Amit Chakma, Western University president, to give back half of $924K salary

The president of Western University has announced he will voluntarily refund the school nearly half his $924,000 salary last year, money he received in lieu of taking an administrative leave.

President received nearly double his salary in 2014 in lieu of taking an administrative leave

Western University president and vice-chancellor Amit Chakma collected $924,000 in compensation in 2014 because he chose to work instead of taking a one-year paid sabbatical included in his contract. Chakma says he will return nearly half that amount. (Western University)

Western University president Amit Chakma says he will voluntarily refund the school nearly half his $924,000 salary last year, money he received in lieu of taking an administrative leave.

"My employment contract with Western, executed in 2009, provided for payment in lieu of one year of administrative leave at the end of my five-year term," said Chakma in a written statement released Wednesday.

Chakma said that when he was reappointed to the role, "for the sake of continuity" he received the payment. 

"Although contractually sanctioned, in hindsight, I should have carried over my administrative leave to the end of my current term," Chakma said. "As a demonstration of my commitment to Western and to address the concerns that many have expressed, I have decided voluntarily to refund the in lieu payment to the university."

Chakma said he has also decided not to receive the payment at the end of his second term. 

Chakma's salary was disclosed in the annual Ontario Sunshine List, which includes all public-sector workers whose salaries exceeded $100,000 in the previous year. 

In 2014, Chakma had salary earnings of $924,000 plus $43,244 in taxable benefits.

The Sunshine List records Chakma's 2013 salary at $479,600. 

Independent review of compensation package 

Western University's board of governors announced Wednesday that an independent review of Chakma's presidential compensation package will be done. 

"In this time of fiscal uncertainty and restraint in the post-secondary education sector, Western's board of governors is highly sensitive to the concerns expressed by members of the Western community and the wider public," said Chirag Shah, chair of the board of governors, in a press release. "We have asked former Court of Appeal Justice Stephen T. Goudge to conduct a full, fair, and transparent review of the issue."

In the release, the board said Chakma's contract was negotiated in good faith in the spring of 2009 to provide a competitive compensation package in line with other universities. 

Anger over president's salary 

The disclosure of Chakma's 2014 salary had angered many students, faculty and members of the London, Ont. community.

PhD candidate Tyler Turek spent Wednesday protesting outside the Chakma's office and raising money for Western's food bank.

The teaching assistant can't afford to continue his education at Western, and seeing Chakma's salary for 2014 prompted him to take action.

Turek said he's pleased Chakma will refund the extra income and that his compensation package will be independently reviewed.

"I really hope that the senior administration recognizes that it has an opportunity to do something really great here," said Turek. "To invest in student life."

London West NDP member of the legislature Peggy Sattler said the review is a good start. But she said she's still moving forward with a private member's bill that would prohibit similar deals at any Ontario college or university.

"There is a systemic issue when we have boards of governors who — under the legal framework — were allowed to negotiate these kinds of contracts," she said.