My university is letting me down

Photo Credit: Adam Van der Zwan

Recently, I have taken no pleasure in telling people that I am an SFU student. The source of my newfound shame stems entirely from the university’s union busting and poor labour relations with the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU).

In April 2014, the collective agreement between the TSSU and the university expired. Considering SFU prides itself on becoming Canada’s leading “engaged university,” I had no reason to believe that negotiations would be delayed and that the union would have to wait so long without an agreement. Sadly, negotiations were, and the union is still waiting. For over a year now, the university has dismissed the union and their core issues.

It’s extraordinarily hypocritical to ask students to “engage” in research, their community, and real issues when the university continuously neglects the needs of union employees by ignoring their pleas, and withholding a contract from them.

Simon Fraser University, the school I have cheered for and called my own, now leaves me feeling ashamed.

Andrew Petter, our current president, served as Minister of Advanced Education from 1998 to 2000 here in BC. During that time, he provided leadership and direction to post-secondary institutions, but that experience has yet to be put to use at SFU, since he seems to have been MIA amid this 15 month-long conflict between the university and the union. Our president should know better than anyone else that SFU students are bright and attentive, and that they would notice if he shied away from a leadership role in the current conflict.

SFU, the school I have cheered for and called my own, now leaves me feeling ashamed.

So Mr. Petter, this message is for you: I want you to know that as an SFU student, I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed you’ve let SFU slip in its rank as a reputable institution. I’ve noticed you don’t respect unions and the bargaining process, and that you haven’t engaged with the TSSU to provide the leadership all presidents should when their employees are unhappy and their students inconvenienced.

The TSSU, which does the majority of face-time teaching, deserves a fair and timely negotiation process. As TSSU chair Derek Sahota says, the negotiation team representing the university is from an administrative background, and they don’t understand the problems faced by TAs and sessional instructors in the classrooms and lecture halls, dismissing them as not being real ‘issues.’

If job security, protection from underpay and overwork, expanding opportunities for current Grad students, and guaranteeing union members the basic protections of BC law for health and safety training and wage payment aren’t considered ‘issues’ or don’t merit more conversation, then I don’t know what does.

Simply put, the university appears to have no real grasp on the core issues the TSSU members have. This is likely the root of many problems in the negotiation room.

When I graduated high school I didn’t just want to earn a degree — I wanted to experience higher learning and attend an institution committed to thoughtful debate, progressive policy, and fostering a community on campus. It was these desires that brought me to SFU in 2012. Now, I wonder if I made a mistake when I assessed how committed SFU was to ensuring such ideals.

The recent bargaining between the university and the union gives me hope for an agreement, but I still see no end in SFU’s blatant disrespect of labour organizations such as the TSSU.

I worry about SFU students, as the strike affects them just as much as it does our hardworking TAs and sessional instructors. I am truly ashamed my university has had such poor relations with the union, and has continued to display a distinct lack of empathy for everyone affected.