Memorial University is defending spending that has nearly doubled in the past decade, as it faces $40-million in cuts this year and criticism of salaries and administrative costs.
Auditor General Terry Paddon highlighted the university's fiscal situation in a recent report, noting that spending has increased by 85 per cent since 2004 — higher than the 58 per cent spending growth for the government.
MUN spent over $412 million in employee salaries and benefits in 2014.
The university is now looking at increasing tuition for international and graduate students by 30 per cent — a hike that students say would be devastating. The potential hikes are a reaction to the provincial government cutting $20 million from the university's base budget, as well as $20 million from its pension payments.
- Government cuts $20M from MUN pension plan
- $20M cut to MUN's operating grant may mean tuition hike for some students
The student union is now questioning how MUN is spending its money.
"I think that it would be great if the university was to hire highly-skilled academic staff, if they were expanding student services. But that's not where we're seeing these expansions in staff," said Brittany Lennox, director of student life for the Memorial University Students' Union (MUNSU).
"We're seeing massive bloat at the senior level administration."
According to the university, there were a total of 2,139 academic staff members and 3,086 administrative staffers in 2014. That's roughly one administrative worker for every six students.
According to the auditor general, in the past decade, MUN saw a 23 per cent increase in staff, but only a five per cent increase in the number of students.
"We also looked at some of the details and we looked at growth in staff, which had grown at a higher rate than students," Paddon told CBC News.
"So it was a bit of a mismatch there. More of an issue of pointing it out and sort of letting people making their own conclusions about whether it was appropriate or not."
Kent Decker, the university's vice-president of finance, attributes those numbers to a rise in graduate students and the creation of new programs and facilities.
"The effort to educate a grad student is about five or six times an undergrad," he said.
"So even though our student body numbers are the same, there's been a huge shift in the students that we actually have on campus that requires a greater effort."
Decker says salaries are the major expense for MUN, and need to be high in order to attract the best employees. But he says the school will be looking at where they can cut back.
"For us to be competitive for hiring these people, and we do hire across the country, that's the market we're in for people at that level," said Decker.
"I think it is unlikely that we will reduce salaries, but we will look at all staff and see where can we do less."
121 administrators making six-figure salaries
But MUNSU's Brittany Lennox says high administrative salaries make tuition hikes particularly hard to swallow.
According to the university's financial statements, there are 121 senior administrators at MUN that make salaries between $100,000 and $200,000. That list does not include professors.
The university president currently makes a base salary of $430,000 a year, plus a $1,000 monthly car allowance and a $1,500 monthly housing allowance, for a total of $460,000.
That salary is roughly $100,000 more than the president of the University of Toronto and the president of Dalhousie, although it is far from the highest in the country. The president at the University of Alberta makes well over $1 million.
When MUN president Gary Kachanoski's new contract comes into effect in July, he will be up for progressive raises of two per cent and three per cent. By July 2016, he will be making $483,276 a year.
"Students are outraged," Lennox said. "They're coming into my office every day saying, 'With a university president that makes almost half a million dollars, why is this person considering raising tuition fees for someone who is already struggling?'"
MUN's Board of Regents will pass its 2015-16 budget on July 9.
The student union is currently petitioning the provincial government to restore funding for a universal tuition freeze.