Want lower tuition? Ask your profs about $97,000 pensions.

Runaway compensation is hurting students


 

Photo by Tania Liu on Flickr

When students across the country united for the Canadian Federation of Students’ National Day of Action to protest tuition fees on Feb. 1, tiny Brandon University’s student union did their part.

They gathered students, foisted placards and yelled into a megaphone. The message was clear.

Drop fees. Drop fees. Drop fees.

It seems strange then, that last fall when the Brandon University Faculty Association went on strike for the second time in three years, the student union wasn’t so bothered about being asked to pay more for their professors— who make up most of the university’s costs.

Nope. The student union supported the 45-day strike.

Brandon University’s faculty got their raises—8.5 per cent or more over four years. By my calculation, the average salary of tenured profs will rise from $89,000 to approximately $97,000.

All this at a time when Brandon is scrambling to pay for its previous promises. Its pension plan has an unfunded liability of at least $22 million—a gap that equates to $10,000 per Brandon student.

No wonder the university is planning a 10 per cent across-the-board cut over the next three years.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised that Brandon’s student union supports ever-increasing faculty compensation. “Solidarity” with labour unions is tradition, as this student reporter pointed out.

But students everywhere should take a closer look at compensation next time they look at their tuition bills or wonder why the roof is leaking in their 900-person Calculus class.

What they’ll find is that compensation at Canadian universities is out of control.

We all know tuition is rising. It grew from $4,960 in 2005 to $6,316 in 2010 in Ontario. That’s 27 per cent in five years. Contrary to popular belief, government funding per student has been steady.

Over that period, the 27 per cent increase didn’t buy students many new labs or teachers.

In fact, 70 per cent of new spending on campus went to salaries and pensions “largely for existing full-time academic faculty and administrators,” says the Ontario University Student Alliance.

That’s right students. Tuition is rising mainly because professors keep getting more expensive.

Meanwhile, buildings are falling down, lectures are becoming so big that they’re nearly pointless, and it’s now common to graduate into our shaky job market with $40,000 in debt.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Brandon isn’t the only university that hasn’t kept its pension plan funded. A report out this week, shared with the Financial Post, shows that unfunded pension liabilities at the 13 universities tracked by DBRS have grown from $680-million in 2008-09 to $3.2-billion in 2011.

To break that down on a per-student basis, universities owe their pension plans $20,906 per student at the University of Toronto, $16,360 per student at Queen’s and $10,687 at the University of Guelph (which, by the way, had its DBRS credit-rating lowered because of the pension problem).

Bill Tufts, author of Pension Ponzi, says that 2012 will be the year when generally accepted accounting rules force them to catch up. But there are only a few ways to do so—all of them painful.

Universities already brushed off the problem once when they blamed the sudden drop in the stock market in 2008 and were allowed to under-fund plans for longer than usual. But since the market recovery in 2010, the amount they owe to the future has, if anything, increased.

It’s proof of the real culprit, says Tufts: “rapidly expanding compensation plans paid to professors.”

It’s easy to see how. Salaries average $106,000 for full-time professors in Canada—$139,000 for full-time tenured professors in Ontario. That’s more than what 95 per cent of Canadians make.

Professors tell you they deserve it—and if you don’t pay them six figures, they threaten to move to private sector jobs. But the idea that the grass is greener at private firms is wrong. OUSA reports that earnings are no better for science and engineering PhDs in the private sector. For humanities and social sciences professors, salaries are often worse—unemployment is usually higher.

Besides, professors are too smart to give up their student and taxpayer-funded pensions for the risky private sector, where such sweet deals are extremely rare.

Profs can often retire with 70 per cent of their final salaries after 35 years of work, says Tufts. That’s after contributing as little as four per cent of their pay to the plans (on average 5.5 per cent).

Let me illustrate the largesse. Though $139,000 is the average pay for a tenured prof in Ontario, rather than the final-year pay most pension plans are based on, let’s be conservative and use that in our calculation. A 60-year-old professor who started working when she was 25 could retire today (two years before the average Canadian) and collect $97,000 a year for the rest of her life.

The Occupy Movement should take note. If there was ever a symbol of the “one per cent” it’s professors. Ironic then, that so many took time off from research to hoist microphones last fall.

Of course, not all the people students call “professor” are rolling in dough. The runaway pensions and salaries have forced universities to stop hiring new staff. Where no more students can be stuffed in a room, sessionals and adjuncts are called in to toil away without job security. A new report suggests these tenure-less “serfs” now comprise 70 per cent of teachers in the U.S.

