Universities Set to Cancel Vacations to Make Up Strike Time

Talks to end strike of senior faculty, now in its fifth week, have been at a standstill for over a week.

University officials say that students will probably have to give up their semester break, and maybe also part of their summer vacation, to make up the time lost during the ongoing senior faculty strike.

The strike, now in its fifth week, has already eaten up much of the 14-week semester. As Haaretz reported last week , the Finance Ministry announced that it is transferring responsibility for negotiations with the strikers to the university presidents. Since then talks have been at a standstill, and no meeting has been scheduled.

University heads previously warned that a prolonged strike might cost students the semester, maybe even the entire year. Students are further worried by a message from the striking professors informing them that they will not be allowed any dispensation because of the strike.

But administrators indicated Monday that the semester would not be canceled even if the strike continues next week. They said there is no specific "point of no return," since make-up classes can be held during vacations. However, they emphasized, this would entail numerous difficulties, including building a new schedule for classes and exams, and working around faculty commitments to attend conferences overseas.

The professors' strike began with the opening of the school year, October 21, and is part of a campaign they are waging to receive compensation for wage erosion. Some 4,500 senior faculty members have been on strike since then at all seven research universities, with the result being "total chaos" according to students.

"The situation created is that the semester isn't working properly," said Nurit Greenstein, a student at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. "All the courses that senior faculty members are responsible for are not taking place. On the other hand, there are many adjunct instructors, and their classes are taking place fully."

In some courses with sections taught by both adjuncts and senior-faculty members, adjuncts' classrooms are overflowing with students. "There are fights over seats, and dangerous situations with people sitting on window sills and in the aises," Greenstein said.

She added that mid-term exams are supposed to begin in two weeks, but a senior lecturer has to sign off on exams written by adjuncts or junior instructors, so exams might not be held even in classes that are taking place.

Many students say the main problem with the strike is the ongoing sense of uncertainty, which keeps them from accepting job offers "because we don't know what will happen."

Meanwhile, university heads are waiting for a reply from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to their request that he appoint somebody to resolve the crisis. They say it is pointless for them to negotiate with the senior faculty, since they do not control the purse strings, and any agreement they reach would have to be approved by the treasury.

Haaretz has learned that in the talks held 10 days ago, treasury officials raised the possibility of obtaining back-to-work orders to end the strike, but that a legal opinion the university heads commissioned said that the labor court would reject such a request at this stage.

The Finance Ministry said in response that "the matter was discussed," but that petitioning the court for back-to-work orders is not on the agenda at the moment. However, such orders are "a tool that always exists in a strike."