Mixed feelings at St. FX over faculty strike - Macleans.ca

Mixed feelings at St. FX over faculty strike

Classes cancelled as professors picket over pay


Monday's picket (Clayton Blagdon/The Xaverian)

“We want to reclaim this university,” says St. Francis Xavier Association of University Teachers president Peter McInnis. That’s the message that faculty members carried as they took to the picket lines Monday commencing an unprecedented strike at the campus in Antigonish, N.S.

After eight months of talks, the administration and union failed to reach an agreement on pay and other issues. In the last round of bargaining faculty proposed a 9.3 per cent wage increase over three years, according to the AUT. The administration offered 6.2 per cent over four years.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2011 report, assistant professors at St. FX made a median of $74,377 in 2010-11 while full professors earned a median of $123,673. The average assistant professor’s salary nationwide was $91,035 and the average full professor’s salary was $143,366.

Professors, lab instructors, librarians and writing center workers all hit the pavement at 7:30 a.m. Monday forcing the postponement of classes for the foreseeable future and causing uncertainty for the school’s more than 4,000 students.

Students’ Union President Nick Head-Petersen and his executive worked feverishly throughout the morning fielding questions from students and media requests. “We don’t know what’s going to happen and I think that uncertainty has caused a lot of stress for students,” says Head-Peterson.

The Students’ Union will stage a protest of its own on Wednesday in support of a deal. The union says it will remain neutral. “Our biggest goal this week as an organization is getting the two parties back at the table,” says Head-Petersen.

Rachel Mitchell, Vice-President of the Students’ Union, says it has been difficult to get a read on the overall mood of the student body as many are staying away from campus while others have already headed home until the conflict is resolved. “I think a lot of students were expecting it, but a lot of them are saying, ‘now what?’ and ‘how long is this going to go?'”

Jessie McEwen, VP of Student Relations, adds that many are feeling “highly stressed,” but others are taking a more lighthearted view. “There’s a certain novelty factor around this,” she says. “Some people have definite time frames in their head of how long this is going to last. They’re thinking, I’ll drink these three nights and then the strike will be over.”

Patrick LeClair, a second-year student, says his peers are concerned about wasted tuition. “We’re spending a lot of money to basically sit around at a summer camp with our friends,” he says.

Third-year student Laura O’Brien put it more bluntly: “students are being held ransom for money essentially,” she says, “but I really support our professors.”

Despite conflict over wages, AUT President McInnis says that what troubles him most isn’t money, but instead drifting away from the academic mission. The administration “has been really focused on the brand of the university, but they do it in a surface way that’s really shallow,” he says.

The AUT has accused the administration throughout negotiations of putting too much funding into the outward appearance of campus and new infrastructure—for example by building two new residences—while neglecting those who work directly with students. McInnis says students are on side. “They do understand that the academic mission of the university has been compromised.”


Mixed feelings at St. FX over faculty strike

  1. Residences are paid for by the rent that students pay by voluntarily staying in them. That argument is a red herring…it is not an issue!

    • Govenor’s hall, for example, cost over 18 million dollars to build and costs thousands and thousands of dollars to run every month. Yes, we paid a lot to live in these places, but the administration had to pull together millions (more than it had) to build places like that. It has now overextended itself and while students do pay, it’s not as though the debt the university has taken on in order to build these buildings is neglible or can be ignored in the anticipation that residence fees will eventually cover it all.

  2. Professors are already crossing the picket line to teach and many of the professors are only on the picket line for the strike pay.

    The only real members of the AUT who support this strike are the diehards who want to be the next Eugene Debs.

    While I certainly don’t support the administration’s over the AUT, the two wolves (AUT and Admin) will vote the sheep (students) as supper and raise our tuition and housing cost.

  3. Money is not an issue. Get real.

    I was on faculty at Acadia and Dalhousie when they went on strike. Profs have a free ride. Assistant profs make 74.3k and they live in an area where housing is a fraction of the cost in urban centers. I know how long they work and so do they. On an annualized basis for the actual time worked their salary is in excess of $125k/year.

    Suck it up, and get back to work so the students can get an eduation. That is what responsible educators should do.

    Faculty unions are vile.

    • Expatriot is clearly ignorant of the facts and figures. As an assistant professor I do in fact make what he claims, but I will make two additional claims that will refute his:

      1) I work harder than he does (in hours/week/weekends). The notion that profs are not hard working is a myth. My junior colleagues and I (at least in the sciences) work very hard, enduring a lot of stress and earn every penny of our money. I work all through the summer and take perhaps three weeks of vacation per year.