Adjuncts and sessionals deserve a better deal. But there’s not much left after negotiations with faculty associations. Profs generally get off easy. Management rarely drives a hard bargain.

“They’re dealing with employees and faculty who are their life-long friends,” explains Tufts.

More importantly, he says “administrators are very reluctant to change pension plans, because the people sitting on the management teams themselves are getting the same pension compensation.”

Or, even better compensation. Management would look hypocritical if they criticized professors’ compensation. The average salary of presidents and vice-presidents grew 4.5 per cent per year between 2005 and 2010 in Ontario to more than $260,000. Just imagine what kind of pensions they’ve got banked.

Politicians could step in, but won’t. They too are set to inherit lucrative taxpayer-funded pensions.

But clearly, something’s got to give.

It may soon in Halifax. After the recession, Dalhousie was given until 2013 to build their pension plan back up to the legally-required level. Since then, the unfunded liability has reached $270 million. Dal will be expected to find $50 million per year to fund their obligations starting in 2013.

That simply can’t happen. It would require a 15 per cent cut to non-pension budgets. “I’m almost at a loss for words as to how we’d address that,” said Ken Burt, Dal’s vice-president of finance and administration, in a recent update on pensions. “The consequences would be dramatic.”

So what now?

Tufts says universities expect taxpayers—most of whom could only dream of pensions half the size of what professors, administrators and politician are getting—to make up the difference.

But taxpayers can’t afford it. Ontario is unable to pay off its out-of-control debt and is facing painful cuts. Nova Scotia cut universities’ budgets by four per cent last year and three per cent in 2012.

The only hope is for universities—professors, management, janitors and student unions alike—to start living in the real world. University employees need to step up and start paying their shares.

That could be done by moving to defined contributions, where pensions are based on how much investments actually earn, rather than a guaranteed amount of money that may or may not exist. That’s the norm in the private sector. It’s also the norm at McGill and Western universities.

Another option is for university employees to contribute a heck of a lot more than the 5.5 per cent they typically pay while working. Sure, those who’ve already retired will get away with paying less than their shares, but the gap won’t need to be closed on the backs of students or taxpayers.

What’s most likely to happen is, well, more of the same.

Management, with their fat compensation, will continue negotiating fat compensation with faculty, while politicians hold their tongues so that taxpayers don’t go after their fat compensation next.

But if nothing changes, it’s students who will suffer. Tuition will continue to rise, student debt will continue to climb, and one day there will be no money left for things like lectures and labs.

Now that, to me, is something worth protesting about.

Next time, how about a National Day of Action on Pension Reform instead?

Don’t forget to follow @JoshDehaas, @maconcampus and @macleansmag on Twitter.


 

Want lower tuition? Ask your profs about $97,000 pensions.

  1. What is happening in microcosm at universities is happening in a macro way with federal, provincial and municipal governments everywhere. Bargaining with other people’s money just isn’t prudent. Liked the article with one exception. In illustrating the case of a tenured professor, the author refers to a woman. hahaha! There simply aren’t any (> 15%)! Must be a trick question!

  2. Great article!

    A National Day of Action on Pension Reform is a great idea. The only problem is, the public sector unions simply don’t care that they’re unaffordable.

    They are as insatiable as they are inefficient, and beyond any hope of reason. Just ask the Greeks…

  3. Josh, get your facts straight.

    The Dalhousie administration is trying to take away ANY guaranteed pension for us faculty–a pension *we have been paying into.* We agreed to renegotiate our pension so the Administration can get solvency relief for the pension plan, but that’s not enough for them. They want *any mention* of pensions taken out of our collective agreement. If we agreed to that, we would lose all protection for our pension plan; we stand a very good chance of never seeing any of the money *we contributed* to that pension plan over our years of work.

    I studied at university from 1987 to 2003 to qualify to do this job–that’s sixteen years of education, three degrees and a post-doctoral fellowship. At 42 years old, I am still paying off my student debt; I haven’t had the opportunity to save a whole lot. I have a 19 month old son and don’t want him to be burdened with supporting me when I’m 80 because Dalhousie’s administration decided to take my pension away, a pension they guaranteed me when I was hired here in 2003.

