Note: This letter was sent to the Edmonton Journal on March 15 as an official correction on the record. It has yet to appear in the Journal; therefore, we are publishing it here on the blog for all to see.
We agree wholeheartedly with Dr. G.E. Swaters’ assessment in his March 15 letter that University of Alberta faculty are among the best and most sought-after academics in the world. Our academics are a genuine point of pride for the entire community, and are the reason the university has an excellent reputation at home and around the world. We further agree that as the province’s flagship university we need adequate funding to provide the superior education that Albertans expect and deserve.
I must correct, however, several errors in Dr. Swaters’ letter and clarify other misperceptions in his simplified presentation of complex issues. We at the university highly value our academic staff. Indeed, we value all of our people, including support staff. Negotiations are not simply about salary, but about total compensation that includes salary, merit pay and benefits in a province with very low taxes.
I would like to clarify the following points raised by Dr. Swaters:
• When citing salary settlements of at least 1.5 per cent taking effect at other Alberta universities on July 1, 2011, he neglected to mention that those universities’ faculty received a zero percent increase in ’10-11 when U of A faculty received a 4.75 per cent increase. Academic staff at the U of A subsequently agreed to reduce this pay increase to 2.45 per cent for 2010-11 by taking furlough days (days off without pay), but the remaining 2.3 percent will be restored this April 1. So in fact, all U of A academic staff will see their salaries increase April 1 by 2.3 per cent, regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations and arbitration.
• The university does have a performance-based compensation system beyond the negotiated across-the-board increases. These merit raises average an additional 2.3 per cent across the academic staff.
• Budgets are indeed about priorities and there is no larger component of the U of A budget than that spent on salaries and benefits. Dr. Swaters has claimed that the amount spent on academic salaries as a proportion of the operating grant has gone down, when in reality it has remained constant. In fact, actual dollars spent on academic salaries and benefits as a percentage of total operating expenditures increased from about 46 per cent in ’06 to 48 percent in ’10, a significant real dollar increase from $281 million to $399 million over that same period.
Finally, it would be irresponsible to reach a settlement with one staff group that may have disastrous results for our other employees. Avoiding layoffs is one of the key goals at this time as it was last year.
Chris Cheeseman, PhD
Vice-provost and associate vice-president, Human Resource Services
Professor of physiology, University of Alberta
**Update** The Letter to the Editor appears in today's Edmonton Journal.