      2) I got my first faculty position at the age of 39. Prior to that, I still owed (and still do!) money on my student loans, and spent the last fifteen years making very little money and working very hard. I do not own a house and my car is seven years old and rusting.

      I urge expatriot to spew knowledge not half-baked truths.

    • What about all the part-timers and lab instructors and other members who make on average 25K a year and get NO benefits? the StFX AUT has about a 1/3 of it’s members in this situation and THAT is what it is fighting for. You think that whatever benefits or money you got from Dalhousie and Acadia was done out the the generosity of the administration’s heart?! Hell no. Unions did that for you.

      If the admin does not invest in educators, then students’ education will suffer. Students don’t attend school for flat screen tvs in their room, they want a quality education and that includes quality instructors (let’s not even get on the implications for faculty and student recruitment if things go south in this negotiation).

      To tell people that they need to “suck it up” is flippant and completely besides the mark. I would think someone who works as part of university would have more of an idea of the nuances and moving parts of both the negotiation process and the consequences of the outcome as well the dynamics of a university’s working infrastructure.

    • There are so many things wrong with expatriot’s logic. It’s incredible to me.

      1) you’re still working in the summer. Research is work. If you’re not, you’re not doing your job right.

      2)I urge you take a look at housing in antigonish, by the way. It is suprisingly higher than you would expected and comparable to many large urban centres in Nova Scotia.

      3) you’re missing over a third of the union’s barganing unit that includes librarians, lab assistants, and EVERYONE else who doesn’t make that. The union is fighting for them too.

      There are more, but 3 is a nice rounded number to start off with

    • Right Expatriot – can`t agree with you more. Considering there are many that would give their left arm for a professorship in Canada these days, those on strike should be ashamed of themselves.

      If $75 k to $ 125K is not enough, please give your head a serious shake. It does not matter how long it took you to get there. Being on faculty at X is a privilege, not a right. Welcome to the new normal.

      Maybe the old academy is no longer worthy of my donations.

  4. StFX has had its funding from the provincial government reduced by 17 percent over the past three years. How can the StFXAUT justify such high wage increases at a time in which the university is having its funding slashed? There are only two ways to finance wage increases: 1) tuition increases and 2) layoffs. And since tuition increases are capped at 3 % by the provincial government, layoffs are the only option. Who do you think would be affected by this? It wouldn’t be the 103 tenured professors who make over $ 100,000 a year in gross earnings (http://www.scribd.com/doc/104502648/Saint-Francis-Xavier-University-Financial-Disclosure). No matter what, their jobs are secure. It would be part-time and contract workers who the StFXAUT is supposed to be safeguarding in the first place. In other words, the strike will lead to less workers making more money. It’s hard to imagine how this will improve the quality of education at StFX.
    The argument that StFX has mismanaged its finances by investing too much in infrastructure is misleading and incorrect: the new residences are financed by residence fees paid by students, and the Schwartz Business School was financed by private donations and special government grants (Canada Economic Action Plan).
    What might actually work to solve this situation would be to grant better benefits and wage increases to part-time workers while freezing wages for those who have job-security and/or income over $100,000.

    • Seems like you’ve been following this quite closely, but if so you would know that one of the central issues on the table is fair and equitable working conditions for over a third of the union: people like lab instructors part timers and writing centre staff.

      They still have NO benefits, they STILL make an average of 25K, and they STILL only have 8.5 month contracts.

      Maybe all the admin getting 10-40k bonuses a year should give those back if the university is in such dire straights.

    • Yes, please listen to Brendan Riley, son of the President of StFX, holder of the University’s top scholarship, ironically named “The President’s Scholarship.”

      Check out the University Financial Statements ( http://sites.stfx.ca/financial_services/finance/University_Financials ) to see how construction has affected the finances. The long-term capital debt of the university (from infrastructure investments not totally funded) ballooned from $24 million in 2004 to $53 million in 2007 and to $71 million in 2012, resulting in close to $3 million being drawn from the operating budget in 2012 for debt repayments. Page 15 of the March 31, 2012 Financial Statements shows required minimum long term debt repayments required of over $3 million per year, with the exception being 2015, with a whopping $12.8 million minimum debt repayment required.

      This debt did not grow out of salaries for academic workers!