    So I am supposed to give up my pension, any security I have for my old age. Meanwhile, our President Tom Traves now makes about $400,0000 a year (http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/53398-no-belt-tightening-university-presidents-nova-scotia) and lives in a mansion owned by the University (http://www.library.dal.ca/DUASC/Digital-Collections/Buildings/PresidentsResidence/). I can assure you that Traves and his cronies are not “lifelong friends” of mine! The head of the Administration’s bargaining team has had the *gall* to say of upper administration salaries at Dalhousie: “We’re comfortable where our salaries are.” (http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/53398-no-belt-tightening-university-presidents-nova-scotia). I’m sure she is. I would be too if I were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Did I mention that they get a university-funded break on their mortgage interest as well? I’ve been at this university since 2003, and the growth in senior administration in those few years has been mind-boggling. How many Vice-Presidents and Assistant Vice-Presidents does Dalhousie even have now? I’ve lost count. The number of students has escalated too, and their tuition goes up and up and up. Meanwhile, services to students and supports for teaching and the faculty-student ratio get worse and worse every year while senior administration grows. The students know this. *That’s* why so many students support us. They’re here–they see what’s going on.

    Nobody becomes a professor because it’s the best way to make great big wodges of cash. If I had become a lawyer or a physician, and spent fewer years in school than I did to become a professor, I can tell you I’d be making a hell of a lot more than I make as a tenured, associate professor. I make a decent middle-class salary of a bit under $90,000 a year, and I went to school for 16 years to get it, 16 years when I couldn’t make whatever salary you’re making right now. I’m not in the 1%. The 1% isn’t still paying off their student debt at age 42.

    When will people like you wake up and start targetting the people at the top of the heap who are making five, ten, twenty TIMES what the rest of us is making?

    If and when we go on strike, I’m not sure how I’ll pay my mortgage. But I’m ready to go on strike, you’re damn right I am, because I will need a pension in my old age. We all will. You will, too, one day. You’d better realize that now and start supporting people who are fighting to keep the benefits workers have in this country, or you won’t have any benefits left to fight for.

    • I lost count of how many factual inaccuracies there are in your post.

      You should also know that the university is not trying to “take away any guaranteed pension” you have been paying into. In fact, as per the offer tabled to your association yesterday, the university is actually offering to cover any increased pension contributions with a corresponding salary increase for all faculty members AND is offering to cover the full cost of any legacy pension deficits. These will not be paid by faculty and staff. This offer is public and posted on Dal’s website:

      https://blogs.dal.ca/negotiations/files/2012/02/Pension-Governance-Principles-Proposal-2012.pdf

      Secondly, the President does not even live in the “mansion” to which you are referring. That house has sat vacant since the end of the President’s last term – which was several years ago. At that time he built a home of his own and moved into it. The house is currently used for university functions – some of which have been of great benefits to various Faculties and departments at the university. In addition, a salary of $400,000 is not particularly high for a university in Canada. That salary wouldn’t even place in the top 10 of university President salaries in Canada. Dal’s President is, after all, responsible for the management of approximately 5,000 staff and more than 17,000 students. Most professors manage no staff, teach a few courses per term, and concentrate on the research that interests them. Obviously there should be a major salary difference between the two positions. In the private sector, such a discrepancy would be many times higher.

      I suggest you apply some of those critical thinking skills you learned in your 16 years of training and read up on the actual issues you may be facing – rather than making misrepresentations of the information you seem to be receiving from the faculty association higher-ups.

      • Interested bystander, eh? Yes, I bet you do have an interest in this–interesting that you didn’t declare what that interest was. Requiring that we take all mention of a pension plan out of a collective agreement means that the Board is requiring that those covered by the collective agreement have no guaranteed pension plan. Period. The conditions of our work are ruled by the collective agreement. No pension plan in the collective agreement means that a pension plan is not a guaranteed condition of our work. I suggest you start reading my union’s accounts of what’s going on so that you can get educated about the spin that Dalhousie’s Administration and their very well-compensated PR guys are putting on these labour negotiations. But my guess is you’re probably already very aware of the spinning that those PR guys are putting on things. It’s pretty clear you’re not a professor, unless you’re one who’s suffering from a chronic case of false consciousness. Say hi to Tom from me, and I have news for you and him–no one at Dalhousie is buying your spin, certainly not any of my students. And I take it that if, as you claim, Tom built a new house and isn’t living in the President’s [sic] Residence, he’s getting the mortgage interest relief that only upper level administration at the University enjoy–or did he pay cash for the house? With 400K a year in salary, that’s always a possibility, I suppose.

        However much you might appreciate Tom and think he and his ever-expanding circle of upper administrators are worth $400,000 a year, people don’t come to Dalhousie to hang out with Tom Traves and his cronies. They come to Dalhousie to take classes from professors like me. He is disposable; the faculty are not. Take that back to your boss, please.

