Who makes too much money at St. Francis Xavier?

Students pay the price for high compensation


Striking St. FX employees (Clayton Blagdon)

As Canadian universities continue to pay the most generous compensation to their professors in the world, something is going to have to give. Mix this with pensions that are sometimes worth more than the paycheque of professors in the U.S. and U.K. and it’s a recipe for budgetary disaster.

St. Francis Xavier University is the most recent university staff to go on strike, cancelling classes for more than 4,000 students. Pay and the contracting of term professors are some of the justifications offered by the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT).

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. That’s far higher than most Canadians will ever earn.

As the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance reported in a 2011 study, new funds for teaching staff there are mostly going to current professors, so it’s not as if students are benefiting.

There is also blame to go around in terms of big raises for administration. According to ANSUT, administrator salaries at St. FX have risen from 2004 to 2011 by 77 per cent. That’s an increase six times greater than the rate of inflation, an unsustainable number for taxpayers and students to shoulder.

There is an apparent tug-of-war between faculty and administration at universities like St. Francis Xavier to see who gets the bigger raises. Students will pay the price regardless of who wins.

Out of control compensation including salaries, benefits, and pensions needs to be brought under control to balance the books. With reduced government funding for universities, the options are cutting costs and services, increasing tuition or going further into debt.

A major cause of financial pressures is the defined benefit pensions provided by most universities in Canada. The plans offer a guaranteed income for life based on a final average salary. The higher salaries go, the higher pensions will be. For example, some university presidents will receive an annual lifetime pension of $300,000 or more.

From 2009 to 2011 Canadian universities saw employee pension shortfalls rise from $680-million to $3.2-billion. Either these plans are reformed and converted to less costly defined contribution plans or budgets will be ravaged by the consequences including increased debt.

More debt was the option Dalhousie University chose for their pension. Faced with a 2010 shortfall, cuts weren’t palatable to pay for the topping up an under-performing retirement fund, nor was trimming the payout. Accounting rules were thus changed to allow the university to keep less money on hand to cover liabilities, which required arguing the university wouldn’t ever go bankrupt.

But problems at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) are proof debt can practically crush an institution. Shuddering under $20 million in loans, the school is under intense government pressure to fix their finances. NSCAD is renegotiating union contracts and increasing student fees.

Running a deficit solves nothing. The answer is limiting costs and balancing budgets. If Canadian universities continue to increase compensation on all sides, be it through salaries or golden pension plans, all that will happen is increased student fees and long term liabilities.

It is hypocritical for universities to say they are in it for the students when their spending habits will either harm them directly through service cuts and fee hikes, or harm them later when they are taxpayers forking out bailouts.

The solution is in fixing total compensation. Wages need to be frozen all around, benefits need to be redefined and pensions need to be reformed so they are sustainable and realistic. Anything short of that will come back to bite students sooner or later.

Adam Faber, a graduate of Nova Scotia Community College, studies math and French at Saint Mary’s University.  Bill Tufts of Fair Pensions for All contributed files to this commentary.


Who makes too much money at St. Francis Xavier?

  1. Whenever the name Tufts appears you know you are dealing with a known fabricator.
    Follow this lead for an example of his twisted words, misattributing of comments and general BS.

    • Obviously, anonymous “Brian” likes to spout personal attacks against someone (Tufts), who has the taxpayer in mind. Tufts does not earn a salary for his work. He simply takes the time to dig through audited financial reports and make it plain for the average citizen to understand. Obviously, something aint working with the current approach/system. I’d rather we have an intelligent discussion where we proact, as opposed to react. Negative personal attacks were so Grade 2. Cammon “Brian”, get with the times!

  2. So, as the article states, the professors earn some 15% less than teh national average.
    As expected, any article containing the Tufts name is full of hyperbole and falsehoods.

  3. “Who makes too much money at St. Francis Xavier?”

    Clearly, it’s the people who make $17-20K less than the national average in their profession.

  4. There’s nothing like exploiting the struggling students so the profs and admin can enjoy their lavish salaries and retirements.

    Hey colleagues, we’re going to graduate with insurmountable debt loads so our teachers can be highest paid in the world.

    The education system has morphed into one big profit machine. It’s not about teaching students, it’s about LIVING OFF OF THEM.

    ‘Like’ Fair Pensions For All on Facebook and join the effort to make a difference. The education system NEEDS TO BE AFFORDABLE, period.

  5. It’s interesting to see the members of organized labour groups jump in and attack the messenger again. The need to revamp public sector funding formulas is obvious to anyone who chooses to read the numbers and I’m not referring just to Bill Tuft’s numbers but those listed in the financial statements of cities across the country. Instead of criticizing those who are pointing out what this crisis is doing to our economy and what it means to the financial future of our children and grandchildren, all we hear from this group is that they have rights and freedoms that are being violated. I guess we’re supposed to believe that rights and freedoms are intended to be there for unionized workers at the expense of everyone else.

  6. Public sector unions reached their “Best Before” Date long ago.
    Kick the bums out! That includes defacto-public sector (universities) who rely greatly on government funding. What about MY rights as a taxpayer? What about MY rights as a student? Why are MY rights abused and trampled at the expense of YOUR rights? Students are loaded with debt, and graduating into a precarious job market. Kick the bums out – we would all be better off.

  7. I am very sorry to see such a one-sided argument in Maclean’s, a national magazine that many Canadians look to for its coverage of post-secondary education in Canada. If Maclean’s readers would like to hear from the striking faculty themselves what the real issues are, they should go to http://stfxaut.ca or their FB page at https://www.facebook.com/StFXAUT?fref=ts. University faculty want what people everywhere want: respect, fair compensation, and appropriate working conditions. These issues are particularly acute for contingent or contract faculty, who teach a growing proportion of courses for a fraction of the pay, poor working conditions, and few if any benefits. The “straw man” of the privileged professor is exactly that: a straw man. Many, many academics work for poverty-level wages, and their number is growing all the time as institutions rely on them more and more to compensate for the systematic government defunding the sector has endured for decades. If the authors of this piece had done even minimal research, they would know this.
    Miriam Jones
    Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers

  8. Ms Jones says that all the faculty want is “fair compensations” etc. like everyone else. Then you are in agreement with those who are suggesting that you should pay for your own retirement like the majority of workers in Canada. That would be fair. Earn your salary and invest in your retirement. Identifying the reason for poor contract faculty members getting paid less is as simple as looking in the mirror. As for directing readers to your teachers union page for information, I think most Canadians have been there and done that. We’re not as stupid as we used to be.

    • Actually, having a pension is paying for your own retirement. Pension plans are paid for by both employee and employer contributions. Employee contributions come directly off of a worker’s paycheque. And employer contributions were negotiated for fairly through the collective bargaining process as part of the total compensation package.

  9. To be fair, the pension plan at StFX, like at many universities, is a defined contribution plan, not defined benefit. The rise is administrative compensation referred to in the ANSUT report reflects total compensation, so includes increases in pay, but also increases in the number of people in administration.