What’s with all these Toronto-based consultants on higher education? They very probably never taught a class, let alone one with 600 students. They have definitely never carried out a major research project that took months and years of sweat and tears, and they have no clue how diverse and dynamic university’s curricula are and should be. Yet, they have “expert opinions” on all that, they have “supposedly credible” platforms to pontificate from, and they get paid for it.
Take for example Alex Usher, a Toronto based education consultant and a globecampus blogger, who hasn’t been sparing the Canadian academic profession lately from his sermons. He admits that he likes to “dish up his sometimes contrarian insights on national and global trends in higher education”, and he often likes to preach a “more with less” approach for Canada’s post-secondary education.
Fair enough, but then he feels free to announce in New Brunswick that the Canadian academic profession is “a monster”. Why? “Because Canadian university professors are paid more than their public counterparts in the United States and that far too many resources have been diverted from teaching and into research.” He adds “Universities need to control costs by increasing class sizes and mandating a uniform curriculum.”
I will let other self-appointed consultants/experts argue with him about why we need to decrease class sizes and diversify our curriculum. Let’s concentrate for now on his premise, developed on his blog, that “Canadian university professors are paid more than their public counterparts in the United States”.
To substantiate his findings, Usher uses the Statistics Canada website to search for salaries of full-time teaching staff at Canadian Universities, and the Chronicle of Higher Education searchable database to find the annual salary survey of the American Association of University Professors.
Even if Usher’s selective use of data was correct, there are some obvious counterarguments –some of which he has himself admitted– which show that his conclusion was wrong. We expand below on these counterpoints, but more damningly, we point out that his selection of data was totally misleading … almost justifying the following comment submitted by a reader to a related report.
“I’ll tell you what’s monstrous: highly educated, perfectly rational people paying to listen to “consultants.”
In any case, here are our counterarguments:
- The US compensations are just 9-month salaries. Top research-active faculty in the U.S. often get an additional 2/9 percent of their salary through federal research grants such as the NSF. Others are free to either teach locally and get paid in the summer months or to go to other institutions to teach or collaborate on research and get remunerated. In contrast, the reported Canadian salaries are for a 12-month period, and Canadian faculty do not have the summer options of their US colleagues.
- The comparison is totally and artificially skewed by the current almost one-to-one exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollars. As Usher admits himself, it wasn’t long ago that the Canadian dollar was worth about 62 cents U.S. I don’t think that this rate change translated into Canadians feeling all of a sudden endowed with a much greater purchasing power. As someone commented: “Anyone who passed Econ 100, even barely, knows that using nominal exchange rates to do a time-series cross-country comparison of income is idiotic.”
- Even Usher admits that marginal tax rates are different, as are things like health-care coverage, all pointing to an advantage for our US colleagues.
- However, where Usher fails miserably is in being unscrupulous in selecting the appropriate data for his comparisons. In order to make his fallacious point, he proceeds to compare the top 10% of salaries at Canadian universities with the average salaries at US universities to draw his conclusions. When you look at average salaries in Canada and the US, we are lower. For example, he claims Associate (Full) professors at York earn on average $125K ($150K) but both are the 90th percentile numbers. The averages are actually $105K and $122K with the Full salary significantly below the US schools in California.
This kind of public and poorly substantiated statement is irresponsible and harmful to Canada’s post-secondary institutions, especially when voiced by a senior consultant on higher education. It is fine for Usher to dish up his contrarian views, but it should be as important for him to maintain credibility. He would then be spared the tough comments that one can find on his blog.