President’s pension a ‘handshake’ deal

By Trevor Bacque

University of Calgary President Harvey Weingarten secured his $4.5-million pension package with a “handshake deal” according to a government report.

Alberta’s Auditor General Fred Dunn’s annual report states the handshake deal did not go into contract until February 1, 2008.

Implications and risks for the university, according to the report, include continual over-compensation of senior executives, legal liability for disputed compensation agreements and damage to its reputation, along with potentially dissuading executives to consider the U of C as a career option.

Dunn said the U of C is an influential institution but said the anomaly of the verbal contract casts a poor reflection on the post-secondary institution.

“Six years to finalize something that should be done on the front end is unbelievable,” said Dunn in a phone interview.

Dunn openly questioned why university administration, the Board of Governors, financial staff and accountants were not advised during this time.

“We have no idea what that process looked like or how it was able to slip through the cracks,” said Students’ Union president Charlotte Kingston.

“That’s a real problem, there’s clearly no accountability and no transparency in the financial processes that are happening at the Board of Governors level,” she said.

Because of the rotating nature of a board of governors, it is important for the terms and parameters of a contract to be clear, according to Dunn.

“The president told us that he signed the contract knowing it did not include significant benefits for him, on the basis that he had a ‘handshake’ deal with the university and that he trusted they would do the right thing,” read the report.

To Weingarten’s credit, he reportedly tried multiple times between 2003 and 2005 to reopen the dialogue in regards to his employment contract but each time was thwarted by “inaction and unfulfilled promises.”

The 362-page document says the university is a provincially-funded corporation with a duty to disclose executive salaries, cash and non-cash benefits earned each year in its annual financial statements, in accordance with an Alberta Treasury Board directive.

The initial phase of Weingarten’s employment contract took two years to finalize, which happened in 2003, but failed to include pertinent details such as a pension term, which was decided upon five years later.

The finalization of the contract was termed “highly unusual” by the auditor general’s report.

Kingston called Dunn’s remarks fair.

With the university actively seeking a new commander-in-chief by January, Kingston felt the report could make the process more difficult.

“We should be aware of what that means especially now that we’re looking to recruit a new president,” she said.

Weingarten’s pension, which he will begin receiving at age 65, will treat his 31.5 years in post-secondary education as if all were served at the U of C, instead of having his former employer, McMaster University, contribute to the pension, a deal arranged when he was hired.

With 14, the U of C has the highest number of outstanding recommendations by Dunn of any post-secondary institution in the province.