SFUFA President’s Message, March 2012

In his 2003 book Moneyball, Michael Lewis profiles the Oakland A’s and hones in on Billy Beane, the club’s mercurial General Manager. Lewis describes how Beane, forced by the club’s overly thrifty owner,  abandons the traditional and somewhat profligate scouting method of recruiting players based on glamour statistics like runs batted in (RBIs), home runs  and, to a degree, how well the player looked the part. Instead, Beane chose players based on other, often overlooked yet important statistics — particularly the on-base percentage. Beane, faced with the prospect of attracting and retaining talent that would keep the A’s in competition had to employ increasingly creative mechanisms. SFU faces a similar situation

On February 21st, the provincial government introduced a status quo budget claiming modest increases to post-secondary education but which, in reality, is the latest in a series of budgets resulting in an actual decrease to post-secondary funding.  According to CUFA BC “Since the 2009 election, government funding for higher education in BC has been cut by 3.5%. Combined with inflation, this amounts to a 12.6% cut in real dollars. The government solution is yet again to demand universities wring out administrative efficiencies.”

What we, and other BC universities, are facing is a parent company in the form of the provincial government trying to juggle a number of assets and doing so rather poorly. The SFU Administration, like Beane’s club owner, is compounding the issue by overlooking its most important asset—the faculty.  Results from the 2008 SFUFA surveys on workload and governance and collegiality indicate faculty are increasingly being asked to take on more and more responsibility without adequate compensation or support.

Throughout Moneyball, we are introduced to a number of baseball players Beane either develops for a short period of time before losing them to other teams (Nick Swisher) or we hear about players Beane never gets to sign (Kevin Youklis)—no money.  SFU uses a combination of market differentials and retention awards to attract and keep faculty. Currently upwards of 60% of SFU faculty receive some kind of market differential or retention award—an indication that this system is more than unsustainable, it is broken.  Universities and MLB franchises may or may not share a degree of creativity in terms of managing their assets but they certainly share the same problem:  if you don’t have a payroll sufficient to attract and retain talent, talent will go elsewhere.

As reported in the most recent issue of SFUFA’s Bargaining Bulletin “…there has been no general wage increases in the last two years. Consequently, the only increases to our salaries come about from our step-progression system.”   The Bulletin goes on to indicate that fully 1/3 of our members,  or roughly 300+ faculty, are at the hard ceiling and will receive no further increase.  If nothing changes, this percentage will only increase.  A professional sports franchise which, like universities, aims to attract the best and brightest wouldn’t survive such a system. How can we? In a region that has been identified as the most expensive in North America, without sufficient financial support, how can we dream of attracting talent—faculty and students alike—let alone retain them? Are we Major League? Or are we Minor League?