University of Alberta academic staff consider pay bump — only for female professors

More than 4,000 academic employees at the University of Alberta are voting on new employment agreements that would give raises only to women who are full professors.

University of Alberta academic staff are voting on a new deal that would give only female full professors a pay raise to address a historic wage gap. David Bloom / Postmedia

More than 4,000 academic employees at the University of Alberta are voting on new employment agreements that would give raises only to women who are full professors.

A proposed memorandum of agreement between the university and the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta (AASUA) would give more senior female professors a 5.8 per cent base salary increase, effective the month after members ratify the agreement, and a one-time lump sum for past loss salary, according to documents obtained by Postmedia.

All female professors, regardless of rank, would receive $1,500, tax free, for “damages to dignity and self-worth,” the proposal said.

A separate proposed two-year agreement, which would apply July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2020, contains no new salary increases for male faculty, or other academic staff, such as librarians, administrative and professional officers and sessional lecturers. Faculty make up about half of association members.

Neither the staff association or the university would comment on the tentative deal Friday while members were voting. The university did not provide a cost of the deal.

On the association’s website, president Kevin Kane encouraged members to approve both the general two-year deal and the agreement on female professor pay.

The offer follows a 2017 AASUA task force report that found faculty who are women, visible minorities and/or Indigenous are paid less for the same work than their white, male counterparts.

Equal pay for equal work

The wage-gap issue has arisen at universities across Canada, some of which have committed to regularly compiling data to monitor for potential disparities.

In 2013, all female faculty members at the University of British Columbia earned a two per cent wage increase, retroactive to 2010, which cost the university about $2 million.

McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., raised all female faculty salaries by $3,515 in 2015, and the University of Waterloo granted female professors nearly $3,000 each in 2016, both in attempts to correct historic pay gaps.

A 2018 report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers found full-time university teaching staff earn about 90 cents for every dollar their male colleagues take home.

Pat Armstrong, a professor at York University in Toronto, and co-chair of the CAUT’s equity committee, said Friday a lack of transparency about professor pay has led to some women taking academic postings at a lower starting salary. As pay often increases by percentages, their income falls further and further behind colleagues who started at a higher salary, she said.

Pay gaps by field of expertise exacerbate the problem, she said. There are more women faculty in social sciences than economics, for instance.

The gap leaves women feeling less valued and accruing less pension for their retirements, she said.

“If you’re saying we want all the best people, are the best people going to be attracted if their working conditions aren’t equitable?” she said.

‘Poison pill’ in deal

However, some faculty question whether the University of Alberta’s offer is the best solution to the pay gap.

English and film studies association Prof. Carolyn Sale, a former AASUA president, said in a Sunday blog post the proposed agreement has flaws, and encouraged colleagues to bargain for a better deal.

The academic association has never seen how the university calculated the pay gap or the proposed 5.8 per cent pay hike, she said. Awarding a remedy to full professors while leaving out assistant and associate professors is too crude a cutoff that could create new inequities, she said.

The association would also have to agree not to file any grievance or human rights action against the university for gender pay inequities — a “poison pill” for staff left out of the deal, Sale said.

“It’s a terrible situation for our membership to be put in,” she said. “We’ve got many female professors who’ve been experiencing years of salary inequity. And now, look at the predicament they’re in with this deal before them.”

The Academic Women’s Association has also said it can’t support the deal.

The association expects to have vote results by Monday afternoon.