How much should professors make?

In my opinion, they’re paid well enough already.


Photo by ggbaker on Panoramio

More than 1,000 students at Brandon University have signed a petition asking for their tuition money back because of a faculty strike that caused classes to be cancelled since Oct. 12.

But the Brandon University Student’s Union (BUSU), which has collected the signatures, doesn’t blame the professors—who are striking for the second time in three years—for their three weeks of missed classes. BUSU supports the picketing profs. They agree they’re underpaid.

But are Brandon’s professors really underpaid? More importantly—are professors underpaid in general? It’s a question students and taxpayers should ask—they’re the ones who pay the bills.

After the latest round of talks between the the Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA) and the adminitration broke down, the university’s President, Deborah Poff, released a statement. She argued that pension obligations ($3.1-million per year) and inflation will mean major budget cuts this year, even if faculty accept an offer. The higher that offer, the bigger the cuts for students.

Naturally, BUFA argued in a statement online that they think the university can afford to pay more. The union points out that they’re not asking for much of raise—and that much is true. Their latest offer to the university was for a 4.6 per cent increase over two years, plus an increase in the third year, as determined by an arbitrator. If inflation continues at the 3.5 per cent observed lately by the Consumer Price Index, the decline in the value of money will eat up all of the increases.

BUFA is technically asking for a raise, but what they’ll end up won’t feel like much of a raise.

On the surface, such a deal seems unfair to profs. Everyone deserves recognition for hard work.

But consider how much students are being asked to sacrifice in the form of ever-higher tuitions and consider how much taxpayers are being asked to ante up to cover the five per cent increase in funding that’s been promised by the premier. I believe that professors should be doing their parts to help balance the books too. That means no raises for a little while. That means sacrifices.

Besides, professors are paid well—even at Brandon. The average salary of full-time university teachers (including all ranks) at Brandon is typical for its peer group—and much higher than what the average Canadian makes. Full-time teachers of all ranks averaged $89,829 at Brandon. The average salary of Canadians aged 25 to 54 is equivalent to $48,458, says Statistics Canada.

Even if you agree that professors should make more than the average Canadian (and I do—I’ll get to that), Brandon’s professors are paid well in comparison with their peers. True, they make less than the national average ($106,174) for professors, but Brandon, Man. is a tiny city (pop. 48,256), where things cost less. The average value of a home in Brandon was a piddly $152,453 in the most recent census. In Toronto, the typical house was valued at $413,574. Profs in Toronto need more.

A better measure of whether salaries are fair is to compare them with what’s paid at other primarily-undergraduate institutions in similarly-sized cities. Salaries are slightly higher—$90,527—at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont. (pop. 53,966), while they’re significantly lower—$80,003—at Cape Breton University, in Sydney, N.S. (pop. 102,250). Brandon profs do well in relative terms.

What lingers then is the question of how much professors are worth to Canadian taxpayers who (I’ll say it again) average $48,458. Do profs deserve to make more than twice the average salary?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Professors train for many years, often work 60-hour weeks and make extremely important contributions to our society and economy. I would argue that they deserve to be paid high professional salaries, based on their local living costs—similar to what police, teachers and nurses make. That is, almost exactly what Brandon professors already make.

Of course, it’s not just Brandon, Man. that should be debating how much professors are worth. A study out yesterday by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance showed that 70 per cent of the increase in cash for universities in Ontario between 2004 and 2010 went toward salary, pension, and benefit costs for professors and (notably) administrators. Students, who are paying punishing levels of tuition in Ontario—$6,307 in 2010—should start questioning those HR budgets.

But sadly, students probably won’t question salaries, just as Brandon’s student union didn’t. Why not? Because students have been led to believe (in part by professors) that six-figure pay is normal. A study out this week found that Millenial females think $100,036 is a normal salary for a university-educated person, while male Millenials think those who hold degrees make $130,139.

That’s incredibly unrealistic. Only four per cent of Canadians make more than $100,000. That’s one in 25 people. “They are the four per cent,” the Occupy movement supporters might chant.

With average full-time professors already in $100,000-plus club, do they need raises? I think not.


How much should professors make?

