May 25th, 2024

Proposed U of L salary cuts affect the whole city


By Letter to the Editor on October 30, 2021.

Editor:
From its inception, the University of Lethbridge has been about community. Over 50 years ago, a small community joined together and pressured the provincial government until they relented, giving rise to the University of Lethbridge.
The ivory tower is a myth: we are not cloistered away beneath books and lab equipment, although we enjoy making use of both. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a small city like Lethbridge. It was rare, pre-pandemic, to venture out – even for a short trip to the corner store – without running into a colleague or student. We are not separate from the community. Public sector workers are “regular Albertans,” despite what some might claim.
The university contributes to the Lethbridge community both economically and culturally. The influence of the university on the relatively small city of Lethbridge is seen economically with the influx of students.
Ten per cent of the population of the city is students, and 40 per cent of students are from out of town. Grocery stores, landlords, small businesses, restaurants, bars, perhaps even dispensaries, all benefit from the large student population. But more than just our students, faculty also bring money to Lethbridge in the form of grants from provincial and federal governments, private foundations, and international agencies. Students attending the University of Lethbridge contribute over $100 million to the local economy each year. 
The university provides enrichment not just economically; there are intangible benefits, as well. Post-secondary institutions-specifically, the people-create a more diverse local culture.
The university brings students in from across the province, country, and globe, making our city in southern Alberta into a culturally diverse urban hub and maintaining a young population. These new Lethbridge citizens-not just students, but new faculty and staff and their families-are adopters of new technologies, practices, and therapies. The influx and development of these new ideas can help to prevent both population and economic stagnation or even decline. For example, West Lethbridge has increased its population from 27,000 in 2006 to over 40,000 in 2019. Many graduates from the university stay in Lethbridge, whether they are local to the area or not, and contribute to the local cultural milieu. And of course, postsecondary institutions teach reasoning, critical thinking, gathering and interpretation of data, all of those skills that, together, can be summarized as creating more capable, empowered, and informed citizens. 
A little reflection, however, demonstrates that these intangible, cultural benefits do indeed also have economic benefits. Simply attracting people to Lethbridge means that those who stay are likely to contribute to our important sectors, including agriculture, health, education, environment, etc. The diversity of the culture the University promotes will attract new business opportunities, new industries (particularly technology), and help diversify the economy, as well. Of course, a growing, educated population means a growing tax base.
Faculty and staff contribute to their communities daily, through coaching sports, engaging with the local arts scene, and more.
The visual arts and dramatic arts are exceptionally well-represented here. Exceptional training in music is offered to the Lethbridge community at Casa through our Music Conservatory.
Faculty contribute to the local community in the same way other Lethbridge citizens do. The U of L’s facilities are also used for many community programs and events.
Despite all of these benefits provided to the community, it is still fair to ask what sacrifices faculty members are willing to make, and have already made, given the economic climate and the austerity measures our provincial government is mandating.
It is important to note that the University of Lethbridge faculty have already absorbed a rollback in 2013 (when none of the other Alberta institutions in our sector did), followed by several years of zero per cent cost of living pay adjustments.
Further, many ULFA members have taken early retirement, and through the cost savings resulting from such retirements the financial savings sought from the ULFA Collective Agreement for the university budget have already been met.
ULFA has also offered multiple times to extend the current collective agreement (with zero per cent COLA), recognizing that some things can wait while we are all dealing with a global pandemic.
The proposed four per cent cuts to academic and support staff salaries, retroactive by more than a year, do not simply distress individual employees; indeed, the very community that pushed for the creation of this institution will suffer both tangible and intangible effects due to these changes, of a type often referred to by the gentle term “rollbacks.”
Economically, the university is the second-largest employer in the city. In much the same way the economy in Alberta was devastated when the energy sector took deep cuts, the same will be true of Lethbridge with the proposed cuts and salary rollbacks to the post-secondary education system.
Annual salaries at the University of Lethbridge account for roughly $130 million, and we are economically entwined in this community: every ten jobs lost at the university translates into one other job loss in the local economy from knock-on effects.
With salaries already 10 – 15 per cent lower than other similar universities, it is already difficult enough to attract and retain top talent, before an additional retroactive rollback. 
Thus, cutting salaries for university staff obviously means a lower level of economic benefits for our city, but it also means lower quality of education.
As salaries continue this downward slide it becomes increasingly more difficult to hire good quality instructors and scholars and more difficult to keep good ones here in Lethbridge.
The cheapest professors are very unlikely to be excellent or even average. It seems strange to say it but we are literally striving to be compensated as the average.
The University of Lethbridge is a vital institution for Lethbridge, both economically and culturally. It will be instrumental in the province’s economic recovery as well as its economic diversification, important given the volatility of the oil and gas sector.
Salary cuts affect not just individual professors and their families but ripple out into the community.
As we begin to recover from COVID and return to something resembling our former lives, as small businesses and the economy in Lethbridge begin to stand again on shaky legs, is this really the time to remove millions of dollars from the local economy?
Dan O’Donnell
President 
University of Lethbridge Faculty Association

