University President Salaries
Compared to politicians, they’re overpaid. But compared to CEOs, they’re a bargain
With a global recession hammering endowment funds and university budgets, we’ve been hearing a lot about how the coffers of institutions of higher education are bleeding money these days.
But to look at the rising paycheques of university leaders, it would be hard to tell how dire the situation in Canada’s post-secondary sector is becoming. In fact, some university presidents in Ontario are paid more than Stephen Harper or Barack Obama receive to run entire countries. On the other hand, university presidents (not to mention Harper and Obama) get paid less—a lot less—than today’s corporate CEOs.
At the top of the university presidential pay scale in Ontario, for the second year in a row, was McMaster president Peter George, who pulled in a total of $ $533,913 in salary and taxable benefits last year. At current exchange rates, that’s slightly more than President Barack Obama’s US$400,000. Although, to be fair, President Obama also gets a hefty expense account, $19,000 for “entertainment” and 10 years of personal security. Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was paid $310,800 including a $2,000 car allowance. (Just to put that car allowance in perspective, that’s about how much I paid for my first car, a rickety 1992 Volkswagen Golf.)
The argument is that university president’s pay packages need to be big enough to attract educated, qualified candidates away from other sectors. And considering the paycheques earned by other bankable Canadians — corporate chief executive officers, for example —it could be argued that university presidents are underpaid. After all, Ed Clark, the CEO of Toronto Dominion Bank, made $8 million in 2008. The CEO of Imperial Oil brought home more than $9 million. (See salary chart at the end of this article.)
Then again, looking at our university presidents’ peers in the U.S. suggests that Canadian presidential salaries might be in the right ballpark. The median salary for the president of a public university in the United States is about $335,000, according to the U.S. College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. And while 10 presidents in Ontario received compensation above that benchmark, so did many presidents at American institutions. For example, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, New York University president John Sexton made $1,324,874 in 2007, and also has the run of a downtown university-owned apartment. Although that’s chump change compared to the $4.4 million garnered by University of Southern California head football coach Pete Carroll.
Canada’s highest paid president appears to be in Alberta. University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera received $627,000 in the 2007-2008 fiscal year, which includes house and car allowances, performance bonuses and deferred compensation. Her salary is up 6 per cent compared to the year before.
Highest paid are in business, medicine
Every year, legions of new bright-eyed university students aspire to a six-figure salary in business or at a top-tier medical practice. But according to figures released this week on Ontario’s salary disclosure day, the big money could also be in becoming a business or medical professor.
Last year, twelve out of thirteen professors making more than $300,000 in the province taught business or medicine. That means they earned more than most executives at medium-sized universities. On disclosure day, all eyes are on the rapid growth of university presidential salaries, but last year many business and medical professors were quietly clocking big bucks.
Last year, we reported that the top-paid professor in 2007 was Brian Golden of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business. In 2007, he earned $303,490. But the bar has since been raised. In 2008, 13 professors, all without senior management responsibilities, made more.
This year’s leading professor appears to be McMaster University assistant professor Gary Chaimowitz, who made $373,321. However, while listed in the disclosure as an assistant professor Chaimowitz also holds an administrative position as Head of Service, Forensic Psychiatry at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. He also holds an MBA, merging his medical knowledge with business management ― a potent earning combination.
Many hospital-based physicians and hospital administrators at university teaching hospitals also hold the title of medical school professor, because of the close relationship between medical schools and teaching hospitals. As we noted in this story, in the United States, almost all of the most highly paid academics are senior physicians or hospital administrators, with some earning more than US$1 million a year. In the U.S., many hospitals are part of a university, and therefore many of those people are considered to be university employees. In Canada, they often aren’t, because of a different corporate relationship between hospital and university. But you get a sense of how much their Canadian medical equivalents (some of whom would also be med school professors) are making from this list.
