June 16th, 2024

Questions have to be asked about ULFA strike motivation


By Lethbridge Herald on March 17, 2022.

Editor:

A recent letter to the editor by a University of Lethbridge faculty member attempts to justify why he and many of the University of Lethbridge faculty deserve a better deal. 

Much of the material seemed to be selective, such as salary, which is actually in the $150,000 range, plus benefits of 17.5 per cent (Sunshine list). Faculty can also consult, which is a source of income not reported through the university. 

Are faculty salaries “fat”? Categorizing salary is subjective and likely depends on one’s own situation when doing a comparison. For most salaried employees, how much taxes should they pay to support someone who earns many times more than they ever hope to? 

Are professors paid 10-15 per cent below market value? What is their market value? Professors are free to change their employment location if they are valued higher elsewhere. 

If faculty at the University of Lethbridge are being underpaid so much, why has there not been a mass exodus to these other institutions or businesses? 

Perhaps many faculty are over-estimating their own value to the economy. If there is little demand (employment opportunities elsewhere) for the skill set, what is the value of that skill set? 

Compensation comparisons should be made with other sectors of the economy, not just select universities. An alternative employment opportunity might be a researcher in the federal or provincial civil service. Check out these rates of pay and professor salaries can appear attractive. 

Professors are not the only people who have had a long educational journey to obtain a Ph.D. There are many who took that journey and ended up in industry, non-profits, or federal of provincial government organizations. 

They also supervise co-workers and many need to find external funding to finance their program, and for some to finance their own salary. They also pay overhead to the organization that is providing them with required facilities, equipment, and administrative support. 

They too work evenings and weekends but are not entitled to perks such as sabbaticals. Perhaps non-profits would be an appropriate market comparison? 

Compensation appears to be the main issue for the ULFA. But faculty should also look at themselves and their expectations. 

How many are over 65 or 70 and could draw a full pension, but continue to draw salary plus benefits at nearly twice the level of entry level faculty? 

Some of these individuals continue to be productive, but are all? If they are committed to their research, they could become emeriti professors and continue their research with new colleagues.

Is it time for the faculty to be serious about items like tenure and retirement for faculty with adequate years and service to draw a full pension? 

Tenure is important for the security to develop a program and career, but is it necessary later in a career? If productive, tenure should be irrelevant. 

Universities have a limited pot of funds to allocate, so how should it be allocated? 

If group A gets more of the pot, then group B will get less, or maybe the size of group A is reduced. The path of Laurentian University might be an eventual outcome from the current strike – the university declaring insolvency.

Finally, but not least, the students who are caught up in the current labour dispute deserve to not have their education disrupted.

 If the same happened to the current faculty and administration when they were students, would they be where they are today? How many future brilliant careers are being ended? 

Will current students return to the University of Lethbridge next semester – I would seriously look for an alternative after losing a semester and all of the associated costs. 

The university should expect lower enrollment in the future, and as a result there will be less need for some departments, faculty, and administration. Are egos too much at play in this dispute, without regard to the fallout?

Elwin Smith

Lethbridge

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OpinionIsMine

“If faculty at the University of Lethbridge are being underpaid so much, why has there not been a mass exodus to these other institutions or businesses?”

Yes there has been an exodus the last few years and will likely accelerate in the near future because of the strike. If they are replaced, they are only replaced by temporary sessional instructors. And that’s one of the possible reason for the university to go for restructuring: to wind down departments that have lost too many people instead of actually supporting them.
Many students are supporting the strike because they noticed that course selection in the past few years have dropped by a lot, to the point that some students may not even be able to get the required courses to graduate in the normal 4 years. They may not even have a degree from a recognized department any more because of all the people leaving.

AngNik

First of all, I’m not going to rehash much of this. It’s poorly informed and thought out. Most people capable of critical thinking will easily see through it, and I’ll not insult their intelligence. Therefore, let me begin by telling you that I am a ULeth student and have been since 2016. I have also been in business for almost 20 years, so I can tell you a little bit about “market value.” (You might want to make yourself comfortable.)

Professors require multiple degrees and years of experience to even start in academia. Those jobs are highly competitive, with applicants around the world applying. To even BEGIN to apply and be taken seriously, you need a body of published, peer-reviewed scholarship. (For which, they have to pay to have published in credible journals. Many were somewhere in the range of $11k per article last I looked.) You need to have carefully built your career and your relationships in order to get the kind of recommendation letters that get you hired. There’s more, but this is a good start.

In return, students and communities receive the many things outlined already by faculty. What faculty never mentions often enough are all the little conversations, phone calls, letters, and weekends they spend ensuring their students succeed. This level of support only comes from people who curated their connections and experience over a decade or more of dedication to their disciplines while incurring huge debts, working for little pay with no security or benefits, and receiving (which you clearly demonstrate) little respect from others within and outside academia. Most of all, this kind of support requires faculty who are empathetic and genuinely care about the student body and the communities they serve.

