[Note: This story updates an earlier version that had no comment from Lakehead.]
According to provincial salary disclosure and recently released presidential contracts, only one university president in Ontario earned less money than his predecessor in 1997: the president of Lakehead.
Most university presidents have seen their salaries rise quickly over the last 10 years. The University of Windsor increased the total compensation of the president by 185 per cent between 1997 and 2007, and nine other presidents saw their compensation double during the same period.
But Lakehead University is a whole other story. Frederick Gilbert took office in 1998, replacing long-time president Robert Rosehart (who moved on to Wilfrid Laurier, from which he retired last year). After serving the top job for 13 years (1984-1997), Rosehart’s total annual compensation—salary and all taxable benefits—had increased to $250,268. Gilbert’s compensation in 1999 was considerably less than that, totalling $177,811.72. In the years since, Gilbert has received raises—but he still made only $249,267.17 in 2007.
That represents a 0.4 per cent decrease in total compensation over the decade. Taking inflation into account, that means that in real terms, Gilbert made about one-fifth less than he predecessor did 10 years earlier.
“I’m a bit of an anomaly, aren’t I?” Gilbert quipped in an interview with Maclean’s.
Why have salaries effectively doubled over the last decade?
“I think there is a sense that the market is driving this. I think there is also an aspect of it that people will push to get whatever they can from the employer,” said Gilbert. “Whatever the employer is prepared to make available, that’s where the contract winds up.”
For his part, Gilbert said that his salary might reflect the circumstances under which he accepted his post.
“I’m a bit of an anomaly because I came into this position perhaps—and perhaps; this may be unfair—for different reasons that maybe some of my colleagues have. I never aspired to be a president,” he said. ” I was looking to be a senior administrator dealing with academic issues.”
And there is a point where university presidents are making too much.
“Following the industrial model in this regard is not the best way to go. There has to be a little bit more altruism in these positions than you find in industry,” he said, adding that he didn’t know exactly how much was too much.
Gilbert pointed out that Lakehead made a conscious decision not to provide administrative-leave packages to senior administration—a perk included in almost every other Ontario university president’s contract. Deans at Lakehead can qualify for such leave, but they must serve two five-year terms to earn a six-month leave.
Lakehead University Student Union president Richard Longtin attributed the more modest presidential salary at his school to its financial position and the cost of living in northern Ontario.
“Our operations, for many years, were running in the red,” he said, suggesting that might be why Gilbert was paid less upon taking the reins as president. “The cost of living is a lot less than in other cities. As well, we also charge our students pretty minimal compared to other institutions, which results in a smaller pool of money to distribute.”