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NSCAD layoffs huge blow to students, staff and faculty

by Robert Devet

Jade Peek (SUNSCAD), Christina Warren (NSGEU Local 82) and Alvin Comiter (FUNSCAD) stand united in their opposition to the recent layoffs at NSCAD University. Photo Robert Devet
Jade Peek (SUNSCAD), Christina Warren (NSGEU Local 82) and Alvin Comiter (FUNSCAD) stand united in their opposition to the recent layoffs at NSCAD University. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – About 50 students, faculty and staff rallied at the downtown NSCAD campus to protest last week's layoffs of 16 administrative and custodial staff.  

To a relatively small university such as NSCAD the layoffs are a very big deal. In all, about half of the unionized staff at NSCAD University were laid off. University administration expects to save $430,000 as a result.

Custodial services will be outsourced. It is not yet clear how the absence of administrative support staff will be addressed.

“Our front line staff are not just the backbone, they are the entire skeletal structure of this university,” Jade Peek, VP External of the NSCAD Student Union (SUNSCAD), told the crowd

“Administration chose to cut vital student support resources, yet as usual they didn't consult the students,” said Peek. “They ignored where the cuts should really occur, namely at the top.”

To Christina Warren, president of Local 82 of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), the layoffs are devastating. The administrative and maintenance workers who last week were escorted off the premises by security had been with NSCAD for a long time. They were like family, Warren told the Halifax Media Co-op.

“They were the faces of the departments,” Warren said. “Now there is no administrative staff whatsoever left at the Port Campus to support students. Students don't know where to go anymore. They don't know who to talk to.”

“We don't make a lot of money. We work here because we love it,” said Warren. “We are a community, a family, and when something bad happens we rally around each other. And to lose so many people so quickly and in such an awful manner was heartbreaking.”

Alvin Comiter, president of the Faculty Union of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (FUNSCAD) agrees.

“What we are concerned about is that we are outsourcing all the maintenance work,” Comiter said. “These were people who had good union jobs, and good benefits. And they are being replaced by people who are at the lowest end of the pay scale and who will come and go.”

Both Comiter and Warren point not to the NSCAD administration so much as to to this and previous provincial governments for creating the conditions that led to the layoffs.

Faculty is already living with the results of earlier funding cuts. Comiter estimates that at this time 60 to 70 percent of all courses are being taught by part timers who receive very minimal benefits and lack any real job security.

“You have to balance the books, or else....,” is how Warren describes the government's approach. “And we don't know what that else is.”

“It is horrifying to think that somebody from outside would come in and start making decisions based on a corporate model as opposed to an educational institution,” she said.

Rick Clarke of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, and Michaela Sam, chairperson of Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia also addressed the crowd.

Another rally and march to Province House in support of the laid off workers will occur this Friday at noon.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

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