Western University President’s “Double Dip” Salary Sparks Outrage, Petition

 Amit Chakma says the  controversy surrounding his pay has taken a "tremendous toll" on him and his family.
Amit Chakma says the controversy surrounding his pay has taken a "tremendous toll" on him and his family. Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Opposition continues to mount against Western University President Amit Chakma’s eye popping salary of nearly one-million dollars.

A petition, calling on Western University’s Senate to issue a vote of non-confidence in Chakma and the head of the University’s Board of Governors, now has over 3,000 signatures.

At issue is Chakma’s $967,000 pay package from 2014, and a one off provision that pays him double his usual salary if he forgoes the option of taking a one-year administrative leave. Chakma waived his sabbatical, and in return, received the extra pay last year. He’s since inked a new deal with the same option in 2019.

Associate Professor in the Faculties of Law and Information and Media Studies Sam Trosow is among several members of Western’s faculty who’ve signed the petition.

“This is happening at a time when many part-time faculty members are finding they’re having a difficult time making a decent living, stringing part-time positions together,” Trosow said. “And quite frankly, we just have so many students including graduate students who are living on the edge of poverty, who are using food banks, who are finding that they cannot stay in school and pay rent and eat. Fees are going up, but things like financial aid are not going up.”

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Trosow said given all of this, the optics of the situation aren’t good.

“I think that this sends an absolute wrong message to the public about what the function of a university is,” said Trosow.

Liberal cabinet ministers at Queen’s Park were on the defensive Monday as they were questioned about Chakma’s salary. All refused to say whether they think it was appropriate for a university president.

London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler asked in question period whether the government would establish limits to prohibit university boards of governors from negotiating similar double payouts to university presidents.

“With the university cutting staff and increasing class sizes, this double payout is a slap in the face to Western students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community,” she said.

London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews, who is also the deputy premier and president of the Treasury Board, says the government knows executive compensation is an issue.

“I’m not going to comment on any individual person on the sunshine list other than to say we know that there’s a problem with executive compensation and that’s why we’re taking the steps we are,” she said. “We’re looking at all compensation, not just the salary.”

A bill that was passed late last year allows for caps on broader public sector executive compensation and Matthews says the government is in the process of developing them on a sector-by-sector basis, though she couldn’t say when those would be made public.

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While Chakma has declined comment, in a statement issued by the university, the Chair of Western’s Board of Governors, Chirag Shah, said they were satisfied with the salaries of the institution’s faculty and staff and they reflected fair compensation.

Shah said Chakma’s contract arrangement was to “ensure continuity of leadership at a critical time.”

“Dr. Chakma is recognized nationally and internationally as one of the most influential academic leaders in Canada, which is reflected in his salary,” Shah said in last week’s statement. “The continued momentum of Western’s drive to become a world-class research university and to raise Canada’s profile as a leader in international education has benefited greatly from his guidance since his arrival in 2009, and especially over the last year.”

Trosow isn’t buying that, saying he felt this development could impact Chakma’s effectiveness in the future as Western’s president, and has also damaged the university’s credibility.

When asked if his opinion of the situation would change if Chakma were to decide to repay the extra cash, Trosow said it would help.

“Giving it back would be a good thing to do.”

Above all, Trosow said this case should be raised at the provincial level.

“This is a public institution and this is being supported by the province and I think we have to be much more responsible. This raises in my mind the need for the province to take a close look at coming up with some type of reasonable limitations on excessive executive compensation.”