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LETTER – TRU’s full professors are chronically under-paid in comparison

(Image: Armchair Mayor file photo).

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.

Sincerely,

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)

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About Mel Rothenburger (4721 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

5 Comments on LETTER – TRU’s full professors are chronically under-paid in comparison

  1. TRU is not a real university. It became a university in name only in 2005 when the then President assured the Province that UCC needed the new name but not real university funding equivalent to other BC universities. As a political imperative, the Province of BC agreed. Kamloops got its “university” and the Liberal government got an endless string of Liberal MLAs from Kamloops, all for no additional investment.

    The current TRU President doesn’t seem to do much. Maybe not doing much includes not advocating for more funding from the Province. Presumably the Province figures TRU is doing just fine with less per-student funding than many of BC’s colleges. In fact, that might explain why funding gets cut rather than increased year over year at TRU. TRU ranks up (?down?) there with College of New Caledonia, not even in the same league as UBC Okanagan.

    Enter the newly-annointed TRU professoriate claiming they do world-class “research” and they should be paid the same as profs at other BC universities. This leads to many questions.

    – How can TRU possibly match university prof salaries?
    – Are TRU profs really doing world-class research? If so, why do we never hear about these great accomplishments?
    – Are TRU profs really university-level profs and would they have achieved that rank at a real university?
    – Don’t TRU profs teach fewer courses than other TRU faculty? Is that not a form of compensation for all the fantastic research they do?
    – How does TRU even afford to assign less work to its profs than it does to other instructors?
    – Does a TRU prof living in Kamloops require the same level of compensation as a university prof living in Kelowna, Victoria, or Vancouver, where the cost of living is much higher?
    – Aren’t TRU professors paid under a union contract? How would TRU profs expect to be compensated any differently than specified in the union contract? Isn’t the collective agreement freely negotiated with TRU management?

    Everyone else in the workforce advances their careers and their salaries by applying for other, better jobs and moving if necessary if they want ot move up in the world. TRU profs should consider doing that rather than expecting the taxpayer to pony up more money just because Kamloops got a “university” and they voted each other into the “Professor” ranks.

    TRU professors, you should stop whining and do something about your miserable lot in life.

  2. While I agree with some of what was pointed out to in this letter, it should be noted that TRU receives far less government grant money than UBC. UBC is funded under the universities act, while TRU has its own legislation. With those acts, funding is tied with TRU getting far far less money to operate. TRU’s mandate has always been focussed on applied research and on being a teaching university. TRU supports undergrads and masters students. UBC does that too but also supports doctoral students. Further, I know people who work at UBC and TRU – their vacation entitlements are wildly different – with TRU getting a much cushier package. Frankly, comparing what people make at two distinctly different institutions (with different funding structures, mandates and purposes) is an unfair comparison.

    • TRU endeavors to be a world class university and research is in the university mandate. TRU is a member of BC research universities council. That’s how all the Universities start their journey including the best ones and the similar ones like UBC-O. TRU professors in the research stream teach one more course than other Canadian Universities where four is the standard. Professors in the research stream come with terminal degrees and teach less than teaching only faculty for whom there is no research requirement.
      The real issue is not just a comparison with other cities but an internal disparity too. A new faculty (4-5 years from graduation) with same duties and sometimes same academic area working at lower or equal rank will earn significantly higher salary than the full professors (the highest rank) who gave 15-20 years of their productive life to build TRU. In some cases, it could an administrative hiring with top salary and rank but later on moved to a faculty role.
      Loyalty needs to be rewarded and not dismissed with arguments like ‘move somewhere else’. Probably, health care professionals are already taking that suggestion.

  3. Fairness is a good policy to follow for sure. However it is also fair to ask are we (society at large) better off by emphasizing money at every turn?
    Are we (society at large) really benefiting from having another group of privileged people among the throngs of survivalists?

    • L. Bruce // May 6, 2017 at 9:03 PM // Reply

      It’s not true that TRU faculty get a much “cushier” package than those at UBC. Also, TRU’s mandate includes research not just applied research and teaching. That is why TRU is one of 6 universities in the Research Universities Council of BC. Research is mandated in the act aht created TRU. As for TRU being a “real” university: it should be, and will be, if the community and the administration put some effort into making it so.

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