– Open Letter, Frédéric Brunelle, intern in Science of Education at UQAM –
The following open letter from student teacher Frédéric Brunelle is in response to his faculty of education at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) penalizing him and his classmates who engaged in strike action to demand proper conditions for their placements as student teachers.
You may have heard that students in the Faculty of Education at UQAM were on strike from October 19 to November 20. I am a member of this student community, the Association des étudiantes et étudiants des sciences de l’éducation de l’UQAM (ADEESE), and we had voted for a strike on several issues including the non-remuneration of our internships, the difficult relations with UQAM, the lack of respect for democracy in program committees, the cases of harassment in the internship environment, and the lack of flexibility for teachers who are also parents.
Following the semblance of an agreement being reached with the Faculty of Education, ADEESE members voted to end the strike on November 20th and return to our courses and internships, motivated and with a sense that we lived in a democracy. However, my colleagues and I woke up on Saturday, November 19th to an email from the UQAM administration stating, among other things, that interns who could not respect the terms of their internship (40 days of support) would be considered to have abandoned their internship. Our participation in the strike for better internship conditions ended up exposing the treatment we are fighting against.
It is important to understand that a teacher candidate must complete four practicums that can only be pursued at specific times during the four-year undergraduate degree. So this fall’s internship that we studied for, paid $834.48 for, and were fighting not to have to perform as volunteers for the state of Quebec has been postponed until the fall of 2023. One more year to wait before having a certificate while schools are crying out for help because of lack of personnel. You will understand that there was not much difference between this news and a cold shower in November, only inconsistency.
Still, I was far from giving up on this internship. I refined my plans, borrowed books from the library on the French and American Revolutions, on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, designed multimedia presentations, and completed the numerous assignments required by UQAM to participate. This stage of my training was well and truly in my mind and I was participating in this very strike FOR this internship — to make sure that my colleagues would not be treated unfairly during this session and the following ones. I also participated in this strike thinking about the interns I would welcome in my classroom during my career and hoping that they would have better conditions than I did. I was far from giving up on this internship because, in fact, everything I was doing was precisely about this internship.
The choice to consider participation in the strike as abandoning the internship is absurd and punitive. Absurd because it is a gross misunderstanding of what a strike is to consider it as a simple break in the semester and not as leverage in a negotiation between students and their university. Absurd because the schools are ready and eager to welcome us considering the crisis prevailing there and that many students without a certificate have already been offered official positions. The UQAM administration is acting in a selfish and vindictive manner by wanting to send a clear message that it is more urgent to show students that the strike was wrong than to cooperate in finding solutions to facilitate the sending of new forces to the schools, a practice all educational institutions should encourage. Operating on the basis of cooperation, solidarity, informed decisions, and without misplaced feelings. It is a practice the candidate for president of the University of Quebec in Montreal, Jean-Christian Pleau, should also adopt.
This measure is therefore a punitive choice because there were many other possible solutions. Spreading out the days of the internship, additional written work or simply validating the internship despite the conditions not being respected. Moreover, in the context of COVID-19, the University has validated internships that have been much more disrupted than five weeks of strike. Furthermore, the UQAM press release indicates that they have data showing that the majority of internships will be completed correctly and that this internship cancellation measure only concerns those who respected the strike mandate. This decision is explicitly dedicated to sanctioning students who participate in student democratic life. It is also designed to frighten and undermine the trust between the members of the associations and the university.
Finally, UQAM is also in crisis, as we are seeing a drop in admissions, particularly in the humanities. The administration would like to blame it on the many student struggles that characterize our university. It is still inconsistent and shows the disconnect between the administration and the student community. Struggles characterize UQAM and it is its engaged character that serves as an attraction. However, it is the intransigence and disrespect for democracy that the administration has displayed for years that sends the message that civic and student engagement is invalidated in our university. The world of tomorrow wants more than a university that rejects change and negates the effort of its members to exercise their civic responsibility to society. We need a university that does more than ridicule and patronize its students for doing nothing more than using their learning and experiences to enforce their rights. With the selection of a new president, it is time for our university to show that it is proud of its culture of advocacy and the willingness of its student community to revolutionize a society and institutions that are working hard to undermine the living conditions of students and workers.
The UQAM Board of Directors, Vice-President Jean-Christian Pleau and the Commission des études must reconsider this vengeful measure, which is completely disconnected from the crying needs of the school and student community.
(Letter sent to Le Devoir newspaper, to the UQAM studies office, to the UQAM vice-rector, to the program director, to the director of communications and to my deputy Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Translated from the original french)