Editorial—Sweet Job if you Can Get It

There’s been somewhat of a kerfuffle over at U of A over the past couple weeks since they announced that they might be having to cut their 2018-2019 budget by 4% while raising fees for students who live in residence and international students.  This was exacerbated when Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt spoke of the University of Alberta President “lining his own pockets while he’s cutting money being spent on classrooms and students

U of A President David Turpin takes home about $824,000 per year in salary and benefits, making him the second highest paid university president in the country.

Members of the Board took issue since it was their budget being impugned, and students and staff took issue with the Board, noting that the assumptions the Board was making on funding (assuming a 0% increase in government funding) were a complete mis-match to what the government was claiming with a 2% funding increase and backfill funding to compensate for tuition being frozen for another year.

Since then, Minister Schmidt has apologized to President Turpin for the comments and tone they were spoken in. And the Board of Governors, on receiving further assurances from the government that what they’re saying is what is going to happen, is considering adjusting its budget to address the additional funding the government is promising.

Now, in fairness to University of Alberta’s Board, universities have been burned before on government announcements vs. government funding.  Under the previous PC government, for instance, a 2% increase was converted into a 7% cut with almost no warning, leaving post-secondary institutions, including AU, scrambling.  So maybe there’s something to their prudence. On the other hand, formalizing budgets that ignore government funding increase announcements is a good way to create a surplus on the backs of the students and programs whose funding got cut, a surplus that universities are then free to redirect to whatever special projects they would prefer to spend on.

For context, the AU President’s salary and benefits come in at just over 500k (pg A27) even though I would argue that managing Athabasca University is probably a far more complex task since AU is dealing with multiple unions, and every program implemented must be thought about in the context of how it will work not just in the city, but across the country and even around the world.

But the larger question is, in times of limited funding, why do Boards continually seek to offer higher and higher salaries.  Is there really such a dearth of people who would be capable of doing the job for less than half a million dollars?  Remember that that’s more than double the premier of any province.  But because they all do it, they all have to do it because they’ve made it the going rate.  After all, no board wants to be thought of as hiring someone who’s less than the absolute best, but the only real measure we can quantify to tell if someone is the best university president is how much they get paid.  It’s a cycle where the quality is determined by the salary received, and the salary given is determined by the quality sought, but nowhere is the quality measured by the work done, not until after the presidents’ term, and that has no effect on the salary offered for the next person in the position. Sounds like a sweet job, if you can get it.

Enjoy the read!

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