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Conestoga College unions call for president to resign

Joint letter sent to the Conestoga Board of Governors by OPSEU Locals 238 and 237
Conestoga College president John Tibbits announces the college's purchase of The Cooperators building in downtown Guelph, with the intention of opening a new campus in September 2025.

In another entry to the controversy surrounding Conestoga College and its president John Tibbits, local unions representing college staff are asking for his resignation. 

After making derogatory remarks towards another college president in which Tibbits referred to Sault College president, David Orazietti as a "whore," those representing the school said there needs to be consequences. 

In a joint letter sent to the Conestoga Board of Governors by OPSEU Locals 238 and 237 they outline their dismay with Tibbits and ask him to be held responsible for his actions. 

"Conestoga College has an employee code of conduct that is about professionalism and the way that we interact. Using these derogatory terms is unacceptable, especially when you are in a leadership position," said Vikki Poirier, president of OPSEU Local 238. 

"We are calling on the board and John to do the right thing and hold yourself accountable." 

Both unions represent different sectors of employees at the college with Local 238 representing support staff and Local 237 representing faculty, librarians and counsellors.

Poirier notes that since her time as union president for support staff, members have been disciplined severely and even terminated for unprofessional behaviour and leaders need to be held to a higher standard. 

According to Local 237 president Leopold Koff, the letter submitted to the Board of Governors and Tibbits himself has the full backing of OPSEU president JP Hornick and speaks for the entire organization in wanting a resolution. 

"It's just a continuum of behaviours over the years which have shown the disconnect between what may be happening on the ground level of the school and the president of the college," said Koff. 

Besides the derogatory comments fired towards Orazietti, Koff and the members of the union take exception to Tibbits' view on international students and their experiences. 

During the event last week where Tibbits spoke, he said that international students are choosing to live packed into a room to save money and that stories of students starving at food banks are "BS."

"Some of them live like that because they don't want to pay more than $400," said Tibbits in his tirade. 

"The problem is you get someone who goes and talks to an international student, and he said, I had a tough time finding a house, but the truth of the matter is not one international student could not find housing. Not one," Tibbits said.

Koff thinks these remarks completely undermine all the work staff at Conestoga are doing to work with students and make sure they have the support they need. 

"The faculty are personally impacted and have empathy and sympathy for the students and the stories they share with them, which aren't stories, but their experience, their realities," said Koff. 

The letter signed by both unions states that Tibbits' comments caused harm to employees, their families and the institution’s reputation.

"His use of language derogatory to sex workers was deeply sexist, reinforcing the stigmatization of both women and sex workers," read the letter. 

"Equally disturbing was his claim that international students are "choosing to live the way they do to avoid paying more than $400" which contains an insidious form of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that implies international students have problematic motivations and needs in comparison to domestic students."

They add that the retirement of the long-time president will signal that he is taking responsibility for his actions. 

In a statement released on Thursday by Conestoga's Board of Governors, they note that an internal investigation is underway into Tibbits and his rhetoric. 

“The language used is unacceptable and does not align with the values and principles of our institution,” the statement said. “Dr. Tibbits has communicated his regret for making those comments and apologizes for the offensive remarks.”

This apology is not enough for union leaders as they want to see action. 

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Koff thinks that getting an impartial review done by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities might help with transparency and fairness. 

"I think that there is an extreme disconnect as to what his vision is and what's actually taking place and that's unfortunate," added Poirier. 

Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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