Leaving medical schools aside, the 2009 title for Ontario’s top paid professor without senior administrative responsibilities goes to John Hull, a finance professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business. He received total compensation of $364,335 last year. Closely behind are fellow Rotman professors Glen Whyte and William Strange, who earned $363,290 and $354,231 respectfully.
Ontario’s top paid female professor is Deborah Cook of McMaster University’s Faculty of Medicine, who made $349,943. The most highly paid female professor not at a medical school is Brenda Zimmerman, who is an associate professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. She made $314,612 last year, in part for teaching a course called “Understanding the Canadian Health Industry.”
To look at the presidents’ paychecks, you’d never know universities were desperately short of cash
Ontario’s public universities cry poor to anyone who will listen and can produce elaborate pie charts and balance sheets to support their claims. Interestingly, none of their advocacy materials mention the increasingly rich financial compensation awarded to the senior administrators of those same institutions.
Today, as required under Ontario’s “sunshine act,” the province’s universities were forced to disclosure the taxable compensation given to senior administrators.
If you were judging only by how much senior administrators are taking to the bank, you’d think universities were richer than ever.
Two university employees made more than a half-million dollars last year. John Lyon, Managing Director of Investment Strategy at the University of Toronto, was paid a salary of $494,598.04 with $62,876.32 in taxable benefits for a total of $557,474.36. Peter George, president of McMaster University, continues to be Ontario’s top paid executive head with a salary of $524,435.14 and taxable benefits of $9,478.34.
The next highest paid president, David Johnston of the University of Waterloo, made $45,000 less than George with a total compensation figure of $488,242.66. Following close behind at $484,357.92 is Mamdouh Shoukri, president of York University. Overall, 13 Ontario university employees were compensated over $400,000 in 2008 with another 59 clearing the $300,000 hurdle.
Province wide, 10,461 university employees made the $100,000 plus list. In fairness, over half of the people on the list made less than $125,000. The grand compensation total of everyone on the list is $1.4 billion. More than half of that went to those earning more than $125,000.
Judging by the record pay cheques for senior and mid-level university executives, one could reasonably conclude that universities are flush with cash and that “business” is booming. Sadly, that is not the case. University endowments are down by double-digit percentages and pension plans are facing major deficits.
To address growing shortfalls, universities are going so far as to exploit loopholes in tuition regulations to increase fees on students, in order to pay for the excesses of the sector. The University of Toronto, for example, is the latest university to exploit a loophole in provincial regulations limiting the maximum tuition the university charges. The rules set the maximum tuition for students taking a 100 per cent course load. Traditionally, student fees are based on the number of courses taken: A student taking four courses paid for four, a student taking five paid for five.
The University of Toronto plans to make students taking three or four courses pay the same fees as those taking five. Ten Ontario universities are already exploiting this loophole to generate additional funds. Other universities are increasing “administrative fees” for services students must use in the course of their university career.
But if the situation is so dire in the Ivory Tower, why are the people at the top taking home growing, record pay cheques?
Administrators are asking low-level staff to take pay freezes and benefit rollbacks. They are increasingly cutting full-time tenure track positions in favour of contract positions. (And then, as budgets squeeze, reducing contract positions). Student services are being cut so that, for example, students can’t get the counselling and other supports they need to succeed in university.
It seems that Ontario universities are only poor when it comes time to deliver the undergraduate education that taxpayers believe their money is going to support.
It’s time for Ontario’s university administrators to follow the lead of University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy. Axworthy, realizing that he’s asking others to bare the burden of his institution’s financial situation, cut his salary by 10 per cent.
If university administrators are unable to control their excesses, then it is time for the Dalton McGuinty government to step in and force universities to spend taxpayer money on undergraduate education instead of administration.
Administrators taking a pay cut may not amount to much in the big picture, but 10 per cent of McMaster president Peter George’s compensation could, for example, save the job of an entry-level professor facing lay-off as his institutions continues to cut Liberal Arts undergraduate programs.
