Editorial—Academic Mercenaries

In a convenient bit of timing, this week I had the opportunity to attend a press conference and technical briefing with the AB government about Phase III of their review of Alberta’s Agencies, Boards, and Commissions.  This phase dealt with post-secondary institutions, specifically the Presidents of the universities, although other senior management staff will also be included.

In essence, the province is requiring that by April 14, 2020, all university presidents are adhering to a new payscale framework, one that slightly lowers base salary but severely limits any additional benefits.  The CBC has a good article with the details of the new pay framework as they were presented in the meetings.

Our own President will, I think, primarily notice the reduction in his base salary and the new bills when the university has to start charging him rent on the house AU provides.

Apparantly, this framework was created in consultation with each president and board chair to determine the scope and complexity of their duties, and then relied heavily on a survey of salaries, benefits, and duties across some 90 post-secondary institutions across Canada.

The most interesting bit of the conference, for me, was hearing the chair of the board of Lakeland College, who noted some of the same concerns that I brought up in my last editorial.  Specifically that as a board, it can be difficult to decide what’s an appropriate level of pay for the position.  He, personally, was strongly in favor of the new guidelines, saying they’d make it easier for his board in the future to have some idea of reasonable rates.  His equivalents at the University of Alberta and Calgary seem to disagree, however, suggesting that they need to be able to be more flexible to get the great talent.

They should be careful about what they’re saying, however. Advanced Education Minister, Marlin Schmidt, noted, when questioned as to whether he thought the new system might cause some university executives to leave, that the current presidents all were primarily concerned about making their respective institutions the best they could be, and were there because they wanted to create a better educational system for Albertans.  So when the boards at the U of C and U of A then turn around and say that restricting the pay could make it hard to get top talent, they seem to be implying that it’s not the work and the results that motivate their hires, but rather the cash.  However, Albertans may not be keen on the idea that some boards are happy with bringing on what may be little more than academic mercenaries.  I know I would certainly prefer that a university president be someone who wants the position because they think they can create an academic legacy for themselves first and foremost.

Beyond that, however, in the Voice Magazine this week, our writers have created a bit of a theme around motorcycles.  You might wonder what drove (heh) them to that?  It’s that today is the first Friday the 13th of the year.  And to understand why that matters, you need to go back to an article from back in October of 2017, and – you know what?  Just enjoy the read!