    • Since when is a $90k salary considered middle class? And we know you get nice allowances, stipends, and annual increases. You make more than the average joe who will have to help fund your pension. No sympathy here.

    • I completely agree with you Emma. I’m part of the faculty union at Dal as well. The “offer” published by President Traves fails to mention that the one of the conditions is stripping the pension from the collective agreement.

      There are 23 Vice Presidents at Dal.

      I stay at Dal not for the money, but because I like working with the students and the security of the pension and benefits make up for my salary (I could make much more elsewhere). Speaking of salary, I may have a salary of $90,000, but once the government takes their chunk, and all the other fees are accounted for, I’m left with about $43,000 a year. Given that I spent 10 years in university, and have a PhD, that doesn’t seem like a lot.

      I’m ready to go on strike too, I’ve been through hell with this administration for the last 5 years.

      • If you think you’re so valuable, why don’t you quit and find another job? You profs. are always bragging about how you can find better jobs in the private sector.

        The problem with striking in Canada is that the union has a monopoly on labour. The university is not allowed to hire replacement professors to replace striking ones, nor can they dismiss striking professors who refuse to do their jobs. The union says its collective bargaining is protected by “right to association,” even though workers are virtually forced to join the union, and even though the employer is denied the right to associate. If you go on strike, you are putting a lot of students in deep trouble and they deserve better from you.

    • This comment was deleted.

      • I would like to add – let’s assume that Jennifer Volsky Rushton is correct and there are 23 VPs (hint, she’s incorrect. There are 5 VPs – Carolyn Watters, Ken Burt, Floyd Dykeman, Bonnie Neuman and Martha Crago. Again, it’s disturbing that professors have so little understanding about the university). Even if there were 23 VPS (when, of course, there are actually FIVE) making $400,000 per year (which is more than even Dr. Traves makes, and he alone is not even top 10 in salaries for presidents of Canadian universities) even if the university got rid of ALL 23 fictional VPs that would still only leave a total of $9.2 million to spread among all faculty members, counsellors, etc.

        Now how far would that money go, you ask? Well, basic math tells us that $9.2 million divided by 870 equals a total of $10,753 per faculty member per year. That’s it. And remember, that’s including 18 FICTIONAL VPs that Jennifer Volsky Rushton made up (how apt, for a counsellor). Now, considering if Dal had to meet the pension solvency test for this year without a jointly sponsored plan they would have to take $50 million out of the operating budget – do you really think cutting senior admin will do anything.

        I guess they didn’t teach budgeting and financial accounting 101 in grad school…

  4. I agree to a certain extent that professors are perhaps too highly compensated in terms of pensions, don’t be lumping in, as you say, “janitors” in along with them, who lack the salary and bargaining power than professors have. My fiance has a master’s degree making 38,000/per year at a university. Don’t you dare say its her fault she makes university unaffordable.

    And this article, while making good points of how high-level public employees have high pensions, fail to examine the systemic failures of capitalism. When many students (like myself) called for lower rates, we also saw that it had to happen as part of a general revolution. We may have a pension problem to a certain degree, but it is only so under our system of unprogressive taxation. We have people making 10s of millions of dollars a year. Taxing that money at 95% would solve much of our problems. In the 1960s, the united states taxed 84% of every dollar made above 400,000 a year.

    Pensions may be concerning, but the attack on them for people like professors is a foil to allow regressive forces to protect the rich in this country. A sharp increase in taxation amongst high income people will help address many of these issues and wouldn’t target public servants while protecting modern day capitalist pirates

  5. Yes, go ahead and lower the salary of your Professors, but beware you pay a big price by lowering the quality of not just education of students, but more importantly the research. The reason why the best schools in the world are the best is because they are able to attract the best researchers in the world through prestige and competitive compensation.

    Lowering Professor’s salaries will only lower the quality of Universities in Canada. More funding is needed, either via private or government, in order to continually grow the research in Canada.

    The society who is doing the most significant research will be the one who will be able to innovate and lead the World. We must make it MORE attractive for the best researchers to work in Canada, not the other way around.

    • Why should undergraduates be forced to pay for the cost of research? Research is done for the benefit of society as a whole, and brings little benefit to undergraduates. Profs claim that their research enhances teaching, but usually the research is so advanced that they can only make occasional allusions to it during undergrad lectures.

