Nfld. & Labrador

Reaction to beefy contract for MUN's new president ranges from outrage to acceptance

A student activist is outraged by the pay package for MUN's new president, but reaction is more muted from other corners.

Vianne Timmons's earnings will be comparable to that of Gary Kachanoski

Matt Barter is a student activist at Memorial University in St. John's. He is seen here holding a copy of the employment contract for MUN's new president, Vianne Timmons. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

A student activist hoped to generate public outrage this week by widely sharing details with news reporters of the pay package for Memorial University's new president — but those efforts appear to have fallen short.

When Vianne Timmons was introduced as MUN's new president in December, Matt Barter went looking for the details, with an access-to-information request.

"I was outraged about what I discovered," Barter said.

Documents supplied to Barter show the university spent nearly $150,000 on the external search for a new president, with most of that spent on "professional services" for a headhunting firm and advertising costs.

Barter found Timmons's contract is nearly a mirror image of outgoing president Gary Kachanoski.

Vianne Timmons is expected to take her new roles as president and vice-chancellor of Memorial University on March 31. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Barter was hoping Memorial would tighten the purse strings.

"This does not represent that. This represents the status quo," said Barter, who added he has witnessed "administrative bloat"' and "misspending" since beginning his studies at MUN in 2015.

Timmons will receive a base pay of $450,000, an $18,000 yearly housing allowance, and $1,000 per month for her vehicle costs. She will also receive a $25,000 yearly research grant, travel perks and much more.

That's around what Kachanoski is earning, but is a bump up from the $337,000 base salary she's earning at the University of Regina.

Over the five-year term of her contract with Memorial, Timmons will earn more than $2.5 million to run a St. John's-based university that receives a vast majority of its operating budget from the provincial treasury.

Barter called the contract "lavish and outrageous" and said MUN missed a chance to cut costs at the very top, at a time when budget cuts are squeezing the university and a long-standing tuition fee freeze for local students is hindering its ability to raise much-needed revenue.

But that view is not shared by the student union.

Liam O'Neill speaks for the students' union at Memorial University. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

"It would be a little bit untoward and … a little bit bad to reduce the salary now that an Indigenous woman is taking the role," said MUN students' union spokesperson Liam O'Neill. Timmons is of Mi'kmaq ancestry and is MUN's first female president.

O'Neill said budget cuts and spending shortfalls are more urgent concerns for the student union, pointing to deferred maintenance issues at many of the university's facilities.

"There's lot of profs, I'm sure, worried about at what point is there going to be a big safety hazard … someone getting injured," he said.

And the powerful faculty association at MUN? Well, they didn't even want to comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, MUN alumnus and public policy specialist Ed Hollett said the university's board of regents carried out a "good, professional" search and found a "top-flight candidate."

Gary Kachanoski became MUN's 12th president in July 2010. (Memorial University)

Only a handful of people are qualified to lead a university like MUN, and finding that person takes time and money, said Hollett.

"The numbers, by my understanding, would sound about right for what you would expect at that level. And it produced a good result," said Hollett.

"I don't know what people could complain about. It seems to have been a well-run competition. The costs are reasonable."

The bigger question, added Hollett, is whether the new president, with the support of the board, will reinvigorate the university.

"We're at a crucial time in the province's history," said Hollett.

"We need input. We need development. We need leadership ideas. And so far we've been getting very little from Memorial."

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About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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