The University of Haifa has given some 1,000 students taking compulsory English courses a “passing” grade even though they had only four weeks of study, due to a six-week teacher's strike that took up class time.
The students either study in the university’s academic preparatory mechina program or are first-year students who didn’t score high enough score on the English psychometric exam to qualify for an exemption in English. Mechina instructors teach both groups of students.
Yaffa Balali, chairman of the university’s junior faculty union, who teaches English at the mechina, said: “Management gave the students a ‘gift’ but they didn’t really make progress in their level of English in terms of knowledge and fluency. What does a passing grade mean for students who had only three or four classes?”
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The teachers claim the university’s decision was aimed at undermining the effectiveness of the strike, and that they had sought to resume teaching students who were interested. The university administration rebuffed the request, informing them that their employment was suspended until the spring semester. The teachers petitioned the Haifa District Labor Court demanding that the university allow them to return to work immediately under the terms that existed before the strike. The court suggested that the two sides negotiate the terms of their return to work and recouping the financial loss they’d suffered.
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The strike began in November as part of an effory by the mechina teachers to sign their first collective agreement with the university. Some 50 of the 75 teachers went on strike. These instructors are responsible for teaching English to 1,700 first-year students and the 600 students in the preparatory program.
Balali says the teachers are demanding job security, along with an option for reduced hours for teachers with small children or who those over the age of 50. “There are teachers who’ve been working 20 years or more, and every year still don’t know if they’ll be teaching and how much,” said Balali. “Many of us aren’t employed full—time and teachers have to teach in other schools... The university prefers to recruit new workers and pay them by the hour over employing the longtime teachers full—time. It’s a purely economic issue.”
The University of Haifa said that it had worked all along to end the strike as soon as possible for the sake of the students and the mechina teachers. "Unfortunately, even after six weeks of striking the junior faculty union wasn’t showing a readiness to end it. Only when we got to the point, two weeks before the end of the semester, when we couldn’t resume studies and expect the material not studied to be completed, the university decided to end first semester studies and resume them in the second semester, while doing its best to reduce the harm to the students, who were being held hostage against their will in a dispute they aren’t party to," the university added.
“Given this, it was decided that students in courses that were actually affected by the strike will get a passing grade in that specific course and can start the coming semester with the next-level course. Interested students can repeat the course for which they were registered this past semester at no charge,” the university said.
As to its negotiations with the teachers, the university said, “The management came toward the strikes by making far-reaching offers, including reducing the number of teaching hours per position, reducing teaching hours due to age, small children and more. Unfortunately, the faculty union didn’t respond to these proposals and continued this unjustified strike that seriously harmed the students.”