      In fact, requiring a PhD. for professors greatly increases their salary costs without bringing any benefits in terms of teaching quality. In a PhD., you do years of intensive research in a very narrowly defined topic. A PhD. does not make you a better teacher, nor does it give you the broad knowledge of your field that you need if you want to teach several courses. A course-based Masters is better preparation for university teachers than a PhD. Indeed, many PhDs are good at research but not good at explaining concepts to undergrads.

    • You seem to be arguing that the gov’t should pay for research because research is done for the public benefit. There are two problems with this theory:
      (1) A lot of research is applied research, whose ultimate aim is to create marketable technologies. These can be funded by private investors.
      (2) Even with basic research, the work that is done with Canadian funding is available to the whole world, not just to Canadians. So why should Canadian taxpayers be forced to pay for something that benefits everyone all over the world? The fact is that if attracting the best researchers brings real gains to Canada, then private companies and institutes would attract those researchers, and no public funding is necessary.

  6. Since so much of this article alluded to faculty greed by comparing it to the recent faculty strike at Brandon University, perhaps some perspective is needed.

    “Universities already brushed off the problem once when they blamed the sudden drop in the stock market in 2008 and were allowed to under-fund plans for longer than usual. But since the market recovery in 2010, the amount they owe to the future has stayed the same, says Tufts.

    That proves the real culprit is ”rapidly expanding compensation plans paid to professors.”

    Actually, the real culprit is low return on investments [i.e. low interest rates] making it necessary to put more money into the pension fund to fund retirees. Higher returns would have made the pension fund much more healthy – and the agreement by faculty to pay more into the pension fund will also serve to contribute towards this. As for the 70% that the author of this article alluded to as “usual” pay for retirees, Brandon University Faculty get 55%. It is hardly excessive. Many private sector pension plans pay more.

    “…compensation at Canadian universities is out of control.

    We all know tuition is rising. It grew from $4,960 in 2005 to $6,316 in 2010 in Ontario. That’s 27 per cent in five years. Contrary to popular belief, government funding per student has been steady.”

    Starting with the election of the NDP in Manitoba (1999), tuition was frozen in this province at around 3,000/3100? for several years and only since 2009 was it allowed to go up – and for a limited amount. http://news.gov.mb.ca/news/index.html?item=5701.

    So before you go around using Brandon University Faculty as some poster child for greedy faculty (with big pensions, high salaries), benefiting from high tuition increases (NOT), perhaps you should get your facts straight.

    As for student support of the strike – they know that BU faculty are accessible (no large classes here); work hard (teach 18 credit hours instead of 15 at most universities); are accessible (it is easy for students to reach a professor if they have a question), and underpaid (they earn much less than faculty at other institutions). They also know that while Brandon University faculty – who work in small departments – are scrambling to cover courses, that Senior Administration at BU:

    * is continuing to grow;
    *has money to pay expensive consultants and labour lawyers;
    *cries poverty for anything that supports teaching(i.e. sabbatical replacements, more faculty positions) – positions that benefit students.

    The “they [i.e. students] are young, idealistic and do not know any better” argument is an uninformed one. That students were forced to go without contact was the hardest things for faculty on the picket line to endure – and they did so because they were forced to chose between the lesser of two evils.

    To learn about the strike and why it was a prolonged one, read all about it from this Winnipeg Free Press Article:

    http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/westview/administration-province-will-wear-this-one-134448033.html

  7. ‘Salaries average $106,000 for full-time professors in Canada—$139,000 for full-time tenured professors in Ontario. That’s more than what 95 per cent of Canadians make.’

    Everytime I see this I cringe. Yes, this is the average, but humanities and social science professors are usually paid about half of what engineers, business profs and some scientists make. Unfair, maybe, but that’s the way it is. And as for Professors taking up most of the university’s costs, why should that be a surprise?

    You also mention the fact that 95% of Canadians make less than professors. What percentage of Canadians have the level of education and experience that professors do? That might be a more interesting and balanced way to deal with this point, otherwise you are left with the same thing for MPs, who also make a lot of money and have great pensions. What percentage of Canadians are MPs?

    I realise it’s easy to bash professors because public perception is that they teach a couple of classes and go home at 10am. Most professors I know (I am a student) work considerably harder than that.

    I don’t really see what this article is trying to accomplish.

    • If the profs. are really doing such a great job, then we should be able to privatize all the universities and cut off all government funding to higher education. If the university education is really so valuable, people would be willing to pay the full cost, and poorer students would be able to obtain student loans from private lenders easily.

