How is this even controversial?

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Two and a half of my jobs are in the middle of a pay restructuring process. Still. I grow weary of this. Leaving aside all the fill-in-the-blanks griping about management and bureaucracies and The Problem With Higher Education Today etc etc, though, here's a thing: why can't it just be about the money?

No, I'm serious. I don't mean the work itself; I'm fine with not getting paid a fortune to do any of the things I do. I mean the discussions about the jobs, and what the pay is for the jobs, that come up two or three or sixteen times a year. The kind of discussions that involve me snapping at one of my bosses, for the first (and hopefully the last) time, when he responded to my "But you agree I've been underpaid for the last two years?" with "I think you're taking this a bit far - it's not like anyone deliberately set out to pay you less than you should have been." The kind that include every single discussion about teaching pay, which by unspoken academic law cannot take place without a litany of disavowal: it's really good experience and we need it for our cvs and really we should be grateful there's any teaching for us at all and of course we care about the students and we're not in this for the money and we know the university's budget is struggling and we know the department's doing all it can and we hate to even vaguely imply otherwise - so, um, will we be paid for office hours this semester? Sorry to ask so bluntly! Sorry to ask at all! Sorry to keep bringing this subject up when you've already said that you think it's a shame you can't pay us all as much as you'd like to!

Oh, now, look. Discussions about pay are just that - discussions about pay. It's not personal. I didn't complain about being underpaid for two years because I worried that everyone above me in the hierarchy was a evil moustache-twirling villain who went home and kicked their dog every night. I really don't care whether they underpaid me through malice or forgetfulness or accident or what. I complained because I wasn't getting paid what I should have been paid. Ditto, teaching, where I know that the department is operating under tough financial constraints and that the people responsible for budget allocations would pay TAs generously if they had all the money in the world to do it. I believe the sympathy, and I appreciate the sympathy, and continuing to haggle over pay does not mean I am rejecting the sympathy or calling anyone evil - it just means that I'd like to get paid, please, because
I'm operating under tough financial constraints as well.

Yeah, a bit grumpy today. But, honestly. Here's the kind of pay issue I'm talking about here: in one of my jobs, which involves working quite closely with students (I was going to specify whether it's the teaching one or the non-teaching one, but I doubt it matters) , the pay restructuring has involved reclassifying something which was once paid work into something that's neither paid for nor on the contract. It's not essential for doing the job, but it is useful (both for me and my colleagues and for the students), and it's understood that people in my particular role will be spending a couple of hours a week doing this particular duty anyway, even under the restructured pay system.

Oh, I do not think so.

But do you know how difficult it is to have a conversation about this that doesn't turn into a) a debate about whether I naively misunderstand the pressures of university finance or b) a debate about whether I cruelly underestimate the purity of my boss's convictions in truly, madly, deeply wanting the situation to be otherwise? And that's not even getting into c), in which I struggle in vain to find a way to phrase my objections that doesn't come across as 'I don't care about the students - I'm in this for the cash.'

I like my jobs. I do. I'm just not doing them for free.


  1. Laz Says:
  2. When sympathy becomes a form of currency one may use to pay one's bills, it will become useful. Until then...

  3. phd me Says:
  4. I couldn't agree more. As I'm fond of telling our IT people, as pleasantly as possible, "I don't care how you feel about my computer, I just need you to fix it" (they have Mac issues). Same goes for pay issues!

  5. Autumn Song Says:
  6. I think this is very nicely put.

    What/how/when you get paid should be about what/how/when you get paid.

    And, oh yes, office hours! I had completely left those out of the equation. Has anyone asked about those?