Who’s in the $500,000 club?

Who is Canada’s most highly paid academic? Surprise: he isn’t a university president

What does it take to make half a million dollars in a year? According to new figures, released by the government of Ontario today under the province’s decade-old “sunshine law,” two university administrators did just that.

NEW! Who is Ontario’s mostly highly paid professor?

Also, for the second year in a row, the province’s most well-compensated university officer isn’t a president. And one of the province’s most highly compensated university presidents is a former president who stepped down nearly two years ago. These are just some of the revelations in Ontario’s salary disclosures from 2008, which were released mid-day Tuesday on a provincial government website.

John Lyon, University of Toronto’s managing director of investment strategy topped the list with a salary of $494,598, with taxable benefits of $62,876, which brought his total compensation to $557,474.

For full OnCampus coverage of university salaries 2009, click here.

Coming in a close second place was McMaster University president Peter George, who made $524,435, with taxable benefits of $9,478, for total earnings of $533,913 last year. That’s up nearly 6 per cent from his pay the year before, which hit $505,000 in salary and benefits.

Other top earners include University of Waterloo President David Johnston, who made $488,242 total compensation and York University President Mamdouh Shoukri, who, despite his university’s lengthy strike, took home $484,357. In fifth place was University of Guelph president Alastair Summerlee, who made a total of $464,013.

One of the surprises was to find York’s former president, Lorna Marsden, still on the list. Marsden stepped down from the chief executive role in the spring of 2007, and was replaced by Shoukri. However, York in 2008 still has Marsden on the payroll as “president emerita” – and paid her $412,000. That’s more than is paid to most regular, still-on-the-job university presidents.

One other surprise: the most highly paid academic in Canada isn’t at an Ontario university. Ontario university presidents are apparently earning less than some of their peers at Western Canada’s largest universities. Continuing a trend first noticed last year, there are six senior administrators in Western Canada who reported salary and benefits worth more than the package given to Ontario’s most highly paid university president, Peter George. On the list are the president of the University of Calgary, the president of the University of British Columbia, and four executives at the University of Alberta, including President Indira Samarasekera, who received total compensation worth $627,000, or nearly $100,000 more than George. But one of the U of A’s vice-presidents, VP of facilities and operations Don Hickey, earned more than his boss. In 2007-08 he received total remuneration and benefits worth $688,000 — making him Canada’s most highly paid academic.

The rise compensation in the West is partly due to the ambition of these universities to compete with the most prestigious institutions in the Canada and the U.S.,including matching them in terms of senior executive compensation. However, the fact that some of the top Western administrators appear to be earning more than their Ontario peers may be partly an illusion, due to the fact that BC and Alberta’s salary disclosure laws are more transparent than Ontario’s.

For more, see: Go West, ambitious university president

Those provinces requires the disclosure of such things as the present cost of future pension obligations, whereas Ontario disclosure law does not require that the current cost of such obligations be reported as compensation. U of A president Samarasekera really did make $627,000 in 2008, a good chunk of which is going to fund her pension. But if her Ontario peers had fully disclosed all of their benefits, including the expense universities are incurring to fund their pensions, we would discover that the total compensation of some Ontario university presidents is higher—in some cases perhaps considerably higher—than what was reported on the sunshine list.

To get a sense of how costly and valuable pension benefits can be, note that the Canadian Press reported today that the most highly paid public servant on the sunshine list, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) chief executive Jim Hankinson, was paid $2.5 million according to the list. However, he was paid $3.5 million according to figures filed with the Ontario Securities Commission. The $1 million difference? The extra $1 million, wrote CP, “represents the actuarial value of Hankinson’s pension” — which had to be disclosed in filings with the OSC, but did not have to be disclosed on the sunshine list. The Ontario sunshine list rules do not require that such benefits be made public. BC and Alberta, in contrast, appear to follow rules for expensing future obligations that are closer to those of the OSC (and normal corporate accounting). Relative to BC and Alberta, the total compensation of Ontario’s university leaders is somewhat underreported. Given what we know of the pension promises made to various presidents as part of their contracts, perhaps considerably underreported.

The Sunshine list also shows that college executives remain underpaid relative to their university peers, though many of them are catching up.

For more, see College presidents: gaining on their more highly paid university peers

The highest paid college president in Ontario is Frederick Milner of Seneca College. With a salary of $406,000 and taxable benefits worth $5,000, his compensation is enough to put him squarely in the upper tier of university administrators. Miler’s salary is more than that paid to the president of the largest university in the country, David Naylor of the University of Toronto. (The latter’s salary was $380,000). Miller’s total compensation rose by 12 per cent in 2008.

Conestoga College president John Tibbits was paid $387,000. That’s more than the president of neighbouring Wilfrid Laurier University. (The president of the other university just down the road, the University of Waterloo was however paid about $101,000 more). Tibbits compensation rose by 14 per cent compared to 2007.

The presidents of five other Ontario colleges — Humber, Sheridan, George Brown, Mohawk and Algonquin — earned over $300,000. Their pay is below that awarded the presidents of large Ontario universities, but in line with the compensation given to presidents of smaller Ontario universities. For example, Dennis Mock, president of Nipissing University, Ontario’s second-smallest public university, was paid $271,000. Bonnie Patterson, president of Brock, last year received total compensation of $338,000.

The pay gap between colleges and universities appears to be larger in Western Canada. According to BC public sector salary disclosure, as compiled by the Vancouver Sun, there were 182 employees of the BC university and college system earning more than $200,000. (Data is for either 2006-07 or 2007-08). Of those 182 highly paid individuals, only two were from the college or institute system: the acting and outgoing presidents of BCIT. What’s more, hardly any of the 182 members of the over $200K club came from the former university college system; almost all worked at one of the province’s four traditional universities, in particular UBC.

For a full list of who’s making more than $300,000 at an Ontario university, click on table to enlarge.