Concern over faculty pay

DANIEL McCABE | To all those professors out there who think they're underpaid, here's a news flash -- you're right. You are underpaid.

The proof comes from a recent report put together by a consulting firm hired by the University. The goal was to compare academic salaries at McGill with those of faculty working at some of Canada's other major research-intensive universities -- the universities of Alberta, British Columbia, Toronto, Waterloo and Western Ontario, McMaster University, Queen's University, Université Laval and Université de Montréal.

The conclusion? McGill professors earn 6.8% below the average, associate professors' salaries are 13% below the average, assistant professors make 14.4% less money than the average market rate and faculty lecturers earn 28.6% below the market average.

McGill's librarians are the only academic staff with competitive salaries, making 2.3% more than the average, but trailing behind the two best paying universities by 5.9%.

"The University takes this issue very seriously," says Vice-Principal (Academic) Bill Chan. "This has clearly affected our ability to recruit and retain top academic staff members.

"The number of academic staff who have left for other universities has increased over the last three years and this is certainly a major reason why."

Chan says the administration is committed to paying better salaries. The only uncertainty is how fast and how far McGill will be able to go in redressing the situation. "That is the difficult question for us and it depends on a number of factors," says Chan. "What sort of funding will we receive from the government? What sort of revenues can we generate for ourselves? But this is a high priority for the administration -- there is no question about that."

Pharmacology and therapeutics professor Barbara Hales is the president of the McGill Association of University Teachers. She also sits on a subcommittee of the Board of Governors with Chan, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) Phyllis Heaphy, human resources director Robert Savoie, former Dean of Education Ted Wall, MAUT president-elect Myron Frankman and others, that is devoting itself to the issue of academic salaries.

The consultants' report suggests that McGill increase its academic salaries to match the average salaries of Canada's major research universities within three or four years. Once this is accomplished, the University should next set out to become more competitive with the other top two research universities in Canada. The first goal would cost an additional $9 million more a year. The second would require that more than $15 million a year be spent on academic salaries.

Hales endorses the report's recommendations and says that the administration seems to be intent on improving the situation. She also says that many MAUT members are discouraged about the salary issue and uncertain about the University's commitment to tackling the matter.

She acknowledges that both the University and MAUT have to do their part to make people outside McGill appreciate the importance of the issue.

"That's why we wanted to get the results of this report out. We need people to understand where we're coming from. The government, the business community, the general public -- I don't think they realize how we lag behind the other universities."

Some McGill professors wonder if faculty should rethink the sort of relationship it maintains with the University's administration. Several professors have brought up the possibility of unionizing at recent MAUT meetings. One is English professor David Williams.

"I am not in favour of a union, per se," says Williams. "However, I think the community has to consider alternatives to the present situation. The present arrangement helped get us where we are."

Williams says that while there would undoubtedly be drawbacks to unionizing, "at least there would be a firm legal structure in place.

"The University would be legally obligated to consult its professoriate on major matters. I was once the president of MAUT and, in my own experience, the administration often simply ignores us. The so-called collegial system only works when everybody is committed to being collegial."

Williams acknowledges that many of his colleagues are dubious about the benefits of unionizing.

"The idea excites enormous paranoia. Some professors seem to believe that union toughs will come in here, interrupt classes and beat them up."

Barring any unexpected infusion of new money into the University, there seem to be two options for starting to address the academic salary situation: fund better salaries by making cuts somewhere else, or begin running budgetary deficits again. That last option isn't as unlikely as it once was; the Board of Governors has grudgingly warmed up to the notion, influenced by the fact that Quebec's other major universities have run major deficits in recent years.

Chan says the academic salary issue isn't solely a concern for McGill.

"It does seem as if the Quebec universities in general are less competitive in terms of salaries than other Canadian universities that are comparable in quality."

He adds that while salary plays a big role in attracting academic staff, it is only one of many factors to be considered.

"Salary is one component and we will address it. There are other factors that people think about when they decide where they want to work. The quality of our students, the quality of the colleagues here, the University's dedication to excellence -- these have always been characteristics of McGill that people find attractive."

Williams urges McGill to take action swiftly.

"I've spoken to departmental chairs and I know that the number of applications we receive for academic positions is way down. We run the risk of becoming a backwater university.

"As materialistic as it might sound, you have to be able to offer competitive salaries if you want to be able to hire some of the best people."