Myth #1: Contract Faculty receive equal pay for work of equal value

This article is from the WLUFA Advocate January 2016 4.5.

This is the first in a series in which the Advocate explores the relationship of Contract Faculty members with the University. The series takes on prevalent misconceptions or “myths” about Contract Faculty working conditions, and provides some hard facts and figures so readers can assess the fairness of the two-tiered employment standards that are now well entrenched at Laurier.

With negotiations to renew the WLUFA Part-time Collective Agreement beginning this spring, we have the opportunity to press the Administration to address these and other issues.

Myth #1: Contract Faculty receive equal pay for work of equal value

Kimberly Ellis-Hale, Sociology

40-40-20. These numbers ring familiar with most faculty in North America, as they do here at Laurier. They supposedly represent the breakdown of work responsibilities for tenured and tenure-track (“full-time” or “regular”) faculty at WLU. That is, it is assumed that roughly 40 percent of a regular faculty member’s time is spent on teaching, 40 percent on research and 20 percent on service to the university community. For regular faculty members with Professional Teaching appointments, the weight
shifts somewhat such that, ideally, 60 percent of their time is to be spent on teaching and 20 percent on each of research and university service.

Of course, we all know that these percentages are very rough guidelines that only exist in a perfect world. In years without sabbatical or other leaves, teaching and service generally account for a far greater percentage of a regular faculty member’s workload. In addition, we all know many faculty members whose service commitments take up much more than 20 percent of their paid time, often running deeply into their unpaid time. For many regular faculty, re-search must wait for golden periods of uninterrupted time—usually the summer or a period of leave.

So, what does this all mean for assessing the fairness of contract faculty compensation? And, what does it mean about Laurier’s reputation as a fair and just employer?
First, let’s assume that teaching is compensated at the same rate as research or service. Second, let’s assume a (very conservative) starting income of about $90,000 plus 20 percent for benefits for regular faculty. Now, let’s look at how that breaks down per course: taking into account an expected 40 or 60 per-cent teaching contribution, the compensation paid per course is about $10,800 (assuming four to six courses per academic year). Even when using the conservative figure of $10,800, the math is still staggering—new regular faculty earn a whopping $3,700 more than new contract faculty are paid per course. Experienced contract faculty, regardless of their terminal degrees and/or publications fare only slightly better—earning about $3,000 less per course than our sample $10,800 figure.

The question we’re posing here, however, is not only one of numbers but one of value and fairness. If, in our classrooms and in relation to our students, two people have the exact same duties and responsibilities (and, in many cases, the exact same credentials), is it acceptable that one receives thousands of dollars less than the other? One can only justify this by suggesting that there is something special about Contract Faculty—that they are, for instance, not fully qualified instructors but apprentices or primarily professionals looking to earn a little extra money. While the latter may be the case for a minority, it is not true of most, who are trying, like the rest of us, to cobble together an in-come on which to survive. And if teaching is truly valued at Laurier, what does bargain-basement compensation for a significant proportion of teaching mean in the face of that ostensible value? On a larger scale, how can any fair university employer expect an employee to teach the number of courses necessary in order to exceed a 40K salary (a modest family income) as well as afford to purchase health benefits and (in their spare—unpaid—time) wedge in a few articles and conferences in order to increase their “hire-ability”?

It’s not that there aren’t other unfair employers out there. It’s not that con-tract faculty are solely put-upon in this current economy or in our larger world. It’s that few others actually work for employers that overtly pro-claim liberal ideals of justice, fairness, open-mindedness, global awareness and progress, while at the same time practicing what amounts to a kind of feudal attitude towards its most vulnerable employees.

If the point is fairness, the numbers don’t add up.

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