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College presidents’ salary hike rejected by province

Jane Burke 

News Reporter

Ontario colleges have been sent back to the drawing board after Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, rejected “concerning” proposals for executive salary increases that reached as high as 54 per cent.

While a couple of colleges (St. Clair and Conestoga) proposed president/CEO salary increases below 10 per cent, other schools such as Algonquin (53.8 per cent) and Georgian and Centennial (both above 43 per cent) proposed raises that would have brought their top executive pay above $400,000.

Chris Whitaker, Humber’s President and CEO, made $432,765.44 according to the Public Sector Salary Disclosure, or the Sunshine List in 2015. Whitaker is the highest paid college president in the province, followed by John Tibbits of Conestoga.

According to Humber’s faculty union newsletter, the proposed salary increase for Whitaker was to $494,000, a 14.1 per cent increase from 2015.

Because an expected balanced budget from Queen’s Park in the spring will end a public sector salary freeze that has been in place since 2012, the province provided a framework for colleges to reference for their proposals, suggesting comparing top salaries with those at similar public sector institutions.

“Quite frankly, having several of the colleges choose comparators 10 times their own size is not in the spirit of the legislation as it was intended… It’s not in the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve as we moved toward balanced budget,” said Matthews in a statement.

As for the current status of any proposed salary hike, “It’s hard to say right now, since the province has sent everyone back to planning table,” said Andrew Leopold, Humber’s communications director.

Humber College’s Executive Compensation Program for Public Consultation reports that Humber compared itself to public sector institutions such as the LCBO, MaRS, BEHP Mergeco and Toronto Pearson International Airport. Humber is Ontario’s largest community college with nearly 83,000 total students including part-time and continuing education studies, spread over three campuses. However, smaller colleges used Humber for reference such as Niagara College, with a student body less than 30 per cent the size of Humber’s.

Big executive salary increases are also seen as counter-intuitive with a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc., the business consultation and accounting firm, predicting the post-secondary education sector in Ontario will have a cumulative debt of $1.9-billion within eight years.

“We’ve asked college presidents and board chairs to go back to the table to rethink their proposals… After this is done, we would expect them to go out and seek public input again on the revised frameworks,” said Matthews.

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