How much should professors make?

In my opinion, they’re paid well enough already.
Photo by ggbaker on Panoramio

More than 1,000 students at Brandon University have signed a petition asking for their tuition money back because of a faculty strike that caused classes to be cancelled since Oct. 12.

But the Brandon University Student’s Union (BUSU), which has collected the signatures, doesn’t blame the professors—who are striking for the second time in three years—for their three weeks of missed classes. BUSU supports the picketing profs. They agree they’re underpaid.

But are Brandon’s professors really underpaid? More importantly—are professors underpaid in general? It’s a question students and taxpayers should ask—they’re the ones who pay the bills.

After the latest round of talks between the the Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA) and the adminitration broke down, the university’s President, Deborah Poff, released a statement. She argued that pension obligations ($3.1-million per year) and inflation will mean major budget cuts this year, even if faculty accept an offer. The higher that offer, the bigger the cuts for students.

Naturally, BUFA argued in a statement online that they think the university can afford to pay more. The union points out that they’re not asking for much of raise—and that much is true. Their latest offer to the university was for a 4.6 per cent increase over two years, plus an increase in the third year, as determined by an arbitrator. If inflation continues at the 3.5 per cent observed lately by the Consumer Price Index, the decline in the value of money will eat up all of the increases.

BUFA is technically asking for a raise, but what they’ll end up won’t feel like much of a raise.

On the surface, such a deal seems unfair to profs. Everyone deserves recognition for hard work.

But consider how much students are being asked to sacrifice in the form of ever-higher tuitions and consider how much taxpayers are being asked to ante up to cover the five per cent increase in funding that’s been promised by the premier. I believe that professors should be doing their parts to help balance the books too. That means no raises for a little while. That means sacrifices.

Besides, professors are paid well—even at Brandon. The average salary of full-time university teachers (including all ranks) at Brandon is typical for its peer group—and much higher than what the average Canadian makes. Full-time teachers of all ranks averaged $89,829 at Brandon. The average salary of Canadians aged 25 to 54 is equivalent to $48,458, says Statistics Canada.

Even if you agree that professors should make more than the average Canadian (and I do—I’ll get to that), Brandon’s professors are paid well in comparison with their peers. True, they make less than the national average ($106,174) for professors, but Brandon, Man. is a tiny city (pop. 48,256), where things cost less. The average value of a home in Brandon was a piddly $152,453 in the most recent census. In Toronto, the typical house was valued at $413,574. Profs in Toronto need more.

A better measure of whether salaries are fair is to compare them with what’s paid at other primarily-undergraduate institutions in similarly-sized cities. Salaries are slightly higher—$90,527—at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont. (pop. 53,966), while they’re significantly lower—$80,003—at Cape Breton University, in Sydney, N.S. (pop. 102,250). Brandon profs do well in relative terms.

What lingers then is the question of how much professors are worth to Canadian taxpayers who (I’ll say it again) average $48,458. Do profs deserve to make more than twice the average salary?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Professors train for many years, often work 60-hour weeks and make extremely important contributions to our society and economy. I would argue that they deserve to be paid high professional salaries, based on their local living costs—similar to what police, teachers and nurses make. That is, almost exactly what Brandon professors already make.

Of course, it’s not just Brandon, Man. that should be debating how much professors are worth. A study out yesterday by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance showed that 70 per cent of the increase in cash for universities in Ontario between 2004 and 2010 went toward salary, pension, and benefit costs for professors and (notably) administrators. Students, who are paying punishing levels of tuition in Ontario—$6,307 in 2010—should start questioning those HR budgets.

But sadly, students probably won’t question salaries, just as Brandon’s student union didn’t. Why not? Because students have been led to believe (in part by professors) that six-figure pay is normal. A study out this week found that Millenial females think $100,036 is a normal salary for a university-educated person, while male Millenials think those who hold degrees make $130,139.

That’s incredibly unrealistic. Only four per cent of Canadians make more than $100,000. That’s one in 25 people. “They are the four per cent,” the Occupy movement supporters might chant.

With average full-time professors already in $100,000-plus club, do they need raises? I think not.