The Journal de Montreal newspaper ran a story this past Friday, Nov. 6, saying that McGill University Principal Heather Munroe-Blum makes three times more than Quebec Premier Jean Charest — $587,000 for Dr. Munroe-Blum, compared to $175,000 for Mr. Charest.
Those figures are misleading, however. The total for Dr. Munroe-Blum includes a base salary of $358,000 plus $229,000 in other benefits, while the $175,000 for Mr. Charest is simply his base salary. My guess is that Mr. Charest also receives benefits – and I’d be willing to bet they’re greater than those received by Dr. Munroe-Blum.
But I don’t want to get into a game of who’s worth more. The point I actually want to make is that, in a competitive market for top talent, I think it’s fair to say that Dr. Munroe-Blum is worth whatever an institution is willing to pay her. Or, to put it another way, she commands the salary and benefits that her institution believes she deserves based on her experience, knowledge and talent.
Of course, she does work for a publicly funded institution, so that does need to be factored into the equation, because taxpayers are paying for a portion of her salary. And universities — and their students — are facing financial difficulties, so I concede the optics of a high salary are problematic.
But the position of president at a major university is an incredibly demanding job. It is not a position I would relish and I don’t begrudge these leaders their salaries, at least, which strike me as reasonable compared to those of CEOs of similar-sized corporations. (McGill’s operating revenue for 2008-09 was somewhere in the order of $600 million.) As for the additional benefits a university president receives — a house, a car, that sort of thing — are they excessive? I don’t know. I’ll leave that for others to decide.
Here are the base salaries of the heads of Quebec’s other major universities, according to the Journal de Montréal:
- Judith Woodsworth, Concordia University, $350,000
- Luc Vinet, Université de Montréal, $339,000
- Bruno-Marie Béchard (outgoing rector), Université de Sherbrooke, $278,327
- Denis Brière, Université Laval, $270,000
- Claude Corbo, Université du Québec à Montréal, $176,871
I’ll leave the last word to Watson Scott Swail, president and CEO of the Educational Policy Institute. In his EPI Commentary published the same day as the Journal de Montreal report, he mentioned a new, unrelated report listing the number of college presidents in the U.S. making more than $1 million a year. His comments:
I had some friends email me with their thoughts on that issue. There are two positions: (a) this is outrageous; (b) whatever. I’m with the second group. If Dave Beckham can make $50 million/year, pre-endorsements, for kicking a ball around, if a really overweight defensive tackle can earn a multi-year $100 million contract in the NFL (yes, that would be the Washington Redskins), and if Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees can have a $198 million contract ($33 million/year) … I’m not sure why we’re really complaining about a CEO of, in some cases, a multi-billion dollar company [a higher education institution] making a seven-digit salary. People balk at a college president getting $300k. Let’s get real. They should be getting that kind of money.