Sunshine, with a Great Many Black Clouds: Alberta Bill 5 (First Reading, 5 November 2015)

“Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley says the government has not heard any objections so far to the expanded disclosure rules.”

Global News, 5 November 2015

“It also bugs me that no one, it seems, wants to speak out against this obvious policy stinker. Yeah, I get it. It’s politically irresistible, regardless of where you’re located in the political spectrum. But it’s still bad policy.”

David Climenhaga, 9 November 2015

Bill 5, in which the new Government of Alberta seeks to expand the Government’s existing “sunshine list” to include many more public sector workers including professors, has passed its first reading.

There are four things that must be said about this draft Bill.

  1. The Bill provides no rationale whatsoever for the disclosures it would compel. There is not a single “whereas” clause in it. Good laws embed their rationale in their rules. This is, then, on the face of it, not a good law.
  2. As clause 2.4 exempts from disclosures those who have signed, before January 2014, a confidentiality agreement in regard to their compensation, the “sunshine” that it purports to unleash can at best be only partial.
  3. The compensation ranges for professors at all ranks could easily be made available without the disclosure of individual salaries. What does the Government imagine it gains by disclosing individual salaries by name? (See 1.)
  4. Last, and most urgently, this “sunshine list” throws no light at all upon the abiding and deepening darkness in which our universities have been shrouded for the last quarter century. At Alberta’s universities up to 40% of the instruction is being offered by academic staff members who do not have permanent jobs. These precarious academic staff members are paid significantly less for their teaching of a course than full-time faculty members, whose numbers have shrunk radically under previous governments in Alberta. In 2013-14 alone, the University of Alberta lost 400 faculty members to a “voluntary severance” program initiated in the wake of the historical cuts to postsecondary education in Alberta delivered by the Redford government. If the current Government truly wished to shed light upon compensation issues at Alberta’s universities, it would be demanding public disclosure of the numbers of temporary or “contract” academic staff members at all of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions, along with disclosure (by average only, not by individual name) of the relative pittance that they are paid thanks to the profound disinvestment in postsecondary education in Alberta pursued by successive Progressive Conservative governments. The public might then have some genuine understanding of compensation issues at Alberta’s universities. As it is, clouds will obscure the highest levels of compensation under previously signed confidentiality agreements even as a vast dark cloud will thoroughly block out what is occurring in terms of radically poor compensation for about 40% of the instructors at Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. In general, if the Government truly wishes to create understanding of compensation issues at Alberta’s universities (unclear! see 1) it should seek to shape public understandings of professorial compensation (which comes after years in which professors forego all earnings in order to obtain their advanced degrees). And it should seek to establish the necessity of investment in full-time academic staff who are fully supported in their research and teaching and have the protections of tenure.
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One Response to Sunshine, with a Great Many Black Clouds: Alberta Bill 5 (First Reading, 5 November 2015)

  1. hyl (@H_Y_L) says:

    I don’t disagree with the principle of a sunshine list for employees paid by the public purse. And I think it valuable -especially for women negotiating new contracts- to see what others make. That information must be analysable by sex, age, ethnicity, field of research and date of appointment/promotions to be meaningful. I am of the opinion that the plea for privacy in this regard is more about the desire to protect oneself from envy, sorcery and the inconvenience of targeted marketing than any real risks to safety, and that desire mostly comes from people in positions of financial privilege. (It would have done much for the feminist movement if we’d known what men were being paid long before we did.) What I don’t understand or agree with is the cutoff. Why $125K? If the purpose is to be transparent about what publicly funded employees are paid, then disclose all, at all ranks, including as you suggest, those in the non-continuing and precarious ranks, whether they be professors or plumbers.

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