LONDON, Ont. – An Ontario university president who was paid almost $1 million — double his normal salary — because he did not take a sabbatical, admits that was a mistake and says he is “profoundly sorry.”
The double pay received considerable criticism at Western University and beyond after president Amit Chakma was revealed last month as one of the province’s top public-sector earners in the annual sunshine list of public salaries over $100,000. Chakma was paid double his salary because he worked through a scheduled one-year leave.
Chakma has not agreed to media interviews since that time and said Friday, two weeks later, that he wanted his first public comments to be to the university senate.
“When I accepted the terms of my contract I did not anticipate the groundswell of concern it would create,” he said. “I have heard your concerns. I take them seriously. The intensity of concern is itself proof that I made a mistake. For this, I am profoundly sorry.”
The senate meeting heard concerns from representatives of the university community about Chakma’s salary — half of which he has since returned — and it will discuss a non-confidence motion at next Friday’s meeting. More than 5,700 people, including faculty members, signed an online petition calling on university senators to bring the motion.
Dozens of protesters stood up and turned their backs to Chakma as he spoke.
Chakma urged people to “think of the human side” of the controversy surrounding his pay.
“Please think of the human side of this,” he said. “It has taken a tremendous toll on me personally and my family … It just took me time to think this through and seek advice. When you get into crisis mode, inundated with so much criticism that you were not expecting, what do you do?”
Western University’s board of governors has hired former judge Stephen Goudge to review the president’s compensation practices.
London-West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler has introduced a private member’s bill that would ban such clauses in college and university executive contracts.