Students sue to stop staff strike

May 1, 1998

A STRIKE by lecturers at a Canadian university was settled two days after students served legal papers on both its president and the head of the staff union.

A tentative agreement has been reached between Dalhousie University in Halifax and its full-time academic staff that will allow the 13,500 students to resume classes after a six-day strike.

Dalhousie student union president Chris Adams said: "You never know what will put pressure on them."

Twenty students went to the small claims court late in March to argue that university president Thomas Traves and faculty staff president Ismet Ugursal be held responsible for any tuition lost during the stoppage.

Lecturers decided to strike over pay and the university's evident recalcitrance in filling vacant posts when talks stalled after seven months.

The Dalhousie students sought compensation of $Can11 (Pounds 5) for every course missed during the strike. Nova Scotia students are charged over $Can4,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, more than double the fee they were paying five years ago and the highest of the ten Canadian provinces. But the students felt lost money was not the only factor in taking the university to court.

"This is the crunch time, students need to be completing tests and preparing for final exams. This is no time to be missing school," Mr Adams said before the settlement.

He added that full-time summer jobs and scheduled trips were threatened as contingency plans for an extended academic year were being drawn up.

Mr Adams believes that the court case may have helped settle the strike.The day after the papers were served phone calls to his office from concerned members of the university community increased, as did government comment.

"It did increase the pressure to resolve it quickly," said Mr Adams.

One student is dropping the case because of the pending settlement, while the others are waiting before deciding whether or not they will still appear in court for the case.

The university, however, has announced that it will not be extending its academic year and professors have agreed to offer more office and class time if needed to make up for that lost.

This is believed to be only the second time Canadian students have taken a striking university to the small claims court for lost tuition. A claim by a York University student, after a 55-day strike last year, was dismissed. A much larger class-action suit by York students is still awaiting a ruling on whether it can proceed.

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