Tom Traves retirement package not unusual at Canadian universities

A former Nova Scotia university president who's been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars since retiring isn't in an unusual position, says the president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Canadian Association of University Teachers says secrecy, corporate mindset behind generous deals

The Canadian Association of University Teachers says pricey retirement packages like the one former Dal president Tom Traves (standing) negotiated with the university, are not unusual. (Paul Withers/CBC)

A former Nova Scotia university president who's been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars since retiring isn't in an unusual position, says the president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

It's "the norm" for university presidents to negotiate contracts that pay them full salaries after they stop working, Robin Vose, a history professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, told CBC's Information Morning on Monday.

"It is not terribly shocking. We've seen this all over the place," said Vose.

Former Dalhousie University president Tom Traves has been collecting his $442,141 annual salary even though he retired two years ago. Under his contract, he gets an extra year of salary for every five years he worked. That means he gets paid $1.3 million in the first three years after leaving.

Former St. Francis Xavier University president Sean Riley, who retired last summer, also receives his $457,000 salary. The Antigonish university would not release details of his contract. 

Vose attributes the trend to behind-closed-doors negotiating and a corporate mentality that he sees infiltrating academic institutions.

"A lot of this is secret, there is a lack of transparency. So we don't know how widespread it is, but we have seen some high-profile cases in Ontario lately that do give us the sense that this is the norm, or at least it is becoming the norm," Vose said. 

"It is part of a wider social problem. The more they [top administrators] hear their colleagues are making, the more they want. If you don't have boards of governors reigning that in and just providing reasonable salaries, this just keeps on spiraling."

Universities shouldn't be run like Walmart

But universities aren't large corporations where the bottom line is cheaper products and higher profits, Vose said.

"We are publicly funded educational and research institutions. We exist to serve the public good. I don't think we should just allow that to drift away because we've allowed boards of governors to start thinking of themselves primarily as multi-million dollar institutions," he said.

Vose acknowledged universities have large budgets and administrators must have good business sense.

"Yeah, OK, so you are in charge of millions of dollars of budget [but] at the root, you are an academic. You are trained in an academic milieu," he said.

"That is what we expect of our administrators, that they get the educational and research mission of the university. So whatever might be the norm at Walmart should not be allowed to intrude on the university."

He said unionized faculty and other workers should play a stronger role within boards of governors, with the ability to say, "no, this pie has to be divided more fairly."

However, he said there is a "a very worrying trend across the country of boards trying to limit the participation of faculty members in a meaningful way," such as forcing faculty members to leave their unions to sit on boards, or to recuse themselves during money talks.

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