Kathleen Cawsey, presidential candidate

4 for the Price of 1

June 9, 2014

Many faculty members gripe about the way presidential compensation dwarfs their own -- and how high-level perks create a divide between professors and presidents.

Four such faculty members have found an unusual way to attract more attention to this critique. They have applied jointly to share the job (and the $400,000 minimum salary) of the opening to lead the University of Alberta. Their application is, in part, tongue-in-cheek. The letter suggests that one of the applicants -- Renee Ward, an expert on medieval and science fiction literature at Ontario's Wilfrid Laurier University --  "with her research on monstrosity and hybridity, is eminently suited to interact effectively with various levels of government."

But the authors say that they are making a serious point. In an era of tight budgets, asks Kathleen Cawsey, who came up with the idea of the application, should university boards be spending $400,000 and more on any one person, when so many faculty lines are frozen, and earning well below one-fourth of such a salary? Cawsey is associate professor of English at Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia.

Higher education would be better off, she said, if colleges and universities were led by people committed to faculty jobs, but who periodically agreed to serve their institutions as administrators, before returning to the professoriate. What she would like to see, Cawsey said, is a "philosopher-king" (in Plato's model) as president, and she admitted that they are difficult to find because the true philosopher doesn't want to be king. "Really, you don't want anyone in administration who wants to be in administration," she said.

By arguing that four people from the faculty have, collectively, the makings of a president, the application says that it's time to turn to faculty for a meaningful role in governance, she said. And it's time to stop paying anyone in higher education $400,000, she added.

The application letter has gone viral in Canadian academe and is attracting considerable press attention there. (The University of Alberta has yet to comment.)

"I chose this approach because it's humorous, it's light, but it makes the point," Cawsey said. "I don't think it in itself will change anything, but enough small actions like this might get people thinking about the role of university administrators and the disparity for many of them between their actions and their rhetoric of austerity. It's a serious question," she said. "Is one person really worth what four (or even eight, given the current U of A president's salary) tenured professors could contribute?"

In part, she said, she was inspired by the recent controversy at the University of Saskatchewan over a president (since ousted) who fired a dean for expressing dissent with administration plans. The incident, Cawsey said, raised questions about whether the people leading universities have lost touch with academic values.

What if the university offers her and her colleagues the job? Cawsey said she's not sure she could ever give up teaching, although she's quick to add that she doesn't think administrators should either (even if they might need a reduced load). "I really don't think they will offer us the job," she said.

The application letter follows (and the quotations reference parts of the university's job advertisement and prospectus for the position):

We are writing to apply for the position of president and vice chancellor at the University of Alberta. As you will see from our CVs, we are eminently suited to fill this position. Indeed, we believe that by job-sharing this position, we would be able to do a better job than any one person could do - and the salary is certainly ample enough to meet the needs of all four of us. Indeed, for many of us one-fourth of your proposed minimum salary would double or triple our current wage.

Our collective experience in academic and administrative leadership totals over 30 years. We have extensive experience in "inspiring the human spirit" through teaching thousands of students in hundreds of classes. Collectively, we have earned 12 postsecondary degrees, including four Ph.D.s, which we believe will surpass the "exceptional intellectual calibre" of any of your other single applicants. We believe that our commitment to higher education is evident in our willingness to job-share and to each take only a fair and reasonable salary, rather than one which is four or five times that of a tenured academic and at least 10 times that of a sessional [adjunct], and that this willingness will prove to society our belief in "the importance of higher education," and encourage others in similar positions to follow suit.

Between us, we possess the "credibility, vision and intellectual depth" to interact with all levels of society and all of the stakeholders of the University of Alberta. Dr. Cawsey, with her experience and background in journalism, will cover the responsibilities of the president/vice chancellor to the media, public relations and other public bodies, while Dr. Ward with her research on monstrosity and hybridity, is eminently suited to interact effectively with various levels of government. Dr. Kocum's knowledge of statistics as well as her work with feminist issues makes her perfect for dealing with internal university administration and productivity assessment, while Dr. Fawn-Dew Babcock will liaise with business and the corporate world while ensuring the academic mission of the university remains our highest priority.

As you can see, four people can manage this job far more effectively than any one single person, however qualified that person might be for a half-a-million in compensation. We can spell off the dreary business of Convocation, with one person attending/presiding while the other three continue on with the much-needed work of the president/vice chancellor's office, rather than having to take a week's hiatus every April. Sick days will be irrelevant, since three other people will be available to fill in if one person is ill or on leave. Most importantly, we each pledge to teach one undergraduate class per year - which we would bet none of your other candidates are proposing to do! - both as a way of "walking the talk" about the "importance of higher education" and our "world class students," and as a means of contributing to the current climate of austerity at the University of Alberta, in which everyone - even in the highest levels of administration! - is called to pitch in and do their bit.

We know that you, in your wisdom, will see the sensible nature of our application: how by accepting only what is a reasonable and fair salary, four extremely qualified individuals can contribute far more to the university and to academia in general than any one person could.

Sincerely,
Kathy Cawsey
Renee Ward
Lucie Kocum
Becca Fawn-Dew Babcock

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