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So the budget came out yesterday, eh?

March 18, 2009

And shortly thereafter a concerned correspondent sent me the following:

I’m wondering as a follower of your blog what your thoughts are on this juicy budget comment?: “Universities and municipalities receive significant financial support from New Brunswick taxpayers. The government anticipates these entities will take the appropriate steps to manage their wage bills in a manner similar to the province. Grants to universities and municipalities will be adjusted in future years to reflect this expectation.”

It is my understanding that blood doesn’t come from stones. Did the latest report from the working committee not point to how underfunded NB universities are to begin with??? I can’t help but feel we’re in a race to the bottom. How again does this help UNB compete with other jurisdictions, stop the “brain drain”, and keep qualified academics in our institutions?

Well, yes. To mix the metaphors, not only is there no fat on the body, particularly on the SJ campus, but the muscles are already compromised. They’re going to “adjust us” right into the Bay of Fundy.

Other issues that come to mind: for various Byzantine and historical reasons the SJ campus is dependent on tuition to a much larger extent than the F’ton campus. But the F’ton campus budget still owes a hefty chunk to tuition as well, not to mention other sources of income such as research grants, donations, and whatnot. UNB is not a branch of government and doesn’t rely completely on government funding, so whether it is even legal for them to try and impose any sort of wage freeze is one question that would need to be answered.

It is irritating that the government is taking on the rule of school proctor here, rapping the knuckles of the greedy out-of-control children. Faculty are only too aware of the recession and its destructive potential, and I can say that with authority as I have been participating in some of the pre-bargaining meetings with different units on campus. So far, at least, no-one has showed up at a meeting agitating for huge pay increases come hell or high water. Academics are, as a group, responsible and committed members of the university community, a community that we on this campus fought hard to sustain when this same government that is now treating us like hungry tigers tried to shut us down. So while we are casting moral and censorious eyes about us, I would cast one or two on them and suggest that they look to their own house. And by that I do not mean cull the lowest paid overworked front-line workers, as they have been doing and will no doubt in light of yesterday’s comments continue to do.

The government is treading on some very thin ice here when they threaten to legislate if they cannot negotiate. Presumably they are referring to unionized government employees specifically, which is bad enough, but there are implication for all of us. It is chilling that in their panicked response to the recession they are attacking working people rather than protecting them.

And have they not been paying attention to all the discussion of stimulating the economy and the role of educational institutions in that endevour? Driving already underfunded universities into the ground — even if that ground is “shovel-ready” — is hardly stimulating.

No, I’d say yesterday’s budget merely underscores the significant dearth of thoughtful leadership in our provincial legislature.

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5 Comments
  1. Debra Lindsay permalink
    March 18, 2009 1:33 pm

    Not to be too obvious, but this is the government of smoke and mirrors. “Promising” to punish universities for paying faculty (more) by reducing future overall allocations is a powerplay that reflects badly on the minister of finance and the premier–who, in fact, may not even be in a position to make good on the “promise” in two years.

    Moreover, does the public really support the parsimonious approach adopted by this goverment towards post-secondary education?

    In the trenches underfunding means several things. From a faculty perspective this approach means that universities are forced to rely increasingly on part-time and contract academic employees who are not well paid and who deserve better. Talk about not walking the walk.

    Under this newly announced regime (i.e. “the Budget”), dependency on part-time and contract employees will increase and they will continue to be paid far less than they are worth.

    Whether or not tenured professors earn “too much,” or can withstand a wage freeze is a matter of perspective. Looking east towards New Brunswick, the answer is No. Salaries are not out of line. At the same time, on the Saint John campus where there is a hiring freeze situation, there will be no new tenure-track appointments until President McLaughlin says so. Things are different upriver, but from our perspective, the number (and presumably cost) of faculty is shrinking by attrition.

  2. Linda Hansen permalink
    March 19, 2009 6:30 am

    Well, I have observed before and feel compelled to again: if the ratio of faculty to students is about 1:28 at UNBSJ and the ratio of administrators to faculty is about 1:1, then the ratio of administrators to students is 1:28.

    Now — in US public universities (for which it is relatively easy to obtain figures) a ratio of 1:28 faculty to students is not considered a bad thing BUT they produce and support that *non-bad thing* with a ratio of 1:69 administrators to students.

    Given this, whether faculty are overpaid or not and I would say generally not (I know what I make and I know what a high school teacher in this province makes because those salaries are public so unless the govt is prepared to argue that high school teachers as a group are overpaid — what? no, I didn’t think so) — anyway, given this, it would seem more reasonable to cut administrators (by about half) — and pick a few that have relatively high salaries.

  3. Marshall Tremblay permalink
    March 22, 2009 9:33 pm

    Thanks for posting my comment, Miriam.

    As a note to all, I am presently writing a commentary article against the PSE implications of this budget, and would appreciate any input that can be provided by people with more knowledge or context than I have.

    It seems the government is being very “two-faced” about this issue. On the opinion page of the Gleaner they had an editorial lauding this budget as being the greatest thing since sliced bread for students, due to the cap on Student loans and the increased payback in the form of tuition credit tax breaks. The problem of course is that it does nothing for debt already incurred, and well, I will probably never get the break because I can’t find a freaking job in this province in any case. If I’m forced to move further afield, I forgo any benefits supposedly earned under this plan.

    And with a freeze on public service hiring, there goes one more scarce source of jobs for which I could potentially apply.

  4. Debra Lindsay permalink
    March 23, 2009 3:51 pm

    Marshall,

    Is it possible to provide an address–other than the LIIT comments section–where information might be sent.

  5. Marshall Tremblay permalink
    March 23, 2009 5:21 pm

    I have sent you an email that you can contact me at!

    Thanks a lot.

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