By Teresa Workman
One does not have to look far to find anecdotes of excessive administrative compensation in Canadian universities. With little formal research on the subject, however, and less with a Canadian focus, faculty are left with annual provincial public disclosure lists and a few scattered news articles as proof that the salary gap between administration and faculty and other university staff is more than an imagined concept. The Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers’ (ANSUT) recent report, A Culture of Entitlement: An Overview of Administrative Compensation at Eight Nova Scotia Universities 2011/12 – 2020/21 shows that the gap is real.
The report found that spending on administrative salaries increased by 84 per cent, and spending on boosting the number of administrators by 73 per cent. Full-time faculty positions only increased by five per cent, and student enrolments increased by 10 per cent over the same timeframe.
A Culture of Entitlement reviewed public disclosure lists, organization charts, online directories, contracts, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy data, and other publicly available resources to find the compensation and the number of positions of six levels of administration at eight Nova Scotia universities. The report compared those numbers to faculty compensation and the number of full-time faculty positions, student/faculty ratios, student enrolment, and tuition fees over the same period.
The increase in spending on administrative salaries and positions, as faculty salaries, numbers, and student enrolment levels lag, highlights the erosion of the bicameral governance system in Nova Scotia universities. It is not surprising that academic staff have voiced their dissatisfaction. Three faculty associations and one union representing teaching assistants and part-time instructors in Nova Scotia chose to strike within the past 18 months, fighting for not only reasonable wage increases but also fairness and equity for their lowerpaid, precariously employed co-workers. Two Nova Scotian universities narrowly averted strike actions.
To address the concerns of academic staff, the report recommends that university leaders and boards of governors create regulations on university spending, including clear limits on administrative spending, and establish transparent, standard reporting structures — with clear breakdowns of operating and salary expenses, instruction, and research.
The report also recommends the inclusion of student and faculty representation in the development of future agreements between the province and the university, and the adoption of collegial governance best practices, such as limiting the voting powers of senior administrative staff that sit on boards of governors.
A 2021 ANSUT report, Board of Governors Structures at Nova Scotia Universities, affirms the representational nature of boards and how the need for collegial governance within university boards of governors and senates can be influenced by a corporate model of governance. Collegial governance is necessary for promoting transparency and accountability in publicly funded universities and colleges. As major funding sources for these institutions, provincial governments must ensure that administrators spend tax dollars wisely. Administrations at publicly funded universities must be accountable to their stakeholders, transparent, and fiscally responsible. This is not the case in Nova Scotia, where there is no common strategic direction for sustainability, no standard reporting requirements, and little accountability to the province.
Untethered administrative growth and lack of transparency raise doubts regarding fairness and speak to a culture of competition rather than collaboration among administrators, and can lead to conflict, distrust, resentment, and a sense of inequality among university workforces. This negative organizational culture of entitlement adds to the erosion of collegial governance by undermining the sense of shared purpose and commitment to collective decision-making, which is necessary for effective teamwork, and which makes the bicameral system work so well for universities.
Teresa Workman, MPR is the Communications Manager for the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT) and author of the Culture of Entitlement Report.