An interesting little exercise in budget analysis:
There are just under 5600 humanities professors at Canadian universities, and 7600 in the social sciences (excluding law, which is another 600 or so). On average, these people make about $108,000/year (slightly higher in social sciences, slightly lower in humanities). Add another 25% on that for payroll taxes, health, and pension, and the direct costs of employing these folks is about $135,000 per year. That comes out to about $1.85 billion in total.
Now, what do we pay these people to do, exactly? Well, according to the standard formula (which I recognize does not apply to everyone), 40% of their time is for teaching, 40% of their time is for research, and 20% is for the ever-nebulous concept of “service”. So, while the transparent subsidies to humanities and social science research – the ones paid through SSHRC – amount to about $700 million, the non-transparent subsidies embedded in academic salaries is, all told, another $750 million on top of that.
When you start dividing out these salary-embedded research amounts by field of study, it’s kind of fascinating, particularly in the humanities. $33 million each year for research in philosophy; $58 million for history; $57 million for English. That adds up: nearly $300 million for humanities-based research. That’s almost as much as we spend on transfers to First Nations for post-secondary education each year.
I am not particularly concerned here about whether this amount of spending is desirable, or whether it offers value-for-money or anything like that; I’m sure there would be good arguments both ways. What does concern me is this: nobody in this country ever stood up and voted for $33 million of public money to be spent on research in Philosophy, and nor would they because nobody thinks that what Philosophy professors are actually paid to do.
When Canadian universities quietly – oh so quietly – began dropping faculty teaching loads about fifteen years ago, from 3/3 and 3/2 to 2/2 and 2/1, implicitly we were shifting compensation – paying more for research and less for teaching. In some fields – mainly in the sciences –that made eminent good sense. In others – such as the humanities – it’s not clear that made any sense at all. After all, the ultimate defense of the humanities is “we teach kids to learn how to think”. Fair enough: so why spend all that money paying humanities professors not to teach?
We never had a proper debate about any of this, mainly because we are not transparent about what services we are actually buying when we hire a professor. The quality of debates on higher education would improve enormously if we did.