The million dollar president - Macleans.ca
 

The million dollar president

UAlberta buys president’s house for $930,000


 

University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera has had a very good year. Not only did she bag a whopping $936,000 in compensation and benefits during the 2009-10 fiscal year, but she also made a lucrative real estate deal − by selling her house to the university.

Yes, that’s right. The University of Alberta purchased Samarasekera’s home on July 1, 2009 for $930,000, according to the Edmonton Journal. The house was bought to be the official residence of the president and Samarasekera continues to live in it, although she now pays rent to the university.

A handful of other universities including the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto also own houses in which the president lives. The residences double as venues for meetings and social activities related to university business. The added bonus of housing is a perk that also comes in handy when recruiting new presidents, Brian Heidecker, chairman of the board of governors, told the Journal.  “The fact that you have a very good quality home available makes recruiting infinitely easier, and it makes the transition for the president much easier if they happen to be an outsider.”

What is odd about U of A’s decision to buy the home is not only that they purchased it from the current president, but that the home is off campus. Customarily, president residences are on-campus estates that are maintained by the university and conveniently located for university functions. U of A hasn’t provided housing for presidents for decades, and one of the last presidents to make use of an official residence (Walter Johns, who was president from 1959 to 1969) didn’t like being roused from his sleep by drunk students walking through campus in the middle of the night. Since then, presidents have lived off campus.

Before the sale, Samarasekera’s home was used for some university functions, and the university paid some operating costs to her. According to Heidecker, the house worked so well for these events that the board decided it should be owned by the university. “It was to our mutual benefit that we owned the house instead of Indira.” While I’m sure that the house serves its purpose as a venue to entertain just fine, it’s seems only prudent to look for other houses that would be more appropriate, and its unclear if the board shopped around before the purchase.

The Journal also makes the valid point that the timing of the deal could be seen as unfortunate by critics. When the sale was being arranged, U of A knew of looming funding cuts that would lead to layoffs, increased fees for students and unpaid furloughs for staff.

House sale news aside, the other interesting nugget of information in the Journal report is Samarasekera’s compensation. With a base salary of $479,000, her non-cash benefits pushed her total compensation to $936,000, making her one of the highest paid university officials in Canada by a wide margin. The top paid academic in Ontario in 2009, according to data released by the Ontario government, was Amit Chakma, vice-president academic and provost at the University of Waterloo, who bagged a whopping $737,640 in compensation plus $3,505 in benefits. The second highest paid university official was William Moriarty, president and CEO of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation, who was paid $605,728 in 2009.

Photo: University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera


 

The million dollar president

  1. The job is worth 200.000 plus pension benefit, health care etc. that’s it. There’s hundreds of well quallified people for the job. u Of a pres is not big deal, it just needs someone with common sence. I,ve got just as much education as this gal has and would be satified with 150.000 a year. she’s not running a profit corporation. Its just a big scam! she should be ashamed to be accepting or demanding the perks she is getting.. The u of a has no class , never has. A small college in never land has more. The board at u of a should never have hired this bandit. I guess all they needed was a cocktail waitress and that’s what they got. She knows about gratuities. the u of a board got put though but good. what a joked they are.

    • I love how you are complaining and saying that you have “just as much education as this gal has”. Look at your grammar! You can’t even spell the word “sense”. Nice.

  2. There does seem to be something a little fishy about the sale of her house to the university; the report says it was a “lucrative” deal, but this may or may not be the case unless we know what she paid for the house intitially.

    (I am glad to hear that “vic sedo” above has as much education as the U of A pres and that running a university is no big deal. The email suggests, however, that illiteracy may be a problem. Evidence about the U of A having “no class” would be interesting. What does that mean?)

  3. Is this really all that surprising anymore? Executive compensation has been going up and up while Universities plead poverty and push for increased tuition. It seems to me like many University administrators have self-enrichment as their main motivation.

  4. It is depressing to read these salaries and I totally agree that the job should be capped at 200 000. I think that such salaries are extremely ridiculous considering the ever increasing tuition in Canada as well as the increasing cut backs I am observing.

  5. They should set a max as 2x the highest paid faculty member.

  6. As an undergrad student at the U of A, this news is infuriating. I am involved in faculty and student interactions and know for a fact that student engagement funding has been cut down to nothing and there have been larger number of layoffs than have been publicized. On the off the budget cuts, increased tuition, and non-instructional non-optional fees are not directly related to the purchase of the presidents house, this was still a poor decision due to the sheer timing.
    This university is not a student focused institute. It is a research institute primarily, and students are either expected to shut up and deal with sub-par treatment to gain a formal degree, or to leave. The university is confident there will be another unwitting student to fill in the gap, which there will be.