For the record…

The post below is copied from my “About Me” page from a few months ago. With the college faculty strike over, it’s time to restore my old profile page. However, I didn’t want to lose the commentary below.


I am an ardent full-time professor of business fundamentals at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and I have been on strike since Oct. 16 with about 12,000 other college faculty.

In my previous career as a newspaper journalist in England; Nova Scotia; and here in Kingston, Ontario, I covered plenty of strikes with a journalist’s dispassionate, objective voice. Strikes were something that happened to other people.

I also didn’t understand strikes. After all, as a young, mobile professional, it was my view that if you couldn’t fix a poor employment situation, you should leave. And if you were good at what you did, someone better than the previous employer would hire you.

frank on picket lineBut that viewpoint ends when one becomes invested in one’s community and clients. In my case, it is the city of Kingston and my students.

I left my full-time newspaper job of 10 years in 2008 to teach 12 hours per week at the college’s business school while running my own corporate communications business.

It was tough going. My business—Wordstrong Consulting—took off almost immediately and became a full-time job. By the end of my first semester at St. Lawrence College, I was working 7 days and 70 hours a week. Teaching was exhausting, but I loved it—even though I sucked at it at first.

I remember going into my first Office Administration communications classes and hearing the students angrily complaining about me. I think a few even brought their concerns about my competence to our associate dean.

It hurt to be thought of as inadequate. I was giving an A-plus effort and delivering to students a D-minus education. As a professional writer, it had been a long time since I’d been anything less than excellent. It was demoralizing and I felt tremendously guilty that my student-clients were not getting a stellar product from me.

For me, back then, in 2008, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. At the time, the ratio of full-time instructors to part-time instructors was about the opposite of what it is now (it is about 70% full-time to 30% part-time, whereas now it is about 19% full-time to 81% part-time).

I knew that if I worked really hard, I would become an excellent instructor and I would eventually earn one of those coveted full-time positions. It took six years of working every day—including weekends—and skipping holidays, like Christmas and the winter break, to get there. Working every day was hard on the relationship with my wife and even influenced our decision to have only one child. Each year, my wife and I would evaluate whether or not I should continue at the college. Indeed, I almost quit the year before I won a full-time position.

Now in my fourth year as a full-time professor, I still work at least one day most weekends, most of the Christmas holidays, and over the winter breaks. But that’s OK. Teaching at the college level is the best job in the world: I build meaningful connections with my students (my clients) and I have real impact on their lives—all the while continually growing and learning through self-reflection and from my students.

I am humbled at the honour to have been given a chance at this great vocation. But if the ratio of part-time to full-time instructors had been, in 2008, as it is now, I don’t think I would have stuck it out more than a year because there would have been no light at the end of that tunnel.

Then, do you know what would have happened? Another bright-eyed keener would have replaced me: another passionate instructor who would have given an A-plus effort while delivering D-minus learning for a year or so before burning out and being replaced by another.

So, it’s for my students, who deserve an A-plus learning experience, that I am out here on the picket line day after day, drawing a line in the sand in hopes that Ontario colleges will return to the bargaining table, stop the cycle of education deterioration, and give our student-clients their money’s worth.


Inspired by my colleague Melanie Christian, who recently created a blog to write about the strike and the issues surrounding it, I have decided to resurrect my own teaching blog. I will be posting about my experiences on the picket line and beyond here. Stay tuned.


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Ugly divide-and-conquer strategy fails CEC

Talk about an epic strategic failure.


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St. Lawrence College faculty walk the line

Before this strike happened, many faculty were divided on the issues, and many of us weren’t sure we were willing to commit to a strike for them. I certainly wasn’t. But, boy, has that ever changed, thanks to some nasty bad-faith tactics employed by the College Employer Council.  Indeed, college faculty across the province have changed their minds in droves.


Just look at the difference between the number of faculty who voted for a strike mandate in October versus the number who voted this week to reject the council’s recent forced contract offer. And look at the increase in the numbers of people who simply voted.

If I have my numbers right, as many as 11,000 of Ontario’s approximately 12,000 college faculty voted to reject the College Employer Council’s forced offer today compared to the approximately 7,200 faculty who voted in October to support a strike mandate.

