COLLEGES: ‘Wasted our time and money’

Stu­dents are see­ing red as bills pile up and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties are put on hold by the lin­ger­ing col­lege fac­ulty strike

The London Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - HANK DANISZEWSKI

For­get break.

Think costly and stress­ful. As the strike in On­tario’s 24 com­mu­nity colleges en­ters its fifth week, stu­dents are start­ing to add up the num­bers about the hit they’ve taken since the walk­out by 12,000 fac­ulty mem­bers be­gan nearly a month ago.

Rent, gro­ceries, get­ting around — bills are pil­ing up for what’s es­sen­tially been dead time for many stu­dents. Some schools — in­clud­ing London-based Fan­shawe Col­lege — are al­ready mov­ing to ex­tend the fall se­mes­ter into the new year.

Add to that other threat­ened domino ef­fects from the strike, such as not be­ing able to move on to other cour­ses or jobs, as ex­pected, and some stu­dents are see­ing red.

There’s also the hard fact they’ve paid for ed­u­ca­tion they’re not get­ting — some­thing that re­ally stings for Merisa Burag­ina, a den­tal hy­giene stu­dent in London pay­ing about $13,000 a year in tu­ition.

Burag­ina had planned to grad­u­ate in April from Fan­shawe and write a reg­is­tra­tion exam that would al­low her to start work­ing in May, but that’s now been bumped to Septem­ber.

“I may not be able to start work­ing un­til the end of 2018, which is hard when I have to pay off $50,000 in loans,” she said.

Burag­ina’s course is a com­bi­na­tion of lec­tures, clin­i­cal re­quire­ments and com­mu­nity place­ments. She’s had to can­cel ap­point­ments with her clients at Western Univer­sity be­cause her in­struc­tors have to su­per­vise and they’re on strike.

“My hope is that I can get back to school re­ally soon be­cause the lack of sleep and stress my class­mates and I have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is al­most worse than when we are in school,” she said. Burag­ina isn’t alone. On­tario has or­dered its colleges to cre­ate a fund from un­paid wages and other strike sav­ings to help stu­dents who may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ship, but that’s small con­so­la­tion for those squeezed now.

Take Zack Ful­mer, a sec­ond-year law clerk stu­dent at Fan­shawe. He quit his part-time sales job ear­lier this year, as his course work­load piled up.

Now, he’s got no classes and his old job is no longer avail­able.

“At this point, I have been scram­bling to get a job, sell­ing my per­sonal be­long­ings just to be able to make rent for the next cou­ple months — that is as­sum­ing the next round of OSAP does come out in Jan­uary, as sched­uled,” said Ful­mer, re­fer­ring to his stu­dent aid.

Some of the hard­est-hit stu­dents are from other coun­tries, who pay higher fees than Cana­di­ans.

“They have lit­er­ally wasted our time and money,” said Jaf­far Madiyan, an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent from In­dia at Fan­shawe pay­ing about $8,000 in tu­ition. “There is no au­thor­ity or body to rep­re­sent in­ter­na­tional stu­dents which makes us more hope­less,” he said. Some­times, just the break in the school rou­tine is costly in it­self.

Jos­se­lyn LeRoux is a sin­gle mother of two who lives near Mitchell.

Nor­mally, she drives her kids to school in London and then goes to class.

“Be­ing on strike means hav­ing no place to be ev­ery day, so I drive an ex­tra two hours daily to go home, and come back again to pick up my kids. This means spend­ing dou­ble on gas five days a week,” she said.

Bar­ring an un­fore­seen twist, it’s un­likely classes will re­sume any­time soon. A forced vote is sched­uled to run Tues­day through Thurs­day on a fi­nal of­fer the colleges made di­rectly to the work­ers, by­pass­ing their union bar­gain­ing team and go­ing to the On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board to trig­ger the vote.

The On­tario Pub­lic Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees Union (OPSEU) that rep­re­sents work­ers has urged mem­bers to re­ject the of­fer from the Col­lege Em­ployer Coun­cil that bar­gains on be­half of all of the schools.

Talks be­tween the coun­cil and OPSEU broke off Nov. 13, five days af­ter they had re­sumed.

In South­west­ern On­tario, tens of thou­sands of stu­dents are af­fected at three colleges in seven ci­ties. Be­sides Fan­shawe that has satel­lite cam­puses in Wood­stock, St. Thomas and Sim­coe, other com­mu­nity colleges in the re­gion in­clude Wind­sor-based St. Clair that has a Chatham cam­pus and Lambton Col­lege in Sar­nia.

The strike by col­lege pro­fes­sors, in­struc­tors, coun­sel­lors and li­brar­i­ans be­gan Oct. 16 and has left 500,000 full- and part-time stu­dents out of class.

Ad­vanced Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Deb Matthews of London, in an­nounc­ing the hard­ship fund for stu­dents late last week, called the strike “a chal­leng­ing time for every­one, but par­tic­u­larly for stu­dents.”

The prov­ince so far hasn’t said how large the fund might be, but colleges re­ported $5 mil­lion in sav­ings af­ter an 18-day strike in 2006.

DEREK RUTTAN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS

Zack Ful­mer, a sec­ond-year law clerk stu­dent at Fan­shawe Col­lege, is suf­fer­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ship as the com­mu­nity col­lege fac­ulty strike en­ters its fifth week.

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