      As for research funding, the professors would again be able to attract funding from private sources – most of the top academics already get most of their funding from private sources.

      If the professors can justify their exorbitant salaries in an environment where they are actually under pressure to prove the value of their services to paying consumers, then that’s fine.

  8. Emma Whelan is right: slashing spending should start at the top, and this should apply right across the public sector, and soon.

    But as for pensions: they should be defined contribution, and not a burden on the taxpayers, most of whom have no workplace pensions of their own.

  9. “A 60-year-old professor who started working when she was 25…”

    This only proves how badly conceived this article is. I have never met a single individual who had completed a PhD by 25, and found full time employment.

    And as for the 1%? Really? Senior administrators make 300,000-400,000$ p.a., a figure no professor will ever reach.

    I am very surprised that Macleans allowed this to be published.

  10. “A 60-year-old professor who started working when she was 25”

    Anyone want to help the author of the article figure out what’s wrong with this example? Hint: THREE post-secondary degrees.

    So what IS fair compensation for highly trained specialized professionals, Josh? The relevant comparison here is to other skilled professionals with extensive specialized training, holding competitive positions with significant responsibilities.

  11. While pension shortfalls are very important, not all universities have defined benefit plans. Those that don’t (with defined contributions) suffer from the same ups and downs of the market, but have no buffer in the sense of the university being required to help out. This is probably as it should be, but it’s really not quite fair to imply that all faculty (except at McGill and Western)have the sort of retirement security the article describes.

  12. All of these request come at a price…we want lower tuition but honestly, we live in a society where higher education is largely funded by federal and provincial governments. Those governments receive that funding from taxpayers. It’s a shame that people believe that higher education is a right when really, it’s a privilege. If you don’t want to pay for it, then don’t. It’s simple. And I am by no means a student who doesn’t understand money. I work during the summer, go to school full time during the yeat and maintain a vehicle, while dishing out all the money to better myself, so I can get a job. But I’d rather live in debt now than pay more in taxes later in my life.
    As for professors pensions, they deserve it! They’re job is to educate the world in a subject that they have specialized in. That specialization requires some sort of compensation, much larger than the average. Without these professors what kind of education would you be getting, if any at all ?

    • Professors get a high salary because they’re responsible for RESEARCH, not quality undergraduate teaching. Really, all a PhD. teaches you is how to do intensive research on a narrowly defined topic. It does not improve your teaching skills or give you a broad knowledge of your field. The research brings little benefit to undergrads, who are nevertheless forced to pay for it.

      If you’re so interested in quality education, why not ask for much higher salaries for school teachers?

  13. I can’t believe that anyone would pick on the professors. Out of all the staff involved in keeping a university afloat, they are by far the most important — who would teach us if they weren’t there? Professors generally have to spend 10 YEARS getting the three degrees they need in order to be considered qualified to teach at the post-secondary level, and most of the professors I know work tremendously hard, taking pride in both their work and their students. Few professions in our society require as many years of education as professors have to complete, and I for one believe that highly-educated people deserve to be compensated for the time, effort, and money they put into getting to where they are today.

    Want to lower costs? First of all, cut back on the ever-swelling numbers of administrators; this is actually a huge problem and one that needs to be addressed openly. Stop wasting lavish amounts of cash on flashy new buildings that aren’t needed, stop constantly refurbishing offices for no apparent reason, stop hiring costly consultants to offer opinions on every little thing (my own university is guilty of this one), and start managing the money more effectively instead of squandering it on trifles.

    Tuition keeps rising, more and more people are coming to university, and yet in return all we get are programs being closed down or having their funding slashed, more endless bureaucracy, and more wasteful spending. Wake up! It’s not the professors or other front-line workers who are running Canadian universities into the ground, it’s the people in the top ranks who are only interested in raking in piles of money, and who don’t care about providing a quality education.

    • But even with all those things…universities are swimming in debt and at least 70% of a university’s expenses are on its professors’ salaries. It can continue to cut, but the unions just see the universities decreased funding in other areas as money to grab, and they do.

      So then they go to the taxpayers. It’s not the professors’ fault that the tuition is too high; it’s the shop owner, the doctor, and the lawyer who caused this! – except it isn’t.

      We all know why this is happening. Cut down everything except the professors’ salaries and the finances are still a nightmare.

    • Profs. are only interested in having grad students write research papers that they can take credit for. They don’t give a damn about undergraduate teaching.

    • Who says the profs. are interested in providing a “quality education”? They get hired based on research, they’re given tenure based on research and even their promotions are based on research. They get paid whether or not their students learn, and they get paid whether or not their students are able to find jobs.

