Classes resume for Ontario colleges

Record-breaking strike ends after five weeks

Students at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre in East York have returned to class after the longest college strike in provincial history.

On Oct. 15, negotiations between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the College Employer Council (CEC) fell apart. Key issues included the CEC’s reliance on part-time faculty, which the OPSEU claims face job insecurity and unequal pay compared to contracted teachers. The union also called for faculty to have greater input in course content.

Classes stopped for nearly half a million students at Ontario’s 24 colleges, as 12,000 faculty began pacing picket lines. Colleges resumed five weeks later on Nov. 21, after Premier Kathleen Wynne ordered back-to-work legislation. The 36-day strike is the longest in Ontario college history.

“Our number-one priority is to ensure our students do not lose the semester. They’ve come too far to turn back now,” Centennial College spokesperson Mark Toljagic wrote in an email. “We are encouraging students to persevere and complete their studies over the extended semester, rather than withdraw from college.”

At all three Centennial College campuses, the winter break has been cut to 10 days, from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2. The semester is extended three weeks, to Jan. 12. Because the second week of the strike coincided with the school’s reading week, the college has a net loss of one week.

“Faculty need only adjust their courses to accommodate one week of lost instruction,” Toljagic wrote. “We’re confident that this can be done without an undue amount of stress for our students.”

Barry Waite, chair of Communications and Media at the Story Arts Centre, wrote in an email that some courses at the campus are using the strike as a learning opportunity. Journalism students are assigned stories related to the strike, and public-relations students are examining the communications strategies used by both parties during the strike.

“The emphasis is on ensuring that student learning is prioritized, and our faculty team is working together to make the necessary adjustments to cover the week lost to the strike,” Waite wrote.

The condensed semester includes several technology-based strategies for effective learning. Activities, discussion boards, readings and (for some) classes are offered online to cover material outside class time. Some courses are using a “flipped classroom,” where material is posted online in advance for students to discuss later in class. Some teachers are also letting students film and post presentations that would have normally occurred in class.

“We’ve empowered our faculty to create individualized strategies that suit each course and program,” Waite wrote.

Across other Centennial College programs, some recovery strategies include evening and weekend classes. Schools “intend to keep that to a minimum,” Toljagic wrote.

The college is also increasing the availability of peer tutors and extending hours for campus and student services, including its libraries and counselling offices.

“We are confident students can complete the semester successfully with our supports in place,” Toljagic wrote. “Students have already come a long way on their learning journey.”