 Back in October, of the 7,200 who cast a ballot during the strike mandate vote, only 68% voted in favour of that strike mandate. This time around, of the 11,000 who cast a ballot during this latest forced “bait-and-switch” offer, 86% voted to reject the council’s offer.
That is quite the turnaround in faculty support for the issues being fought for by the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, wouldn’t you say?
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Frank Armstrong pickets reluctantly in Week 1 of the strike

The “no” vote is even more noteworthy when one considers that the stakes are getting higher by the day. The semester is in jeopardy. Our students are getting angrier—some with us and some with the college administration and provincial government. Our local union war chests are getting low (our strike funds come from money we all put away over several years for just such a crisis). Many of us are dipping into our lines of credit to feed our families. Most full-timers (like me) have nothing to gain financially by striking. And we see that our students—the people we are fighting the hardest for in this strike—are suffering just as we are.

Yet, here we are—at the end of Week 5—standing up against an employer that has much deeper coffers, much higher paid labour lawyers and strategists, and a direct communications pipeline to students through college emails and other campus mediums.


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OPSEU negotiators wait for the CEC to return to the table

Sadly, the current, dire situation could have been avoided if the council had bargained in good faith. Instead, it pretended to return to bargaining then threw out most of the items that it had conceded during the “fake” negotiations it had initiated. Then it appears to have lied about having reached agreement on all matters except academic freedom. 

The council also had college presidents (like us, they are employees of the council) issue statements to students and faculty that were clearly meant to create division between students and faculty (these clearly did not support two of our own college’s core values: Students First or Integrity).

These ugly tactics and others only served to cement the determination of faculty, including on-the-fence full-timers like me who previously had no strong notions about the issues.
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A picket sign made after the CEC’s “fake” return to bargaining

Ontario government and College Employer Council, you’ve really blown it. And unfortunately, it’s your clients—our students—who are caught in the vicious vortex you created by underfunding colleges (Ontario has the lowest funded college system in Canada per student) and by playing dirty pool in the negotiating process.

This issue is bigger than all of us. It’s about standing up for our children, and for our future workforce (our students), and saying that precarious contract work is wrong and that our grads and children have the right to live in a country where they can have decent jobs and middle-class lifestyles. An overreliance on contract faculty also hurts student success.
Ontario government and colleges, you both need to step up—the province with more money and the colleges with a critical review of your current, crumbling hiring models. Education cannot be effectively commodified.
And instead of trying to divide faculty and students, colleges need to stand with faculty and students to demand more money from the Ontario government.
If they don’t, someday soon, we will see their business model, and the colleges themselves, self-destruct.
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Colleges, check the research—your numbers don’t add up

KINGSTON, ONT.—When a St. Lawrence College professor asked her MPP for his support to end the current labour dispute between college faculty and their employer, here is how he responded:

“I do not view the use of contract or sessional teachers in a negative light, nor do I accept the premise that full time teachers are better or more proficient educators than part time teachers. I have searched for objective research on this topic, however the evidence to support this premise is absent.”

Challenge accepted. Our team dove into the academic literature and found the evidence. Here are the highlights:

  1. The more courses students take with contract faculty versus full-time, the less likely they are to return for a second term.
  2. A 14% drop in retention (i.e., students dropping out) occurs between first and second year for students who have more than 75% of classroom hours taught by contract faculty.
  3. Students who start programs with contract faculty don’t perform as well in second year as those who start with full-time faculty.


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Dan Jacoby wrote this in The Journal of Higher Education, perhaps the world’s most respected academic journals.

Despite this readily-available, peer-reviewed research, colleges have allowed the percentage of classes taught by contract faculty to balloon to an incredible 81%.


It is crucial to note that these effects are not the fault of the instructors themselves. Instead, a lack of time, various institutional factors, and job insecurity work against them.

The above-mentioned studies show that these effects occur for the following reasons:

  1. Unavailability of faculty—Full-time faculty are generally more available and form stronger relationships with students. These relationships are crucial to student retention.
  2. Lower standards of evaluation—Contract faculty tend to use less rigorous methods of assessment, and the grades they give are much higher than those given by full-timers. This means students may pass courses without having gained the knowledge and skills needed to complete higher-level courses. They do this for multiple reasons, including a fear that giving low grades will affect their performance evaluations and reduce the chances of them being rehired.
  3. Lack of time—Quality suffers because contract faculty are less available and the institution fails to support them outside the classroom (i.e., they have limited access to phones, email, and office space and they are paid only for classroom hours) even though many contract faculty put forth remarkable effort to engage with students despite these challenges.


