The office of NSCAD University president Dianne Taylor-Gearing was full as of 9 a.m. the morning of Friday, March 8, as a group of MFA students staged a peaceful sit-in in support of the school’s striking faculty union.
The union, which represents 95 full- and part-time faculty members and librarians, began negotiations in September 2018 based on issues relating to workload, job security, equity, complement and salary, among others. They made the decision to strike on March 1 and picketing at the university’s downtown Halifax campus began immediately. The picket line has been ongoing for a week and many students have come out in support of their teachers and mentors. The faculty union and administration are now set to meet on Sunday.
For MFA students the strike is particularly disruptive. “Many students come to this university for the faculty” said Merryn Tresidder, an MFA student and representative of the NSCAD Graduate Student Union. “The strike that we hoped to avoid is now being dragged out over exhibition season, and the MFAs are obliged to continue exhibiting even if the faculty are on strike and can’t attend their shows.” Tresidder also said that the current MFA cohort are among the largest the university has ever had at 15 and 18 students. As of Friday morning there were 17 students at the sit-in. Undergraduate students have also occupied the hallway outside of Taylor-Gearing’s office. “We would much rather be in our studios, with faculty, doing our work” Tresidder continued. “Three students will still be exhibiting Sunday, but with the meeting happening on Sunday, it will already be too late.”
The NSCAD faculty union (FUNSCAD) has confirmed a conciliatory meeting with the administration for Sunday, March 10. “We’re still very far apart,” said FUNSCAD president Mathew Reichertz in a comment to Canadian Art Friday morning. “But, I think that the week-long strike so far, which has been loud and good-natured and has built solidarity with our membership and students, has resulted in the movement we’re seeing toward the meeting, but I have no idea what’s going to happen on Sunday.”
Reichertz said that the faculty union was not aware that the students were planning a sit-in and doesn’t know how much headway, if any, they’ve made with the administration. “We [the faculty union] have worked hard to keep lines of communication open with the students” Reichertz said, “and I think they want to ask the same of the administration.”
The picket line will continue during working hours, as will the sit-in, and a rally is reportedly set to occur at noon on Friday. “There is no use being here at the weekend,” said Tresidder “because no one will be here. We can spend that time actually working. Today’s action is about not wanting any more MFA exhibitions without faculty present. We want the strike to come to an end as soon as possible so the faculty we know and love can join us in the studio.”