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Colleges explain why presidents need huge pay hikes


Is the head of Humber College worth a hefty half a mil?

What about the presidents of Algonquin, George Brown, Seneca or Sheridan?

That’s the question college boards across Ontario are considering in light of proposals to boost the pay of their executives. If adopted, five of the 24 presidents could potentially be earning $ 494,000, and even the lowest-paid could earn $ 325,000 — including the head of Northern College, which has about 1,900 students.

Eight could be in line for raises of more than $ 100,000 — or double the average yearly salary of an Ontario worker.

“It takes a certain skill level to be a president of a college,” and especially one in the north, said George Kemp, chair of board of Timmins-based Northern College, whose president earns $ 258,663 but could make $ 325,000.

“To suggest it is based on size . . . you don’t pay your president one-tenth of what the other presidents get.”

He said the proposed rate is the top-end only, and not a done deal — especially at Northern, “where to give a president a $ 65,000 increase, that’s the difference between balanced and not” at budget time.

News of the proposed pay hikes come as Premier Kathleen Wynne is on a weeklong tour of Ontario colleges and universities. On Monday, she visited Humber, whose president earns $ 432,765.

The new “frameworks” for executive compensation are required by the provincial government, now that a pay freeze for senior executives has ended. All of Ontario’s colleges received the help of the same outside consultant, and used many of the same 12 public-sector executive salaries for comparison, setting a median from among leaders at large entities like the LCBO, Toronto’s University Health Network and York University. Colleges considered less complex, with fewer staff or students, then “discounted” their top salary from that median.

So while Northern used York University as a comparator — York has 45,000 full-time students — Kemp said discounts were used in determining salaries.

“We think the comparators are appropriate,” he said. “We are quite comfortable as a board with what’s been done.”

Just last week, post-secondary minister Deb Matthews said college presidents should compare salaries among one another. But that did not faze any of the colleges contacted by the Star, who held firm in the work done by the outside consultant and their own boards.

NDP education critic Peggy Sattler said her party has long called for a hard cap on public sector executive compensation. She said student tuition should in no way be “subsidizing” college administrators’ salary increases, “and the only way these kinds of wages can be funded are through tuition dollars or government dollars, and we believe government investments in post-secondary should go into operating the colleges.”

She noted that colleges are already under enormous financial pressure, and that staff are largely contract faculty with little job security.

“For this discussion about this significant increase in college presidents’ salaries to be taking place at this time is very troubling,” she said. “It’s a big concern when we see proposals like this being floated.”

For all colleges, roughly 20 per cent of the proposed new pay rate is considered “at risk,” and could be docked in whole or in part if certain conditions aren’t met.

“As a citizen, you have to recognize that our executives have been frozen since 2012, salary wise,” said Charlie Regan, who chairs Centennial’s board of governors. “ . . . When we looked at ours, relative to us retaining and getting the talent that we need to keep our business running effectively as we have,” the compensation is appropriate.

Colleges insist the amounts are maximum, and that “obviously you don’t start off at the top when you are hiring somebody new,” said Scott Blakey, chief administration officer of Durham College. However, he added, over time the amount could reach the maximum.

“When I look at the requirement for the president, the skills, knowledge and expertise required to be a president at Durham is not dissimilar to what it would be at Humber or York University,” Blakey said. “The set of skills for those positions is similar.”

At Sheridan College, communications director Christine Szustaczek noted that its former president — Sheldon Levy — went on to be president of Ryerson University, and a vice-president of York has joined Sheridan. “That’s where we compete for talent,” she said, adding the two schools run a joint degree program.

Colleges will be examining the salary proposals over the coming months, and have been asking for public input via their websites.

TORONTO STAR | NEWS | CANADA