  1. Your argument is simplistic. Comparisons with average Canadian earnings are meaninglkess without comparative information about what other professionals with similar levels of training earn. Doctors in MB were hekld to a tiny increase to their already high salaries (set by the province in MB), yet were granted the right to charge new fees for seeing elderly patients and being on call; they’re laughing all the way to theit stockbroker. And what of tuition? You quote Onatrio’s high tuition but fail to mention 2 facts; 1) tuition in MB is set by the province, not individual universities and is not permitted to increase by more than the CPI; and 2) it is currently half that in Ontario. But lets look at your other straw man, cost of living. Income taxes in MB are higher than in most other provinces, so net salaries are lower. Winters are much colder and longer than in your examples, so heating costs are higher. Brandon has on average a house price of around $150K, but try and find a hoiuse below $300K that is acceptable. But there’s more. Professors typically only get their first job at around 35 after graduate school (MSc then PhD) and a low paying research position or 2, and probably some years as a low paid sessional lecturer. Life time earnerings, even at the so-called high salaries you decry, will never match those of our peers who work in business or the trades and have done so since shortly after leaving high school. No one becomes a professor ‘for the money’, and salaries are just one of a raft of reasons why we went on strike and remain on strike. Good advice; do some research before shooting your mouth off.

  2. What is forgotten by the author here is LIFETIME earnings. A prof starts earning money at around age 30-35. A “regular” Canadian (used to generate the $48k figure) around age 20-25. Lifetime earnings to age 54 for a BU prof are ~$2 million. For a regular Canadian ~1.75 Million. Factor in tuition and loss of reasonable capital gains on the money the 20 year old should not have pissed away on nice car, clothes and things the professor had to wait so much longer to earn and it is not quite a break even proposal. If you don’t believe me note that people have been voting with their feet for years. Most graduate programs are populated with a large fraction of foreign citizens who are using graduate school as an access route to citizenship. Nothing wrong with that but it dispels the myth that this is a lucrative choice of lifestyle. Most Canadian kids put in about the same amount of skill, time, money and effort to be Medical doctors, dentists and lawyers. Lots more money there and nobody seems to mind you making it. Profs do what they do because they have a deeper love of knowledge than these groups. Many (such as myself) comfort themselves knowing that they can walk out anytime and make twice as much in the private sector. Look at the great schools – they pay to get the best. Many happen to be in large cities but not all – and those cities were not always large. Universities have a tremendous impact on civic growth.

  3. “Professors train for many years, often work 60-hour weeks and make extremely important contributions to our society and economy. I would argue that they deserve to be paid high professional salaries, based on their local living costs—similar to what police, teachers and nurses make.”

    The big difference is professors are not locked into a region like police, teachers and nurses. Professors often go to graduate school nowhere near where they grew up. They then look for jobs, often anywhere in their country or north american or the world and most universities seek out and hire faculty from around the world. They also usually belong to a much larger professional field of scholars that is worldwide and has no local regional connection. Basically universities are not just competing to attract and keep local talent…they have to compete with a much much larger field.

  4. Interesting that the author compares faculty salaries to those of nurses, teachers, and police officers, as opposed to doctors and lawyers, the professions with which professors have traditionally been classed.

    Nurses, teachers, and police all work hard in challenging situations, certainly. But their credentials require from one to six years of post-secondary education. Faculty require approximately ten to twelve years: pretty much twice as much. More than lawyers. More than most MBA CEOs.

    They ARE, actually, in the top four percent – actually, the top one percent – of educated persons in our society. We still sell the university students the idea – flawed though it is – that education is in part a road towards earnings capacity. So why does the author consider it his role to judge whether faculty “need” raises?

  5. Nurses, teachers, and police officers work hard (and it can be argued that maybe they should be paid more), but professors have considerably more education. Professors normally hold a PhD, and many have completed post-doc fellowships. So, at a minimum, a professor has gone through 4 years undergrad + 2 years Masters + 4 years PhD. Nurses and teachers go through 4 years undergrad + 2 years specialty training, or, if someone gets into a BSc in Nursing right out of high school, as opposed to doing a post-degree nursing program, then can be done in 4 years.

    So I don’t think you can compare professors to nurses, teachers and police officers. Try comparing them to other highly educated professionals, like doctors, dentists, and lawyers.

    All the profs I know work incredibly long hours. Many of them could make considerably more money in the private sector. But they love research and love teaching, so they remain in academia.

    These days, it is incredibly hard to get tenure. More and more universities are using part-time staff and sessional lecturers, and the numbers of tenured profs are dwindling. Unfortunately, this will have an impact on Canada’s research output, as part-time and sessional lecturers generally don’t do any research.

