The president of the University of Alberta, Indira Samarasekera, is leaving next summer. This means that her job, which pays at least US $368,500, is up for grabs. I’m sure the search committee expected a lot of top talent in the application pool, but they probably didn’t expect 56 Canadian academics, fed up with a highly paid administration in the face of countrywide “austerity” measures, applying for Ms. Samarasekera’s post in job-sharing groups of four.
The elaborate and serious joke is the brainchild of Dalhousie University professor Kathleen Cawsey and three friends, a Gang of Four whose pointed (and hilarious) cover letter has become a Canadian media cause celebre.
The stunt comes on the heels of recent revelations that some of the highest-paid U.S. college presidents also oversaw some of the biggest increases in student debt. Most notoriously, E. Gordon Gee received a nearly $6 million retirement package when he “retired” in disgrace from Ohio State University (later landing at West Virginia University). If Mr. Gee had selflessly capped his buyout at, say, a meager $1 million, the university could have offered $10,000 scholarships to 500 additional students.
Hot on Mr. Gee’s heels is James Milliken, chancellor of the CUNY system, who can now draft emails about that pesky adjunct rebellion in supreme comfort from his free $18,000-a-month apartment.
Ms. Cawsey and her colleagues decided they’d skewer the University of Alberta’s comparatively modest participation in the top-heavy university economy and have a few laughs while they were at it.
“As you will see from our CVs,” the group writes, “we are eminently suited to fill this position. Indeed, we believe that by job-sharing this position, we would be able to do a better job than any one person could do — and the salary is certainly ample enough to meet the needs of all four of us. Indeed, for many of us one-fourth of your proposed minimum salary would double or triple our current wage.”
They even offered to “share one academic gown.”
Academics all over North America complain about the corporatization of the university and “administrative bloat,” but Ms. Cawsey and Co. are actually brave enough to put their names on a collective action that is equal parts brazen and good-hearted. The purpose of the collective app, Ms. Cawsey explained to me, was to highlight “the disparity between the recent growth of university administration — both in terms of numbers of administrators and in terms of their salaries — and their rhetoric of austerity, which has resulted in program cuts, loss of tenure-track jobs, increasing numbers of poorly paid, insecure [adjuncts] and skyrocketing tuition. And,” she adds, “because it was a lot of fun.”
Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.