Students and teachers at Vancouver Island University are more concerned about provincial funding for post-secondary institutions and employee wages than what the president makes.
The province recently released executive compensation disclosure reports for public sector chief executive officers, including public post-secondary institutions. The next four highest-ranking/paid executives in those organizations are also included, where the positions hold an annual base salary of $125,000 or more.
Salaries for VIU senior administrators are in line with similar institutions around the province. President Ralph Nilson, the highest paid administrator, makes about $240,000 in total compensation, which is base salary plus things like pension and auto allowance.
Nilson’s total compensation package is similar to what the heads of Kwantlen Polytechnic and University of the Fraser Valley make – about $251,000 and $253,000, respectively.
But students are more concerned that they have access to the education they need in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost, said Steve Beasley, executive director of the VIU Students’ Union, adding that the president’s pay is immaterial compared with the millions of dollars VIU has cut from its budget due to static provincial funding despite increased costs.
“I don’t know that the average student gets up in the morning and worries about what the president is making,” he said.
Administrators in B.C. universities are also underpaid compared with the rest of the country, Beasley added.
He’s gone on four search committees hunting for new VIU administrators and found that attracting people to B.C. can be difficult because it sometimes involves a pay cut.
Dan McDonald, VIU Faculty Association president, said Nilson’s salary is not a great concern for the association.
Members are more concerned about the number of administrative positions at the university, which the Post-Secondary Employers’ Association of B.C. lists at about 13 per cent of the university’s payroll compared with about 10 per cent at Kwantlen, about five per cent at UFV and nearly 12 per cent at Thompson Rivers University.
The union is also concerned about teacher salaries, he added. While VIU’s teacher salaries are comparable to similar institutions in B.C., the wages are lower than other parts of the country and recruiting qualified colleagues is sometimes a challenge.
Stu Seifert, who represents B.C. Government Employees’ Union workers at VIU, said he would only take issue with Nilson’s salary if he received a significant increase in recent years, while employee groups have settled for no increase.
His focus is on what qualified trades instructors are making.
“You can make a hell of a lot more working in industry than you do at VIU,” said Seifert, adding that the union hopes to get salary increases into the next contract.
“Nobody’s seen any increase now for just about two years,” he said.
Mike Brown, chairman of VIU’s board of governors, said executive compensation is a huge concern for the board, as the province has frozen executive salaries as well as union wages in public post-secondary institutions.
“We’re always at risk of losing our highly qualified people,” he said. “We’re lucky that Ralph has decided to stay.”
As the cost of benefits goes up, Nilson actually ends up making less each year, Brown added.