    Please do a little more research of your own before writing an article next time.

  6. The above commentators all make excellent points about levels of training, back-loaded pay structures (years of being an impoverished student and/or post-doc, followed, for the lucky few, by some years of good pay), and comparisons with other professions. I would add that readers need to remember that professors only make the higher salaries once they have reached the top of the full professor scale, usually late in their careers. The average salary may sound high, but given that most Canadian institutions are not replacing retiring faculty, we have a situation where the highest earners are disproportionally represented in the averages. Another point to consider is home equity: sure, those of us outside the big metropolitan areas pay less for our houses, but when we retire, we will have a fraction of the home equity that our urban colleagues have, and given the widespread crisis in faculty pensions (and pensions in general), this is no small consideration. One final point: it is my observation, in my own institution and elsewhere, that university administrators see little problem with reducing disciplines to one or two faculty, or cutting programmes altogether, but they rarely miss an opportunity to find new managerial tasks that will require brand new positions. Even in a situation where retirees are not replaced and programmes are left to languish, I wager it would nevertheless be next to impossible to identify an administrative department in a Canadian university that has not at the very least held steady, or, in most cases, grown. If anyone out there can identify one, please tell us where, so that we may all send our cv’s to a place that has not forgotten what it is that we are actually meant to be doing. Our “core business,” as some have it: to be centres of teaching and learning.

  7. While salaries are important and everyone would like to receive more and may consider what they do worth more, it’s really just a part of the picture of work at universities and elsewhere. The key issue isn’t pay — relative or absolute — but dignity and respect, which has become less and less evident in the workplace. Speaking as a professor at another university, I know we are asked to do more and more without compensation usually be an administration (and sub-administrators, and sub-sub administrators) with really bloated salaries who may know little about how universities operate, and who care mostly to pad their own resumes so they can move on to another post elsewhere. It’s a growing trend in universities as well. Faculty are most in touch with students, their (growing) needs, and the content of what they need to know and how to foster their learning. Demands for higher salaries (however “high” they may be perceived to be) are mainly to compensate for what are experienced as worsening working conditions.

  8. This comment was deleted.

  9. Unfortunately, this article perpetuates the belief that salaries should correlate with hard work or education. That’s simply untrue. Salaries are determined, like everything else, by market forces.

    Sometimes people who are educated and work hard may not be in a job with favourable supply and demand.

  10. Here’s a thought on why the student union (BUSU) supports the profs in their strike, and why studenmts have chosen to march with their professors. The students, unlike the BU Admin, respect and like their prrofessors. Respect is not a given; it is earned through everyday acts and experiences. BU students in my experience are engaged, smart, and appreciate the care and individual education we deliver. That this is not recognized or appreciated by our Admin is a relfection of the corpratization of universities. That this is not reflected in the Macleans ranking and student surveyresults for BU is a reflection of their flawed methodology. The motivated respond to surveys; disgruntled students, especially at a small rural school, are more likely to send in a survey then the majority ‘satisfied’ students. Also, incomplete data and an Admin incapable of collating its own stats on faculty research make BU profs look bad. We get paid to teach AND do research. The ‘official’ data on the later is unknown to BU admin and has colored both their campaign against our working conditions and the ranking for BU in Macleans university assessment, and consequently perceptions in the city of Brandon and across Canada as to our worth. In reality, BU Profs publish in the top science journals in the world and publish across all areas of research at a level comparable to our peer institutions. But who would know? Not BU admin, certainly.

  11. What’s been left out of the discussion is hours worked and tenure. It is laughable to say your average prof works 60 hours a week for most of his career while this is actually true of most doctors. Some profs teach only one or two classes for two 4 month long semesters per year. The number of hours they spend on research is up to them on the honor system. It’s not as though anyone’s checking up on them. There are the 4 month summers with no teaching duties. There are the paid sabbaticals every 5th year or so (carefully not spoken about) along with the very generous sick days (is it over 30 a year yet?) and pensions on top of salary. Doctors have to provide their own pensions and on sick days earn nothing, so profs who argue they deserve doctor’s incomes without factoring in all their own paid benefits are being purposely disingenuous. Professors once they’ve earned tenure have cushy jobs by any objective analysis. It’s the young contract workers and poor graduate students as TA’s who do the long hours of scut work slaving away for profs, hoping to gain the Holy Grail of a tenured teaching position where all the gravy is. It’s undergraduate students who are being ill served for their constantly rising tuitions as well as taxpayers footing the rest of the bill. Until profs come clean about the hours they work and the value of their total remuneration, not just salaries, they are pulling the academic wool over everyone’s eyes.

