by Jeremy Richards
Thoughtful people must not cede all power to politicians and business interests; we must make our voices heard across the full range of professional, social, and civic circles.
(p. 95: Karr, J.R., 2008, Protecting society from itself: Reconnecting ecology and economy, in Soskolne, C.L., ed., Sustaining Life on Earth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 95-108)


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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Samarasekera Arch

Spotted on campus this morning (apologies for the low photo resolution — it was dark when I came in).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Doug Goss speaks his mind

According to the Edmonton Journal, Chairman of the Board Doug Goss has sharply criticized the UofC's claim to be "Canada’s energy university, fueled by the brightest minds". He described the claim  (in an advertisement) as "nothing short of preposterous and ridiculous and insulting" to the UofA and the University of Lethbridge, with whom the UofC has a memorandum of agreement to collaborate on energy research. You tell 'em, Goss!

"Teaching and reaching"

Apparently our latest mandate is to "teach and reach", according to President Samarasekera's weekly bulletin. A step up from "meet and greet", I suppose.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

APC cancelled today

The GFC Academic Planning Committee meeting today has been cancelled. Apparently there's nothing to talk about this week, despite the great interest at the last APC meeting in the new UofA budgeting model. Many APC members had questions about UABM that could not be answered at the last meeting; apparently we'll have to wait a little longer for those answers.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is tenure compatible with market-based salaries?

Continuing my Saturday evening musings, I am also wondering if the concept of tenure goes out the window with market-based salaries? Historically, academics accepted relatively low salaries in exchange for a job for life with little oversight, and protected by academic freedom (whatever that means). But if we are to move to a market-based salary system, why should academics also expect to retain such protections and privileges? Presumably the well-paid executives whose salaries are being used for comparison do not enjoy such protections? In fact, I think they can quite easily be fired if they don't perform, or go off script.

I'm not advocating this (the concept is anathema to me), I'm just following a thread to its logical conclusion.

Move over Collegial Chairs — the time of the Executive Chair has come

The advertisement for the new Chair of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, and the recent discussion about academic compensation (and Chair's measly stipends) has me wondering. Perhaps the Dean of Science has realized that no-one in their right mind presently at the University would agree to be a Chair in the current climate of uncertainty, especially given that they would receive only a small, temporary salary bump in terms of a stipend? So, to make the position financially appealing, the position is being advertised to external candidates, who could presumably negotiate whatever salary they wanted from the Dean. (Starting salary upon appointment is open to negotiation, and at the Full Professor level, the sky is the limit, as we have seen with the President's salary.)

Maybe it's time to recognize that Chairs really are now senior administrative positions (as the advertisement suggests) and make the appointment subject to a negotiation of a new employment contract? That way, internal candidates could hope to make the transition worth their while. Regrettably, the age of the collegial Chair, who served out of duty and for minimal extra reward, and who stepped back into the ranks at the end of his or her term, seems to be past us. But if that's true, the compensation structure needs to change too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Average UofA salaries include market supplements

I have received the following information from the UofA's Strategic Analysis Office in response to a question as to whether market supplements are included in average salary data that are widely used to compare salaries at different Canadian Universities. Paraphrasing slightly:
The UofA follows the expectations outlined for the Salaries and Salary Scales of Full-time Teaching Staff at Canadian Universities (which is no longer conducted by Statistics Canada). The reported information includes the annual gross salary (including vacation pay) the staff member is expected to receive during the salary year, and includes ongoing market supplements. However, it excludes stipends or other honoraria for administrative duties (e.g., administrative stipends for chairs or deans).
This information is important, because it means that average salaries, which are often used as benchmarks for salary negotiations and recruitment, can be skewed to higher values by the awarding of market supplements — i.e., they do not reflect average base salaries.

Presumably the same is true for other institutions reporting such salary data (i.e., the competition), but then we barely know how market supplements are being allocated at the UofA, let alone at any other institution.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nature on universities

This week's edition of Nature has a special section on the future of universities. It's worth a read, but is not as radical as one might perhaps expect, envisaging two possible end-members, but expecting one involving similar core values as in the past:
Ultimately, there are two possible universities of the future. There is the theoretical one: the institution devised in the abstract by selecting the most-innovative technologies and most-appealing ideas and packaging them together. This is the future of flying cars and Mars colonies. It may come to pass, but it is hard to see how. Then there is the university of the future that remains firmly rooted in the university of the present and the past; a place where students, teachers and scholars gather to share and seek information, and where both the information and the process that uncovers it have value.
Interestingly, a companion commentary extols the tenure system as the way forward in China (the opposite to what some in North America advocate). So maybe all is about to change to the same (or similar) and the end is not really nigh? Or maybe Nature is just an old-school British publication, and we're all soon to be overrun by market forces and short-sighted populist politics.

