than on their scholarly competence;
  • Recruit and graduate more racialized students; and
  • Lower the cost of university education for students.

The statement says the Scholar Strike originated from a tweet by University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler who was inspired by the striking WNBA and NBA players and put out a call for a similar labour action from academics.

It’s not surprising that faculty associations (unions) across Canada supported this ill-defined and poorly organized protest.

But it is surprising—outrageously surprising, in fact—that senior university administrators supported the strike even though it meant that professors were not teaching their assigned courses or carrying out their normal administrative responsibilities.

Since university administrators supported the strike, citizens and students should call a strike of their own—a payers’ strike, if you like. But they need to seek retribution though their elected representatives in the provincial governments.

Specifically, students and taxpayers should demand that provincial governments reduce grants to universities by at least 1.5 percent for the next academic year.

Why this amount? Because the Scholar Strike lasted for two full teaching days out of a 130-day academic year (two terms of 13 weeks each), and these two days represent slightly more than 1.5 percent of the academic year.

Also, because the students lost 1.5 percent of the present academic year, they should immediately receive a rebate of 1.5 percent of their tuition fees. This is not much, but even a little refund would make their education cheaper, which is one of the strikers’ demands—in fact, their only reasonable demand.

If provincial governments impose this kind of accountability on universities, they would show both faculty members and administrators that the Scholars Strike was paid for by students and taxpayers.

The demand for such accountability should not surprise university professors. They impose similar measures on their students all the time. For example, when students write poor term papers or miss exams, their grades are lowered.

If students are consistently held accountable for their academic work, university administrators and professors must be held accountable for their professional behaviour too.

Provincial governments have a fiduciary obligation to hold universities and their professors accountable for acts that violate their responsibilities to teach and administer programs.

If government won’t hold universities financially liable, we should not be surprised to see more Scholars Strikes in the future. The success of this strike will surely embolden professors to plan strikes on any number of popular topics.

And given what happened this year, university administrators will be inclined to support even the most outrageous demands.

Rodney A. Clifton is a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. His most recent book, edited with Mark DeWolf, is “From Truth Comes Reconciliation: An Assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.”

Photo by diego_cervo

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