The President of Iowa State University was recently reprimanded for crashing one school-owned airplane, overusing the other, and charging the cost to the institution. The institution’s Board is asking serious questions: such as “why they were paying for the President to go back and forth to his family-owned Christmas Tree business in North Carolina,” but not, apparently, “why in God’s name does our university own two aeroplanes?” As one does.
As I read this story, I thought “if nothing else, that’s a pretty amusing segue to talking about Presidential salaries, which I haven’t done in awhile.” I made some international comparisons on Presidential salaries about four years ago, and basically came to the conclusion that i) being an Australian university President was a really sweet gig and ii) Canadian university Presidents were paid a lot less than their counterparts elsewhere. But hey, what’s a daily blog that doesn’t occasionally revisit the same topic with new data?
So, same rules as last time: For Canada, the data is from the ever-useful CAUT Almanac, except for l’Université de Montréal, which I took from press reports. For the US, the data is from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual survey on Presidential pay (I’d link but it’s paywalled) and is restricted to Presidents of public universities. UK data is from the Times Higher Education Supplement, and Australian data is from The Australian. Data for Australia is 2014, for the the UK and the US it is 2014-15 and for Canada it is 2012 (except Montreal, where it is 2014). Currencies have been converted to US dollars using the 2014 Big Mac Index – if you want to translate these into Canadian dollars, just add 20%. Figures represent total compensation rather than base pay.
In the first chart, I take the top-ten highest-paid university Presidents in each country and average their salaries. As is plainly evident, the highest-earners Canadian Presidents are nowhere near as well paid as their foreign counterparts – in fact they receive less than half what top brass are paid in Australia (it’s difficult to be definitive given the different ways of converting currencies, but essentially, the worst-paid President in Australia is better-compensated than the top-earning President in Canada).
Figure 1: Average Salary of Ten Best-paid Public University Presidents in Canada, Australia, UK and US
Arguably this isn’t an entirely fair comparison because we are simply looking at the average at one end of a distribution. So, to try to make a more apples-to-apples comparison, I also took an average of salaries at each country’s “top” institutions. To do this, I looked at the Academic Ranking of World Universities (i.e. the Shanghai Rankings), and took the top 10 public institutions in the US (all in the top 40 worldwide), the top 9 institutions in the UK (the 9 in the top 100), the top 8 institutions in Australia (those in top 150) and the top 6 in Canada (also those in top 150 – meaning Toronto, UBC, Montreal, McMaster, Alberta and Montreal). Here’s what this comparison looks like:
Figure 2: Average Salary of Presidents at Top-Ranked Institutions in Canada, Australia, UK and US
So: everyone’s average drops somewhat because it’s not always the top universities paying the top salaries. The drops are biggest in the US and the UK, but the rank order of average salaries remains the same: Australia way at the top, Canada at the bottom. In fact, at roughly equivalent universities, Australian Presidents are making over two and a half times as much as Canadian ones.
To be clear: I’m not making am argument for going hog-wild on Presidential pay here in Canada. On the whole, I think we’re closer to getting it right on senior exec pay than others are. But our obsession with executive pay perennial habit of calling out “fat cats” is misplaced. By international standards, our Senior execs’ pay is pretty modest. And we keep them away from private planes, too.