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Click to visit the full report at

University of Washington Professor Dan Jacoby, a leading authority on the correlation between part-time/full-time faculty ratios and student success, suggests there is no excuse for the current 19/81 full-time faculty to contract ratios.


“There now appear to be few real defenses that can justify maintaining a system of employment that evidence increasingly suggests has adverse results for students as well as for faculty,” Jacoby writes in The Journal of Higher Education, one of the world’s most respected scholarly journals on the institution of higher education.

Please see the attached report researched and written by Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Local 417, for further details and source documentation.


For further information, contact Grant Currie, President OPSEU Local 417 at (613) 893-2505 or


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More than 160 protesters rally to support striking faculty

KINGSTON, ONT., Nov. 3, 2017—More than 160 demonstrators gathered at St. Lawrence College on Friday to protest precarious employment and to fight for academic freedom.

Members from several of the city’s labour unions joined picketing professors for a rally at the entrance to the college, where local union leaders encouraged them to stay strong as they wrapped up their third week on the picket line.

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OPSEU Regional VP Gareth Jones speaks at the rally

“We are standing here together, showing that we believe in our cause,” said Grant Currie, president of Local 417 of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union.

 “These awful, four-month low-paying contracts that make people live in fear for their lives, so they cannot plan their future have to go,” Currie told the crowd. “We also have to have input into decision making; let’s make decisions that are based on our knowledge and our dedication for the learning that goes on in those buildings.”

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Students came out to support faculty on strike

After his speech, Currie said he was impressed to see such solidarity from so many labour unions. Union flags were carried by 5 local unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Queen’s University Faculty Association, which brought 15 Queen’s professors to the event, many of them full-timers who were once part-time professors.

 Cathy Christie, a full-time Queen’s science education professor and a former faculty association president who spent years on short-term contract, said it was important for her and her colleagues to come to the rally to show solidarity in the fight against a global problem.

“It’s not just St. Lawrence; this is an issue that is across the country and around the world,” Christie said in an interview. “Our universities and colleges are relying on contract faculty and it undermines every academic institution in the country, in the world.”

 About 12,000 faculty, counsellors, and librarians at Ontario’s 24 colleges left their jobs Oct. 16 after the College Employer Council refused to address their final offer. Faculty wanted the employer to boost the number of full-time and part-time faculty to a 50/50 ratio instead of the current 19/81 one. Faculty fear that colleges will continue their commodification of education until colleges are entirely staffed by part-time professors. After all, just 10 years ago, the ratio of full-timers to part-timers was 70/30. And Council CEO Don Sinclair has said to news media that the council will not agree to any ratios so that colleges can maintain flexible workforces.

 Contract talks restarted Thursday. If a settlement is reached today (Friday), classes could resume as early as Wednesday, Nov. 8.

 Currie said he is “optimistic” a settlement will soon be reached.


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Labour unions to rally Friday to show support for striking college faculty

KINGSTON, ONT., Oct. 31, 2017—Striking college faculty will be joined by members of the Kingston area’s labour unions at a rally at St. Lawrence College on Friday to show support for the strike and to put pressure on the College Employer Council to return to the bargaining table.

Members of the area’s 40-plus labour unions will stand with picketing faculty at 12 noon at the college’s main entrance. Grant Currie, president of Local 417 of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, said organized labour recognizes the importance of the fight against the “precarious labour model” that St. Lawrence College uses to abuse educators in the college system.

“Short term workers suffer stress and strain trying to live from four-month contract to four-month contract while paid below-minimum-wage salaries—our fight is for the future faculty in the college system,” said Currie.

College faculty have been on strike since Oct. 16

He said he hopes students, faculty, and support staff will also come to the noon-time rally to show support.

Debi Wells, vice-president of the Kingston and District Labour Council, which represents more than 40 unions in the Kingston area and almost 10,000 local workers, said her members do not accept that precarious work is the new reality. She also said the council supports striking faculty and that they hope negotiations recommence soon.

“Labour councils and local labour unions understand that when employees are denied full employment, when they are not able to access benefit packages or pensions, when they are treated as a business expense that should be lowered, nobody benefits,” said Wells, who is also a member of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

“Students certainly are worse off when the professionals guiding them through their studies are treated poorly, and a society that doesn’t value the education and well-being of citizens is simply not as good as it could be,” she said.