  12. I’ve been to SFU and to BU, I’ve seen what the big city university’s have to offer and what this little city has. Having had that experience, I strongly believe that in order for our small university to keep good profs we need to pay them accordingly. The simple facts is that if we don’t, what will keep them here? Our amazing whether? Regardless of what you think they should be paid, the fact is they can find the wages they want else where. Personally, I want to ensure that I can have both the small class sizes that BU offers me and world class prof’s. This university has granted me an environment that has allowed me to be successful, it would be an ineradicable shame to have it dwindle away while the University’s that are willing to pay competitive wages gain our top notch prof’s.

    • *Weather*

    • Perhaps “BU student” really did mean “whether.” In the turbulent weather of today’s economy, the question for millenial students is not how much they will be paid, but whether.

  13. they rejected my post but in no way shape or form did it break any terms of services….. This website is a joke, I’m sorry my comment was too realistic for your website.

  14. All the professors and would-be professors commenting should put their egos in check and stop falsely comparing themselves to physicians, lawyers etc. Claiming that compensation should be commensurate to number of years of training/education is naïve and blatantly self-serving. Salaries for top earners like physicians, CEOs etc. are for the most part determined by market forces. While the author’s comparison of professors to other unionized public sector employees such as teachers and police officer has clearly offended some snobbish members of our ‘intelligentsia’, it is an absolutely appropriate comparison. Look, if a person wants to spend 10 – 12 years in school preparing for their career, that’s their choice. However, that same person shouldn’t feel entitled to a high, tax payer funded salary based on that fact alone. If a Brandon University professor wants a better salary, they are free to seek it on the open market.

  15. Like physicians, professors are free to seek employment elsewhere. Manitoba doctors have gotten increases and improved fees to retain their services. If enough professors quit and get a higher paying job elsewhere, maybe the professors will get the continuing raises they desire. I doubt that is a likely scenario though as BU profs are in the salary range of what profs in similar sized communities are earning and those universities have the same financial pressures as BU. While a university education is important and desirable, when you are on a table having surgery to save your life, I think most people would agree the doctor is more important and should earn more money (regardless of who spent more years in school training). To those who have written to say the professors could make much more in the private sector; maybe you should go and work in the private sector then. Oh wait, don’t some of you already do private consulting during your summer months and earn extra money? If money isn’t what you are after because you teach for the love of academia and research, then why are you on the picket line? As to the students supporting you; of course they do. Many come from small communities where they have gone from Mummy taking care of them to the you taking care of them. They haven’t figured out yet that life isn’t always fair and you have to work for what you want. Even if you do, you still might not get what you think you deserve. If you work in an area that doesn’t pay as much as other areas, you better enjoy your lower paying profession, or get a job in a higher paying profession – if you are smart enough to do so.

  16. Josh Dehaas: “Only four per cent of Canadians make more than $100,000.” You need to check your figures, Josh, or at least MacLeans needs to check the calculator (“How does your salary compare?”) that it posted online last week. The online calculator said that the top 6% of Canadians made 133,000 or more. The two statistics do not agree. If you are going to brandish statistics, it behooves you to be accurate.

    • Hi John. The four per cent figure comes straight from the study. I also checked it against Revenue Canada’s tax returns from the previous year and it’s within one per cent of that. Revenue Canada shows that 95 per cent of Canadians claim less than $100,000 of taxable income. The income calculator on Macleans.ca uses ranges, which may explain the discrepancy. Thanks.

  17. In my opinion, having read several books on the changes that have occured at universities over the past 25 years, the problem is the growthof the administrative class…they add little value by bloating the administrative activities of the universities to the point that all they do is recommend hiring more administrators.

    We need managers not administrators. Academics need to regain control of the institutions and have competent accountants managing the money. That’s it! Keep the MBAs and those PhDs who only pursued the degree in order to climb into university administration OUT. The mission of universities is to educate and discover for the benefit of society…the mission is NOT to make money…somewhere along the line, someone decide that education and research are mere products of a corporate agenda of generating cash.

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