Faculty Salaries at Memorial
January 7, 2023
Administration and the Faculty Association at Memorial University have reached an impasse in their negotiations for a new collective agreement, and it is expected that faculty members will soon vote on a strike mandate.
In anticipation of making this important decision, I wanted to better understand how Memorial's faculty compensation stacks up against other similar institutions across Canada. Fortunately, as a labour market economist, I have experience working with publicly-available faculty salary data from provincial salary disclosure websites and Statistics Canada tables.
So I took a few minutes to look into this issue for myself. Here is what I found. (Click the images to enlarge.)
Memorial Sets the Salary Floor
Memorial effectively sets the salary floor across all "comprehensive" universities based on Maclean's ranking.
I started by looking at information from Statistics Canada on the number and salaries of full-time teaching staff at Canadian universities (Table: 37-10-0108-01). This data series contains estimates of faculty pay at different points in the income distribution.
The figure Average Salary for All Faculty displays average salary at Memorial and all other institutions with the same ranking in 2020-21. Also included are other (non-private) institutions from Atlantic Canada with different rankings for the sake of comparison.
While there are lower-paying institutions out there, no other comprehensive university except for UQAM (which is approximately tied with Memorial) pays less. And, in most cases, the average salaries are significantly higher elsewhere.
A notable comparison is UNB, which resides in Atlantic Canada - where the cost of living is similar to Newfoundland and Labrador - and holds a comprehensive ranking. And yet we see that salaries are more than $10k higher at UNB than Memorial, on average.
Pay is Low Across the Salary Distribution
While salaries are lower on average at Memorial than elsewhere, this may not necessarily be a problem if there is also pay compression. This means the average salary is simply being pulled down by lower salaries at the top of the income distribution. Put differently, it might be that inflated salaries of top income earners at other institutions are pulling those averages up.
The figure 10th, 50th and 90th Percentile of Salary for All Faculty shows how faculty salaries compare at different points in the income distribution among universities with a comprehensive ranking.
At each of these point in the distribution, we see Memorial is among the lowest-paying institutions - especially for comprehensive universities. I'll come back to the issue of top-income earners soon.
Lowest Pay Growth Since 2017
The low pay at Memorial is at least partly attributed to slow growth in average salaries over the past few years.
The figure Change in Average Salary for All Faculty, 2017 to 2021 reports the change in the average salary from 2016-17 to 2020-21. We see that, over this time, the average increased by less than $5k at Memorial compared to more than $10k at almost every other institution. Since compensation rates have not changed during this time, the growth is likely driven by current faculty members moving up the pay scale incrementally. By comparison, at UQAM - the only other institution with average salaries that are comparable to Memorial - there appears to have been a concerted effort over the past few years to raise salaries, with growth just below $15k.
Amid rising inflation and cost of living, it is easy to see how Memorial's competitiveness for talented new hires is being threatened.
Top Earners are Paid Competitively
While the aggregate data from Statistics Canada shed some light on pay disparities across institutions, more granularity is needed to take a closer look at the top of the income distribution.
This lead me to compile a micro-level payroll dataset from provinces with compensation disclosure laws ("Sunshine List"). A limitation of using Sunshine List data is that employees need to earn above a specific threshold to be included, which leads to a sample selection problem. But since my focus here is on high incomes and this is all the data we have available, I decided to take a look anyway.
In what follows, I restrict my attention to comprehensive universities in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and British Columbia. I exclude Alberta because its disclosure threshold is too high to draw meaningful comparisons, as well as Manitoba and Nova Scotia because all the institutions fall into other categories. The remaining provinces do not have disclosure laws and must be left out.
The next three figures 99th Percentile of Salary for All Faculty, 99.5th Percentile of Salary for All Faculty and Average Salary among Top-10 Highest Paid report different metrics of salaries for the highest earners. The last figure means I restrict the sample to the 10 highest-paid employees at each institution and then calculate the average salary among them. Ultimately, these figures show that Memorial offers competitive salaries at the very top - even compared to other institutions in cities where the cost of living is higher.
Extra Work & Pay Needed to Hit the Salary Floor
An interesting feature of the Sunshine List data for Memorial is that base pay and total compensation are both reported, along with job title and responsibilities. Most institutions do not report both types of compensation.
Total pay is typically higher than base pay due to overtime, bonuses, and other compensation such as extra teaching. Non-wage benefits such as pension contributions are not included. As an indicator of how much extra work is needed for Memorial faculty to earn their current salaries, I am interested in knowing how these two salary measures compare. I focus on Assistant, Associate and Full Professors who do not have any administrative responsibilities.
Comparing the two salary figures, we see in the figure Base Versus Total Compensation that total compensation is about $2k higher than base. This means in order to be competitive on pay (at least with UQAM), Memorial's faculty members with no administrative responsibilities are taking on extra work of nearly half a course, on average.
In addition, the data permit me to see that approximately 25% of faculty take on some extra work. In the figure Base Versus Total Compensation if Extra Pay Received, we see that these faculty members have total compensation that is about $7k higher, or 1.4 extra courses, on average.
This blog post is not meant to convey a strong opinion for or against a strike mandate in the anticipated vote. There are serious concerns with either decision.
While faculty salaries at Memorial are quite low compared to other universities, this is still a high-paying profession. We have been very fortunate as faculty members to have excellent job security over the past few years during a time when so many families in the province and country have struggled. Students have also struggled a lot through the pandemic with so much classroom disruption and transition to online learning, and nobody wants to see yet another interruption.
However, Memorial is the province's only university and it plays a critical role in training future generations. Its reputation and competitiveness on national and international stages are paramount to retain existing talent and attract new talent. It is hard to see how Memorial's current trajectory will be able to achieve this long-term goal.
Note on Methodology
All the analysis in this blog post derives from publicly-available data. The links to these datasets are provided throughout.
Results from Statistics Canada Table 37-10-0108-01 are based on all faculty members (Assistant, Associate and Full) at the institution, both with and without senior administrative responsibilities, excluding employees who hold a rank or appointment below Assistant Professor. Medical faculty are excluded since pay determination is less clear in this case.
Results from the Sunshine List data for Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and British Columbia restrict to observations with salaries of $100,000 or more. In some provinces, the threshold for disclosure is lower. The $100k threshold is used everywhere to be consistent with the policy implementation of Newfoundland and Labrador. I also exclude Memorial University employees whose campus is labelled as "Medicine" since clinical pay is included in total compensation. To my knowledge, no other comprehensive university has a medical program so no equivalent adjustment is needed to the disclosure data from other provinces.
Data and Code Replication Package
Replicability is an important part of economic science. Click here to download my data and code. Comments welcome!
(Jan. 8th) The "Top Earners" analysis initially included medical faculty. Since clinical pay was included, I dropped all medical faculty from the analysis. The results have been updated accordingly. I thank Raymond Gosine and Noel Roy for bringing this to my attention.
(Jan. 9th) Related to the previous update, I revised the "Extra Work & Pay Needed" section to exclude medical faculty.
(Jan. 10th) I slightly revised the statement "While there are lower-paying institutions out there, none except for UQAM... pay less" to say "no other comprehensive university... pays less." I also changed '%' to 'k' in the "Lowest Pay Growth" section.