Letters to the Editor
Pensions: Why They Matter To Faculty
Students and members of the community might not understand why WLUFA is so concerned about any changes being made to our pension plan. Our concern is directly related to the costs of pursuing an academic career path. These costs include: educational costs tied to completing undergraduate and graduate degrees; debt loads tied to educational costs in the form of student and other loans; and foregone earnings while we are studying.
According to Statistics Canada, the average age of completion for a PhD in Canada was 36 in 2005. The starting age of people working in other professions is substantially lower, in large part because it takes significantly less time to complete required training.
Of the graduates surveyed by Statistics Canada in 2005, 25 per cent reported debt incurred during graduate studies, ten per cent reported having debt from their undergraduate studies and 19 per cent reported debt from both undergraduate and graduate study. Let me put this in perspective for you: it took me 15 years to get my BA, MA, and PhD; In other words, I graduated from Grade 28. I was awarded tenure in the exact same month that I finally paid off my student loans. It was also the same year I turned forty. Pensions matter because they compensate for years in which we invest in our own training to qualify to become professors.
Pensions compensate for the years in which we were unable to contribute in significant ways to retirement savings because we were bearing the cost of educating ourselves.
–Dr. Penelope Ironstone
The Administration thinks (TSA) works for everyone
The truth of the matter is that universities are institutions in which teaching is motivated by the research of the instructor.
This is one of the main differences between a university and other institutions, such as colleges. Professors are judged via peer-reviewed publications and by coming to a university you expect to be taught by people at the cutting edge of scientific inquiry in their respective disciplines.
TSAs will remove the research imperative, as your instructors will teach across a broad range of courses, including those outside of their expertise, without time to pursue research. TSAs clearly do not work for students, faculty or the university’s reputation.
For whom do they then work? The Dominion Bond Rating Service (25.iii.2011) noted concerning the student-to-faculty ratio of 25:1 “although this helps support the quality of education, it also creates higher staffing requirements and somewhat limits the University’s ability to contain cost pressures.”
If you pay university tuition (and in your fourth year you will be paying 19.25% more), should you not be getting a university education?
Clearly this proposal has nothing to do with fiscal necessity, pedagogical insights or the quality of education offered to you, but apparently stems from the administration’s potential appeal to investors. TSAs are intrinsically designed to increase class sizes and will have a detrimental effect on the quality of your education. Is this your Laurier?
– Dr. Robert M. Kerr
Who Should Teach us About Debt?
Contrary to what some critics say about the value of a university education, there is one very basic life lesson that almost every student learns and that’s how to manage debt. It is a precursor for the car loans and mortgages in the years ahead. Nobody knows more about the trials of paying off student debt than faculty.
After 12+ years in higher education, years when they miss out on earnings and paying into a pension plan, your average PhD is well over 30 and tens of thousands of dollars in debt when they start tenure-track jobs. Most are 40 or older by the time they pay off that debt.
While students and faculty share this very basic life lesson, this does not appear to be the case with the administration.
They stopped contributing to the pension plan for ten years. Now they refuse to pay their debt and claim it is “unsustainable.”
However, this claim is problematic. A pension plan risks becoming unsustainable when there is a shrinking pool of workers to support a much larger number of retirees, or when management stops paying their share.
But, Laurier has seen unprecedented growth in the past 15 years. More faculty, staff and administrators for thousands more students.
The administration claims that it is too difficult to pay off their debt.
We say what any debt councilor would say — make regular monthly payments and live within your means. We all have to pay our debts and so should the Administration.
– Dr. Herbert Pimlott