University of Lethbridge students face extended semester after 39-day faculty strike

Click to play video: 'Semester extended by 2 weeks for U of L students following strike'
Semester extended by 2 weeks for U of L students following strike
Nearly six weeks after it began, the strike at the University of Lethbridge ended following a vote from the faculty association to ratify a new collective agreement. Eloise Therien has more on what the rest of the semester will look like for students. – Mar 22, 2022

The strike and lockout at the University of Lethbridge officially ended at midnight on Tuesday, but the implications of the nearly six-week work stoppage is affecting how the rest of the semester will play out.

Students will return to classes starting on Wednesday morning, after being off since Feb. 10.

Why was the semester extended?

The University of Lethbridge confirmed Tuesday afternoon the last day of the semester will now be May 5, about two weeks later than the initial end of term date of April 20.

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The change was approved by the university’s general faculties council, which is made up of faculty, students and administrators.

“We advocated really strongly this whole time that the semester not be extended if at all possible,” said president of the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union (ULSU) Holly Kletke.

Click to play video: '‘We have our own voice, and we’re going to use it’: U of L students continue sit-in during strike'
‘We have our own voice, and we’re going to use it’: U of L students continue sit-in during strike

“We (really) tried to get that across. Unfortunately, it was presented to us that it was not realistic to do so because of those students who need to graduate and finish off the semester.”

Kletke added the U of L has come up with “innovative contingency plans” for students who aren’t able to attend classes due to the extension.

Any classes that were delivered online prior to the strike will remain online for the rest of the term.

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Will students get money back?

The school has a number of financial rebates in place as well, including 20 per cent tuition credit for continuing students and an equivalent refund for graduating students, and a 25 per cent reduction in sport and recreation services fee credit.

It is also waiving interest incurred on student accounts during the strike, and waiving semester extension on-campus housing fees for residence students beyond the initial April 21, 2022 deadline.

Students holding parking permits will be credited two months of parking fees, and those with funds remaining on their food plan will receive extension credit to the fall 2022 semester.

“Overall, we’re happy to see that those financial accommodations are being made,” Kletke said.

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She added the ULSU is available to support students and ensure they are able to successfully complete their semesters.

“We’re rolling up our sleeves, we’re ready to advocate for students.”

Reaching a collective agreement

Dan O’Donnell, president of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA), said the group made fairly major gains in areas like equity and inclusion with the new agreement.

A mediator’s report from March 18 recommended a 1.25 per cent raise for members in April 2023 and another 1.5 per cent raise in December 2023, as well as changes to minimum compensation and benefits.

He doesn’t think the strike and lockout needed to last as long as they did.

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“Only at the University of Lethbridge did they take six weeks, five of which they refused to talk, to settle an agreement that is basically indistinguishable from the agreements at Mount Royal and the University of Alberta.”

Global News requested an interview with the university, but that request was not acknowledged.

“Our new collective agreement with ULFA is an important first step. It offers fair and reasonable raises and benefits to our colleagues, while ensuring access to high-quality education and protecting the university’s long-term sustainability,” read an emailed statement from the institution.

“The university’s future is bright and we look forward to the opportunities ahead.”

Can the relationship be repaired?

The U of L went on to thank everyone for their patience and understanding over the last several weeks.

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“We appreciate the last several weeks have been challenging, and thank everyone in the university community for their patience and understanding,” said the U of L.

“We understand relationships with faculty members were strained during the strike, and are committed to mending them over time.”

Kletke believes it’ll be a team effort to regain trust on all sides, but is optimistic.

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to rebuild the great campus community that we had previously, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to bounce back,” she said.

But O’Donnell isn’t sure it’ll be that easy, with the labour dispute impacting future enrollment, grant funding and more.

“It’s going to be an extremely heavy task to try and repair the damage,” O’Donnell admitted, “and the damage is not six weeks old; the damage is many years old.”

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