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Outside looking in|Alumnus looks at numbers behind the strike

Amid the bombarding of emails and tweets from both sides arguing their case in the UNB labour dispute, one UNB alumnus decided to look at the numbers himself.

Ryan Brideau saw the need for someone to give a fresh view from a third party, from somebody completely unaffiliated with either side – so he did.

Brideau, who graduated in 2011 with separate degrees in both physics and economics, works in the NRC building on campus for a software company called UserEvents, and spent three 18-hours days analyzing all the numbers released by the AUNBT and the university administration.

He released his findings in a three-part series on his blog Whackdata, and concluded among other arguments that the AUNBT’s case for higher wages was valid, but comparing it to UNB president Eddy Campbell’s salary was unfair.

“What I found was within the university, the money we have allocated for salaries was being fairly distributed among the administration and the professors as it compares to other universities in Canada,” Brideau said. “The issue seems to be we just don’t have enough money for salaries in general.”

Brideau argued that in order for UNB to be competitive, it’s not just professors who need a raise. Everybody does – Campbell included. The salaries are being distributed fairly, but it’s not enough.

“Given the money allocated for salaries for both professors and administration, it’s evenly handed out between the two compared to all similar universities,” Brideau wrote on his blog.

“So, if you accept the hard fact that UNB’s professors are among the lowest paid among their peers (they really are), and can stomach the fact that UNB’s administration is paid an amount that is fair in comparison (even if it seems high compared to what you or I earn), then the next part is easy: they are all paid too little.”

But Brideau said the fundamental problem with this whole deal is UNB itself has a revenue problem, and until it’s solved, the salary problem isn’t going to disappear.

“What I can say is we need to take a step back and think ‘OK, how can the whole university do better at attracting students, and raising money in a way that we can use it to pay for salaries?’ “ Brideau said. “We have lots of donations, but they’re tied to certain funds and certain restrictions, which means it can’t be used to pay for professors, which is a huge issue.”

Brideau took on the task to analyze the numbers because it’s a hobby of his, but also because at first glance both sides aren’t telling the whole story.

The AUNBT has consistently argued that UNB has tucked money away – on Friday claiming $130 million over four years – but based on what he’s seen, Brideau said any cash surplus has been reallocated for capital expenditures and fundraising campaigns. However, Briedeau admits he doesn’t have access to all the number the university does.

“The issue though is that I only have one or two data points there and the university is arguing that that money may not be left over in the future given decreasing enrolment and these things,” Brideau said.

“They have much better figures than I do because they have the current financials. So if what they’re saying is true, what they’re doing is okay. They’re laying the foundation for a fundraising campaign and they’re doing one-time expenditures. But I can’t say one way or another because I don’t have access to the numbers they do.”

The AUNBT said while it doesn’t have many issues with Brideau’s findings, executive member Jeff Houlahan – a biology professor at UNB Saint John who’s on the bargaining team – said Brideau has made the university’s mistake by looking at salaries relative to the operating grant.

Houlahan said you have to look at the university’s audited financial statements, which gives a better indication of where exactly that surplus is going. The audited statements are done by an independent auditor and are available on the university’s website.

“Eleven of the last 12 years, revenues have exceeded expenses and this past year they’ve exceeded it by $28 million,” Houlahan explained.

“So the administration basically moves [money] into other funds. The operating fund is just one of those funds. So it can end up looking like ‘Oh, we just made ends meet’ but they’re actually $28 million above expenses and they just shuffle that money into a different fund so it looks like a tough year.”

Houlahan acknowledged the money is being put to use, but argues the AUNBT feels some of that money should go to paying competitive salaries.

UNB vice-president human resources Peter McDougall commended Brideau’s efforts and encouraged other third-party analyses of the labour dispute.

“I’m impressed that he’s taken a neutral, third-party approach to this. He’d not set out to prove or disprove on behalf of one party or the other and I think that adds to the public debate,” McDougall said. “It’s helpful for people to understand.”

Brideau said there’s definitely a middle ground to be found with both offers, but if he was at the negotiating table he said he’d like to hear both sides acknowledge that each sides needs a raise; not just the profs.

“I think as soon as those words come out of their mouths, they see each other in a different light and realize they’re both on the same side,” Brideau said.

“This isn’t a professors versus administration issue. This is UNB in the context of a globalized society and they’re operating against other universities across Canada and the world. As soon as they find themselves on the same side, it’s a lot easier to find the common ground to make concessions on both sides.”

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1 Comment

  1. Brideau Reply

    Just a quick response to Jeff’s claim that I compared the salaries to the operating grant – here’s a quote from my blog post:

    “Why comparing salaries to the operating budget doesn’t really make sense [followed by a full paragraph explaining why comparing salaries to the operating budget doesn’t really make sense.”


    He at least could have read it before commenting on it…

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