Show us pay cuts for top U of S officials

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.

  • John

    Wow. I should have went to SIAST. What a crock of shit.

  • DJH

    That does seem like a lot of money, but I hesitate to underestimate the importance of good leadership. I don’t know what her qualifications are, exactly, but to suggest a higher salary doesn’t attract better talent goes against my intuition on how markets work, so I don’t think I’m quite convinced of your argument. If the president is to be paid less, we’ll end up with a less experienced president.

    • PSK

      The argument that we will hurt peoples feelings or something, leading to less people wanting the jobs, is a ridiculous argument.

      Are you trying to say that even though we’re willing to destroy the livelihoods of working-class people working at low-level jobs, we can’t cut, say, 10% of administrators’ salaries because they’ll get their knickers in a knot for making only $360,000 a year with ALL OF THOSE BENEFITS instead of 400,000?

      It’s good to know that filthy rich bureaucrats are so sensitive eh? Exhaustingly irritating.

    • colin

      What I think DJH is saying is that although the pay range for these leadership roles are likely inflated, the U of S needs to be competitive with what other universities are offering. By cutting these wages, we may fall below what is considered competitive and have troubles recruiting the calibre of employees we would like to see.

    • Devin Ens

      Where’s the evidence that the people we’ve hired are of any notable calibre whatsoever. The hamfisted handling of this process does not scream “professionalism” to me.

  • ballawalla

    She could be the greatest leader ever and it still means nothing to the students screwed over by MutilateUS now. If nobody wants to take a pay cut, how about we cut back on some executive positions? Or at least cut back her bonuses (which she can obviously afford with her base salary.) While we’re at it, how about those government officials reducing funding for the University? I’m sure there’s lots of money being wasted there, too, that could go to a better purpose. And if this is MacKinnon’s fault, why do we have a building named after him now? Let’s get some money back from him, too. Stop paying him. Go work at a McDonald’s you prick.

    • iuhpj

      I believe the University was expecting an increase in provincial funding by 5.8 percent but only obtained 2.1. No funding was actually reduced.

  • Liz

    Hey I’ll be president of the university!! I’ll even take a voluntary permanent pay cut of $300,000/ year! I’d be more than happy with $100,000/ year. It would sure beat $7,000/ year as a student!

  • Michael

    This is really sad to see how much they, university officials and the well paid, want to keep bettering themselves rather then helping out 1000’s of students. Truly sickens me that they want to pad their wallets while we are stuck running on fumes term by term. Something needs to be seriously done about this.

  • ParkingPolice

    How about she gets paid per year with whatever money is generated from all the parking tickets this school hands out

  • Cj

    Yeah, ’cause they’re totally going to work for this institution out of the goodness of their hearts instead of going somewhere that pays them market value… You get what you pay for, which does not include sustainably attracting candidates of quality when your competitors offer significantly higher salaries for similar positions.

    • HigherWages =/= BetterPeople

      While that’s partly true, higher wages also bring in more people who are just in it to squeeze out every last dime. They can look good on paper, but sometimes they don’t care at all about doing a good job at the university. And why should they, if they can get us into a mess like this and STILL get paid AFTER they leave? If you lower the wages for the administrators and give them a reason to do a good job, the people who actually care will stick around much longer than the leeches.

    • Devin Ens

      And where is the evidence that we are getting what we pay for. Did you read the bit where it mentions our president makes only $500 less than McGill’s?

  • Oh, higher education…

    She’s making more than Stephen Harper’s base pay. I mean he has a huge net worth (millions) but his salary is still less than hers.

    I know we need to stay competitive, but really what is she doing, what are all of the executive’s doing?
    We are the University of Saskatchewan people. We’re not Harvard or Columbia or MIT. You want into our undergraduate program? We’ll gladly take your money, come on in.
    How much talent do we really need? I’d like to see what amazing changes our University is making comparable to others that make our people worth so much.
    Ugh.
    Somebody find a silver lining, prove me wrong, educate me on this so I feel better. Please.

  • n1cktast1c

    I think it’s time the arts and science people stop trying to make arguments that they know nothing about. There is a big picture here you need to look at. In the long run cutting executive salaries is a terrible idea.

    • Logan Fele-Slaferek

      And cutting/eliminating programs for students isn’t? Imagine the programs we could fund if we dropped the high end officials’ pay by 10%, then the president would be making $360,000, not 400k, which is still incredibly high for the amount of nothing and student-leeching she does.

    • poop

      Wow, you have a very objective opinion that isn’t biased at all! We brought the current president of the university in to clean up this mess. If we don’t pay her a competitive wage, she has no reason to stick around and put with the harassment being thrown at her. A 10% pay cut disincentivizes good employees from staying – and it still won’t remove the deficit.

    • Logan Fele-Slaferek

      I honestly don’t care if we “hurt her feelings” or insult her in any way, the tuition for students is too damn high, I work full time during summer and part time during school just to be able to afford it. And not only that, but the majority of the classes that I sign up for are getting cut/eliminated, justify the massive loss of knowledge that the University is causing and then come back to me and tell me the Dean is doing a good job.

    • poop

      Yeah, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for you, honestly. I also work full time during the summer and 20-30 hours per week during the semester to afford it. My program was ranked i n the lowest, fifth category – it’s getting cut. And you know what? That’s not her fault. Nor is she the ‘Dean’ – not sure what college you’re in, but chances are your Dean is doing his or her best to support students through this transition.

      The situation is unfortunate, but it doesn’t mean she deserves less pay – her performance hasn’t been poor. I’m not saying that you’ll “hurt her feelings” – I”m saying if the entire campus community shared your belief, the president would just leave. Putting up with this hassle and taking a pay cut while still performing well? It just isn’t rationale. You pay for quality.

    • Logan Fele-Slaferek

      You honestly didn’t understand my problem with the *President*, the University is cutting/eliminating all other programs in the favour of 16 specifically chosen ones, I don’t agree with this, and I voted against this. I can’t justify paying tuitions that bankrupt me in favour of all my fees going towards funding programs I will never take part in and furthering some aloof twat’s, like yourself, education. I think it is sad that the University is favouring a select few programs and then all the others are getting cut and even eliminated altogether, the majority of cut ones are my preferences and prerequisites for my major. Justify “You pay for quality” when all of the other programs are getting torn to shreds so the few programs they deemed “fit to fund” is fair to the majority of the masses attending the University.
      I don’t even take your arguments seriously, to be honest, your commenting name is *poop*, I at least have the confidence to provide my real name when commenting. Grow some balls and stop thrusting your opinions at others like a phallus if you aren’t even prepared to show your damn face and get out of mine, thank you.

    • Blah

      While her performance didn’t cause the deficit, she is presiding over TransformUS, which is a poor decision in itself.