    • Brendan – Your solution won’t work because the university will lose highly educated professors and if the university cannot maintain its reputation with just part-timers.
      The better soultion is to get rid our “pricey” President and most of the VPs who are good for nothing. Don’t you think they should be ashamed of collecting bonuses and crying for “lack of fund” at the same time.
      If they go back to the 80s’ model and have few administrators then everything will be back to normal and the university will have enough money to hire more professors and would also have money to pay fairly to the professors.
      I know you will not like my solution because it affects your family member.

  5. As a student currently at STFX, this is frustrating to see because we’re already paying one of the highest tuitions in the maritimes. This isn’t fair to us at all, and we’re losing 250$ a week during this strike, and both sides are to blame.

    • The admin is the one who made you pay tuition even though there are no classes….

  6. Much of the commentary here so far is misinformed and misleading.

    1) Fact: Brendan Riley’s father is the second highest paid President in the Province. What justifies this? Yes, it is symbolic, but if one is going to suggest that somehow professors are overpaid, get your own house (literally and metaphorically) in order first.

    2) Fact: When deciding how much professors ought to earn, comparisons are made to comparable universities, not to other kinds of jobs, so that we are comparing apples to apples. Professors and support staff alike fare poorly in comparisons to other universities. Why should we accept 2-3% lower lifetime earnings (which translates into a significant sum of money) than our colleagues elsewhere doing the same work, and funded by the same tax and tuition base? What is the justification for this? This has yet to be explained by Admin or anyone else. The Admin enjoys spouting the reputation of the dedication our professors have toward our students, but are not prepared to back it up with a fair collective bargain. All we are asking for is to not slip further behind our colleagues at other universities. This is not an unreasonable demand.

    3) Professors are in fact decently compensated for their work. Remember however, that most professors do not begin earning this pay until their late thirties, and prior to that have earned exceptionally little money as graduate students or postdoctoral fellows for their years of hard work. This is called deferred income. So, while their annual salary may seem high to the casual observer, if you calculate their lifetime earnings averaged over all of their working years, they enjoy a salary that would compare poorly to any other professional class.

    4) Professors are not the only members of the union. Some of the reason why we are going on strike is because some of our highly skilled lab instructors and support staff are very poorly compensated for their excellent front line educational work. We think they deserve better than this.

    5) What we are witnessing with this job action is a crisis of confidence in the leadership of this university. It is NOT just about pay, as most academics are not money minded, or else they would not have chosen this profession. What this is about is governance of academics that is consistent with the core mission of the university.

    I really encourage everyone with an opinion on the matter to educate yourself first before making derogatory comments toward profs. The age of the leisurely professor with a fat wallet (if there ever was one) is over. It doesn’t exist.

  7. As one of many who honestly care about the students and the university, I am truly sad to see what is happening but more importantly what is not. While the two different sides debate with endless rhetoric, I wait for the voices of the students. However all I hear is a handful of voices. Mind you the ones that speak up speak well and often, but we are not hearing from enough of them. A ralley was held on Wednesday and with with a student body of 4000, a mere 100 showed up.. I look at the Facebook groups and have yet to discover a group truly representative of the population. Same thing on twitter and other social media, a dozen or so urging both parties back to the table, but the majority are silent. So what does this say about the institution? What are these students learning both in the classroom and around campus, that being apathetic is the way to deal with crisis? Why aren’t these students more angry that they are being used as pawns by both parties? Maybe if both parties actually started listening, they would realize that both sides have failed miserably. They have failed the students by not teaching them how to advocate for themselves. They have failed to create leaders who will stand up and fight for what they deserve. They have failed to show the students the importance of an education because if morevstudents truly understood the total impact of the strike on the Univeristy, we would be hearing from them. The administration and the faculty have failed the one group that is the main reason the institution itself exists.

  8. First of all, I’m an X grad. I also attended grad school elsewhere, and while there, dealt with a faculty strike. I was sympathetic to the professors there – they were asking for the status quo, not an increase, which was fair (it was 2009 after all).

