So I see the Laurentian faculty union is threatening to strike. The main issues are “workload” (they’d like to have lower undergraduate teaching loads to deal with an influx of graduate students) and pay (they’d like to “close the gap” with the rest of Ontario).

This is where the entire system would be well served by having some understanding of what, exactly, everybody is getting paid for. Obviously, if you’re doing the same amount and type of work as someone else, you’ve got a pretty good claim to parity. The problem is that what professors do – that is, their expected workload and outputs – can vary significantly from one place to another.

Lets’s take the issue of graduate supervision. Laurentian profs are doing more of it than they used to – overall, 6% of full-time enrolments at Laurentian were at the graduate level in 2012, up from 4% five years earlier. But if we’re going to use “the Ontario average” as a goal, it’s worth noting that across the province, 12% of full-time students are graduate students. So on average, Laurentian professors do only about half as much graduate supervision as other professors across the province – and probably less if we were to weight doctoral supervision more highly.

Well, what about undergraduate teaching – maybe they do more of it that others? On paper, they teach 3/2 (except in Science and Engineering, where its 2/2). That’s the same as at most smaller Ontario institutions, and somewhat more than you’d see at larger institutions where 2/2 or even 2/1 is the norm. But that’s not the whole story: class sizes are smaller at Laurentian. Sixty-seven per cent of all undergraduate classes at Laurentian are under 30 students, compared to just 51% at York (though, surprisingly, the figure at Queen’s is almost the same as Laurentian – 65%). But ask yourself: which takes more work, a 2/1 with average class sizes of 60, or a 3/2 with an average class size of 30? Hard to tell. But how can you make arguments about “equal pay for equal work” unless you know?

Then there’s research output. If you use tri-council funding as a metric, and normalize for field of study, Laurentian profs in Science and Engineering are winning about 55% of the national average – higher than Ryerson, but less than half of what Carleton gets. That’s not too bad. In humanities and social sciences, however, Laurentian wins only 21% of the national average – about a fifth of what they get at Ottawa, and a third of what they get at Laurier (all data from our *Measuring Academic Research in Canada* paper, available here. I could go on with data about publications and citations, but you get the idea: Laurentian professors’ research output isn’t all that close to the provincial average.

To recap: Laurentian is a school where (on average) professors have lower graduate teaching responsibilities and research output than the Ontario average, and an undergraduate teaching load that is higher than average in terms of number of classes, but is arguably lower in terms of total students taught. So where should their pay be, relative to the provincial average? Probably somewhere below the average, which indeed is where it is.

But the question for this dispute is: how far below? Better comparative data, combined with some agreement about the relative weight of different parts of the professorial job, would take a lot of heat out of this debate.