The Quote (Revenge Ratings)

Image: Marie Espenido, The Gateway

I don't appear in the media very often. Occasionally, there's a mass email that goes out to Department of Psychology members, asking if anyone with a certain kind of expertise would mind talking to a reporter. A lot of the time, none of us are expert in what they're looking for. More often, you'll see a story on some of great research being done by UAlberta psychology researchers. Want to know the truth about "midlife crisis""? Maybe geographical differences in bird behaviours? Or why snunkoople is funny? Is the psychology of leadership your thing? Effects of screen time on young children?

I've been mentioned in the Gateway once or twice. There was the memorable front-page story about me proposing to my now-wife--in class. (I'm not going to do that ever again...) I also had a little story published in 1989 or 1990 about my experience getting to campus in the middle of a massive snowstorm (called "Black Friday" I believe).

Recently, I was approached by a student who writes for the Gateway. She wanted my opinions on the topic of "revenge ratings", online postings made by disgruntled students that trash their instructors. In particular, the article mentioned and how their policies (and postings) seem to have changed recently.

I had a nice chat with the writer--about 20 minutes long. I thought I had lots of really quotable things to say--but then, I always think that. She ended up using one line of mine in the article, published January 19.It's a good read, if you're interested: Rate My Prof’s “revenge ratings” offer nothing constructive.

Why aren't you studying?

The Sunshine List

You've probably heard that the Government of Alberta has a "sunshine list" that discloses the names and salaries of government employees who make more than $100,000 per year. (This number is indexed to inflation, and is now at $104,754.) The idea behind it is to disclose who is making what, and (presumably) to allow the public to speculate on whether the person receiving their hefty salary is worth it.

The Government, however, now wants to expand the sunshine list to include publicly funded people like doctors. The point of doing this is not clear to me. You can find physicians' fee schedules online. Want to know how much your family doctor is getting to do your annual complete physical? It's in there. Why would you need to know how much they're getting paid per year? What difference does that make to you, as a patient? If a doctor is getting paid more, is that better? Or worse somehow? If they're earning more, that means they're seeing more patients, working longer hours, working more days. The sunshine list data only gives the doctors' billings, it doesn't show what their overhead is. It's the doctors who have to pay their receptionists and nurses, pay the rent, update their equipment. But all you'll see on the sunshine list is their gross, not net, income.

Worse yet, the Government also wants to reveal the salaries of employees of post-secondary institutions. That means--yes--your instructors could find their salaries posted online. I'm okay with seeing how much the higher-ups in central admin are earning. This data has been discussed in the news before; it's not private, confidential information. And if you want to know how much academic staff, support staff, or graduate students make, the salary scales are easily available online (this includes my pay scale, for CAST). True, this data doesn't tell you how much a given individual makes--that depends on the merit increases they have accumulated over their careers, and and "top-up" funds that are often given when hiring academic superstars. But do you need to know how much your chem prof is making? Or your English TA? Do you care? Does it matter? Aren't there other data that are more relevant, like maybe USRIs? Or number of publications?

The Arts Squared blog has pointed out that the legislation contains no rationale for exposing professors' salaries, and that Alberta post-secondary institutions have been chronically underfunded for years. Are profs being overpaid here? Not compared to other universities in Canada: UAlberta (Full Professor, minimum) salaries are a pitiful 17th overall (see section 2)--awfully low for the 5th-ranked university in Canada. (It's also interesting to see how much less lecturers get than full professors.) If you want to shed sunshine on some numbers, it looks like we're substantially underpaid. What's more, some research suggests that sunshine lists will actually end up increasing salaries. (Incidentally, I'm happy with my salary. I love my job, and I'm not complaining. Academics, though, will leave a job if they can get paid more somewhere else. That will end up affecting the quality of teaching and research, and in a bad way.)

To me, it looks like this is a bad case of governmentitis: "Hey, this worked over here! Let's try it over there!" Seeing how much Alberta public servants make is one thing. Applying it outside of public workers makes no sense. There's no good reason for it. In fact, there's no reason for it at all.

Why aren't you studying?

What I Did on my Winter Vacation (2015 edition)

Happy holidays! That is, I hope your holidays were happy. Me? Nothing as exciting as last year. I went through most of November and December with a persistent cold that I couldn’t shake. Congestion, cough, and a sore throat that lasted 6 weeks. Bleah. That’s why these posts have been scarce lately. By Christmas, I was starting to feel (and sound) better.

If it seemed like last term dragged on longer than usual, it did. The new Reading Week prolonged Fall term by 3 days. Not a lot, but enough to notice. It seemed like I went directly from marking term papers to marking exams to prepping for Winter term. Although it was nice to have a break in the middle of term, I think I prefer being done earlier.

Hey, here are some pictures of Quad that I took in late November, coming back to get my car after going to dinner and a concert with some of my friends. Even though there’s no snow, I loved how it looked.

On Christmas Eve, my family was invited to a friend’s house for their annual Christmas party. There was lots of food, a lot of people, and a white elephant gift exchange. Much to our relief, the gift exchange all worked out okay in the end. I got a USB charging station, my elder daughter and wife ended up with the gift cards they wanted, and my youngest daughter stole the big box of chocolates/candies/treats that was one of the gifts we brought--and no one dared to steal it away from her.

A. Lot. Of. Chocolates.

Speaking of treats, some of my wife’s patients gave her boxes chocolates, candies, or cookies for Christmas, which was very generous of them. Um, too generous? I counted 12 boxes--and that doesn’t include the treats we got from my parents, sister-in-law, and Santa, or the two gifts-from-patients that haven’t been unwrapped yet, but sure sound like boxes of chocolates when you shake them. Hey, I do like sweet treats (I handed out over 200 chocolate chip cookies to one of my classes at their final exam last term), but I don’t want to end up in a hyperglycemic coma. These boxes of chocolates (the unopened ones) are going to find good homes, thanks to the Edmonton Food Bank.

Going out to visit friends and share a meal is a usual part of the holidays, and this year was no different. But we also have two birthdays to celebrate--which means going out for special dinners. All that food and lots of sitting around (I’ve barely broken 10,000 steps on my Fitbit in a month) mean that I’m going to resolve to...actually, I don’t make new year’s resolutions. But I better try harder to hit my goal of 10,000 steps a day if I want to fit into my Speedos by summer. (Just kidding about the Speedos. It’s a thong.) (Just kidding about the thong. I go to nudist resorts.)

Amidst the holidays were a couple of disappointments. Our furnace gave out (again). That’s our third inducer motor in 6 years. Grr! Oh, and I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, it was a disappointment. Not just for all the many plot holes, but because it made me feel old, obsolete, and irrelevant--like Han, Leia, and Luke. (Did I mention I also had a birthday over the holidays?) My eldest daughter thoroughly enjoyed it, however. Hmm, maybe it’s time to pass my lightsaber on to the next generation...

Did the Force rock your world? Did you go anywhere exotic over the holidays? Ah, never mind. Keep it to yourself. No one posts comments anyway.

Why aren’t you studying?

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