Western University President Amit Chakma is returning $440,000 he received last year for not taking a year of administrative leave.
In a letter released this evening, Chakma said he was voluntarily refunding the money and also will not be exercising his right to another cash payout at the end of his second term.
“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,” he said.
Chakma added that in hindsight, he should have carried over his year-long administrative leave to the end of second term.
Former judge to review salary
Western's board of governors also announced they have appointed a former Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Stephen Goudge to review presidential compensation at the University.
"I am confident that Justice Goudge will complete a full and fair examination and I will whole heartedly cooperate. I look forward to his findings and intend to abide by his recommendations,” Chakma said.
An email sent to Western students and community members by the Board of Governors acknowledged the significant attention that the disclosure of president’s salary has garnered.
“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.
“Accordingly, we have asked former Court of Appeal Justice Stephen T. Goudge to conduct a full, fair and transparent review of the issue.”
The email also expressed awareness of the financial adversaries many students face to attend Western and appreciated the efforts of faculty and staff.
"The board is keenly aware of the financial sacrifices that many students make in order to attend Western and expresses a deep appreciation of the dedicated faculty and staff who are committed to providing the very best in teaching and research, as well as to alumni for their support," the email stated.
Backlash from the community
A petition garnered 5,500 people signatures calling for a non-confidence vote of both Chakma and Shah. A number of Western professors were also vocal in their opposition to the president's salary.
Eric Lohman, a PhD student and lecturer in the faculty of information and media studies, said he wasn't surprised Chakma had to respond to the public outcry.
"I’m not surprised, it’s very clear the that the BOG and president Chakma were forced to acknowledge the fact that they exercised an egregious lack of judgement in signing this contract for president Chakma," Lohman said. "I mean they were made clearly aware that contracts like that don’t exist in the public sector at any of the other major universities in Canada."
Alison Hearn, president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association, said that while Chakma's initiative was a positive step, the problem was more deep-rooted.
"It’s nice that he is giving the money back but it’s never been about the money per se, but what the money represents. There just seems to be a whole skewed set of values and a skewed set of priorities about where money should be spent on campus," she said.
MPP introducing bill to prohibit similar deals in future
Chakma’s total compensation, which was double his annual salary, had made him the fourth highest paid public sector employee in Ontario.
The issue was brought to Queen’s Park this week, where London-West MPP Peggy Sattler asked the premier several times to prohibit similar deals at other universities.
After hearing the news of Chakma returning his double pay, Sattler said the issue was wider than just his compensation package.
"For me, this was not an issue about Dr. Chakma or about Western University," Sattler said. "It was an issue about the systemic problem within the sector that university boards of governors feel that they have carte blanche to negotiate these kinds of compensation packages for university presidents."
Sattler said she will be introducing a private members bill tomorrow to "prohibit" this type of deal being negotiated in the future.
"The university gets half of its revenue from the province but a big chunk of their revenues comes from students’ tuition feeds. And so for the board of governors to be using that funding — those public dollars and those revenues from student tuition — and negotiating this kind of compensation package is just totally unacceptable at a time when budgets are being cut, when university students in Ontario are paying the highest fees in Canada and we have more students using food banks than ever before. This is not acceptable."
USC responds to Chakma's letter
Matt Helfand, president of the University Students’ Council said that Chakma’s salary had caused a lot of outrage in the community and he took a step in the right direction by refunding the university.
"Seeing his response to this, it's heartening to see that he takes these concerns very seriously and that he’s being responsive to the student body and the community,” Helfand said.
With files from Iain Boekhoff, Katie Lear, Amy O'Kruk and Olivia Zollino.