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UNB Strike - Professor's Salaries, and How They Compare to Their President's Salaries.

As I mentioned yesterday, I think there is a lot of value in having a 3rd party do some serious fact-checking on the numbers being released by both sides of the strike debate. Since salaries are the elephant in the room, that’s where I’ll be putting my focus for this article.

To provide some background, the AUNBT believes that professor salaries should be equal to the average of similar schools, and those in especially bad shape are the low-wage entry-level professors. The UNB administration believes that the better metric to compare salaries to is what percentage of their operating budget salaries takes up. With that in mind, I hope to accomplish three things with this article:

  1. To explain why comparing salaries to the operating budget doesn’t really make sense,
  2. To fact-check AUNBT’s numbers, and
  3. Provide an alternative ratio that can be used across universities

Why comparing salaries to the operating budget doesn’t really make sense

First, this has no effect on whether a professor decides to come to UNB. I’ve never heard of a job offer going along the lines of “Your compensation will be $80,000, which represents 0.026% of our operating budget. We think you’ll be quite pleased with that, as other universities only offer 0.023%.” That just doesn’t happen, but using this kind of statistics implies that it matters. It simply doesn’t.

Second, and more fundamentally, what schools spend their operating budget money on is very different between schools. UNB, for instance, has an enormous amount of infrastructure given its student population, and some of it is very old. The maintenance and heating costs for these buildings takes a lot of money, and that will distort the operating budget in a way that would make it hard to compare to a school with a similar number of students but far fewer or newer buildings.

Now, on to the numbers…

The AUNBT has published this bulletin arguing for why they want a significant increase in their salary. They state that the average of 14 comparable schools is significantly higher than what they are currently earning, so it is only fair to increase it to that number to attract top talent. There are issues with this, however, like (as a friend of mine put it) “Queen’s profs get paid more because they are Queen’s profs” and the simple fact that it costs more to live in many other places with universities than it does to live in Fredericton.

Even with all this in mind, I decided to check the numbers produced by AUNBT so that others could have the data they need to verify what they’ve published. Using the University and College Academic Staff System data from 2000-2010 (sorry there’s nothing newer, but they killed the survey with the Stats Canada cuts), I decided to look at the same comparison schools and include the trend over years as well. I also converted everything to 2002-equivalent dollars so we can see how their salaries change, regardless of inflation. I looked at 3 different levels of professors, in order of rank: full professor, associate professor, and assistant professor. Each of these includes professors with administrative roles, and excludes salaries for people in medical/dental fields since not all schools have those, and they would distort the numbers.

Starting at the high end, I took at look at what some of the highest earners at each school made. For these, I looked at full professors in the 90th percentile income bracket (that is, if there were 100 profs, 90 would earn this amount or less) with UNB as the dotted line for emphasis:

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(Source: University and College Academic Staff System data from 2000-2010.)

Remember that these are real dollars, so when the line goes up and to the right, it means that salaries are increasing above the rate of inflation. It’s worth mentioning that it’s clear from this that UNB has, for the last decade, paid lower wages than most other similar schools at the top-end of the professor market. (That’s not a value judgement, it’s simply a fact, and doesn’t take into account the things I mentioned earlier.)

Next, I did full professors median salary, keeping the graph dimensions the same to make it easier to compare, and received similar results:

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(Source: University and College Academic Staff System data from 2000-2010)

The numbers that I have are 1-year behind what is used by AUNBT, but it should be pointed out that UNB has only recently fallen to last - a fact hidden by only showing 2010-2011 figures as they did in their report.

And then associate professors, 90th percentile, again similar:

image

(Source: University and College Academic Staff System data from 2000-2010)

And associate, median (similar):

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(Source: University and College Academic Staff System data from 2000-2010)

Then assistant, median (once again…similar):

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(Source: University and College Academic Staff System data from 2000-2010)

And finally, to show how much some of our worst-paid professors get, I did the 10th percentile for assistant professors: 

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(Source: University and College Academic Staff System data from 2000-2010)

This one is actually different from the others! We can clearly see that in this case, we used to pay our worst-paid professors around the average of the worst-paid bracket, but have since fallen behind.

To give you a feel for how these different salaries compare, I’ve taken the liberty to animate them as well: 

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But does this even matter?

And is there a better way to compare salaries that captures the essence of ‘fairness’, gives a way to compare schools in completely different geographies that have different costs of living, and also takes into account the simple fact that some schools are more prestigious that others? I think so, and it involves the also-controversial figure of university presidents’ salaries.

Since president salaries are also pegged to school size, prestige, and location - the same factors that affect professor salaries - a ratio of each university’s president’s salary to their professors’ salaries would cancel these factors out. And if you argue that presidents are paid too much, you can at least accept that they are all similarly paid too much. This approach is widely used as a measure of how ‘out of touch’ the salaries of top earners at a business or institution are compared to their employees, and so I’m comfortable using it here.

Using the president salary and bonus statistics provided by MacLean’s (who got them from this report), adjusting Eddy Campbell’s salary upwards by $30,000 as an estimate for what his bonus may be since that is missing from his datum, then adjusting each salary to be in 2011 dollars and including the number of students as provided by CAUBO, we can see the distribution of university president’s salaries (click for a larger version): 

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So what happens when you take the amount of each of the median salaries from before, and compare them to their respective president’s salary, all in 2002 dollars? This:

Full professors:

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Associate professors:

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Assistant professors:

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UNB comes out directly in the middle of the pack. A completely unexpected, but interesting, result. And even more surprising is that, almost all professor’s salaries have been increasing _relative to their president’s for a decade. _(*EDIT: This last sentence is not necessarily true - see note above. With existing data, I can only compare recent years 2006-2010.*)

If you enjoyed this, also see my analysis of UNB’s operating budget.

Ryan Brideau

Disclaimer: I know members of both the UNB administration and faculty, and consider many to be friends. I am not being compensated monetarily or in any other way to produce this analysis by either side. All of the scripts I’ve used to create these are available for scrutiny on my GitHub page (for those that understand R, that is - sorry, the data was too complicated for Excel): https://github.com/Brideau/UNBStrikeWatch


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