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?


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