Funny thing about salary justifications

Here’s the boilerplate on UBC’s intro to their admission that their administrative staff makes an insane amount of money:

As such, UBC seeks to retain and attract the best senior administrators by remaining competitive in its compensation practices with other large research-intensive universities represented by the U15 (leading research-intensive universities in Canada), and in particular the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta, and with the global market for senior administrator talent generally.

This is pretty standard whining about how they have to pay $600K/year or else they won’t get the “best person” boo hoo.

What’s funny is this: When has anyone used this argument for retail employees? When has anyone ever used this argument for garbage collectors? etc. etc. etc.

When they talk about raising the wages at Walmart, nobody says “We need to do this to attract the best employees.” The standard assumption is that wage, for low-paid workers, has nothing to do with competence. Whereas it has everything to do with it for these high-paid executives. Low-paid workers (who are, invariably, the people who actually do the work to keep an organization going) are seen as passive and replaceable. They will take what is given, or others can be found. But CEOs and Presidents need to be coddled, wooed, attracted. You have to pay through the nose – otherwise, who will you find to do their job for a paltry $180K a year?

Walmart itself, in fact, uses this same justification when talking about its CEO, who makes more in an hour then Walmart’s new employees make in a year.

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Twitter and Assertionism

For a long time, I worked on a particular strain of semantics and pragmatics – not a popular one by any stretch. I was interested in the ways language is used to represent points of view.

For the longest time, this was a very unpopular part of the study of linguistic meaning – believe it or not – because the study of linguistic meaning is a bastard stepchild of formal logic. Formal logic is the whipping boy of philosophy, and philosophy has been obsessed with Knowledge and Certainty since Plato imagined some people trapped in a cave.

Hence, semantics has been primarily – even obsessionally – fixated on the way you can use language to say something “objective.” That is, the way you can use language to make a strong claim about the way the world is. “It is raining” says Bill. John checks and finds it “isn’t,” so John says, “No, Bill, you are wrong. It is not raining.” Strong statements about the state of the “real world.” Yum. Presumably, if Bill refuses to accept John’s claim, they could have a good fistfight like Greeks did on street corners back when Philosophy Was In Its Golden Age.

In semantics, and philosophy, these are called “assertions,” and they are thought to form the backbone of how language works. Humans, when they use language, are though to be basically spitting out sets of assertions about the Real World. “thought to” by people other than me, who think this entire orientation is something like John Donne’s argument that women have no souls; somewhere between comical and horrible.

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Appreciation and Criticism – a minor thought

I’ve been experimenting with writing a book review. Crazy, I know! Why? I have no idea. Why do I do anything? Which book did I pick? Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Reviewing someone else’s creation is something I have thought a lot about, because I’ve had to do it professionally for years – and have had it done to me. (As an aside: I never did an anonymous peer-review. I always asked the editors to pass my name along.)

When you review someone else’s work, I think it’s important to remember a Golden Rule – it is much easier to criticize then it is to create. I could go into complaints about her style, her novel’s structure, etc., but I think the world has too much of that. I think the criticisms are personal. I think the job of a reviewer is to find what is good in a work and praise it. There is a great deal that is good in Toews’ book. The criticisms, I will keep to myself.

When my daughter draws a picture of a monster, I don’t tell her if I think it looks like scribbles – I look closely to find the monster in it, and praise the monster I find. She returns to drawing with more heart for the next try. A “critical” approach crushes art, imagination, and creativity.

Notice I am not saying a “critic” should lie. I am saying they should follow the thread of the creator. Follow their intent – see the picture they’re trying to create. You will do them – and yourself – more good than any chop-job, no matter how righteously satisfied you may feel at the time.

I think, if people did this more, we would live in a much better world. Mr. Rogers once said that “appreciation of another person is a holy thing.” I think he was right.

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Being a Reactionary, 2+2 = 4, the Moon is Made of Green Cheese

As a rule, if you’re a reactionary (someone who orients yourself to resisting someone else), you’re going to probably be right wherever they are wrong.

However, you’re also going to be wrong wherever they were right.

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Public disclosure of Salaries @ UBC

UBC is a bit more crafty in their reporting of compensation. They say you only have to publicly disclose everything over $125,000 and then, in another place, they say it’s $75,000. Brandon University says it’s $50,000. UBC also splits up their discussion of administrative compensation into different “chunks,” including housing (seriously, presidents get housing money. Good thing, too. You can’t manage housing on $387,000 a year, you know?)

They are glad, however, to point you to the wages of other administrative leaders at other universities, which you can find here. It makes sense – you can’t attract the best people unless you pay through the nose, because the “best” people are also the most money-oriented, greedy, cash-obsessed people. What a coincidence!

All said and done, it looks like this is their pay range here for senior administration and here for regular faculty (starting on page 39).

Summary follows.

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Phillip Berlandi, a German who died at Gettysburg

Here’s the story of someone that history forgot – a man born in the Palatinate and died at Gettysburg. He left no children, no wife, and his last months on earth were filled with the experience of being useful cannon fodder for a foreign government. When we think of the classic narratives of American History, we do not think of Phillip Berlandi – which is exactly why I’m going to talk about him. When people bat around terms like “white privilege” and “Partriarchy” and “European Colonialism,” they don’t think of a young man from a poor immigrant family getting torn apart by artillery fire and buried in a mass grave.

In addition, as the direct descendant of his sister, I feel a sort of obligation to research his life. Since he left no children or a wife – soldiers often being young and alone – me and my family are, really, the only sort of descendants he would have.

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Public Disclosure of Salaries @ Brandon University

In case people are curious, universities are actually required to publicly disclose all salaries above $50K. I thought I would go through these numbers a bit for different universities. As you’ll see, income among academics is quite unevenly distributed.

Brandon University’s 2013 report can be found here.

Some relevant numbers from the report follow below. Mind you, Brandon is a poor school by university standards, in a poor province by Canadian standards, and the salaries here are far more equitable than they are at bigger schools (which I’ll be doing shortly).

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