New president starts it off right

By Gauntlet Editorial Board

Elizabeth Cannon, the University of Calgary’s president as of July 1, started her job at a tough time. The great recession is still fresh in our minds; education costs are rising due to a lack of provincial funding; and, following the outgoing president Harvey Weingarten’s $4.5 million pension package, people are seeing the president’s salary as a good place to start making drastic cuts.

It was refreshing, then, for the Board of Directors to post Cannon’s contract online earlier this month, making clear the terms of the agreement for public consideration. Regardless of the details of the contract and despite that such transparency should be the standard for a public institution, it is laudable that the university administration took this step from the beginning of Cannon’s term.

Transparency alone won’t suffice to dissuade objectors. The base $430,000 is in keeping with standards across Canadian campuses, but she will also receive another $28,000 a year for a car and other expenses and can make an additional 20 per cent of her base salary depending on her annual performance. That she and many other university presidents make more than Prime Minister Stephen Harper is notable given the influence each has. Critics claim that university presidents fail to produce enough to justify their high salary– a public institution shouldn’t be paying such amounts, especially when times are tough.

There are good reasons, however, to think such costs are justified. After all, given the amount of faculty, staff and students the president is responsible for, it is important to find a person dedicated to the job. The president is not just the face of the university: she plays a large role in shaping the future of the institution and can affect its direction long after she is gone. Competition for people with such skill is high, so it is necessary to make the position attractive.

While Cannon has had little opportunity to present that direction, she will soon have to when she announces the objectives she hopes to meet in the coming years. (The fulfillment of these goals, which are to be made public on the university website, will determine Cannon’s annual bonus.) It is probable that a doctor of engineering could make significantly more in the private sector, but this, as well as her decision to turn down money to pay for a house, is a good start to showing that she is committed to seeing the university succeed rather than padding her coffers.

Within limits, it is useful to consider the university as a business. Efficiency benefits any enterprise- proper direction is fundamental to an organization the size of the U of C. The difference between a university and a business is that the former doesn’t have profit as its primary objective. Rather, providing a worthwhile education to students while producing quality research is the goal the university should seek. It is unavoidable that money will be an arbiter in the success of the school, but an affordable education that maintains high standards is obligatory. Cannon is in the position to fulfill these goals. So long as she does, it will be money well spent.

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