University of Northern B.C.'s administratiors told students Thursday they are closer to an contract with faculty but money remains the main sticking point.
John Young, acting vice-president of academic, spoke at a student information session following three days of weekend negotiations and a week after the faculty held its own public rally.
They agreed on program redundancy, Young said, which faculty had previously identified as one of the items professors felt strongly about.
What remains is tenure and promotion and the bigger issue of compensation and benefits, which faculty contends is far below comparable institutions.
"UNBC recognizes the compensation gap exists," said Young, but noted that other employees also experience that salary gap when compared to other institutions.
Young said UNBC's position as a public university is necessary to consider when looking at the university's response to the faculty demands.
He said it means the provincial government makes up most of its budget (student fees account for about 25 per cent) and it also sets out how UNBC and other public organizations negotiate with workers through the province's Economic Stability Mandate.
"UNBC is obligated to follow this mandate," said Young, adding the approach puts limitations on increases in compensation.
Set to graduate in May, Molly Fredeen was one of the small crowd of about 40 people, including students and senior administrators, at the Canfor Theatre session.
She asked Young how the university could expect to draw good professors, researchers and individuals who can add to its prestige if the two could not agree on compensation.
"How else do you plan on retaining people if you are not going to treat them as fairly or... paid as the average?"
Young said academic and research opportunities as well as teaching workload are considerations and some of these are included in the talks.
"In terms of recruitment and retention, we continue to have applications for positions," he said.
After the meeting, Fredeen said the administration has largely been silent on the possibility of a strike and was frustrated by the lack of information, which she said continued at Thursday's session.
"It was really vague," said Fredeen, adding some of that is understandable given that they are in midst of bargaining.
She wanted to know, in the event of job action, if students should keep up with their work on the course syllabus, if the semester would be extended, and if students would get tuition returned for the semester interruption.
"It would be nice if they could provide avenues where we can seek answers to those type of questions and what we can at least expect."
Because the faculty has voted in favour of a strike mandate, the association can call a strike at any time before the end of April after giving 72-hour notice.
Wendel Schwaub, who is an undergraduate representative on the Senate, said the lack of communication has been a common complaint among students he speaks with.
"Students feel very in the dark about what's going on," said the fourth-year student, adding many, especially graduate students, are worried that the gap in pay will mean good professors leave and others are unlikely to come.
This point is frequently made by the faculty association as it points to the research university's second place finish in Maclean's rankings for schools of its size.
The next round of negotiations will happen in March, after the Canada Winter Games, which the faculty previously agreed not to disrupt.
Young said it was important to note that most of the terms had been agreed on and that the two are ahead in negotiations in comparison to Simon Fraser University, which also unionized in April 2014, and University of Victoria, which unionized in February of that year.
Information from the university can be found at unbc.ca/faculty-relations and the faculty has updates at unbcfa.ca.