One perennial meme in higher education is that presidential pay is sky-rocketing, at the expense of salaries elsewhere in the institution. Latest example: news from England this month of university heads getting raises of $30-40,000, while opposing hikes in staff pay, which certainly looks a little piggish. But what about here in Canada?
I showed in this post last year that Canadian presidential pay is significantly lower than it is at comparable public universities in the United States, Australia, and the UK. And two years ago, I showed (using data from Nova Scotia only) that although Senior Administrative pay has risen more steeply than professorial pay over the last half-decade, the rate of increase is only about 25% higher than for that of professors. But let’s take another, more national look at this.
The data below comes from the CAUT Almanac. I’ve taken data from the 48 institutions where data was available for both 2006 and 2011, and for at least three of the four intervening years. Here’s what the presidential salaries looked like between 2006 and 2011 (latest available data):
Figure 1: Average Presidential Salaries in Canada, in Nominal $
(If you’re at a big university, these numbers probably look impossibly low; no U-15 university President has a salary below $350,000, for instance. Just remember: the average includes presidents of quite small universities, too).
Figure 1 shows some pretty jerky upward movement. 2007 saw an 11% jump, followed by increases of 1%, 5%, 1%, and 4%, for an average of 4.7% per annum over five years. For professors during roughly the same period (2006-7 to 10-11) the increase was about 3.1% per annum. But if you look at year-on-year salaries, you’ll find that there is some enormous inter-institutional variation in Presidential compensation. In fact, in 2011, Presidential pay for sitting Presidents was as likely to fall as it was to rise.
Distribution of Salary Increases for Sitting Presidents, 2011
The key to understanding rising Presidential compensation in Canada is this: the big ratchets in pay don’t accrue to sitting Presidents. If you just look at the 11 Presidents who sat continuously from January 2006 to December 2011, and whose salary data is public, their pay only rose on average by 3.1% per year – that is, by exactly the same amount as professorial pay. The ratchet effect occurs much more often at the start of contracts, when the new President takes a starting salary that is significantly above that of the previous incumbent.
Are Presidents overpaid? Maybe. But their rates of salary increase aren’t significantly out of line with other university staff.