    However, I’m not so sympathetic in this case. A few comments caught my eye and garnered a few thoughts:

    1.) Just because professors don’t earn significant salaries until later in life is inconsequential – choosing to pursue a doctorate is indeed a choice and it does not guarantee a big income. If starting late is a concern, don’t go to grad school and pursue a career as a professor. If the argument is that “that’s how it’s always been”, I suggest you look to southern Ontario and the auto industry – things change.
    2.) Regardless of Who Brendan Riley’s dad is, he said things that are true; gov’t funding has been cut and tuition increases have been frozen. Without increased revenue, it’s hard to see how the school could pay for the demands.
    3.) The leisurely professor with a fat wallet does exist, and I’ve seen many. They are the result of the tenure system which breeds complacency. Once one becomes a full-time prof with tenure, any responsibility is removed as it is virtually impossible to get fired. Coupled with the removal of forced retirement, profs can show up to teach 2-3 classes a semester (with recycled material and TA’s to do the marking), do zero research, cash a huge cheque every year, and tie up positions that could be given to more productive/ambitious researchers/teachers for as long as they can roll out of bed. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of hardworking and ambitious professors out there, but there are even more who want to fill those spots but can’t.

    I don’t necessarily agree with the expansion of campus or certain other initiatives, but I think (from a distance) X is run pretty well. I had great profs and support/lab staff in my department and benefited greatly from their dedication. But with decreasing revenue to the school I don’t see how increases in pay are justified. I know some profs deserve more, but some deserve less – perhaps a pay for performance system would help balance things out.

  9. As a current student, I fully support my professors in their battle for a fair work place. When I graduate from this university, I am confident that I will have received a great education and this will be thanks to the wonderful professors that I’ve had during my time at StFX. The fact that the people that are shaping my mind and preparing me for the future are underpaid (and this is justifiable for the same reasons mentioned above by “elcoriatzi” and “Recent Alumni”) makes me very angry as I feel they deserve to be paid fairly for their work. Furthermore, as mentioned above by others, money is not the only reason for the strike – there is far more to this than solely money. While I understand that it is easy to get mad at the professors because we are paying for the university for time they are striking while the uncertainty of the situation is unsettling and nerve wrecking, I feel that the anger is misplaced. Personally, my anger lies with the university’s administration who is claiming lack of funds while receiving higher salaries than any of my professors while also getting bonuses. On top of this, it is the administration that is responsible for the fact that we had to pay this semester’s tuition! What I find particularly ridiculous, is the blatant propaganda the administration is pushing. Frankly, as someone who has received such a great education from StFX, it’s a little insulting that the administration would feel I would fall for the expensive two page spreads placed in “The Casket”. I hope the AUT and the administration will soon reach a deal, because while it is clear I support my professors, I am also anxious to get back to classes and finish the term as soon as possible.

  10. I think the part time staff deserve pay equity according to their level of education, experience and job description. As in any private sector, they should have performance reviews. The tenured positions could perhaps have a lower percentage pay raise than the part timers. It does not necessity have to be equal across the board. The tenured professors on sabbatical should be made accountable for their time and work produced. I have heard that a lot of tenured profs rest on their laurels. They should be accountable as well during the academic year and for three months when they are not in session teaching.
    I think that Dr. Riley his doing a great job but it’s time to get the students back in class.

  11. I worked at StFX and served in a tenure-track position. Admittedly somewhat “green” in terms of negotiating salary when I was hired, I was shown a table and told “my salary was non-negotiable”. I thought that meant, it was non-negotiable. I also found out two colleagues were offered $8,000 more in starting salaries although they didn’t have their PhD from a top North American university. They were “not as green” as me, I suppose.

    Several years later, I resigned – for unrelated reasons. I wanted the university – my alma mater – to be in the best position to replace me with the best of the best. Thus, I gave a one year’s notice of resignation so that they could recruit the best of the best (which, they did). I was told the day after I submitted my letter that: 1. they would revoke my tenure track status and 2. I would be receiving a pay cut of $25,000, have no time allocated for research, and would receive an increased teaching load. For the record, my publication record and teaching evaluations were outstanding – this wasn’t a matter of me not being successful.My name isn’t attached as I don’t want attention on me (just as I didn’t then). I didn’t want to draw negative attention to my alma mater – a school I love so much. I made sure to change their tune and they took back the threat of decreasing pay, status, etc (I demanded a letter to state this).

    That year I stayed on, we did recruit the best person to replace me. Too bad I was going to be so terribly punished for this.

    I loved my colleagues at X. I loved my students at X. I feel the faculty I taught in was as good as you could ever find in its discipline. I would send my kids to X to have that quality of instruction. But, for those to say “the faculty” are greedy really don’t understand. I was treated in a way that was less than professional. It was amateur.