Confusion reigns (in my mind, at least)

After attempting to follow up from various directions over the last week, I'm afraid I am little the wiser about market supplements. In fact, if anything, I am more confused than before. There seem to be at least three different names for these things: market supplements, faculty salary adjustments, and recruitment/retention funds. They are paid for variously from Central (the $500,000 p.a. Faculty Salary Adjustment Fund that was negotiated in the last salary agreement), from Faculty budgets, and from external sources. But only the Faculty Salary Adjustment Fund is explicitly mentioned in the Faculty Agreement.

All I can conclude is that there is much more salary money around on campus than just that negotiated by AASUA through compensation bargaining. But the distribution of that money is far from even, and appears to be deployed mainly in the "professional" Faculties to match non-academic professional salaries.

Nothing that I have heard over the last week dispels the notion that we now work in a two-tier institution, with salary control for many of us, but market-based salaries for the rest.

Do I care? Not really I suppose (I'm quite happy with my salary), although it's not what I thought academia was all about when I signed up for it many years ago. But it certainly undermines my willingness and interest in volunteering my time for a collective faculty association that isn't really a collective any more, and whose raison d'être is based around agreements that are outdated and circumvented in a multitude of ways. Time for a major rethink?

Friday, October 10, 2014

More details begin to emerge

I have heard through the grapevine, and am trying to get official confirmation, that some of these very large market supplements may in fact not be part of the "Faculty Salary Adjustment Fund" which is negotiated during salary bargaining, and that in fact the funds for these supplements may come from external sources. If this is true, then perhaps there is some relief that these exorbitant supplements are not being paid from the University's operating budget, and are therefore not competing with other funding priorities. But on the other hand, it seems to imply the existence of a whole other way of getting paid over and above regular salaries at the UofA, and this time completely below the radar of the collective agreements.

But the $12-13m Faculty Salary Adjustment Fund definitely is being paid from the operating budget. For those of you who don't collect such things, here is the wording of the current compensation agreement (for 2013–2014):
9. Salary Adjustments
9.1 The value of the Faculty Salary Adjustment Fund shall remain unchanged at $500,000 per annum for each fiscal year of the Term. [Note that this terminology has led to the long-standing confusion between what this actually is — the value of new supplements that can be awarded each year — and the total value of supplements being paid out each year, which is the $12-13m figure mentioned above.] 
9.2 The Provost and Vice-President (Academic) retains the right to provide salary adjustments to staff members above and beyond ATB increases and merit pay where the Provost determines that such adjustments are needed to correct salary inequities or to retain individual staff members in response to competitive pressures. [This is the "management rights" piece.] 
9.3 The Provost's discretion to provide salary adjustments, including to correct salary inequities or to retain individual staff members, does not constitute an infringement of AASUA's sole and exclusive role in representing academic staff members on matters relating to their terms and conditions of employment. Funds used for these purposes shall not be included within the compensation funding envelope. 
9.4 The Provost and Vice-President (Academic) shall provide an annual report to the AASUA as of May 1 with an accounting of all compensation from the Faculty Salary Adjustment Fund for the previous year by Faculty, Department and academic rank (aggregated where necessary in order to protect individual identification).
The statement in §9.3 that "Funds used for these purposes shall not be included within the compensation funding envelope" is curious, and I'm not sure what it means. The funds are definitely coming from the operating budget, so they must in some way be competing with other operating budget priorities, such as regular salaries. I'll try to find out more.

And finally, §9.4 perhaps explains why the large size of some supplements have not been previously know to AASUA — AASUA only gets told the aggregated totals, not individual amounts. But from what I mentioned at the beginning, maybe the largest supplements aren't even in this dataset.

The more one digs, the more questions arise. I wonder, for example, when figures are bandied around for "average professorial salaries" at the UofA, whether these numbers include market supplements or not?