Open Letter to Professor Luste, President, UTFA
January 1, 2012
Prof. George Luste
By email/open letter
January 10, 2012
Dear Professor Luste,
Thank you for sending along your UTFA newsletter focusing on long-term changes in the allocations of the University’s annual operating budget.
The report contains some illuminating local data, including the observation that the proportion of the University’s operating budget dedicated to academic salaries has decreased over time.
I am, however, puzzled that you relied on this observation to raise criticisms of administrative decision-making and governance at the University of Toronto. Institutional comparators make it very plain that this unsettling trend is evident from coast to coast, as well as in the US and the UK. For example, among the ‘Highlights’ on page 1 of the CAUT Almanac for 2011-12 is the following point. From 1980 to 2009, spending on academic salaries as a proportion of Canadian university budgets fell from 31% to 20%. At U of T, the equivalent proportion fell from 36% to 23%. The relative reductions are almost identical.
The CAUT Almanac also highlights the sad state of university funding in Canada. Between 1979 and 2009, the proportion of financing provided by government fell from 84% to 58%, while tuition revenues rose from 12% to 35% of operating budgets in the same period. The per-student funding in Ontario is the lowest of all provinces; and not surprisingly, reliance on tuition revenues in Ontario is proportionately greater (p3). That observation, as you suggest, helps explain why bursaries and scholarships now make up a much larger portion of our operating budget than in yesteryear. This spending helps keep the university accessible to the best and brightest, regardless of family circumstances.
I do wish you had taken time to clarify that average academic salaries themselves have not fallen in percentage terms, but instead have undergone meaningful inflation-adjusted growth over the period under study. According to the 2009 Statistics Canada data, average salaries for full-time academics at U of T are the highest in Canada, and fully competitive with our public peers in the US.
I agree that the rising student-faculty ratio is a serious issue. However, while class sizes are clearly up, the number of courses taught on average by tenure-stream colleagues at the University of Toronto actually declined over the decades summarized in your report.
I also agree that recruitment of full-time faculty is preferable to increases in the numbers of sessional or contract faculty teachers. During and since the financial crisis of 2008, U of T has continued to hire new faculty in large numbers.
Last, you observe that the average proportion of the operating budget attributable to benefits has risen from 7.9% between 1972 and 1998 to 13.6% for the last three years. However, as seen in your UTFA newsletter Appendix Chart – D, the increases in benefits costs began in 2003, before the 2008 financial crisis. We are unlikely to agree on pension finance, but I think it is useful to recognize that two major unions here at the University have already agreed to increase employee contributions to the pension plan. A better balance of contributions will help ensure the sustainability of the plan, and free up resources over time to hire more faculty and staff.
In closing, George, I think the biggest lessons from this UTFA Newsletter are not internal, but have instead to do with the need for external advocacy. I agree with your characterization of the current financial model as unsustainable and indeed, said so very clearly four years ago in the Towards 2030 report. The dramatically low level of per-student funding for Ontario universities is being brushed aside these days. Instead, there has been a rise in demoralizing critiques of universities and professors, along with public policy discourse about how Ontario universities can be made more ‘efficient’. I look forward to joint advocacy with UTFA to address the real issues facing the higher education system in our province.
Best wishes for the new year.