Volume 34 No. 4 Arnd Bohm September, 2003
(Another CUASA member has shared an account of how difficult it is to make ends meet. The conclusion is clear).
I began work at Carleton last year on a 10 month contract. My starting salary was $49, 000, prorated, was a $2, 000 pay cut from the hospital job I was working at before moving to Ottawa. I am now tenure track. I have the same salary, despite having another job offer, because the other university would not put the offer in writing until I agreed to take the position, which I did not want to do because, at the time, I wanted to stay in Ottawa.
I pay $560 per month in student loan payments. My overall student debt load is more than $50,000. I pay $1050 a month in rent (plus utilities) to live in a very modest post-war bungalow. My partner is a sessional instructor at Queens and has a SHHRC scholarship to manage his PhD costs and some living expenses. However, I am the primary wage earner in my family. In order to remain in Ottawa, we have had to sell one of our cars and my partner is currently commuting to Kingston in a 12 year old car, which uses a lot of gas and costs us at least $300/month in repairs. We are currently trying to pull together the money to purchase a new used car. I bike to work or take the o-train ($61.75/month for 8 months a year).
We recently began house shopping in the hopes that we could stay in Ottawa permanently. After 6 months of searching, it has become abundantly clear that we can not afford to own a home. We have searched extensively in Aylmer and Hull because housing prices are lower in those areas, but we need a place on an efficient bus/bike route because we cannot afford a second car. We have not been able to afford a house that would meet our needs.
At 32, I would like to start a family, but we have tried to work out a budget and realize that we could never pay for daycare, let alone a bigger house with room for a small child.
Needless to say, this has caused my partner and I a great deal of stress. We are two young academics who had hoped that we would be part of the Ottawa academic community for many years. Over the past 2-3 months, we have slowly had to realize that that dream is unlikely to come true. We know that we could secure higher salaries in Southern Ontario, where the cost of living is equivalent to what we are paying now. We will probably be leaving Ottawa solely because of the inadequacy of Carleton's pay structure.
In sum, I fully support any strike action. The cost of living in Ottawa has changed dramatically in the last five years. Carleton's salaries need to do the same.
"On the financial front, the President noted that Carleton's financial situation is generally better than most Ontario universities."
Senate Minutes March 1, 2002
Management in bargaining season puts one in mind of Old Mother Hubbard. You will remember that she "went to the cupboard, / To give the poor dog a bone; / When she came there / The cupboard was bare, / And so the poor dog had none." Management declares its good intentions, but alas, the cupboard is found empty during negotiations.
Anyone looking around the campus must find the lament rather unconvincing. New construction everywhere, renovations, landscaping, brand new furniture being thrown out to be replaced by more brand new furniture, glossy publicity brochures that convey the image Carleton's prosperity to the public -- the list could go on and on. And then there are the cost overruns for Banner: "The Banner project, originally estimated to cost $9,000,000 is now expected to cost 11,640,000 for an increase of $2,640,00." (2003-2004 Budget Report, April 2003) Oh, and that doesn't include the fact in the same Budget Report that "$504,000 is allocated to new staff positions mainly associated with the Banner project and/or the double cohort." Clearly, there is money for whatever management considers a priority.
The immediate response to such direct observation is "but that is a different part of the budget." Because so much of the budget-making process at Carleton now takes place behind closed doors, it is difficult to know exactly what this means or where the money goes. (Last week, for example, when the Bargaining team asked to see the most recent audits, management refused because that the Board of Governors had to seem them first.) However, there are indications that the cupboard has some false bottoms and mystery drawers. For example, in the previous round of negotiations management declared, cross their hearts, that they had not a penny extra. Months later, when the final budgetary figures were released, it turned out that $1.4 million had been held in reserve . (1)
Then there is management's favourite drawer, the one marked "accumulated deficit." It has two wonderful features. First, it shrinks or grows according to management needs. When the administration wanted to close academic departments in 1997-98, the debt (cumulative deficit) was enormous and had to be paid down with utmost urgency, even at the cost of tenured faculty positions. In the meantime, even though the deficit is much larger than it was in 1997-98, the urgency has been arbitrarily diminished, as VP (Finance and Administration) Duncan Watt reported at the Nov. 29 meeting of the Board of Governors (This is Carleton 3.21 Dec. 2001). Second, the debt drawer is where operating and capital budgets meet and become fungible. Losses incurred by ill-advised projects (groundwater heating; the Technology Training Centre) move into debt; the debt can then be used as a factor in determining the operating budget. Money for paying down the deficit has to come out of the operating budget.
It is also revealing to see how the share of the Carleton budget allotted to faculty salaries has been declining slowly but surely. The cupboard may be bigger but the faculty portion is considerably smaller:
Academic Salaries as a Percentage of Carleton's Total Operating Budget
Source: COU Compendium 2001-01 Individual University Statistics
Even more interesting is the stark evidence that the cupboard hasn't been as empty as management has been claiming. Data for recent years compiled from the Carleton University Consolidated Financial Statements show that even as CUASA members were getting paltry increases, the University had hefty surpluses:
|April 30, 2002|
|April 30, 2001|
|April 30, 2000|
|April 30, 1999|
|April 30, 1998|
So when management tells us yet again that the cupboard is bare, we have good reasons to be sceptical and even to growl. If there is money for planting roses, for hiring professional fund-raisers, and for nursing Banner, then there must be money for decent salaries for professors. We're not ready to play Rover and get none. Get the priorities right! Pay us a fair wage!
1. The "Carleton University Board of Governors approved a one year moratorium on deficit repayment and directed the university administration to prepare a balanced budge for 2001/2002" according to This is Carleton (Vol. 2 #24, Dec. 4/2000). "This departure from the Board-approved financial planning framework that requires a minimum budge surplus of $1 million each year until the accumulated deficit is eliminated" would "give some flexibility in bargaining." Nevertheless, after bargaining with CUASA management found itself in a position to pay $1.4 million to the accumulated deficit.