About 12,000 faculty, counsellors, and librarians at Ontario’s 24 colleges left their jobs October 16 after representatives of the college system refused to address their final offer. The key issues are academic freedom and precarious working conditions.

Striking workers want nothing more than to get back into their classrooms with their students.

                                                                                                                  – 30 –

 For further information, contact Grant Currie, President OPSEU Local 417 at (613) 893-2505 or or Debi Wells, Vice-President, Kingston and District Labour Council, at or 613-634-8163 or 613-329-5901.



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Construction crew shuts down project to support striking professors’ push for contract talks to resume


October 27, 2017

Construction on St. Lawrence College’s new multi-million-dollar Student Life and Innovation Centre was halted Friday morning as workers honoured the picket lines, refusing to cross in a show of support for striking college faculty members.

“When we heard that the college wasn’t even talking, that’s unbelievable, that just isn’t right,” said Barry Simpson of the Carpentry Union. “We wanted to show a sign of support, so we shut down construction here at the college to get their attention and hopefully get them back to the bargaining table. When I suggested this, not a single person refused.”


MPP Sophie Kiwala speaks to St. Lawrence College President Glenn Vollebregt at the picket line

Not only were construction workers actively involving themselves in the dispute, Kingston and the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala visited striking faculty on the picket line. Kiwala spent more than an hour walking and talking with strikers and students, asking questions about their personal experiences.

Strikers related personal stories to the MPP, of precarious employment for contract faculty, inadequate staffing, and the increasing stresses their students face every day at school.

Kiwala also spoke with, and listened to, a group of students who were out supporting faculty. Students shared their concerns, from childcare, to mental health issues, and stressed their shared fears that their semesters could be lost.

Amanda Parslow, a second-year Early Childhood Education student who has organized two student protests beside striking faculty this week, said students are not happy with the answers they are getting from the college regarding the integrity of their semesters.


MPP Sophie Kiwala speaks to striking faculty Friday

“What we hear from Glenn in emails is that they are working on getting us back into classes as soon as they can and that no student has ever lost a semester; however, we hear that the college is not even willing to go back to the table,” said Parslow. “It’s frustrating for students. How are we going to make up the time we’ve lost already?”

Kiwala met individually with strikers and students, pledging further meetings to hear their concerns, which she will take in person to Queen’s Park. She said she has already expressed concern to both the labour minister and the minister of Advanced Education and Skills development, pledging that she will continue lobbying for an end to this dispute. She also talked with college CEO Glenn Vollebregt as he entered the campus.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union local 417 president Grant Currie, who represents the striking workers, told Kiwala, “Clearly everyone is frustrated with management’s lack of interest in returning to the bargaining table. We don’t know why they do not want to settle this quickly.”

About 12,000 faculty, counsellors, and librarians at Ontario’s 24 colleges, left their jobs October 16 after representatives of the college system refused to address their final offer. Striking workers want nothing more than to get back into their classrooms with their students.

– 30 –

For further information, contact Grant Currie, President OPSEU Local 417 at (613) 893-2505 or

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The anguish and the ecstasy

Without doubt, the college blogging assignment has always been one of my favourites. The act of writing in a public forum, where anyone anywhere in the world could read their prose, seems to compel students to do their best work.

Indeed, my first-year Advertising and Marketing Communications (AMC) students did just that last week when they wrote their first blogs for my Writing for Marketing course.

When I do this assignment, I always publish a Top 5 list of my favourite entries, so now I have the heart-rending task of selecting my favourite posts from last week. I have about 12 that I absolutely love, and I’ve identified seven that are Top 5 material. But I have to choose 5. Hence, I will list only posts that demonstrate more than just strong writing and adherence to the rubric I created to develop basic blog formatting and technical skills and online source documentation comprehension.

So here are my AMC Top 5 (in no particular order) blogs from last week:

Blog #1: I guess this makes me a blogger! by Brianne Garrah—Brianne satisfied all the requirementsscreen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-17-42-pm of the rubric, but she went much further than the assignment’s baseline requirements. She embedded images so that the text wrapped cleanly around them and she used her photo captions as hyperlinks so that readers could link to the image sources. She also positioned her images so that her page looked balanced, and she provided relevant hyperlinks that were worth clicking. Her writing is crisp and one gets a sense of her character through her prose. Visit Brianne’s blog here or click the image to the right.

