The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Show us pay cuts for top U of S officials

By in Opinions

MATTHEW CHILLIAK 

Should Busch-Vishniac take a pay cut in light of TransformUS?
Should Busch-Vishniac take a pay cut in light of TransformUS?

Four of the University of Saskatchewan’s highest paid executives earn over $300,000 per year. The highest paid of these is the university’s president, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, whose salary is $400,000. Given the university’s current financial problems and the program and service cuts that are sure to come, these executive salaries should be reconsidered.

On top of the $400,000 as the president’s base salary, Busch-Vishniac also receives travel expenses, a $12,000 vehicle allowance, $7,500 for obtaining tax-planning advice, accomodations that include paid utilities and cleaning services, six weeks of paid vacation and a guaranteed job at the university when her time as president is finished. These extra perks are more than some working on campus earn in an entire year.

The recent defeat of a University Council non-confidence vote has put the final nail in the coffin for the opposition of the TransformUS process, the goal of which is to avoid a projected budget deficit of $44.5 million in 2016.

University executives blame this deficit on a reduction in annual provincial funding  from 5.8 per cent to 2.1 per cent. Why were they betting on continuing to receive such an increase? A prudent budget would have planned for this.

To date, $15 million in savings have already been found through “workforce planning” — which have so far involved the elimination of 248 jobs at the university held by people who helped our university function on a day-to-day basis.

Some of these job eliminations allegedly involved “perp-walks” for staff members who were suddenly and unexpectedly laid off.

Of course, hard decisions need to be made when facing such a large budget deficit. But why are these hard decisions coming at the expense of ordinary working folk on campus? Were they the ones who led us into this deficit? I have yet to hear of any hard decisions being made at the expense of the highest paid executives who got us into this situation.

The large salaries and generous benefits contained in top-level executive contracts are defended as necessary compensation for obtaining high-performing individuals — the idea being that we will only get as good as we’re willing to pay for.

Have we got what we paid for though? The salary of the university president has increased by over $100,000 in the past 15 years, but what do we have to show for it?

In the Maclean’s 2014 university rankings, the U of S places 12th among Canadian medical doctoral universities. Ranked in the top spot is McGill, whose president earns slightly more than ours, at $400,499. Apparently $499 goes a long way.

In Busch-Vishniac’s defence, the current budget problems are largely the result of decisions made before her recent arrival under former president Peter MacKinnon. MacKinnon left his post just in time to avoid having to deal with this budget deficit, yet he continues to receive a salary for two years after leaving the job.

While MacKinnon’s golden-parachute compensation package may seem crazy, it was stipulated in his contract — as was the $92,000 he expensed in travel in 2012, some of which included first-class air travel. Such expenses are seen by Susan Milburn, the chair of the U of S’ Board of Governors, as making “perfect sense,” as she noted in an interview with the CBC in Oct. 2013.

During the austerity process of TransformUS, the attitudes and acceptance towards executive contracts which involve high levels of pay and extra perks needs to be reconsidered. No one working in a publicly-funded industry — whether they are a university president or a Canadian senator — should be flying first class. And no one in charge of overseeing this spending should describe it as making any sense.

No proposal to re-examine or reduce exorbitant executive compensation has yet to be covered by TransformUS or the executives themselves. Apparently it is not within either of their mandates.

Obviously allowing the executives to set their own pay could cause problems, although I think this is more of a protection against individuals giving themselves pay raises as opposed to pay cuts. However, it is the Board of Governors who set executive pay and they have already stated that no plan to re-examine or reduce executive pay currently exists.

So why don’t these top-paid executives ask for a self-imposed, even temporary pay cut as a show of solidarity and good faith? In a time of austerity, who would be opposed to this? It’s doubtful that any complaints would come from the university employees who are fearful of further job eliminations, or the students whose education may be affected due to program cuts and rising tuition.

If the university is expected to “transform” itself, this must include reducing excessive executive contracts. Besides, it is the top-level executives who placed us in this deficit situation to begin with.

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