I t appears that University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon considers herself entitled to a salary higher than nearly any of her counterparts, even when the reputation and renown of the University of Calgary indicates that she does not deserve it.
Cannon earns more in base salary than the presidents of McGill University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto — universities that generally enjoy greater domestic and global prestige than the U of C. Our president not only enjoys a higher salary than her arguably more acclaimed counterparts, but she also has fewer students to manage than both UBC and the U of T.
The U of C insists that such a high compensation package is necessary to ensure competitiveness with other post-secondary institutions, but it’s a difficult pill to swallow in the face of such sweeping cuts to the school’s operating budget.
There is certainly an argument for high executive pay. The rhetoric that high pay leads to high performance is common, if tiresome, and Cannon’s pay is comparable to what she could earn in the private sector.
But the fact remains that the U of C is a public institution, with a responsibility to serve and educate the public, not to reward its executives with exorbitant salary packages.
The U of C has announced a recent freeze in executive pay. But the university is already paying Cannon $430,000 a year in base pay which includes a six week vacation. Besides, a freeze in executive pay is merely a freeze in base pay — a sum which accounts for little over half of Cannon’s entire salary. This freeze was a paltry public relations attempt at damage control.
Cannon’s benefits are also exorbitant. A car allowance of $16,000 is included, along with various cash and non-cash benefits, placing her total salary easily over $750,000.
Cannon is making more than her peers by a substantial margin, and the university’s flimsy justification indicates a certain sense of entitlement to astronomical executive pay. The irony of Cannon declaring a commitment to financial responsibility in her announcement regarding the freeze is laughable when you consider that she is the president of a university ranked no better than 200th in the world by Times Higher Education and earns more in base pay than Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth Cannon’s salary is only the most obvious example in a string of disproportionately high salaries. Dru Marshall, the provost and vice-president, is paid $400,000 a year in base pay — a salary higher than even the presidents of U of T and UBC.
The Board of Governors — who approve executive salaries — have been wary of breaching the terms of contract, and insist that the freeze is “essentially a reduction” because of continuing inflation. The freeze affects a whopping 55 senior executives, indicating that unnecessary spending has been the norm, not the exception, to a rule that is apparently based on a sense of entitlement.
Executive pay often exceeds the $100,000 mark — it will always be more than enough to make a living. Many professionals work for much less on the grounds that they are passionate about what they do. It is not too much to ask executives to do the same? A merit based system is hardly unreasonable — leadership roles require intelligence and should be rewarded for the value that they bring to any institution they serve. Fair pay is one thing, but the Board of Governors should avoid compensation that exceeds the value executives bring to our institution.
It’s not as if Cannon doesn’t deserve wealth for the hard work she puts into this universi`Aty, and I don’t think we should be arguing about the validity of her position. But it is imperative to question why our president makes more than her peers, our mayor and our prime minister. Whether or not you agree that paying someone over $750,000 could ever be worth it to the school, Elizabeth Cannon hasn’t earned it yet. We need to see some concrete results at this school before Cannon, Marshall and the rest of the university’s executives reward themselves with such obscene salaries.