Jan 222013


Saskatchewan cuts millions while former execs get paid

Ishmael Daro

There’s a bit of panic these days at the University of Saskatchewan. Secretaries who gave decades to the school are now boxing up their desks and students are worried about the quality of their programs as the university chops its way out of a budget deficit projected at $44.5-million by 2016.

In November five administrative staff from humanities and fine arts were fired. Then the university announced the closure of a remote campus,* leaving students in certain disciplines unsure whether they would graduate on schedule. Last week, 40 more job cuts were promised.

Adding insult to injury is that a couple of guys who helped run the university right before this crisis are receiving a combined $1.3-million from the budget after leaving, reports the StarPhoenix. And that doesn’t include pension contributions.

Peter MacKinnon, the university’s president for 13 years before retiring in 2012, is receiving $850,000 over two years. It’s mostly “paid administrative leave” that he was entitled to under his contracts but didn’t end up taking during his term. Richard Florizone served as vice-president of finances since 2005 and was on paid leave until he was recently named president of Dalhousie University. Florizone will receive his full salary from the U of S until April, nearly $350,000.

MacKinnon wrote in an e-mail to me that his compensation was decided by the university’s Board of Governors and that “any comment on that determination” must come from them. Florizone wrote that “administrative leaves for senior administrators are a common practice in Canadian universities” and points to his fellowship at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy as well as a recent stint at the World Bank as reasons his paid leave is valuable to the public.

I still don’t think they’re worth the money, especially at a time when so much is being cut. MacKinnon and Florizone are at least partly responsible for the financial planning that left the university scrambling. While at the university, they made grand funding announcements that the provincial government was required to subsequently step in and pay for. The latest example is a health sciences complex that would likely remain incomplete if the government hadn’t stepped in.

The $44.5-million shortfall that now exists is the result provincial funding that increased only 2.1 per cent rather than the 5.8 per cent as administration budgeted. That suggests they built the school’s future built on wishful thinking.

Florizone has this view: “I am proud to have played my role in the growth and consistent balanced budgets at the University of Saskatchewan over the past decade,” he writes.

He’s certainly correct that it isn’t unusual for top university administrators to receive big compensation after leaving. Concordia University paid out more than $4 million in severance in recent years. But students and taxpayers in Quebec were sufficiently outraged that Jean Charest’s Liberal government fined the university $2 million for what it saw as excessive payouts.

The payouts MacKinnon and Florizone are receiving are not the same as severance, but it’s still distasteful that the Board of Governors would have offered them in the first place.

It’s also cruelly ironic that MacKinnon’s final year in office was essentially a 12-month victory lap during which the university celebrated his “legacy of leadership.” He now has a building named after him and an office on campus where he is working on a book.

That book is one of the things Barb Daigle, vice-president of human resources at the university, offered to the StarPhoenix as examples of how MacKinnon continues to be productive on his six-figure administrative leave. MacKinnon says he is writing “on the modern history of the University of Saskatchewan.” I wonder whether the current round of budget cuts will be included in his work?

Ishmael Daro was editor of The Sheaf student newspaper and now writes for The Albatross.

*This post was updated on Jan. 22. because it incorrectly referred to the closure of two campuses. In fact, it is only one campus, Emma Lake Kenderdine, where operations are now suspended.

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