Visible INC

Incomplete Solution to a Collective Problem

Graphic by Paku Daoust-Cloutier

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone at Concordia who hasn’t been affected by our four-week-long engagement with the strike in one way or another.

The administration’s job is ostensibly to make sure things are running smoothly at the university. Considering how they’ve reacted to the strike, it’s not hard to realize that their interpretation of “running smoothly” is a very unique one.

Instead of trying to facilitate mutually agreeable solutions for all those involved in the present conflict, the administration is hell-bent on maintaining business as usual at the university, inflexibly refusing to consider alternative solutions despite the extraordinary circumstances created by the strike.

The cost of this inflexibility has been to aggravate the situation in a number of ways. Firstly, the administration hasn’t provided any alternate options for students and faculty to deal with the end of the semester in the context of the strike (such as offering to extend the semester).

As deadlines approach, this hard-line policy is causing problems for everyone. Striking students are being forced to make a moral decision between their political commitments and their academic success.

Students who haven’t been actively participating in the strike have nonetheless had their semester severely disrupted, and are now expected to complete courses as if nothing unusual had happened.

And faculty, in addition to having to negotiate these problems with their students, are also faced with the potentially immense task of grading a huge backlog of course work before an unchanged deadline.

Secondly, by refusing to provide any sort of support or accommodation, the administration is offloading the burden of coming up with solutions onto individual students and faculty.

At best, this is highly stressful on individual students and teachers, who have to take on the administrative task of coordinating contingency plans for the end of semester within every single class in addition to their standard workload. At worst, it pits all against all.

Students (many of whom want to continue the strike and/or want more time for coursework to make up for the disruptions to courses) are forced into an adversarial relationship with instructors (many of whom are concerned about pressure from the administration to submit grades on time, as well as the looming end of part-time contracts in mid-April), creating a toxic environment in classes.

Students are also forced into conflict with each other: non-striking students are frustrated at having lost weeks of classes, while many also feel humiliated or socially shamed by being unable to support the strike due to concern for their academic records.

With no support from the administration to foster dialogue and account for the diversity of positions in this all-encompassing scenario, tensions are mounting and the university environment grows unhealthier by the day.

Thirdly, the administration has actively worked to inflame this conflict between individual students and faculty. A clear example of this is the notorious March 23 email demanding that faculty call security and press academic charges against picketing students.

From such actions, it isn’t hard to infer the administration’s strategy with regards to the strike: they’re washing their hands of any responsibility for constructively responding to it, in the hopes that the whole thing will blow over once the semester terminates.

The admin’s approach is a textbook example of the shift in university culture towards corporate management practices. The wellbeing of the Concordia community clearly doesn’t concern them too much.

They want the semester to end, the strike to go away, and everyone to keep working as if the huge problems posed by the strike don’t exist.

By sidestepping their responsibility to serve the Concordia community in the face of a challenging situation, the administration is inflicting collective punishment on students, with professors as collateral damage.

As students scramble to find solutions on their own, one idea that has emerged has been to apply for incomplete grades en masse. The process of getting incomplete grades is a standard part of Concordia’s grading scheme, and allows students to negotiate later deadlines with their professors if they don’t think they can complete their work on time.

Students are currently considering applying for incomplete grades for a variety of reasons. Some see the process as a way to honour their commitment to striking without making academic martyrs of themselves. Others simply need more time on account of the disruption of their classes.

Submitting an incomplete means negotiating with professors to determine new due dates. The professor will then replace the INC code on the transcript with a grade when the assignments are turned in.

As a tactic of dissent, mass application for incomplete grades is fraught with problems. Most significantly, students must pay the administration $20.00 for each incomplete grade.

For many students, the thought of handing over more money to a hostile university bureaucracy is repulsive. The fee is also a huge potential financial barrier to students, amounting to $80 or $100 for full-time students who want incompletes in all their classes.

Effectively, the administration’s stance has forced all students into individually deciding whether or not to literally buy time, either for political or academic reasons.

Meanwhile, dealing with exceptionally high numbers of incompletes creates an additional layer of labour for professors, again representing the administration pawning off their responsibility onto individuals.

Despite these problems, there are potential political benefits to adopting a mass application for incompletes as a tactic to put pressure on the administration.

Personally, though, I think that it makes more sense to stop thinking of incomplete grades solely as a political tactic, and start seeing them as a last-resort option that all students are being forced to consider because of the administration’s stubborn refusal to accommodate the situation produced by the strike in any way.

The administration’s attitude must be viewed as a political decision, particularly given that it holds a stake in seeing the strike dissolve and the government’s tuition increase go through unchecked.

In light of this conflict of interests, the hostility and lack of leadership coming from the administration should be regarded not merely as a gross dereliction of their duty to serve the Concordia community, but as a willful reframing of a collective situation as a set of individual conflicts.

The strike affects all of us and constitutes a collective condition of students and faculty that warrants effort on the part of the administration to ameliorate. Instead, the administration is promoting the same values of individualization and consumerist social relations that underlie the tuition hike itself.

By forcing students and faculty to sort their situations out individually, the administration’s strategy promotes factionalism, stress and conflict within the Concordia community.

Their goal, like that of any corporate managers, is to increase profit and maintain the status quo. To pursue these ends at the expense of all the Concordia community is a reprehensible approach, and deserves to be strongly challenged by all of us, collectively.

This is a call to action: as Concordia students, whatever our role within the university, we must organize around this point to hold the administration accountable.

For a basic student-written guide to the hows and whys of incomplete grades, check out Concordia Incompletes on Facebook or go to the Fine Arts Students on Strike website.