Money the obstacle as Atlantic School of Theology strike looms

  • March 17, 2011
Atlantic School of TheologyAs the legal strike deadline looms at 12:01 a.m. March 18, negotiators for the Atlantic School of Theology and its Faculty Association hope a March 21 meeting will put them on a path to a first contract between unionized librarians and professors and the school.

The big issue is money.

"The Atlantic School of Theology faculty is probably the most poorly paid faculty in Canada," said James Turk, Canadian Association of University Teachers executive director. "What they're being offered by the school is very, very little."

Salaries for academic staff with PhDs range from $41,000 to $103,470 for a full professor. The president of the university makes just over $100,000, plus taxable benefits of $26,606.

"Among our membership, we have members who are paid 37-per-cent lower than provincial averages. It ranges between 37-per-cent and 15-per-cent below Nova Scotia university averages," said professor of systematic theology and ethics Alyda Faber.

But comparing AST faculty to the Dalhousie University isn't necessarily the appropriate comparison, said AST's acting president Dan O'Brien.

"Compared to an electrician, they're probably not high paid," he said. "That's the challenge for anyone involved in negotiations — what's you're comparison set?"

Compared to other theological schools, AST professors are about the middle of the pack, said O'Brien.

"The only local comparator we have is the divinity school at (Wolfville, N.S.'s) Acadia University, and we apparently exceed them by a good measure in all categories," he said.

"We're not out to break the school," said Faber, president of the ASTFA. "There's a very strong commitment to students and to the mission of the school. That's always been true of our faculty."

Faber points out that AST is provincially funded by the same formula as other Nova Scotia universities. Compensation comparable to other Nova Scotia universities should not be out of the question, she said.

Negotiations began last April. Getting a contract signed within a year would be pretty good for a first contract, said O'Brien.

"I feel it's equally advantageous to the administration (and union), because (a contract) brings clarity and removes confusion around certain expectations and entitlements and responsibilities," he said.

The Atlantic School of Theology was founded in 1971. It brought together the Roman Catholic Holy Heart Theological Seminary, the Anglican University of King's College and the United Church of Canada's Pin Hill Divinity Hall. It's been affiliated with Saint Mary's University in Halifax since 2002. It is the host university for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs.

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