Some background, first.
The University of Victoria sees itself among a cohort of 21 comparator universities, on the matters of research, library holdings, and other things, including salaries for FA members. There are some slight variations depending on what category you're looking at, but it's abundantly clear that salaries for FA members are very nearly the lowest among the entire cohort. Statistics Canada says so; dig through their full annual report, if you don't believe me.
Librarians aren't right at the bottom, but they're low. Faculty salaries, though, are 20th out of 21, ahead of only the University of New Brunswick, a school half the size of UVic whose faculty have bargained for 3.5% salary increases for both 2012/13 and 2013/14.
In the spring of 2012, less than a year ago, the UVic FA surveyed all its members about priorities for the ongoing round of bargaining. Around 50% of members responded, and the results of that survey are summarized briefly here. On the salary question:
- 56% of respondents said that the FA should "bargain aggressively to achieve something close to the Canadian average university salary";
- 32% said that the FA should "bargain hard to improve the relative salary position of UVic Faculty Association members";
- 11% said that the FA "should seek improvements, but should not push too hard for salary increases"; and
- 1% said that the FA "should accept any reasonable salary proposal the university administration feels it is able to provide."
When we asked members to choose where the FA negotiating team should focus its energies, 77% ranked a scale increase the highest priority, with 11% each preferring CPI and merit increments.
At Senate last week, which by the way is an open meeting, so anyone is free to attend the open portions of sessions, one elected faculty member asked whether it made sense in the current budgetary climate to halt the payment of merit increments altogether. Another elected faculty member asked how to go about starting a conversation about salary cuts; the university's president advised that this idea should be raised with the FA President.
Let me reiterate: two faculty members elected to Senate spoke there last week in favour of reducing the salaries of UVic FA members, not just compared to other institutions but in absolute terms. Do these comments represent your views?
I'll post again soon about the university's finances, but let me leave you with a few points.
First, of course it's true that no public institution has a blank chequebook. The BC government has announced a 1.5% cut to UVic's operating grant for the 2013/14 fiscal year, so there's genuine pressure on the university's budget. However, the administration told Senate last week that this grant covers only 56% of the university's budget. Somehow this has been used to justify 4% cuts to the budgets of academic departments. Do you trust them?
Second, this institution has consistently run "surprise" surpluses, sometimes significant ones. Between March 31, 2008, and March 31, 2012, UVic's financial officers projected a cumulative deficit of $6.7 million dollars. Instead, the audited financial statements show that across this period, the university in fact ran a cumulative surplus of $86.8 million dollars. That's an average surplus of over $17 million. (Bear in mind that a 1% increase to FA salaries would cost the university about $1 million.) How do you feel about the coming 4% cut now?