What do you say university presidents? Do you have 10 per cent to give back to your institutions? Or is it just everyone else who is expected to bail you out?
The pay of college executives still trails that of universities, but they’re catching up
Colleges are often unfairly seen as the second tier of the higher education universe—and, as we noted last year, that extends to the compensation of college administrators, who have long been paid substantially less than their university peers
So did anything change in 2008? Yes. Ontario’s Sunshine List salary disclosure was released today, and the tally of Ontario college employees earning more than $100,000 (the threshold for inclusion on the list) is, as always, much shorter than the count for universities. However, the number of college senior administrators earning more than $200,000 has grown by nearly two-thirds, and several highly paid college heads are taking home university-president-sized paychecks.
The highest paid college president in Ontario is Frederick Miner of Seneca College. With a salary of $406,000 and taxable benefits worth $5,000, his compensation is enough to put him squarely in the upper tier of university administrators. Miner’s salary is more than that paid to the president of the largest university in the country, David Naylor of the University of Toronto. (The latter’s salary was $380,000).
Conestoga College president John Tibbits was paid $387,000. That’s more than the president of neighbouring Wilfrid Laurier University. (The president of the other university just down the road, the University of Waterloo was however paid about $101,000 more).
The presidents of five other Ontario colleges — Humber, Sheridan, George Brown, Mohawk and Algonquin — earned over $300,000. Their pay is below that awarded the presidents of large Ontario universities, but in line with the compensation given to presidents of smaller Ontario universities. For example, Dennis Mock, president of Nipissing University, Ontario’s second-smallest public university, was paid $271,000. Bonnie Patterson, president of Brock, last year received total compensation of $338,000.
The pay gap between colleges and universities appears to be larger in Western Canada. According to BC public sector salary disclosure, as compiled by the Vancouver Sun, there were 182 employees of the BC university and college system earning more than $200,000. (Data is for either 2006-07 or 2007-08). Of those 182 highly paid individuals, only two were from the college or institute system: the acting and outgoing presidents of BCIT. (What’s more, hardly any of the 182 members of the over $200K club came from the former university college system; almost all worked at one of the province’s four traditional universities, in particular UBC).
Pay packages appear to be bigger out West — but that may be because BC and Alberta disclosure is more honest
Aspiring university presidents and senior academics looking to maximize their market value may want to look to Western Canada, where the leading universities appear to be offering their top executives compensation superior to that offered in the rest of Canada.
According to the most recent salary disclosures, at least six Western Canadian university administrators are making more than Ontario’s most highly paid university president, McMaster University’s Peter George. In 2008, George reported salary and benefits worth $534,000. During the 2007-08 fiscal year, four senior executives at the University of Alberta, including the president, were paid more. Indira Samarasekera, the U of A’s president, received salary and benefits worth $627,000. Her number two, provost Carl Amrhein, earned $618,000. Two other executives at the U of A earned more: Phyllis Clark, VP of finance and administration, received total compensation worth $654,000 and Don Hickey, VP of facilities and operations, received $668,000.
The president of the University of Calgary, Harvey Weingarten, earned $557,000 in total compensation in 2008. Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, received total compensation worth $579,000.
In Ontario, the next highest paid president after McMaster’s George is Waterloo’s David Johnston; in 2008, he received $488,000 in total compensation. The third most highly paid Ontario president was York University’s Mamdouh Shoukri at $464,000.
The pay seems higher out West — and that is in part due to the stated objective of some Western universities to offer executive pay that meets or exceeds what’s offered by top institutions in the rest of Canada and the United States. For example, UBC explicitly benchmarks its president’s salary against those peers. “UBC is one of the highest ranked universities in Canada, and one of the top 40 universities in the world,” says the university’s statement on senior administrator compensation. “As such, UBC seeks to retain and attract the best senior administrators it can by remaining competitive in its compensation practices with other large research-intensive universities represented by the G13 (i.e., leading research-intensive universities in Canada), and in particular the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta, and with the global market for senior administrator talent generally.”
