June 14th, 2024

Letter writer presented misinformation about university professors


By Lethbridge Herald on March 23, 2022.

Editor:

As a faculty member of ULFA, I was disturbed by Mr. Shier’s letter published on March 10, 2022 entitled “Striking U of L faculty need to go back to work.” Mr. Shier’s letter is filled with such misinformation and misrepresentation of our profession that I feel a great need to dispel and clarify as a public service. 

First of all, Mr. Shier mentioned that “very few of you are in the under $200,000 salary range.”This information is completely wrong. In fact, the opposite holds true and this has been published on numerous occasions. Very few are in the above $200,000 salary range. Indeed, 76 per cent of our members’ salaries are below the Sunshine list ($136,805 in 2021). For example, I am a full professor in Psychology, the highest rank in the faculty. Currently, I earn $110,000 a year but over the past 10 years, as a faculty member at U of L, I earned less than $100,000. Once taxes and pension are taken into account, I received $4,500 to $5,500 each month. It appears that Mr. Shier has calculated the top earnings of a few professors and administrators ($14,483 per month) and has erroneously applied that to the majority of the faculty and instructors. There are few positions in which 10 to 12 years of university studies (unpaid time) and 10+ years of working in the industry would only equate to $110,000 annually. 

Second, faculty members are not only underpaid (compared to our comparator institutions), but our extensive work duties are also underappreciated. Our teaching constitutes 40 per cent of our workload, yet, we spend at least 20-30 hours a week preparing for lectures and addressing student questions in addition to our time in the classroom. Personally, as I teach large classes (200+ students), I spend more than 10 hours a week – every week – just replying to student emails. Our research activities constitute another 40 per cent of our work with little recognition or no salary compensation, often collaborating with others for 10 – 15 hours a week on these projects. In addition, I currently supervise ten undergraduate and graduate students in my lab, meeting with each of them on a weekly basis, helping them with research projects, and supporting them to pursue their dream: this equates to another 10 – 15 hours a week. Again, there is little recognition and no salary compensation. I often work at night, on weekends, and over holidays not for money but out of passion and conscience. Finally, the remaining 20 per cent of our workload relates to service. 

We provide service to the university, to the academic community, and to the public at large. For example, I have previously organized two international conferences as part of my service. Both of these brought people from across the country and internationally to our city, which not only generates revenues for the city but also increases our city’s reputation. Both marked the first time that many conference attendees had heard about and had experienced Lethbridge and learned about our institution. I do not benefit financially by organizing these conferences. My colleagues and I work at least 10 hours a week on Service, again for free. So let me stress: No full-time faculty member works just a 40-hour, five-day week.

Third, we contribute to our students future success, and to highlighting our own institution, which in turn benefits other members of the society. Students graduating from my lab become psychologists, teachers, speech language pathologists, and lawyers, or pursue further degrees at prestigious institutions, such as McGill and UBC. We received millions in federal funding for research projects, which enhances the university’s reputation, supports students financially, advances knowledge, and fosters innovation.

This strike is a humble cry from myself and colleagues, who are overworked and underpaid, often in precarious positions, because we have increasingly lost our representative voice in the university’s affairs. We are professors that the city and the U of L should be proud of and supportive of, but to our dismay, we see contempt and ridicule in letters like Mr. Shier’s. To say that we are treated unfairly is an understatement. We deserve meaningful participation in university decisions with respect to academic matters, and respect and appreciation from the university and from the public. We have students’ interests at heart. And we are also eager to reach a fair settlement soon so that we can continue to serve students and disseminate knowledge that benefits our province, Canada and the rest of the world. I believe supporting our strike is in the best interest of Lethbridge citizens. Why send students elsewhere when you have a high-quality university at your doorstep? Why travel to other cities when you can access information, services, conferences, festivals, and many more things, through our own university? Please support us, because we all deserve it.

Fangfang Li

Professor and Board of Governors Research Chair,

Psychology Department

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Lethrez

Speaking for myself, and I learned many others felt this way, including some professor friends I have who did not support the strike, was what was most distasteful about it was the timing. Students are finally coming off two years of education that was extremely compromised by the pandemic, and now put completely on hold because their professors were on strike.
Despite all of this, there are no tuition breaks for them, and they have not gotten their money’s worth because of both of those situations. Some will be graduating without the full education they paid for. Some will have to delay graduation and grad school to scramble to make up for lost ground at extra costs of time and money to them. The strike made a bad situation even worse.
As well, regardless of whether or not the ULFA concerns were legitimate, it is hard to be sympathetic to a group who are still employed and making decent (or above decent) salaries, when so many people in our community, our province, our country, our continent, and globally have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and have even lost their businesses that they have worked a lifetime to build. Sadly any legitimate stand ULFA may have had regarding a contract, has translated to the rest of us as whining and entitlement when so many more are now struggling to pay bills and put food on the table from livelihoods lost because of the pandemic.
For a group that historically supports social issues and social causes, and is anti-establishment and anti-capitalism, the timing of ULFA strike reeks of hypocrisy.

Humble

I suspect for the critics of the faculty strike there is actually never going to a “good time” that they would find adequate for their (actual non-existent) support. This goes for… well, every critic of all strikes. “Not the right time!” If it wasn’t Covid, it would be some other financial crisis to be blamed (we always seem to be in one, and when the good times are rolling, it isn’t good timing either surprisingly!) Perhaps it wasn’t a “good time” for ULFA to accept the “take it or leave it” offer the Board was giving them after two years of strange workloads and concessions the last two years? A union should never “see it from management’s perspective”. If they do that, you’ve got a pointless union.

Blue

Another apologist refusing to take ownership of the political games used by himself and his colleagues to go on strike in the middle of a semester. I find this ironic given that Mr Fangfang Li is apparently a psychologist. Maybe its time he got more training to do a proper analysis of the situation factoring in public perception and the tax dollars that the public generates to pay his wages which no doubt would be a tad more than if he were practicing in his ancestral country.

Ben Matlock

Why would a union, any union, which felt it had not other choice but to engage in job action, not do so at a time and in an way that puts maximum pressure of the employer? By the same token, employers’ use lockouts to put as much pressure as possible on workers. That’s why, after more than two years without a contact, ULFA when on strike when it did, and why the BOG of the UofL locked out ULFA not long after the strike started.
And, as an aside, if you are going to be formal ((as in “Mr. Li” (sic.)), you should refer to the letter writer as either Dr. Li or Professor Li. She earned her PhD from Ohio State and is a full professor, so take your choice.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ben Matlock