Despite deficits, student pols increase their pay

SCSU and MSU vote to increase pay; despite poor balance sheets and performance.


A story in The Strand this week reports the undergraduate student union at the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto voted to increase their pay despite financial difficulties facing the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union.

The SCSU voted to increase executive pay by more than 30 per cent earlier this academic year.

Student union president Zuhair Syed told The Strand the student union executive were unable to sustain themselves on a salary of over $20,000 per year. “”We can’t even sustain ourselves. Many executives I know who have to take other jobs, even two part-time jobs, just in order to survive.”

Really? I know people who sustain themselves on less; they’re called students.

The SCSU is not the only group of student politicians increasing their bank balances from a dry well.

The McMaster Students Union executive are receiving a whopping 22 per cent pay raise after student politicians there decided they were underpaid as well.

Much like the SCSU, the student union at McMaster is facing a financial crisis and is making cutbacks to its campus bar.

The MSU’s financial situation is more serious, with student union going from a $615,202 surplus in 2006/07 to a $41,879 deficit in 2007/08, the last year financial audits are available.

The MSU bar, Quarters, recorded a $425,000 lost in 2007/08. Overall, the MSU bar has lost nearly $900,000 dollars in the last six years.

The financial situation didn’t stop student politicians from giving each other pay raises, as reported by The Silhouette.

(Disclosure: I contribute to The Silhouette but was not involved in this article.)

The wage of the McMaster Students Union president increase from $25,699 per year to $31,460 plus benefits and perks. The MSU president’s benefits worth are over $8,000 per year. The MSU president is provided a rent-free apartment, health and dental benefits, and transit passes. The MSU pays $8,000 for the president’s on-campus apartment. With taxable benefits, the MSU president’s compensation tops $40,000 per year.

Vice-presidents are seeing their salary increase from $25,688 per year to $31,460. The MSU also increased compensation for committee chairs from a $750 per year honourium to $2,340.

Sure, the student unions’ bank balances may be decreasing; but that’s no reason for student union politicians to forgo increasing their own balances. After all, they are only acting like “real world” politicians.


A question to the readers: does anyone know of a student union compensating its president more than $40,000? Do you know the compensation rate at your student union? If so, please email me; I’m going to create a chart for public reference. Email:


Despite deficits, student pols increase their pay

  1. Really? I know people who sustain themselves on less; they’re called students.

    In fairness, many students sustain themselves on less by taking on debt. It’s one thing to expect people to take on debt in order to invest in a valuable educational credential; it’s quite another to expect them to do so just so they can work for their fellow students.

  2. True, but a student has tuition expenses and other educational expenses.

    A student politician does not have those expenses. Want to represent students, then expect to live like a student is my belief. What to make private sector money, then go to the private sector.

  3. I was on the U of Ottawa graduate students’ association executive last year and the honorarium there is set to be equal to a teaching assistantship (although a TA is typically 10 hours a week while the workload for the GSA executive positions was at least 20 hours a week).

    I think the TA/RA union executives (CUPE2626) had a similar (or lower) honorarium.

    Even though graduate student associations and TA unions’ executives usually are part-time work (compared to full-time work in large undergrad student associations), I would say in all cases I’m aware of, the equivalent wage is lower than most academic jobs a grad student could get. Only the largest undergraduate student associations can probably afford the kind of salaries you report at McMaster.


    On a related note, I find it interesting that most universities seem unaware of the crisis’ existence when it comes to budget planning. Even when governments cut their subsidies, universities will simply impose a higher tuition fee burden (like students were unaffected by the strike) rather than cutting on the salaries of their admin. / senior faculty.

  4. @Marchand

    Sadly, the McMaster Students Union can’t afford the pay increases either.

  5. The UASU pays their executives $2017 per month. They also have their UPASS paid for and the Pres/VPX get cell phone allowances. In case you wanted to compare…

    Our Council is undergoing a review of this right now, but it is unlikely anything will pass in a year when we are going to have to work hard not to make budget cuts.


  6. What’s the connection between a struggling manufacturing sector and student government compensation? I think I missed something.

  7. You are right they are not related. The financial downturn has nothing to do with the problems at this two student unions.

    The problems are related to poor leadership and a culture of entitlement.

    These would have happened regardless of the greater economy.

    The headline and dek create the wrong impression.

