Realistic salaries in the lofty post-secondary world

College administrators need to dispense with the notion that they're indispensable

TORONTO, Ont. Feb. 8, 2017 /Troy Media/ – The ground is always muddy after a thaw. This explains why this tale is so dirty.

I’m referring to the government of Ontario’s decision to end a five-year salary freeze for non-unionized public sector workers – the administrative class.

When it announced the salary thaw, the government asked non-unionized staff to propose a new “compensation framework.”

Senior administrators at Ontario’s 24 community colleges came back with the most ludicrous of proposals. They asked for raises of up to 50 per cent.

At some colleges, this meant six-digit increases. Mohawk College in Hamilton, for example, believes its president deserves a raise of $140,000 annually. President Ron McKerlie already earns $260,208.

Senior administrators justified the towering increases by highlighting the importance of senior administrators.

As a counterpoint, part-time college instructors – the majority of instructors – earn around $3,500 for a 12-week course. Night school teachers earn about half that.

The story gets dirtier.

As college presidents were asking for higher salaries, they were also asking for an overall increase in funding to maintain the integrity of the college system.

Without a massive increase in funding, they warned, the system could fall apart.

As evidence, they touted a scary report they had commissioned. Without an injection of cash, Ontario colleges will run cumulative deficits of as much as $420 million per year for the foreseeable future. By 2025, Ontario’s colleges will hold a debt of $1.9 billion. They will also have a deferred maintenance deficit of $3.5 billion. All the while, enrolment is expected to drop.

Colleges are billions in the hole. You could call that a product of underfunding by government or mismanagement by college administrators. Regardless, these same administrators say they deserve a 50 per cent raise.

The provincial government, thankfully, told colleges to get real. But we’re still waiting to learn how the province will help colleges reinvent themselves.

What’s the quickest way to relevance for Ontario’s colleges?

Should colleges limit enrolment and cut staffing to financially sustainable levels? And what should these colleges teach? Career skills or theory? If it’s career skills, then why are so many colleges granting bachelor degrees?

These questions are worth discussion.

But first, college administrators need to dispense with the notion that they’re invaluable. They are not indispensable. If a dozen college presidents suddenly evaporated, it’s unlikely anybody other than their secretaries would notice.

And if by some fluke colleges did fall apart in their absence, then we have a different problem. Call it bad management. Schools should not be dependent on the singular talent of a high-priced leader.

Ultimately, the government must revive the educational ideals of colleges, not merely their bank accounts.

Here’s one change to make: demand colleges act like schools, not businesses.

Stripping away business language is one important ceremonial change. Schools do not serve clients. They teach students.

And schools are run by principals, not CEOs. In 2016, MaryLynn West-Moynes earned $284,731.49 as president and CEO of Georgian College. She would like to earn a CEO’s salary of $400,000 annually.

Education is a vocation. People who dedicate their careers to teaching should not expect private sector salaries.

Indeed, there was a time when teachers were not paid salaries. They received honourariums. The idea was that because teachers don’t own knowledge, they should not profit from it. The difference, however symbolic, means something.

Teachers and principals deserve financial security, but they should not expect to get wealthy. The profit educators seek can’t be put in a cheque.

Troy Media columnist Robert Price is a communications and professional writing instructor at the University of Toronto. Robert is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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