U of C plans to freeze executive pay after provincial budget cuts

U of C plans to freeze executive pay after provincial budget cuts


More from Dylan Robertson, Calgary HeraldPublished on: April 21, 2015
Last Updated: April 21, 2015 9:08 AM MDT

University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon speaks to the audience at the budget town hall on Monday in Science Theatres 148.

Riley Brandt / University of CalgarySHAREADJUSTCOMMENTPRINT
The University of Calgary has announced a plan to freeze executive pay and dip into reserves to balance its books in the face of provincial cuts. But a looming shortfall could impact ongoing labour negotiations.

“Instead of looking at a fiscal cliff, we’ve created a slower ramp,” said Dru Marshall, the university’s provost and academic vice-president.

Marshall told a Monday town hall that the university already set its tuition fee in December for next year, which accounts for just 18 per cent of revenues.

For now, the university is freezing its executives’ salaries — from deans and academic directors to top administrators — instead of a two per cent raise, and dipping into its accumulated surpluses to balance this year’s budget.
“The University of Calgary is in good financial shape, and so we have the ability to take time to make strategic decisions on what the future of the university will look like,” Marshall said.

In last month’s provincial budget, the government reduced its Campus Alberta grant. That leaves colleges and universities with 1.4 per cent less funding for the school year starting in September, and another 2.7 per cent cut scheduled a year later.

Marshall said that would normally mean cuts of just $6 million and $11 million, but inflation compounds the anticipated shortfall to between $37 million and $47 million during the 2016-17 year.

“We believe post-secondary education is really important, and that it is actually an economic diversifier, and something the government should be looking at very carefully,” Marshall said.

Advanced Education Minister Don Scott said he is planning on “a very substantive consultation process” with post-secondary institutions after the election to revamp their funding models.

“I don’t want the post-secondary system to be feeling the ups and downs of oil. We need a long-term, sustainable plan going forward, and that’s what I’m committed to doing.”

For now, the University of Calgary plans to expand its enrolment by almost five per cent, citing a large number of “turn-aways” — qualified applicants who can’t get into a school because of jam-packed classes.

The university estimates its enrolment of 30,537 students will gradually expand to 32,028 by the 2017-18 year.

Meanwhile, the university is already in negotiations with the faculty union, whose contract ends July 1, as well as AUPE local 52, which represents support staff, whose contracts ended March 31.

“We thought that was really important to set a tone at the top, given our current financial situation. And what I can say is we’re in negotiations with our academic staff and with our AUPE staff, and those conversations continue apace,” Marshall said.

“The conversations and the consultation are a really important part of the process, and we’ll sort of see what happens.”

Sandra Hoenle, president of the faculty association, said contrary to public perception, salaries have risen four per cent over the past five years, compared with a nine per cent inflation rate.

“We are beginning to fear that the prospect of a brain drain is looming,” said Hoenle, noting that American universities are starting to recover from the 2008 economic crisis.

“We are potentially at our most vulnerable in terms of losing some of our best and brightest academic colleagues,” said Hoenle, whose union told the Herald last month that staff have survived on a “starvation diet” for years, with large classes, overcrowded labs, outdated technology and deferred maintenance.

Meanwhile, Kevin Barry, chair of AUPE local 52, says his union will ask for a three per cent increase for each of the next three years, but negotiations are focusing on non-financial issues.

The budget for the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Polytechnic is still under board review. A SAIT spokesperson said to expect an update in late May. Mount Royal University did not respond to a request for comment.