U of A president peeved at minister's 'attack,' says pay cut was already in the cards

A demand that he take a personal pay cut is nothing more than a political stunt, says the president of the University of Alberta.

'All the decisions made by the board had been presented to the ministry. There were no surprises here'

University of Alberta president David Turpin says the province is unfairly attacking university administration for student fee hikes. (University of Alberta)

A demand that he take a personal pay cut is nothing more than a political stunt, says the president of the University of Alberta.

David Turpin is accusing Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt of feigning dismay at Friday's announcement of fee hikes for students.

"All the decisions made by the board had been presented to the ministry. There were no surprises here," Turpin said Wednesday in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"Everybody in government knew what the University of Alberta was planning and we were told, 'Yes, you should get your financial house in order.'

"And we're now seeing a minister of the Crown in this province attacking volunteers that he has appointed and criticizing their decisions."

'Personally and publicly attacked'

On Friday, the university's board of governors approved a 3.14-per-cent hike in tuition for international students, a four-per-cent rent increase for students living in residence, and a 15.8-per-cent hike on their meal plans.

Schmidt took a swipe at Turpin on Monday, telling reporters who cover the Alberta legislature that the U of A president should look at reducing his own salary — and the university's overall administrative costs —  before "rummaging in the pockets of students."

"I think most Albertans find that a little bit hard to swallow," Schmidt said. "I'm just wondering why they didn't possibly examine other options that would have less of an impact on students."

According to the university's 2016-17 fiscal report, Turpin has a base salary of $500,000 a year, but took home $824,000 in total compensation.

"I've worked at three of the country's finest universities in three different provinces and this is the first time I have been personally and publicly attacked by a minister of the Crown," Turpin said.

"The issue here is not around executive compensation. The issue here, and what's really disappointed me about the minister's comments, is his personal attack on the board of governors."

Turpin said he already took a "major drop in compensation from his predecessor" when he was recruited to the U of A, and is already destined for another pay cut.

"If you look at what we've done already — the hundreds of thousands of dollars in executive compensation that was willingly conceded — that's already occurred and the minister is well aware of that."
Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt doesn't think the university has looked hard enough at curbing costs of administration. (CBC)

Schmidt had previously announced that the government intended to cut the pay of top-ranking executives within Alberta universities, describing current salaries as "way out of line" with the rest of country.

The Alberta government has reviewed compensation paid to senior executives at the province's colleges and universities as part of its three-part review into salaries paid by agencies, boards and commissions.

Pay cuts coming in budget

The University of Alberta has been told cuts to executive salaries will be a "major part" of Thursday's provincial budget, Turpin said.

"For the last year, we've been working with the government as they work to put in place legislation which is going to force boards to roll back compensation at universities for senior executives," Turpin said.

"So what we're seeing here is the minister using this as an opportunity to set this up for a public announcement [Thursday]."

Saying this should all be dealt with in administrative costs misses the point.- David Turpin

Though Turpin said he empathizes with affected students, he said the university has been running a major operational deficit for years and needs to make some "very, very difficult" decisions about its finances.

Residence and meal plan costs and international tuition can't be funded by government grants and tuition from Canadian students — and the university doesn't want to start cutting services on campus to balance the books, he said.

"Administration provides an environment for the students to thrive in and that's where we're investing heavily," Turpin said. "I'm not going to cut support for student mental health. I'm not going to cut support for Indigenous student recruitment.

"Saying this should all be dealt with in administrative costs misses the point."