  8. Just to be clear, that was my fault on the headline and deck. I wasn’t very clear when I originally posted.

  9. In many cases they also get non cash benefits. portions of their tuition paid for etc.

    CUSA –
    3.0 Executive Compensation

    3.1 From May 1st until such time as directed otherwise by Council, the base rate for the Executive Honourarium shall be the previous year’s Honourarium adjusted by the annual rate of change in the Consumer Price Index for the City of Ottawa for the previous calendar year
    3.2 Under no circumstances shall the Executive Honourarium fall below $24,960 for any member of the Executive.
    3.3 The Executive Compensation Package shall include at least the following:
    a. All Executive members shall be entitled to a benefit equal to the value of one tuition credit.
    b. All Executive members shall be enrolled in the Health and Dental plan offered by the Association to its members.

    They also have spending accounts. Their lunches are covered on campus. etc. though none of that is in the actual bylaws. I believe the numbers are much higher than the base minimum, for signatories. .

  10. I don’t have the figures with me now, but I was disgusted to watch the Waterloo Federation of Students award their executives with a $5,000 raise from an already high $35,000 to about $40,000 per year. The justification? They could make a lot while on co-op and since the average income in Waterloo was around $80k, they were clearly underpaid. The only saving grace for me as a grad student was that I would not be funding any portion of that exhorbitant increase.

    See this Imprint article for more info.

  11. It’s important to note that Zuhair Syed, President of the SCSU is in place despite violating several electoral bylaws in order to become elected, including using Student Union resources to bolster his campaign.

    When the Elections Committee reviewed their findings, they declared that Zuhair had violated SCSU bylaws in winning his election, and was ineligible as a candidate. Zuhair, as his then-position as a member of the SCSU-executive voted to dismiss these results, rather than excuse himself from voting due to his obvious conflict of interest.

    Just to review, after winning an election by using public resources, he used his existing position to dismiss the results of the entity investigating his win.

  12. In support of spider. I was a member of the SCSU student union last year when this election fiasco happened. Zuhair and his supporters broke several by-laws to throw out the presidential election but keep the director elections. I ended up resigning over the incident because it was clear to me that the union no longer had student interests in mind, but were rather furthering their own goals. This is again proved as I find out Zuhair has used his stolen opportunity to give himself a pay increase. He is a fraud.

  13. @Josh

    The article does not say if the raise was passed. The current FEDS has been responsive to my request for information and I expect to get a response on compensation soon.

    I’m especially impressed by Kevin Royal’s opinion against raising the pay of the FEDS executive (from the article you linked):

    “By any measure, bloating our executive salaries by 13.5 per cent represents an unnecessary inflation that pulls resources away from other areas of the Federation of Students. Our executives will now be paid almost twice that of the Alma Mater Society at UBC, despite the AMS serving approximately 40 per cent more students. Our executives will be paid more than the USC at Western, a student union with revenues, staff, and responsibilities more than double that of the Federation of Students.

    The current salary of $35,250 pays a reasonable wage for a recent graduate or fourth year student in the Waterloo region. It’s not as though executives are living in Toronto Centre (unlike Ryerson’s student union execs, who make over $10,000 less than the Feds).”

  14. To clarify, the SCSU is not facing any financial difficulties.

  15. @Jerry

    Having to shut down the campus pub is a financial difficulty. It means the student union has lost revenue and there will be a need to invest in change the space to either be a service or a revenue generator.

    It may not be a threat to the overall stability of the SCSU, but it is a difficulty.

  16. @Dollansky

    Falling enrolment? I know a lot of Ontario SUs benefitted greatly from the massive increase in enrolment over the last decade to expand services and spend. Now that enrolment is on the verge of dropping, many SUs in Ontario are about to face deficit situations.

  17. The Bluffs was burning money necessarily. The shut down was done to stop it from crashing and burning and bringing down the whole organization.

    The raise nor the Bluffs loss did not effect the financial stability of SCSU.

  18. also, the students voted for an increase in pay. all the students were invited to come to the meeting and to vote in favor or against it. its too bad that those against it didnt show up. dont blame it on the president and the other execs.

