Parallels at Monash University: Wages that Both Entertain and Enrage us

This article was first published as an editorial in a small leftist newspaper, Grotty Pinko, at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It demonstrates the parallelism between the university management structures of Monash and Warwick, two universities bound up in a corporate ‘Alliance’. WFFE supports the effort to reclaim the relationship between the two university communities in a ‘Monash-Warwick Activist Alliance’.  

 Our university is run like a corporation. We are the product.

The heart of Monash Clayton campus. The Airport Lounge. à la Upper Rootes. Photo: Nick Morleson

The heart of Monash Clayton campus. The Airport Lounge, à la Upper Rootes. Photo: Nick Morieson

How do we feel about the fact that Monash University’s Vice-Chancellor will be paid a salary of over $1m this year? That’s 75 years’ worth of that sweet top tier youth allowance honey payments. Twice as much as the Australian prime-minister gets.

What do we think when we’re informed that our University’s 63 Council members, senior managers and directors were collectively paid $18.5m in 2014, and that they will probably get a similar total amount again this year? That’s a range of salaries from $150,000 to $730,000 per year, or an average salary of $293,650 each.

What emotions well up within us when we reveal that the group responsible for deciding such salaries for our University’s Vice-Chancellor and its senior managers is comprised of … senior managers … and “business experts”?

How do we process the reality that it’s these same senior managers and “business experts” who are also involved in creating and appointing each other into the positions of… senior management?

Do we gasp, sigh, spit or gag in moral outrage?

Perhaps we nod wistfully in total resigned acceptance at the realpolitik of the corrupt autocratic university and our individual impotence?

Or rather, maybe we invoke some textbook market theory to try to rationalize this apparent excess? Or do we just chuckle at the maniacal genius of it all? Quietly smile in admiration at an administration that has the sheer gall to walk away each year with millions of dollars of public money, all the while lobbying federal governments to increase student fees, suppressing staff wages, laying off staff and overloading the remainder with pointless admin tasks and too much teaching and research work, cutting courses, wasting millions on making existing buildings “McFancier” or architecturally over-engineering new ones, taking countless overseas “business research” trips to Monash’s ever increasing number of international campuses, spending millions on fake snow machines, increasing parking fees well beyond inflation, charging expensive fees to access sporting facilities, investing in fossil fuel companies while hypocritically wasting millions on “greening” the campus in sustainability propaganda…

Students and staff of Monash, we ask you all, together, collectively, here and now: what the actual fuck is happening to our University? In order to function successfully, does our community of scholars really require a CEO-type figurehead to be paid $1m per year? What can this person be doing on a daily or hourly basis to be worth this much money? What work can they possibly be doing to add such value to the university? If we simplistically assume the Monash Vice-Chancellor works their arse off 12hrs per day for 6 days per week for 52 weeks of the year with no holiday, that results in a wage of $3,204 per day or $267 per hour. Again, if we assume these senior managers work the same hours as the VC, that’s a wage of $976 per day or $81 per hour. On the other hand, if you are a top level professor teaching and researching, you are on an annual salary of $164,104. Assuming the same work hours as the senior managers and the VC, that’s $526 per day or $43 per hour. And it takes years of unpaid labour and job insecurity to get to that point.

On an average (youth allowance/casual work) income of $18,634, it would take a full-time student 53 years to accumulate Monash VC’s 2014 salary of $1m, in which time the same student will simultaneously incur a $1m dollar debt – which could be $5m, in the event of fee deregulation.

All these figures beg many questions. For instance: how are people on wages of an average $300,000 – skyrocketing to over $1m – meant to be relating to other people earning less than half that average (top level professors) or 1/20 of this amount (students on youth allowance)? How can the VC and the senior managers make qualitative decisions in the best interest of our community when, relative to the ordinary members of this community, their financial and material circumstances place them on the solar systemic equivalent of mars?

Rotunda

The charming Rotunda at Monash. Photo: Nick Morieson

A quote from Alan Finkel – space enthusiast, Monash Chancellor and the reputed mastermind behind the University’s great transformation into a ruthless private corporation – sheds some light on the perspective of the rich and powerful who occupy the commanding heights of Monash management.

This little gem comes from an interview where the Finkster is being asked about his recent purchase of a $267,000 ticket for himself for a 7 minute joy ride to outer-space: “a private person can go into space today for US$25m. That’s too much to pay. US$200,000, while not an insignificant amount, is an accessible amount. People spend more than that on cars. You see someone in a Porsche and you might envy them but you don’t ask them ‘why they have spent so much money on it?’”

By “people” who “spend more than” US$200,000 on cars, the Finkmeister presumably means his mates on the University Council and other members of the global elite, not “the people” in the popular sense of the term. In a world where you can say things like this while being a leader of a scholarly community paid hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from the public purse, satire becomes an inoperable art form. The lunatics have taken over the asylum of Monash University, and the more power concentrated in their hands, the richer they get.

We would suggest an alternative salary determination process. Every enrolled student and staff member of our university community (all 70,000 of us) are given the opportunity to submit our preferred salary suggestion for the VC and senior administrators. Then a bean counter plugs the data into a spread sheet and voila! We simply accept the average and hand that amount over. As my primary school teacher used to say: you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.

