Well, I have been away from this blogspot for too long. It’s partly the sheer busy-ness of the job, too little time, and certainly not enough time to reflect. It’s also partly the moment we are living through, poised between planning for the future and an uncertain provincial budget. Senior administration has been having irregular conversations with government officials and we, in turn, have been updating the community–Senate, senior academic staff administrators, and faculty, staff, and student unions—but, as of this writing, there isn’t really anything new to say. We are all hoping the province appreciates the contribution Memorial makes to this province’s social and economic well being and doesn’t impose anything too drastic or soul-denying on us. Memorial needs to contribute to the greater challenge the province faces, sure; we want to be good citizens. But there is obviously a tipping point beyond which we would have to be radically transformed into something smaller or less comprehensive if the imposition were too large. Who wants that? Not I. And so we wait, along with everyone who cares about the university, for signs of what lies ahead.
The waiting is difficult. The post-secondary universe unfolds along its own rhythms. Programs need to be delivered, vacancies need to be filled, staff need to be hired, services need to be improved, and so on.
And so I write this as we wait for advanced signals about the budget, which we now know will be delivered on April 14th, but also as the local newspaper begins its campaign of disclosing the salaries of Memorial employees, particularly of those earning over $100,000. I am okay with that. In fact, I wrote a blog a couple of years ago urging whomever wanted to do so to bring it all on. Other provinces have established an annual ritual of disseminating that information, and none of us working in public institutions should be shy about having that information shared. It wasn’t hard to have predicted the noise such salary lists would generate. There’s only so much I can say here without sounding completely self serving, but I wish to offer a few thoughts as social media goes into overdrive with indignation or even disgust.
Why is the disclosure line set at $100,000? Who not reveal everyone’s salaries? Sometime a while ago, Sun Media, which started the so-called Sunshine List in Ontario, landed on that figure as the newsworthy threshold. It quickly became the line separating the under- from the over-earning. It’s as arbitrary a figure now as it was then, but these phenomena have a way of acquiring the appearance of objective normalcy. I wonder how many people realize that the starting salary of a tenure-track professor at Memorial is around $89,000. It’s well over 90k if the new hire has previous experience in the rank. If one is satisfying the conditions of employment and progresses through the prescribed probation period, then tenure and promotion to associate professor follow after six years. By that time the professor will have earned salary steps as agreed to in a negotiated Collective Agreement and his/her salary will be close to or exceeding 100k. Indeed, it doesn’t take that long in this century and in this country for professors to be taking home pretty decent–and competitive—earnings, well over 100k. A PhD is a professional degree that requires around 5 years of training and education. The credential, as with a law or medical degree, informs the widely agreed upon determination of salary. Collective agreements between university faculty associations and administrators assume the history of value accorded to those who possess PhDs or equivalent degrees. And so it should not be any great surprise that the vast majority of employees earning over 100k at MUN are faculty members. That is true here as it is of any other university in Canada, and of many of the self-respecting American one, too.
Of course, much of the frenzied focus right now is on so-called bloated administration, a phrase that gets hurled around pretty casually, suggesting a multitude of sins being committed at high levels of power. Yes, I followed a career in administration so that I could perform evil deeds and exploit workers—puleeeze. As I mentioned, I know I can’t say much about this whole subject without sounding impossibly self-serving. I can say that universities today have grown to accommodate a whole new order of 21st century demands and expectations—a myriad of services for students; staff and faculty with expertise to direct career development; health and wellness and accommodation services and staff; English-language training; first-year success programs; research grant assistants; and on and on…. Call it the obscene growth of neoliberalism, whatever. Today’s university has grown to consider the vocal and recurring demands of today’s student body. Try diminishing those services if you want to hear some noise.
My view about disclosing salaries is as always – let it bleed. Let’s be transparent and accountable. We should have nothing to hide. And we don’t.