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buckwheat

A good start would be for your association to campaign other Universities to reduce their salary burden by 10-15%. After all, we are all in this together. Seems the U of L is doing their part, get the others to do the same.

Fedup Conservative

How about we have the federal government cut the seniors who support these phony conservative’s Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan Payments by 10-15%?
Apparently you support them cutting $9.4 billion off our corporate taxes to benefit their rich friends so why don’t we make you pay for it rather than our doctors, nurses, and teacher?

buckwheat

Yeh how about we cut off all the subsidies to the latest craze,saving the planet. Then you could get your raise. PS. I have already paid for it in spades, even though it is “free”.

SophieR

Does anyone know if the UCP government followed through with the reduction of the grotesque salaries the president of the U of L and the College were making?

Southern Albertan

In the big picture here, this all factors into the Kenney UCP cutting funding to postsecondary education. Wise governments/jurisdictions/countries, do not, scrimp on education. They want all fields….blue collar, white collar, economics, banking, medicine, law, etc…..to be at the top of the heap, globally. They know, it is good for their economies. Successful economies do talk. Now, the Kenney UCP have proven to be very unwise and appear to be self-imploding. Their credibility on anything these days is miserably pathetic.

gs172

I don’t know enough about what a good salary for a university professor is so I won’t comment on that. I will comment on the statement that the loss of 10 university jobs equate to one job in the community. So what? You seem to forget that your job depends on the contribution of Alberta taxpayers. I’m fully willing to pay for education through my taxes for the public good but you should be aware “your” job depends on us not the other way around. I wish you luck in negotiating a fair wage.

Fedup Conservative

So what’s your point? Albertans have depended on our governments collecting proper oil and tax wealth so we can pay these professionals a decide wage and get the best in the business.

So why should we ignore the hundreds of billions we have lost under these phony conservatives starting with Ralph Klein, and treat the most important people in our lives like third class citizens?
It certainly wasn’t that way under Lougheed.

buckwheat

Please help me, I’m stuck in 1976.

Fedup Conservative

Thanks for helping me make my point. As a lawyer friend would say “just keep rubbing their noses it , they don’t want to hear the truth, they aren’t man enough to handle it. They know they are guilty of creating the mess this province is in and they don’t want to be reminded of it. It really irritates them.”

The sad thing these fools have given us seniors a bad name. A university student asked me a few months ago if I was another one of these stupid seniors who helped get Jason Kenney elected, like his grand parents did. Him and his sister , along with their parents were furious with his four grandparents for believing every lie Jason Kenney fed them. They are apparently no different than these fools who attack us.
Losers as my conservative friends call them and traitors for allowing these reformers to deliberately destroy what Lougheed created for us.

