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George Fallis joins the lineup of people who JUST. DON’T. GET. IT. Which is really too bad, since he just wrote a book on higher education (and unlike this blog, people will probably read it). Unfortunately, while he makes a few good points (I’ll get to those, too), he falls prey to the usual fallacies: Canada = US and contract = “part-time”.

So let’s start with the good points: Canadian professors, not just administrators, are overpaid relative to inflation (based on the consumer price index — flawed but acceptable) and increases in other salary. YES. As I pointed out in my last postsecondary rant, Canadian profs are overpaid compared to their counterparts in other developed nations, especially south of the border. It’s nice to see someone who takes home one of those nice fat salaries actually admit it. (By the way, Georgie, I don’t see you giving up your pension to help the plebs…?)

Moreover, total revenue to universities is also going up: more butts-in-seats = more $$. Yup — the question is the per-student funding, which is declining.

But. But. Here are the two things that made me sputter:

Number one, the grad students —

Graduate students are paid more than $40 per hour for their work as they complete their studies. And the funding for research, both from the federal and provincial governments, increased even faster than operating grants.


Funding for research has little to do with graduate students, so should not be included as an “increase”. Guess what? When a grad student at U of T wins an OGS ($15k), s/he LOSES money relative to the guaranteed minimum funding of $15k + tuition (this is not true at York, which has a lower guaranteed minimum, so I can see how Fallis might be confused). Moreover, while research funding may have increased, so did the number of graduate students. And not all research moneys are earmarked for graduate study; there are also (a much larger number of) faculty-only grants. So the mention of research here is a red herring. That money goes towards people who are already well off: those who have a tenured or tenure-track position.

As many have pointed out before, graduate funding per hour is also a red herring, because students are not faced with the prospect of increasing their hours in order to make up more money. In most jobs with an hourly wage, if you want more money, you can take on more shifts. Grad students are capped (the hours vary based on university, but if you receive government money, it’s capped at 270 hours). So let’s take that as a standard: you have 270 hours x 40/hr = $10,800. This is in addition to funding if you have an OGS/CGS or federal grant — but then tuition isn’t paid for, so at roughly $7k/yr, you’re only up $3-4k. That puts even an granted scholar, whose work is seen as promising by a group of anonymous professors, at or just under the poverty line. For grad students in the “funded cohort”, it goes towards paying their guarantee of tuition + minimum stipend. In other words, this isn’t EXTRA cash — it’s part of the bill.

Finally, as some commenters have said, you don’t have to go to grad school if you can’t afford it. No one pays for undergrads to go to university. But here’s the thing: yes, you do. Your taxes do. OSAP loans (which are not available to grad students) do. So unless you think that academic study should be pursued not by the intelligent, but by the rich, you should probably pony up a bit of extra dough. Who knows? You might be locking out the person who discovers a cure for Alzheimers’, ALS, or diabetes.


So Falls fails to accurately represent grad student interests. How does he do on contract faculty? Again, not too well:

Presidents, professors, and graduate students are well paid. Part-time instructors not so well. And it is they who must cobble together an annual living on course-by-course contracts, often working in effect full time at a university for many years.

Well, no, not really. In the US, this is true — but as I mentioned before, Canadian contract faculty are paid incredibly well, assuming that they are hired to an adequate number of courses. This fight is NOT ABOUT PER-COURSE COMPENSATION. It’s about job security.


Continuing that same idea:

The compensation and contractual arrangements for part-time instructors are the squeeze point. Universities across North America are all facing the same pressure, a pressure that will shape university finances in the years ahead.

Universities across North America are NOT all facing the same pressures. Many of them have no idea what it’s like to be truly poor (as the cases of Sweet Briar and similar colleges show). York, which has consistently posted an operating surplus (see p. 2), has NO IDEA.

So let’s be honest: when even an educational economist is woefully misinformed (or disingenuous) about the state of the university, higher ed is pretty screwed.