Higher Education Strategy Associates

77% Entitled

At HESA, we’re big on empirical evidence. We like it when people argue with data, rather than resort to the vacuous normative stuff that often passes for debate on issues like tuition fees.

So, when I saw that the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT) had published something on out-of-control executive compensation called A Culture of Entitlement which makes extensive use of data to “shed light on the steep increases in compensation for senior administrators since 2004,” I was naturally pleased.

That is, of course, until I actually read it.

Quite apart from the cheap shots (were the Sean Riley jibes necessary? the man just had a stroke, for God’s sake), it’s analytically pretty weak. There may well be a case to be made about executive compensation at Canadian universities, but this isn’t it.

It starts off OK, using what I assume is data from sunshine laws to track salary data for presidents and vice-presidents over the period 2004/05 – 2010/11. Their conclusion is that presidential compensation rose 27 percent over that period. In the text, they make the caveat that these are not inflation-adjusted dollars, and that if inflation is taken out, then the increase is about 14%. However in all the tables – and they are seriously large-font tables – everything to do with administrator salaries is kept in nominal dollars.

Then they compare this to professors’ salaries, which is a reasonable benchmark. And there it is in 20-point type on page 17: professors’ salaries only rose 7%. Obviously this is a Terrible Thing – just contrast that to the 24% administrators got! Except for two things: the 7% is inflation-adjusted, and it only covers the period up to 2009 – i.e., it’s for a period two years shorter than the data for senior staff.

This, my friends, is what we call “apples and oranges.” And though in the text the authors do make it clear that they can distinguish real and nominal dollars, it’s telling that in the places where they really wanted readers to look at numbers, they chose to inflation-adjust one set of figures but not the other.

So let’s do apples-to-apples. The profs got a 7% inflation-adjusted increase over four years – that’s a 1.7% annual increase. The Presidents 14% real increase over six years equals growth of 2.2% per annum.

Which leads to a pretty serious question for ANSUT: if a 2.2% annual real increase is a “culture of entitlement,” what’s a 1.7% annual real increase? What’s 77% of entitlement?

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2 Responses to 77% Entitled

  1. Paul Dixon says:

    the faculty numbers don’t reflect “progress through the ranks” increases. Looking at one faculty union’s website, in 2006 an assistant professor, step 1 was paid $56,112 and in 2011 would be at step 6 if there was no promotion to associate. but the pay scale says $78,304. this is a 39.5% increase or 5.7% per year. This is not inflation adjusted. The “scale” increased 16.5% over the 6 years in that an assistant prof step 1 was $65,367 in 2011. So if university president salaries rose only 27% in 6 years then it would appear that they received smaller pay increases than faculty.

    • Alex Usher says:

      Hi Paul. Thanks for commenting.

      Interesting point, but that only works with profs who start out from the lowest base. The same step progression for a prof who had been there twenty years would generate a much lower percentage.

      I’d have to go back and check, but I think the figure was based on the salary mass of the entire professoriate. So part of what’s happening is that to the extent that the balance between assistant professors and full professors changed (at most Canadian universities in this period, there were a lot of new hires and assistant professors became a larger percentage of the total). This would have the effect of dragging down “average” salaries. As indeed it would for Presidents if they were calculated on the same basis (which I think they were). So I’m pretty sure rise through the ranks is in there, but it’s being offset by some other factors.

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