      If these profs. are doing such a great job educating our students and helping them find good jobs, why would they even need gov’t funding? Tuition alone would pay for their salaries. Private loans would be easily available to poorer students.

  14. “A 60-year-old professor who started working when she was 25 could retire today (two years before the average Canadian) and collect $97,000 a year for the rest of her life.”

    Allow me to give you a lesson in how the real world works.

    A typical student enters undergrad at age 18. An average degree takes five years, so you leave when you’re 23.

    A Master’s degree takes two years, so you’re at 25.

    A Ph.D? Depends on the field, but you’re probably looking at four more years. 29. I know people who have taken six or seven years. By the way, you’re still probably paying tuition and accumulating student debt at this point. Some Ph.D programs will pay you, but your hourly rate is almost certainly below minimum wage.

    Can you get that 100k a year position yet? Hell no. Next is your post-docs. If you’re lucky, that’s three more years, probably making in the 30-40k range. If you’re lucky, at this point you’re good enough to actually hit the tenure track (if you’re unlucky, then you spend a couple years as an adjunct first, probably getting paid less than you were as a post-doc).

    If you make the tenure track, you’re making a respectable wage, but still well under 100k. Depending on the institution, it might take you six years to become a full professor. If all goes very, very well, you will hit tenure a few years shy of your 40th birthday. In reality, you could be in your forties or even fifties by the time you pass the 100k mark.

    Now, I admit, the top figures aren’t that bad, but the opportunity cost is a killer. Over their entire career, a teacher or nurse, for example, would end up earning far more than a professor is likely to, because they have a 15 year head start in their aggregate earnings.

    • Becoming a professor is a tough and risky road, but once you become a tenured professor(if you make it that far), life is good.

      (1) You get a high salary. I know in engineering at major universities, it’s over $100k per year starting, and over $120k about 5 years later after getting tenure.
      (2) You have a stable job – you don’t lose income because of layoffs etc.
      (3) You aren’t transferred from one city to another.
      (4) Most universities have removed the retirement age, so you can continue working past 65. Since you have tenure, you don’t have to worry about getting fired for performance reasons.
      (5) You get excellent pension benefits, health care plans, help with initial housing loan, relocation assistance etc.

      In the very long run, the professor can make more than the teacher or nurse, who have lower salary and job security. But it does take a very long time, and it is a risky road.

  15. A typical, weak hit piece, with more of this “Pension Ponzi” BS.

    Professors are the 1%? Really? The 1% cutoff is about $350,000 / year, and no professor I know of makes even half that. We’re also not playing games with financial derivatives to undermine everyone’s savings, shifting jobs overseas, or shuttling between boardrooms and Cabinet. We don’t wield anywhere near the same level of influence, nor do we use it to enrich ourselves at the expense of others.

    We’re actually trying to make a positive difference, through our research and by training the next generation of scientists, engineers, etc. A typical professor in my field works 70-80 hours per week trying to cover all of their responsibilities, so the perception of teaching a couple of classes and then going home is completely misleading (albeit convenient for people who write articles like these).

    We keep hearing that defined benefit plans are unsustainable, yet even five years ago there were legislatively mandated pension holidays because plan assets were not allowed to be in excess of 10% over liabilities. Then a financial crisis hits, the pension plan goes into deficit, and suddenly we’re told that the pension is unsustainable? We will return to solvency over time, but Dal’s plan makes it very easy for them to reduce benefits and increase employee contributions. It is NOT a defined benefit plan in any sense of the term, and there is no reason for us to take a permanent hit in response to a temporary problem.

    • “typical professor … works 70-80 hours per week” HAAAA HAAA HAAA, Mr. Bagel you must be a professor yourself, putting out BS like this. I went to graduate school, and what I noticed is that the graduate students do all the research, carry out all the experiments, simulations etc. and write all the academic papers.

      The prof. might have a 1/2 hour weekly meeting with each student, plus a few hours when the paper is ready, and then prof. adds his name to the paper and takes most of the credit.

      Most profs. I know would come in at around 9 am, leave at around 4:30 pm, and do no work in the evenings or weekends. They’ve even got TAs to help them do the marking in their courses. It’s the same deal in all the other departments. I mean when you’ve got a tenured job and you can’t be fired no matter what (short of sexually abusing a student or something like that), why would you bother putting in 70-80 hours????!!!!