Dennis Bremner

I enjoy socialist thinking especially when its spun like this rant is! Every professor who has contributed articles to this paper demands more money from the taxpayers to support their NDP position in life! More Unions, bigger paychecks for them, bigger governments and every person deserves a free ride on the Taxpayer tab!
Taxpayers paid for the U of L, taxpayers paid for all the equipment in the U of L, taxpayers pay all the salaries of the U of L, any shortfalls, and the U of L jacks the students annual costs, which ultimately goes back on Mom and Dad and they are taxpayers. Or, the student is saddled with enormous debt for the first 20 years of his/her life!
Then we get to listen to the Socialist rants by the same set of educators while they wallow in the “They can’t fire me, I have Tenure and that’s a guaranteed job for life.
So after its built, after the taxpayer pays for everything including their amazingly large wages. “We the taxpayer should bow down to the contribution made”! Great spin, its almost like the Profs paid for all of this out of their own pocket and now its pay back lol !
Not to worry soon your beloved Socialist Party will be back in power and you once again will be feeding off the teat of the taxpayer!

Last edited 2 years ago by Dennis Bremner
Elohssa Gib

I don’t know what your background is, but for the sake of this comment I will assume you’re not one of those high-paid socialists. But political orientation aside, just think if after high school you’d had the opportunity and drive to spend between 9 and 10 years studying for three degrees, culminating in a PhD, and then was good enough to land a position in a highly competitive international job market, and then you went through a five-year probationary period before earning permanent contract, you might have had one of those big salaries too; salaries, which by the way, are lower than people with comparable education and skills typically command in the private sector.

And one more thing, look up the definition of socialism.

Last edited 2 years ago by Elohssa Gib
SophieR

I think he meant national socialism – like when the UCP corporatists bankroll the oil & gas industry, create a propaganda arm for the government, and try to plan the economy by shedding public services to their cronies in the private sector. Kidding (but true enough).

The faculty at the university deserve to be valued.

Standonguard

As someone who has benefited personally from obtaining a degree from the University of Lethbridge I feel that I should respond to Older School’s one-sided rant, albeit with fewer exclamation marks.

I would summarize that rant as something like: “faculty members at ULethbridge are greedy, socialist parasites who live off taxpayer money – shame on them”. The fact is that public money, if it is distributed wisely, is an investment in things that benefit the public good. Thus, it is obligatory that we look at the return on investment. We do this sort of thing when taxpayers invest in hospitals – how accessible and good is the health care? Roads – how good are transportation and safety? Utilities and city infrastructure – how good is service delivery? And importantly, is the amount, we as taxpayers are paying, fair, given the return and given comparators elsewhere in Canada?

The theme of the rant completely ignores what universities actually generate for taxpayers’ money. I will list just a few that matter: undergraduate education creates a citizenry that is able to understand and think critically about the key issues that Alberta faces today; degree-holders over their life earn about twice as much income as others (with the major increase in paid taxes that Older School cares so much about); people with a university education are healthier, using fewer health resources; they are more law-abiding, reducing costs on our criminal justice system; university graduates are early adopters of new technologies and more efficient practices in their occupations or employment; our nurses, doctors, psychologists, engineers, dentists, accountants, K-12 teachers, and lawyers all require university degrees; our scientists and other researchers create knowledge that is an economic driver contributing to Alberta’s wealth and employment, a contributor to our improved health and to our quality of life in many ways; universities provide the scientific bases for rational health and social policies.

In various studies the return on each dollar invested in universities is between $5 and $7.50, typically 10% above the rate of inflation. If we want to become even poorer than we are now as a province, keep up the budget reductions to the universities and lose money.

Are we investing too much into salaries for the scientists, scholars, and instructors at ULethbridge? I doubt it. According to information I have seen, compared to those employed at other Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario universities, ULethbridge’s faculty are paid less (they do NOT have “amazingly large wages”). Over the past many years (including during the NDP years!) they have received consistent zeros for cost-of-living adjustment.

I want a healthy university in my community, because it makes us healthier, wealthier, and wise. Older School wants us to embrace being “penny-wise, but pound-foolish”. To move our city and province forward we need to invest in heathier and more productive universities; not smaller, poorer, demoralized ones.