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Letter: Most people don’t realize they benefit daily from discoveries made through university research

Those who blame faculty salaries or say universities serve no purpose are operating under a misconception, says Laurentian University professor
The Cliff Fielding Research, Innovation and Engineering Building at Laurentian University. (File)

The Laurentian president’s (who, by the way, earned $280,013 last year) focus on faculty salaries as the cause of and solution to this mess is a diversion away from his, the previous president’s and board of governor’s complete abdication of responsibility in this matter. 

Faculty salaries did not cause this. The CCAA’s use of student numbers to credit ratios to eliminate “programs'' or, more accurately, faculty positions, is misguided and shortsighted. Entrusting the solution to those who caused this is just plain ridiculous: who would trust the person who robbed them with the keys to their house?

Any reluctance of the public to support the university and, in particular faculty, seems related to two misperceptions: 1) Faculty are overpaid and underworked (which plays into what LU’s administration suggests), and; 2) What is the point of a university?

Overpaid? I have been a professor at LU for 19 years. My expertise, experience and competence earns my “sunshine” paycheck, but if it were cut by 20 per cent, I would still be here. It’s not about the money, as, I think, most faculty would tell you. 

After earning a poverty level income for 13 years of training, at age 33 I started at LU, earning $55,000 a year with three weeks of vacation time. 

I was paying off student debt until the age of 45. Financially rewarding? Hardly.

Underworked? People who comment on faculty salaries, typically frame it as a “teaching job”, and do not account for our training, expertise, or the knowledge we generate through research. I know very few, if any, faculty who work less than 55-60 hours per week and undergraduate teaching is just a small part of that, for most of us about 30- to 40 per cent of our time. 

Most of what we do is research, and most of us give that knowledge away.

Why a university? Job training is a by-product of education. The purpose of a university is creating and communicating knowledge. Knowledge gained through research can seem abstract. Industry and society typically benefit once that knowledge has matured to the point where it can be capitalized. 

Recent focus on industry/university partnerships has shown that we cannot predict what knowledge will prove to be valuable. The mRNA vaccine is a perfect example: this technology was developed incrementally, as an worldwide effort, starting more than 50 years ago in a university research lab. 

I guarantee that, in your daily life, you benefit multiple times from university research.

What is left of Laurentian cannot be called a university. There has been absolutely no accounting for the social benefit of knowledge generation and discovery. Nor has there been any accounting for competence, among teachers, researchers, staff or even administrators. What is left is a shadow of what it was and is no better for it. That is already obvious. Aside from the banks, everyone loses in the process. Some people just don’t know what they’ve lost yet and those who’ve caused all this are walking away.


Sylvain Grenier, PhD