To conclude, we can try and give an explanation of how it got to this. Although Australian Vice-Chancellor salaries are on average by far the highest in the world, and although these salaries represent a significant divergence from the average earnings, it is also important to acknowledge that executive salaries across all sectors of society have risen somewhat exponentially over the past few decades. Research by Professor David Peetz from Griffith University interrogates the various theories for the recent divergence between the growth rates in CEO pay and average earnings. Peetz findings are worth summarizing in full:

“Executive pay is characterized by ‘dual asymmetric pattern bargaining’, whereby firms seek to benchmark their CEO pay to higher paying firms, and grant CEOs, with whom corporate decision makers share a social milieu, increasing benefits which also confer status benefits on the firm – in sharp contrast to the distributional pay negotiations which occur with workers. Executive remuneration rises disproportionately during boom periods, but fails to symmetrically fall during poor times. Thus ‘everybody knows’ that CEOs are overpaid, but firms are unwilling to do anything about it because to do so would damage internal class relations and firm status. The different methods of pay setting for workers and CEOs reflect core differences in class power and changes in that balance of power during a period of neoliberalism.”

“The inflation of executive remuneration is fundamentally a phenomenon of class,” concludes Peetz. Even Paul Anderson, former CEO of BHP Billiton, remarked: “CEO compensation is out of control, totally out of control. It’s reached a point now that there’s no way to justify the incredible compensation … there is just no value that can be created by a CEO that you can say that makes a lot of sense” (Correy, 2003).

And there you have it. Let us politely suggest that something of a revolution might be in order. We can start with Monash VC Maggie G.

You can find a selection of old and current Grotty Pinko issues online at http://grottycommie.com/, including the ‘Monash Warwick Activist Alliance’ column. 

From Warwick to Sussex: Six Lessons Learnt about Organising on Campus

Callum Cant

Professor Thomas Docherty addressing a student occupation at Warwick

Professor Thomas Docherty addressing a student occupation at Warwick

Build a Broad Front

The first step is to generate broad, coalition organisations that unite the most students possible behind a unifying idea – Free Education.  By opening up organisations to the maximum possible base you tie them to the student body as closely as possible. People need to recognise that our organisations are not just for a special lefty elite – they are genuinely broad, and genuinely built on the back of organising as many students as possible.

Focus on Education and Connection

Within this broad front, the task is then to convince people of your ideas. People won’t come to their first meeting as your particular favourite brand of Socialist/Communist/Autonomist/Anarchist. A broad front has to engage in political discussion and education that is accessible to first timers and builds a collective perspective on social change.

Simultaneously a broad front also needs to communicate with new people, and continue to integrate new activists. A relentless campaign of information spreading and conversation has to be the top priority.

This means not treating your average student with contempt. If they don’t agree with us, it’s likely because they have never had a discussion on the issues – not that they are evil. Talking to thousands of new people, explaining the issues, and presenting our arguments is the absolute fundamental and basic work of organising on campus. Once you do enough of this groundwork, you start to change the prevailing conditions on campus, and then everything gets much easier.

Engage with the SU

This grass roots organisation then needs to be embedded within your union structures, so that you have activists working through the internal democracy of the union to make it more effective. The larger the external movement, the more effective this pressure will be. The goal has got to be converting unions into mass participation political structures – even if we retain a perspective that is distinct from them.

In concrete terms this means standing people for election for every position and level, passing motions, and debating issues in referenda. Yes, there are a certain set of skills to be learnt in order to do this well, but they are skills that pay back a thousand fold.

Aspire to Mass Democracy

Small activist groups can be more or less democratic, but they will never be able to function as a democratic measure of the whole student population. If we want to avoid acting like a direct action vanguard, we need to eventually always be attempting to convince the student population of our position. An on going goal, then, has to be to create the democratic structure for thousands of students to get involved in the direct democratic processes that shape the movement.

Escalate… slowly

This goal of convincing the student population means, unfortunately, that some forms of action have to wait. We can’t just lead a mass insurrection against management and expect to win long-term gains – although there is a certain short-term pressure to be derived from disruptive direct action.

What is needed is a balance between a movement that uses its collective strength to enter into a power struggle with university management and the state, and a movement that has substantial support within the student population.

This balance is tricky to find, but at its most basic we should always be working towards an increase in the ability to connect with students at the same time as we work towards increasing pressure on our opponents.

Build Infrastructure

The student movement has a fast turn over. Most of its members are in and out in under three years – meaning that at the start of every term there is always a need to start anew. In one way this is a great thing – it means we rarely get bogged down in the repetition that the old left enjoys so much. But it also means that we are always starting from near zero.

For students and the left more generally the last thirty years have seen the destruction of a lot of the stuff we relied upon to keep us from having to start all over again. Unions have stopped striking, organisations have lost their offices, and communities have been ripped apart. Part of our job now is to rebuild those structures within our particular arena of struggle: the student movement.

This means getting together things like banners, megaphones, a blog, a social media presence, a table, a printer, a big bag of red squares, and so on. On a broader level it also means developing habits and orientations like regular meetings, socialising together, connections to national organisations, and a militant student union. We need to have the basic material stuff that will help the movement tick on year after year after year.