  19. Joey, it was indeed passed with little to no dissent from (voting) students. I was at the General Meeting, though I can’t seem to find minutes for it. Kevin Royal, unfortunately, was not present at the time – perhaps it would have gone the other way had he been able to attend. If ever there was a culture of exhorbitant entitlement, it would seem to be in the Feds. I had planned to speak against the raise, but since I wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate given my lack of vote and, otherwise, I was so appalled with the pro-raise arguments that I didn’t. A regret, to be sure, as I found it ridiculous that anyone thought such pay levels were/are reasonable for positions with such minimal qualifications attached (apart from popularity among the small minority of student voters, I suppose).

  20. It seems one of the problems is that pay raises are not sent to the entire student body to vote on in a referendum.

  21. Like i said, the students were notified that the remuneration of the exectuvies were going to be discussed. At the general meeting, students had the oppertunity to convince others as to why the exec did or did not deserve the pay raise. it was left to the hands of the students who were not only invited but ENCOURAGED to come. the execs who got the raise didnt even vote due to conflict of interest, but this policy passed in a landslide.

    if students dont care to show up to these meetings which are designed to allow the students to make sure they can keep their execs in check, then they forfeit their right to criticize the SCSU when they dont understand the full issue.

    With all due respect, Joey, you’re getting your information from The Strand, which is a student paper. i strongly feel that the information is biased.

    I have been present at all BoD meetings, and the AGM and GM this year, and watched this unfold. I was also against the pay raise, initially. But the students voted in favor of it, so how can I say that they dont deserve it? i was THERE, and spoke against it, i did my part, yet im willing to step aside, and let democracy take control. students that werent even present to voice their opinions need to do the same.

  22. I should clarify that the “General Meeting” for the Waterloo Feds consisted of around 25-30 students (out of, what, 25,000 undergrads in total?), most of whom had some current involvement in the Feds at a non-executive level. I don’t think the meeting was particularly well publicized – my roommate wasn’t even aware of it, and much of it was given over to elections for minor rep positions.

    So, for all the talk about students being “invited” to give input, these meetings appear to be scheduled and organized in such a way not to maximize “regular” student participation.

  23. If Jerry was at the GM when the pay raises for the SCSU were approved, he would’ve known that it was in the middle of December, during exams, only a few days before winter break. Not exactly accessible.

    There are also a variety of policies in place regarding the advertisement of general meetings and proposed policy changes being circulated ahead of time, none of which were followed. I certainly didn’t know about the meeting of what was being proposed. A policy will certainly pass by a landslide when the room is stacked with friends of the executives.

  24. thats too bad with the waterloo FEDS. but the utsc scsu publicized well. students were given a month’s notice (if not more) for both the AGM and GM. it was on the SCSU website (the site that these students seem to be checking so frequently to find other problems). there were posters around the school and student center. and a HUGE BANNER in the student center (every student passes this spot when they go to school if they take the bus or get a ride which is 99.9% of the student population who dont live on res. and the 0.1% that DOES live on res, come to the student center for food).

    the scsu needed quorum for this meeting, because last year, they didnt have quorum, so they didint have the general meeting, and they couldnt change any policies (remuneration wasnt on the agenda at that time). they did everything they possibly could this year to increase the attendance. btw, quorum is 40 members. and we had more than that. unfortunately, as i said, those opposed to the remuneration policy didnt show up, and didnt vote. i find it hard to believe that all the students who dont have a problem speaking up agaisnt it now couldnt do it a few weeks ago when it was in their hands to make the decision. these students didnt have the slightest bit of initiative to what? look up when walking through the student center? these students can write all the BS they want on the facebook groups, in these comments, and by publishing their articles, but their opinions are nullified by the fact that they didnt speak when they were given the opportunity. as an exec member, what are you gunna do if you hand the mic to someone to say something, and they stay silent? as a leader, you’re going to call the shots based on what you hear around you. and thats what i believe the SCSU did. and they did so rightly.

    i came out. i voted. i spoke. unfortuanely, there werent enough people who believed what i believe, and thats fine. thats democracy. so, suck it up.

    i am interested in what goes on in my school, through the good times and the bad. i dont just propagate and bash my executives in bad light and through biased reporting.

    this is a shame.

  25. Danielle,

    yes i know about the inconvenience of the GM. they have proxy forms to help with that. the GM was publicized pretty soon after the AGM. agendas were online and in the office. the policy itself is also available online. any one of the scsu admin assistants or exec would have been able to hand you both the agenda and policy.

    what im saying is that if you (not you specifically) cared, then you would know. i cared, i found out, and i know.

    again, i was completely against the raise. me and 25 others i represented at the GM. but at the same time, you have to realize the hard work these execs are putting in. close to 40 hours/week easily.