As a student, these things are so important that I’m willing to go into debt by $4-5k per semester to compensate them for their time and expertise. (Many of us risk homelessness and resort to food bank use for the opportunity. In fact, the quality of professors are WHY students choose ULeth in the first place.) Unfortunately, they’re not seeing most of that money.

Would you do all that for less than $100k/year? Would you invest 8+ years of your life earning 3+ degrees, gain 10 years of experience, and be happy earning so little that you can’t even get a mortgage or raise a family? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Especially since they can easily make double that in the private sector. If we want them to stay, they should be paid fairly and equitably.

Now, let’s talk about senior administration.

You need to have experience and degrees in accounting, finance, or some other discipline. But through the strike, I’ve also learned successful senior administration needs some other skills. Mainly, the willingness to be deceptive, cherry-pick data, step on those you feel are below you, control a narrative in a way that’s favourable to your CV and public image.

From the start, the university has failed to stand up to the UCP against the cuts and tuition increases. When asked why, senior administration admitted to a strategy of staying quiet in order to stay out of the UCP’s crosshairs.

Senior administration openly lied to students and the public with words and data in order to support a false narrative that paints faculty in a negative light. They have openly prevented students from completing practicums, internships, and research. And they did so BY CHOICE. (ULFA had agreed to pay supervisors, regulatory bodies agreed to it, and senior administration refused.) They have made blanket decisions about our education, moved the goalposts, all without any consultation with students or faculty. In fact, they added to the stress of students and openly harmed the reputation of our institution and our faculty without hesitation.

We spent $3,259,102 on senior administration.

Average salary for senior administration? $271,592. The president makes $350k+ annually and isn’t even in the city. His car makes $39K/yr…more than many sessional professors teaching here on a regular basis, and certainly more than most students.

Total University of Lethbridge senior admin salary to student ratio? $362.77/student
University of Alberta? $168.93/student
McMaster University? $152.33/student
USask? $201.87/student

ULeth has 12 senior administrators–the same or only slightly fewer than many other universities with higher enrollment. (MRU has 11 for 10,497 students…about 2k more students than ULeth.)

What kind of market value is THAT? If that’s the sort of leadership we’re receiving for our money, we should all be demanding a refund.

I will be paying about 38% more for my degree thanks to tuition increases, cost of living increases, an increase in my student loan IR, and loss of my tax credits. For that increase, I have fewer courses to choose from, next to nothing for research (used to be more opportunities than I could take advantage of), and now, senior administration is incapable of coming to an agreement in fewer than 600 days to avoid job action. Given the fact that they make millions annually, they should be able to accomplish that much with a little effort. The proposed solution (made without consultation of students and faculty) is screwing thousands of us out of summer jobs and more internships, transfers, and graduations by extending the semester. That is the sort of poor decision-making we’re paying $362.77 for.

Is it any wonder why students are leaving and enrollment is down? Sure isn’t the faculty.

And here’s the best part: The bulk of the articles they’ve failed to find agreement on have NOTHING to do with money. That’s the university’s narrative to avoid having to focus on the fact that many of them involve two things: power and control. The university is wanting to claw back or prevent others from having a say. And given their behaviour and poor planning thus far, it would be disastrous for senior administration to have full, authoritarian-like control. In fact, some of them should lose their jobs for the piss poor return we’re receiving on our investment.

Sources: Public Sector Salary Disclosure (2020), ULethbridge website, UAlberta website, McMaster website, USask website, M.Mahon contract (publicly available).

Last edited 2 years ago by AngNik
meisplayfull2

Angie Strong opinions on the monetary issues but do you have any comments on the non-monetary issues? Do you even know what they are?

AngNik
AngNik

I will add that I have already lost my research supervisor, as well as several other faculty I have relied on due to their inability to address increased workloads, pay, and items such as academic freedom (now withdrawn) and intellectual property. I have been thus far unable to replace them or gain access to the opportunities they’ve afforded. We no longer have professors in my area of study. That means, my education will no longer be of the quality promised to me when I enrolled.

In addition to that, current job actions aren’t even my biggest concerns.

Here’s just one example: Restructuring is coming, which has a savings range of $2-3 million and failed to include any restructuring costs. That’s a big gap about to hit students in the face. It also leaves the university still looking for around $2 million, and senior administration has failed to mention where that’s coming from.

We will lose faculties, access to the system, and representation on important committees, and it was all done without consultation with the people affected. The senior administration has ignored students when making decisions regarding covid and is angling to ignore them again in plans for the return to class.

So…in short, for students, the specifics of the issues are overall quite different from that of faculty, but we are undoubtedly affected. It’s all symptoms of the same systemic issues–issues that will only get worse if this trajectory continues.

TonyPargeter

I very much empathize with you. This particularly destructive conservative tactic of squeezing our vital public institutions of education and health care to a breaking point in order to justify privatization is utterly despicable. As are they.