Wednesday, April 1, 2015

1 Admin vs. 70 Grad Students: Who Really Works at Western?

My convocation, featuring Amit Chakma (left) and the late Chancellor, Joseph Rotman (right)
On Monday morning, Western’s student newspaper informed me that Amit Chakma, Western University’s president, made nearly a million dollars last year. Apparently his salary is capped at $440,000, but he chose to work through a year of paid leave, earning bonuses which brought his salary up to $967,000.

I’m normally not the sort of person to complain about other people making a lot of money, and I feel very blessed to receive nearly $20,000 in research grants and TAships from Western. To me, getting paid $35 an hour to fangirl about The Hobbit makes grad school the ultimate job and I don’t care that my salary is technically under the poverty line, because it’s plenty in my current situation.

So why do I feel the need to write about Chakma’s salary? Not because I think that there’s something inherently wrong with a human being making a million dollars, but because I attend a publically-funded university that’s cutting arts programs and replacing faculty with sessional instructors in order to save money… and that same university just released a list of over 1200 people (admin, faculty, and staff) who earn more than $100,000 every year.

As a grad student, I know money talks. OGS (Ontario Graduate Scholarship- $15,0000 for one year) and SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council- $20,000/35,000 for 3-4 years) carry enormous weight. If I was to win a SSHRC (I won’t know ‘till May) I would be accepted by virtually any university in Canada (potentially even ones which had previously
rejected me) because funding is just that important.

SSHRC applications work in two stages: you apply to your university, and they forward the best applications to the Canada-wide competition. I discovered in January that I had been forwarded, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone else from my 60-person department who was. Through the grapevine, I know that there can only have been one or two other applications sent on. This means that, absolute best case scenario, the English department at Western could receive three new SSHRCs, totalling $105,000 next year. Worst case, we’ll receive nothing.  

Western currently offers 278 OGS scholarships every year (heavily government subsidized), which amounts to approximately $4,000,000 in funding. That sounds like a big number, until you realize it’s only four times what Chakma made last year. Chakma’s salary alone could fund almost 70 graduate students. In fact, since these scholarships are so highly government subsidized, UWO only spends $1,400,000 on OGS’s, or approximately Chakma’s salary plus the next top earner, Michael Strong (Dean of the school of Medicine and Dentistry, $462,125). Are these two men doing more for the university than nearly three hundred grad students?

Full disclosure: I was just rejected from UBC (University of British Columbia-- known for being one of the best and biggest English grad programs in Canada) because they only had enough money to offer four funded spots this year. Funding for graduate programs is obviously in crisis.

I don’t care that Amit Chakma makes at least fifty times what I do (100 times, if you count the fact that half my salary goes towards my tuition). He’s got a lot more experience than I do. I’m perfectly happy with my current salary.

But I do care that arts programs are in a funding crisis, unable to offer spots to graduate students, overworking underpaid TAs and sessional instructors, increasing class sizes, and ultimately hurting students at all levels. And while instructors and programs are being cut, lowering the quality of education students are paying for and our government is subsidizing, the top dog is making a million dollars.

Seventy graduate students leading tutorials. Thirty sessional instructors giving dynamic lectures. Ten full-time faculty conducting ground-breaking research.

Or one head-honcho speaking at convocation about how valuable our Western degree is.

This isn’t about Chakma. This isn’t about him making too much or me too little. This is about my university, which, when money was tight, chose to more than double the salary of an overpaid administrator rather than hiring the teachers and researchers who form the backbone of the university. And that is a decision which I cannot agree with.  

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