Blog #2: Reflection: having an identity by Ben Bisson—Like Brianne, Ben went beyond the screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-18-11-pmrubric’s requirements. He, too, cleanly embedded relevant hyperlinks and embedded his image, a photo of himself, on a hike, gazing upon a serene lake scene in the Gatineaus. He created a hyperlink with his photo that links to his blog’s About Me page, an effort that will encourage readers to stay longer on his blog site. Ben writes with depth and humility in this post. Well done, Ben. Visit Ben’s blog here or click the image of his blog to the left.

Blog #3: Proceed with caution, by Hilary Hoogwerf—Blogging “stresses” Hilary out, she screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-18-26-pmsays in the first line of her post. But you wouldn’t know it here. She has a strong writer’s voice and is an articulate writer. Hilary satisfies the rubric’s requirements and, like Brianne, has provided a hyperlink in her image caption that takes the reader to the source of her artwork. She has also embedded her image so that the text wraps cleanly around it without interrupting its flow. Visit Hilary’s blog here or click the image to the right.

Blog #4: Slogging ‘n’ blogging, by Tasha Latimer—”If you’re not a little nervous, you’re screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-18-58-pmnot really alive.” That’s how Tasha starts her blog. It’s a quote from a deodorant commercial. And what could be more fitting for an advertising student than to use a quote from an ad to describe how she feels about blogging? It was a creative and powerful way to open this first post by Tasha, and it sure got her point across. Instead of borrowing art from elsewhere, Tasha made her own. She crafted emotive black-and-white photos of herself using her phone’s simple editing tools. Who needs stock photos? Not Tara. Visit Tara’s blog here or click the image above.

Blog #5: Hello blogging world…it’s me, by Taetum Roseberry—This was the hardest one to screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-12-19-09-pmchoose, the last of my Top 5. Taetum satisfied most of the rubric’s requirements and went beyond the basic requirements in others. However, it was the way she expressed herself that compelled me to include her in the Top 5. Taetum is one of the quietest students in my class, but her writer’s voice is open, powerful, and confident while coming from a place of humility. If you want to get to know Taetum, reading her blog will likely be a great place to start. Visit Taetum’s blog here or click the image to the right.

I had so many favourite blogs that I couldn’t stop at five, so here are six more that are definitely worth checking out:

To blog or not to blog, by Kelly Keates—Kelly writes with style and her prose is nearly always immaculate. Visit Kelly’s blog here.

My start, by Casey Jonas—Casey is another one of my quiet students, but boy does she pack power in her prose. There is a lot going on inside this young writer’s head. Just read her blog and you’ll see that’s true. Visit Casey’s blog here.

Prepared for an image, by Liam Chesebrough—Liam is a solid writer, but you should check out his blog to get to his Instagram account where you can see—and more importantly hear—him playing some of the most moving electric guitar I’ve heard in years. This young man has soul. Sadly, he hasn’t yet put out an album, but he has promised to send me some of his music. I’m waiting, Liam… Visit Liam’s blog here.

Blogging for the first time, by Marianna Varela Mendoza—Marianna is a native of Venezuela, but her writing is so clean and crisp that you wouldn’t know English is her second language. Marianna is also a sophisticated thinker. I like how she took the time to figure out how to turn her images into hyperlinks that take the reader directly to her sources. Visit Marianna’s blog here.

God bless autocorrect, by Maggie Doherty—Maggie had some problems with the way the text in her blog was displayed (perhaps she’ll fix it by the time you see it). Nonetheless, there’s raw honesty in her writing, which probably comes from years of songwriting. Her blog provides a link to her Instagram account where you can watch and hear Maggie singing and playing guitar. Visit Maggie’s blog here.

You want to what? Blog? by Ben Lawrence—Ben adheres to most of the rubric’s requirements and demonstrates excellent thought organization in this first post, from start to finish. Visit Ben’s blog here.

Many other students also did some great work in their first blogs, but I have to stop somewhere. I’m hoping that I will get to highlight a whole other group of bloggers when students do their final posts for my course in mid-April.

Wherever you are in the world, please visit these students’ blogs and say hi. Show them that they are, indeed, writing for a global audience.


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