William Watsonballs

McGill economist William Watson, a panjandrum at Montreal’s Institute for Research on Public Policy, is everywhere.

Open the pages of the National Post and up pops Bill with a nice little earner advertising the virtues of flat taxes (a great idea for triple-dipping economists), or decrying government waste.

Turning his attention to university education the occasional pedagogue often proclaims the virility of his own discipline, to wit: “Economics is the tough, self-critical result that challenges received wisdom.”

Watson sings the praises of the C.D. Howe Institute (where, incidentally, he’s a “research fellow”), which occasionally brings together selfless academics to debate the best way of shoveling yet more money into Canada’s impoverished universities. Their conclusion? Increase tuition fees.

And who would be the beneficiaries of such a fearless, self-critical approach? Shurely not university profs seeking ever higher salaries?

Sadly lacking in this “tough, self-critical” study, and in the editorial peregrinations of Dr. Watson was any examination of why Canada’s universities are quite so costly. Why do other Western countries manage perfectly serviceable systems without leaving graduates in the poorhouse?

The answer would indeed require some tough self-criticism, since it is to be found in the extraordinarily generous pay and minuscule teaching obligations of Canada’s tenured professoriate.

Had McGill’s erudite professor taken time out from his exuberant flatulence to turn to publications such as Inside Higher Ed (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/03/22/new-study-analyzes-how-faculty-pay-compares-worldwide), he would have found a table describing academic pay levels in Canada, the United States, Germany, France, Australia, the UK and 22 other countries. And where were Canada’s cognoscenti?

Why we’re No. 1!, so far ahead of Britain, Germany and the U.S. as to be almost off the chart. What Inside Higher Ed sleuths failed to add, but what C.D. Howe’s authors cannot help but know, is that in Canada the professorial pay is just the icing on the cake.

Much more is to be made by running a nice little consulting business from the university office, or taking up a second career as a journalist, or even a third wonking for dollars at a think tank.

With a year’s paid vacation in Europe looming (sabbatical shurely!?—ed?) the good professor will no doubt find ample time to share the efficiencies of the European universities with his Canadian readers.

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5 comments on “William Watsonballs
  1. Papadoc says:

    At least this libertarian wing-nut is no longer editorial page editor of the Citizen, so let the rest of Canada enjoy his thoughtless meanderings.

  2. John MacLachlan Gray says:

    The same largess doesn’t apply to threadbare profs who teach 100 undergrads at a go.

  3. Patrick60 says:

    Tenure is the new Divine Right.

  4. daveS says:

    “The figures (see table at end of article) are the result of an unusual research project between the Center for International Higher Education, at Boston College, and the Laboratory for Institutional Analysis at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, in Moscow. The comparisons are designed to bypass a typical hindrance to international comparisons of faculty salaries (or any salaries for that matter): the sharply different costs of living in various countries.”
    The secret formula? Aha!
    “Pure salary comparisons based on exchange rates would find the highest salaries in select Western developed nations. And certainly those countries do well even with the methodology used for this study. That methodology is based on the “purchasing power parity index” (PPP), in which salaries reflect what it takes to purchase similar goods and services in different countries. This enables countries with relatively low salaries (in pure finances) but also with low costs of living to be competitive with others where base pay is much higher.”

    These studies became the book “Paying the Professoriate – A Global Comparison of Compensation and Contracts” Edited by Philip G. Altbach, Liz Reisberg, Maria Yudkevich, Gregory Androushchak, Iván F. Pacheco. Routledge, 2012.
    And chapter one (Academic Remuneration and Contracts: Global Trends and Realities /by Philip G. Altbach, Liz Reisberg, and Iván F. Pacheco) had the charts showing the PPP level of Canada, page 11.

    Though what you want is Chapter 7. “The Organization of Academic Work and Faculty Remuneration at Canadian Universities” /by Glen A. Jones and Julian Weinrib, OISiE wonks in those days, Weinrib now annoying undergrad education of UofT, Jones, “Interim Dean” of OISiE.

  5. OJM says:

    Contractually, full-time faculty are typically supposed to spend about half their time doing serious scholarly research. In practice, for tenured professors in all but the best universities, “research time” is “do-as-you-please time”. Hence all the academic hacks we see moonlighting as consultants, textbook writers, journalists, expert witnesses and board appointees.

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