    • You may not be in the top 1% based on salary alone, but when all your benefits are taken into account, there’s certainly a good case for it:
      (1) Once you get tenure, you have a guaranteed job for life, and it’s almost impossible to fire you, even if you do a poor job
      (2) Most universities are getting rid of the mandatory retirement age, which means you can keep working well past 65. Since you have tenure, you don’t have to worry about getting fired for performance reasons.
      (3) You won’t be transferred to a different cities, so it’s good for raising children.
      All of this is either at the public’s expense, or at undergrads’ expense.

  16. Mr. Josh Dehaas, thank you for raising this issue. Despite some minor inaccuracies, it does raise public attention on an important and often ignored issue.

  17. “In the very long run, the professor can make more than the teacher or nurse, who have lower salary and job security. But it does take a very long time, and it is a risky road.”

    And you don’t believe that the compensation professors receive should reflect the fact that the path to get their is very difficult and risky?

    Out of curiousity, how do you see this as different from, say, a medical doctor? Both are paid from public funds, both provide public services, both go through very difficult and extensive training programs (although becoming a tenured professor takes much longer), and both ultimately receive fairly good compensation at the end of it (although a doctor’s salary can top a professor’s by a factor of 5, depending on specialty).

    “If these profs. are doing such a great job educating our students and helping them find good jobs, why would they even need gov’t funding? Tuition alone would pay for their salaries. Private loans would be easily available to poorer students.”

    So you want higher tuition fees?

  18. Free_Trade: privately funded research would be wonderful… except for one major flaw. Privately funded research has a nasty habit of only producing research results which support its agenda. Sometimes that agenda is a great one, sometimes it isn’t. Are you willing to take that risk? I’m sure not.
    As for your belief that a PhD is narrow and too focused to be of any use as a teacher, I disagree. A PhD gives you very valuable skills beyond those in your research field. Ability to multi-task (since you do many inter-related projects, conferences, etc.), drive and determination (helpful when teaching students who will often frustrate and stump you), planning and execution (of utmost importance when planning and teaching a class)… I could go on.

    I also disagree that research does not help in teaching undergrad lectures because it is “too advanced”. In order to reach that level of advanced research, your understanding of the “basics” must be excellent. And I’d say an excellent understanding of “basic” concepts (which will be taught to undergrads) is helpful. And the comment of yours I find most offensive is that profs don’t give a damn about undergrads.

    I feel sad that you must have had ALL the bad apples teach you. Obviously there will be some profs who, as you say, “don’t give a damn” about undergraduates. But as a double major in Biology and English, I have had only 1 professor in my entire university experience who gave me that impression. And they didn’t even have tenure… My honours supervisor has been instrumental in helping me with the graduate school process, spending hours with me talking pros and cons of different programs or job options, comforting me when I felt frustrated. He has also spent countless hours with me in the lab, explaining protocols and ensuring I felt confident. All of my professors have been delighted to help me either with course work, or in my general pursuit of knowledge. They may be gruff, or critical, but never did they give me the idea that they “didn’t give a damn”. I think it is grossly unfair to generalize all professors this negatively.

  19. I am a staff member at Dalhousie. I haven’t even been working full-time for a year yet, and I should agree to paying in more money to pensions? Not just for me, but to cover the mistakes made by Dal? No way.

  20. Most profs I know now start their career $100K+ in debt from the costs of tuition. Don’t you think that the salaries that professors receive must be able to pay off the 14+ years of post-secondary education that are required to obtain the position? Or do you REALLY think that clever people are going to put themselves $100K+ in debt for a $40K a year, 60-hour a week job?

  21. @Free trade:
    “They get hired based on research, they’re given tenure based on research and even their promotions are based on research. They get paid whether or not their students learn, and they get paid whether or not their students are able to find jobs. ”

    That’s not true. Most universities judge promotion and pay raises based on performance that combines teaching and research (and to a lesser extent service). If you do a crappy job teaching, you don’t get a raise that even matches inflation. And the vast majority of universities now would never tenure someone who was a poor teacher.

    • @free trade:

      “and they get paid whether or not their students are able to find jobs. ”

      Since when is it the responsibility of the teacher to find their student a job? It is up to the individual to make their way in life by using the tools provided to them – i.e., their education, but also their drive and ability to do things on their own. It is not up to Professors to find jobs for their students, and to suggest that pay scales should be tied to job rates is ludicrous (why should a teacher be punished if he/she has a student who is lazy, and can’t be bothered to find a job, or because the student desperately wants to be xyz, and can’t make it in that field?)

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