  26. I realise completely the amount of work student union execs put in. I’ve done it myself, actually, while still taking a full courseload in order to remain eligible for OSAP, which I needed even with the salary. It doesn’t change the fact that the SCSU execs already GOT a pay raise recently (approved two years ago, came into effect for last year’s execs) and that this one was far too exorbitant. Regardless, with the SCSU’s lack of transparency and financial mismanagement this year, a pay raise of any amount is just offensive.

  27. Hey all,

    For the purposes of transparency and accountability, and because many students have voiced serious concerns about allegations being spread around, please refer to a special report that we’ve created to address the common questions. The report contains mid-year financials for Bluff’s as well as audited financials for SCSU and Bluff’s for the last fiscal year. Additionally, We’ve posted answers to common questions people seem to have. We hope that you take the time to read everything in detail, and I welcome ANY questions people have so that we can get this all cleared up as soon as possible.

  28. Took the time to scan through that document. Got one question. How do you justify your description of the contents as “audited financials?” Audited financials are financials that have actually been audited. The accounting records offered from both Bluff’s and the SCSU come along with draft forms written in general language and unsigned by any auditors. In fact, I can’t even see any indication to clarify what auditing firm is responsible for verifying the figures in these documents, much less any suggestion that has occurred in reality.

    I applaud a move towards transparency. But so far, unless you’ve simply failed to include the very critical pages where an auditor takes responsibility for an audit, all that transparency has served to demonstrate is that the problems reported in the U of T media are not exaggerated. I’d really have hoped the President of the union would understand that an “audit” isn’t an audit unless it was actually conducted by an auditor, who students can turn to for independent verification of what you are reporting to them.

  29. Dear Skeptic,

    The audited financials are actually the documents I presented for the fiscal year 2007/2008 for both SCSU and Bluff’s. However, as you may know, audits are conducted at the end of the fiscal year, which is why our CFO had to put together a mid-year statement for Bluff’s. Those specific statements have not been audited. However, the best we can do is to print these statements, and run them by our Board of Directors for the time being. We will proceed to conduct an audit on the statements for Bluff’s this year before the year end audit since we are closing the restaurant this Friday, but this cannot be done until a few weeks down the road as you may imagine. So while we are rushing to get as much information as we can to students, I hope you can appreciate the difficulty in getting ‘audited’ mid year statements so fast- it will take longer.

  30. Hi Zuhair

    I’m not talking about the mid-year financials that you’ve included. I’m talking about the year-end financials for the 2007/2008 financial year, which ended quite some time ago. These draft forms, which were never signed by any auditor, note a year end date of April 30, 2008. I assume you’ve had plenty of time since then?

    Brother, you can dance around this however much you like, but this fact remains. Your simply haven’t fulfilled your basic obligation to your members (and to the government, as a not-for-profit) to have an annual audit conducted last year. We aren’t talking about this year – we’re talking about last year.

    It can’t possibly be an audited financial statement because it hasn’t been audited! If this is what passes for communication around the SCSU these days, then I think you should realize why your members are alarmed. You put a bunch of numbers in front of them and claim it’s been audited, when in fact there’s no proff it’s even come within spitting distance of a real auditor. Do you simply not know what the phrase “audited financial statement” means, or were you hoping no one would notice?

  31. Oh oh… Zuhair what is your response now? Skeptic brings up a very good point. Try to be more organized the next time around. Good luck for next year and don’t give people a chance to talk. I *know* you’ll do a great job.

    -Not Skeptic

  32. “To clarify, the SCSU is not facing any financial difficulties.”

    To clarify: SCSU ran a huge deficit from their restaurant which had been operating for 3 years, their $60 grand emergency bailout lasted less than two weeks and they missed a round (there were three rounds) of club’s funding for student organized clubs on campus.

  33. Well, it’s official, there’s to be a vote from Feb. 3rd to 5th to keep Zuhair from being re-elected…the last straw I hear was that he explosively lost his temper in public on one of his VPs, making a death threat against her…lost support of his former friends amongst most of the SCSU execs because of this (personal opinion: until this incident though, I personally think that the execs were willing to just sit back and skim as much off the top as they could…)