Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2015

Executive compensation picks up at Alberta’s universities & colleges

[Nikolay Petkov /]
[Nikolay Petkov /]
The salaries and benefits paid to top administrators at Alberta post-secondary institutions continue to soar in the face of government funding cuts and rising tuition costs.

The plum compensation packages of university presidents and vice-presidents in the province are revealed in the schools’ annual reports — which must be submitted by Dec. 31 to government — and in many instances rival or even better their counterparts’ pay at more highly-rated institutions across the country.

University of Alberta president and vice-chancellor Indira Samarasekera, scheduled to retire in June, topped last year’s ranks with a base salary of $544,000, making her one of the highest paid administrators not just in Alberta, but in all of Canada, a position she’s held for the last few years. Her total compensation equalled just over $1.1 million after bonuses and non-cash benefits such as pension contributions were included.

“There is a trend in sharp increases to both the numbers of administrators and their pay,” said Doug Short, president of the Alberta Colleges and Institutes Faculties Association. “And the administrative salaries have increased at much higher rates than society in general, and at a cost to teaching.”

The province’s four academic and research universities (University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and Athabasca University) paid nearly $12.5 million in total compensation to their presidents and vice-presidents in the 2013­–2014 fiscal year.

Individual salaries for the six U of A vice-presidents ranged from $383,000 to $496,000, looming large when compared to salaries of the presidents at McGill University, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia, who earned an average of about $373,000.

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon received $732,000 in total compensation, while Mac­Ewan University president David Atkinson’s total compensation rang in at just under $400,000.

The pay scales are increasingly contentious, even as the government has introduced the concept of “market modifiers” on tuition fees, and in December allowed 10 post-secondary schools to raise fees for 25 professional programs as much as 56 per cent, despite legislation that normally caps increases to the annual rate of inflation.

Former advanced education minister Thomas Lukaszuk promised two years ago to launch a review of compensation for post-secondary officials, but the investigation never got off the ground.

Now, Alberta’s post-secondary institutions have been warned by Don Scott, minister of innovation and advanced education, to adjust to an even more stringent fiscal reality as oil prices decline, sharply affecting the province’s bottom line. He’s promised only that universities and colleges will not be taken by surprise like they were two years ago when the province abruptly cut $100-million from post-secondary funding.

Short says high salaries and burgeoning numbers of administrators are eating up more and more of institutions’ budgets, noting he’s seen administrator numbers rise by as much as 100 per cent in just a few years at some institutions, while faculty numbers remained stable even in the face of growing enrolment.

The trend in ballooning salaries and numbers is not confined to Alberta, and when the U of A began searching for Samarasekera’s replacement last year, the job posting prompted several “group” applicants to come forward, all claiming the salary would provide amply for up to four people who would job-share and bring a wealth of skill and experience to the position.

Wanting to raise awareness about “the disparity between these administrators’ large salaries and the rhetoric of austerity that they espouse,” Kathy Cawsey, an associate professor at Dalhousie University, and three others, teamed up to apply, and launched a Facebook page encouraging others to do the same.

About 14 groups tried for the job, Cawsey said, and all received the same form letter rejecting their applications. She said that she had hoped that the applications would elicit a dialogue about their concerns, but was disappointed.

“I listened to (U of A board of governors chair) Doug Goss discussing the situation after we applied, and he never once used the words ‘teaching’ or ‘education’. He used words like ‘excellence, globalization and innovation’.”

This reflects the “corporatization” of post-secondary schools, said Short, who remains concern­ed that although administrative salaries are publicly accessible, full and transparent financial disclosure remains elusive.

“In good corporate governance, people need to know what you get and why you get it,” he added. “Why are some administrators paid huge bonuses, and for doing what?”