David Naylor, president of the University of Toronto, reported $430,000 in total compensation in the most recent year: $380,000 in salary and $50,000 in benefits.
The pay packages appear to be larger out West, but that may be partly an accounting wrinkle: compensation disclosure by Alberta and BC universities is more honest and complete. In Ontario, as in BC and Alberta, executives must report base salary and other compensation. However, Alberta and BC appear to be fully (or at least more fully) expensing the cost of their senior administrators’ supplemental pension payments, whereas Ontario’s salary disclosure does not appear to include this. Pension costs are not cash payments made in 2008, but rather the estimated present cost of the pension benefits earned in 2008. Many Canadian administrators are going to get large pensions on retirement, the cost of which in the present is substantial, and should be recorded and disclosed. Out West, it is.
For example, U of A president Samarasekera’s total compensation of $627,000 exceed that of every Ontario university president. However, her base salary of $436,000 is less than the base pay given to the top three Ontario presidents. What puts her total compensation over the top is $191,000 in “other non-cash benefits.” The largest part of that is pension benefits. UBC’s compensation disclosure for president Toope breaks it down even further: $378,000 in salary, a bonus of $50,000, “other compensation” of $65,000 and pension expense of $85,000. Ontario’s Sunshine Law salary disclosure covers the first three of those items but does not appear to completely cover pension expenses.
For example, it was revealed last year that, on retirement, McMaster’s George is set to receive a golden handshake of $1.4 million, paid out at the rate of $99,999/year for 14 years. This does not appear to have ever been accounted for in McMaster’s disclosures under Ontario’s Sunshine List. (It is not clear how such a payment — which McMaster does not consider a pension — would be treated by Alberta or BC compensation disclosure requirements). Nor does it appear that Peter George’s supplemental pension benefits have been disclosed as completely as those of his Alberta and BC peers. McMaster’s Sunshine Law disclosure says that George received salary of $524,000 and “taxable benefits” of less than $10,000. It seems a safe bet that the cost of his various pension and other benefits is considerably larger than this, but Ontario’s transparency law does not require quite as much transparency as BC and Alberta.
Comparing “total compensation” at Alberta/BC universities with those in Ontario is thus not always an entirely equivalent comparison, as it may somewhat understate the compensation of Ontario administrators. (That wording is deliberately chosen: it’s not that Alberta and BC are overstating executive compensation, but rather that Ontario is understating it). The bottom line, however, is that senior administrators in Alberta and BC are well paid, and at top universities, senior executives’ salaries compete with what is offered by leading universities in Ontario. No matter how you slice it, Western presidents aren’t getting short changed. For example, in 2008, U of A president Samarasekera’s total compensation rose 6.1 per cent.
(Ontario presidents aren’t exactly suffering, either).
And what about those senior execs at the U of A who earned more than the president? The university’s annual report explains that “in the current year, certain individuals became eligible for an additional six month professional leave. Included in non-cash benefits is the equivalent of an additional six months salary for Vice-President Finance and Administration ($176,000) and Vice-President Facilities Operations ($179,000).”
The two VPs, Clark and Hickey, were not paid those benefits in 2009 — but, in another act of Western accounting honesty, the university calculated and reported the cost of their six month leaves (which they will take later, perhaps after retirement) on its 2008 statement of executive compensation.
We’ll have complete coverage online later today
Ontario this morning released its annual Sunshine List of public sector employees paid more than $100,000. As always, the list includes all university and college employees in the province.
We’re preparing a number of articles right now; look for us for full coverage throughout the day from me, Karen Pinchin and Joey Coleman.
I’m just now taking a look at how university presidents’ salaries in Ontario compare to what we know about pay in Western Canada. The conclusion seems to be: go West, ambitious academic administrator. More in just a moment.