UNBCFA Strike: Editor of Prince George Citizen Fears Contrary Opinion?

The faculty at three of UBC’s sister sister research-intensive universities in BC — UVic, SFU, and UNBC —  recently unionized and are in the middle of negotiating their first collective agreements.  The faculty at UNBC went out on strike last Friday to support their bid for a fair collective agreement.  UNBC faculty have anomalously low salaries relative to their comparator institutions across Canada.  The BC Government’s “mandate” approach to public-sector salaries will never address the structural problems in the case of UNBC salaries.

Neil Godbout, Managing Editor for the Prince George Citizen, a local newspaper, wrote an attack piece against the UNBCFA titled “Math doesn’t add up” on the weekend.  Being a mathematician, I found his finger-wagging over the math competency of a UNBC Professor of History quite amusing since Mr. Godbout clearly doesn’t understand the correct mathematical analysis needed to make his arguments. “Oops,” to quote Mr. Godbout.

Mr. Godbout also argues that people who live in northern BC should accept what I call a “northern discount” on their pay.

I wrote a Letter to the Editor in response, and sent it to the Prince George Citizen on Sunday.  It still hasn’t appeared and I have received no contact from the paper to confirm my identity, so I assume he is choosing not to publish my letter.  [Note at 4:10 p.m. on 10 March:  I just heard from Mr. Godbout that my letter will be published by the end of the week.  Apparently there is a queue for letters to the editor that is “first-come, first-served.”  I thank him for his response…..and I have some hope that he volleys back in print!]

So, I share it here:

BC’s research universities are creative engines that drive the innovation we need to diversify the provincial economy. A strong knowledge sector supports growth in other sectors of the economy, so UNBC plays a central role in the economic development of northern BC.

In less than 25 years, UNBC, a research university that provides a strong undergraduate education, has risen from an idea to one of the top universities in Canada in its class. This outstanding reputation is based on the excellent research, teaching, and community engagement of UNBC faculty members.  British Columbians should be proud of this accomplishment.

The faculty at UNBC will continue to produce research and to provide programs that will have a strong northern BC focus. UNBC faculty are motivated to explore the ideas that can shape government and business policy about northern BC. UNBC faculty will help attract and educate a key part of the workforce needed to build new knowledge-based industries in northern BC. As UBC has over the past 100 years, UNBC will grow to become a major economic driver for the province, particularly in the north.

To succeed, UNBC needs to attract and retain the kind of talented professors who will commit to spending their careers building the university. This means UNBC must address the pay gap that exists between it and its top competitors, or UNBC will begin to bleed faculty.

UNBC faculty members are simply asking for compensation and working conditions that match the high level of commitment they have made to grow UNBC into an exceptional university.

The editor of this newspaper has suggested that faculty at UNBC should accept lower salaries than faculty at comparable universities. Indeed, his arguments imply that the citizens of Prince George should expect lower wages just because they live in Prince George. Northern British Columbians should reject any notion of a “northern discount” on their pay.

Oh, and as a mathematician, I must point out that the editor’s “grade 7 arithmetic” approach to calculating average salaries is incorrect. Suppose you have a business with one manager who makes $100 per hour and 9 employees who make $10 per hour. Their average wage is not $55 per hour, but $19 per hour. Those of you making $10 per hour know very well what this means even if you don’t get the math.

Mark Mac Lean

President of the UBC Faculty Association

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