The University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) was founded on a vision: a university of our own, a place where our kids could continue their education, a place that would train northerners for northern jobs and a place that could research questions that we were wrestling with as northerners. And we succeeded. Here in Terrace, we now train our own scientists to minimize environmental impacts, our own teachers to look after our children’s learning, our own nurses to give us health care and our own social workers to provide social care. But we are in danger of losing that vision.
Our university now pays its faculty 20 per cent less than most universities its size in Canada. That’s a lot. Here in BC, it pays even less than UBC, University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University. The effect of this is that it is hard to attract the best possible faculty to new positions and it is harder still to keep them. Over time, that undercuts both the teaching excellence and the research continuity we need because faculty are always under pressure to go where their teaching and research are better supported.
Our children lose. Our communities lose. We all lose. The university has enough money to pay its faculty the national average. They apparently do not see salaries as a priority. It takes a long time to get 20 per cent behind. Perhaps the Board of Governors expects its faculty will continue to be held hostage to its vision that faculty should subsidize the university. But in refusing to bargain in a timely way, it is now holding students hostage too.
Many of you driving by the picket line on Keith Avenue have been indicating your support by beeps, waves, smiles and enough Tim Hortons products to feed the student body were they where we want them to be, in class. We thank you for that. If you would like to do more, you may consider writing to UNBC president Daniel Weeks and John Turner, the chair of its Board of Governors, urging a fair and speedy resolution to the strike and a rededication to UNBC as a first class institution. Being surrounded by forest does not make us bush league. Indeed, Macleans Magazine’s annual survey listed UNBC as the best small university in the west.
It’s time for the board to begin to act on that.
(Editor’s note: Robert Hart is a sessional lecturer in Social Policy at UNBC.)