Higher education doesn’t usually get the attention it deserves during provincial election campaigns. That’s unfortunate, because since Kamloops received a free-standing university in 2005, several issues that should have been resolved by now have been left dangling. The one we are particularly concerned about are serious anomalies in the way academic seniority is recognized and rewarded at TRU.
The transformation of the University College of the Cariboo into Thompson Rivers University was thanks to the hard work of many committed faculty members. One group of faculty was particularly crucial to attaining university status. These academics had accumulated respectable scholarly publications and had won competitive external research grants, demonstrating that TRU is an internationally credible research institution.
When TRU applied to join the Research Universities’ Council of British Columbia in 2010, it was the same small group of nationally and internationally known TRU academics who again provided the necessary credibility.
We are the core of this small group. We have all earned the full professor rank – the highest university-level distinction – and we can claim without false modesty that Kamloops wouldn’t have a university without our reputation and professional standing. That’s why we feel justified to call attention to an unfortunate development that threatens to undermine the status and credibility of the university we have helped build.
For decades, the residents of Kelowna and Kamloops have enjoyed a friendly competition. When UCC became TRU in 2005, Okanagan University College was absorbed into the University of British Columbia as UBC-Okanagan. There is a widespread belief that the two institutions continue to move along a similar trajectory. But do they?
If we learned that the doctors or city administrators in Kelowna earn much higher salaries than their colleagues in Kamloops, we would be concerned and worried about our city’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified professionals.
But few people are aware that UBC-Okanagan’s most junior full professor earns well above the income of the most senior full professor at TRU – after more than 30 years of service. The average salary of the top academics at UBC-O is 50 per cent higher than of their colleagues at TRU. Undoubtedly, the chronic under-funding of TRU is a factor here, as the provincial government gives UBC-O considerably more for each full-time student than TRU. But the real problem lies with TRU’s promotion practices.
What we are concerned about is the future of the principle and purpose of academic promotion. Universities promote faculty members along a number of ranks according to contributions to scholarship, teaching and service. As in most professions, promotion goes hand in hand with an increase in salary. An associate professor normally earns more than an assistant professor but less than a full professor, and so on.
Alas, while this is normal practice at most universities, TRU administration has allowed and even encouraged a profound departure from this norm. In what seems like a deliberate effort to sidestep the traditional promotion method and outcome, it has conferred disproportionate salaries on hand-picked new hires while keeping the salaries of longest-serving full professors at ridiculously low levels. Consequently, we now have newly hired associate professors placed well above senior professors on the salary scale.
For the readers who might be inclined to dismiss these growing anomalies as ‘whining’ of a few over-paid and privileged academics, we would like to point out not only how demoralizing this development is for us, the already established full professors, but how it affects our more junior colleagues.
Normally, the prospect of being promoted to Full Professor serves as an incentive. However, internal promotion at TRU is increasingly being seen as a lot of work (applying for highly competitive research grants, putting family life on a back burner in order to conduct research and publish its results) for few rewards. Teaching a course or two through Open Learning is certainly more lucrative. That option, however, doesn’t contribute to the university’s research profile.
TRU’s hard-won research credibility needs to be supported. If it isn’t, the negative impact on enrolments and on the university’s ability to hire talented new faculty could be considerable.
We alerted the administration to this problem more than four years ago. In spite of numerous meetings, the issue hasn’t been addressed.
There is a lot at stake here. TRU administration boasts about new buildings on campus, including the widely advertised ‘university village’. We share in the enthusiasm.
However, as the guarantors of TRU’s academic credibility, we must caution that the fundamental task of a university – the creation and communication of new knowledge – cannot be fulfilled effectively in the absence of policies that reward academic accomplishment fairly and equitably.
Bruce Baugh (Full Professor since 2005; SSHRC ASU grant recipient)
Richard Brewster (Full Professor since 2009; NSERC grant recipient)
Avninder Gill (Full Professor since 2016)
George Johnson (Full Professor since 2010; SSHRC grant recipient)
Karl Larsen (Full Professor since 2013; former NSERC grant recipient)
Donald Lawrence (Full Professor since 2011; SSHRC grant recipient)
Nelaine Mora-Diez (Full Professor since 2014; NSERC grant recipient)
Peter Murphy (Full Professor since 2005; former SSHRC grant recipient)
Mervyn Nicholson (Full Professor since 2000)
Cynthia Ross Friedman (Full Professor since 2013; NSERC grant recipient)
David Scheffel (Full Professor since 2006; SSHRC grant recipient)
Mohamed Tawhid (Full Professor since 2014; NSERC grant recipient)
Patrick Walton (Full Professor since 2015, SSHRC grant recipient)
Roger Yu (Full Professor since 2001; NSERC grant recipient)