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John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
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is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 03.17.04
Fool's Hollow, Quebec

JOHN MAHONEY

Student supports angry faculty
but hopes for a short strike

LENNOXVILLE, QC | The first-ever faculty strike at Bishop's University here has a Lyndon Institute alumna from Vermont a tad worried.

Rebecca Perkins, 21, who graduated from Lyndon Institute in 2000, is slated to be awarded her Bachelor's Degree from BU in May. The university is about 35 miles north of Derby Line.

But early Monday morning, the more than 100 full-time faculty members, and additional contract teachers, walked off the job following a midnight breakdown in contract negotiations with the BU administration.

woman""I am in sympathy with the faculty," says Ms. Perkins, who is an English major and has applied to five US universities to pursue graduate studies in Social Work. "I feel the Administration is trying to make the faculty look bad."

But while she's rooting for the faculty, she also has her fingers crossed that it will be a short strike.

"I hope it won't be longer than a week or so," she says. "A few days off will give me some time to catch up on my studies."

Ms. Perkins is minoring in business and music -- she plays the saxophone -- volunteers as a DJ on the campus radio station, and is a staff reporter/photographer on the on-line newspaper produced by the webjournalism class (The Local News - www.thelocalnews.ca).

More than 86 percent of the faculty -- full-time and contract teachers -- had voted to strike if no acceptable compromise could be struck with the university.

By 7:30 a.m. some three-quarters of the faculty, supported by a number of students, were picketing the bitterly-cold sidewalks in front of the 160-year-old university.

All classes were cancelled for the duration, with the exception of several taught by the non-union Deans, who are members of the Administration.

Neither side in the dispute is speculating publicly on how long the strike may go on.

At issue here are salary increases, pension plan contributions, faculty workload, and the number of teachers.

Faculty numbers have declined while the student population has increased, says the union. The average class size in 1995 was 14 students. This year the average is 20.

Both sides are pointing the finger of blame at the other for the failure of the last-ditch contract negotiations, which went belly up at midnight Sunday.

"The APBU came to the table on Sunday evening to bargain seriously to get a fair settlement and avoid a strike," says President Nelly Khouzam of the Association of Professors of Bishop's University (APBU). "The Corporation was unprepared to negotiate. We moved significantly from our initial position but our offer was rejected without discussion."

"The negotiators [for the APBU] were intent upon providing us with no time," says Bishop's Vice-Principal and chief negotiator Jonathan Rittenhouse. "The association has been establishing arbitrary deadlines and final offers, while the Corporation has never once given an ultimatum, or refused when asked back to the negotiating table."

Meanwhile, the union has established a strike headquarters in an old feedmill up the street from the university. The on-strike signs for the picketers are stacked in the corner, donuts and coffee are on the counter, and strike coordinators are scheduling faculty picketing-line duty.

And Rebecca Perkins, two months away from graduation, sits in her Lennoxville student digs, playing academic catch-up and praying for a short strike.

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