According to Ryerson president Sheldon Levy, a combination of the Ontario wage freeze on executive pay and Ryerson’s relatively low presidential salary will cause trouble for the search committee in charge of finding his successor, and it’s not going to get better.
“When you’re trying to recruit someone, you’re trying to get the very best person. Someone from, say, Alberta, would have to take a massive pay cut to come here,” Levy said. “There’s no way you can compete with massive jurisdictions like the United States, and parts of Canada. So either you’re going to ask someone who might be the very best person for my job to take a salary decrease, or they won’t come. And that’s the reality of it.”
Last month, The Ryersonian reported that Alan Shepard, the president of Concordia University in Montreal, turned down an offer to be the next president of Ryerson University.
“I don’t want to tell you that this was the issue, but I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t one of many,” he said. “And so, you don’t know in 3-5 years to what extent it becomes the issue of the more important issue. It’s not only in presidential searches, it’s deconal searches, it’s vice-presidential searches. If you want to build a great place you have to keep it in mind to get the greatest people, and I think one has to be very careful about how we build Ontario. As I said, It won’t get better.”
This week, the Sunshine List was released, revealing Ryerson had 1022 employees making more than $100,000, around eight per cent mores than last year’s total. However, Levy is quick to point out that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
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“Well, a lot of it is where you are, relative. So if you’re at $99,998, you’re on it one day and you’re not on it the year before,” he said. “So you have to be very careful not to jump to conclusions about the total pay increase.”
Levy’s salary, $370,475.04, is capped due to a provincially mandated wage freeze on executive pay.
In 2012, Ontario passed an amendment to The Broader Public Sector Accountability Act that froze salaries for “designated executives,” including university presidents.
Compared to other presidents, Levy’s salary is relatively modest. U of T president Meric Gertler makes $398,737.41, York University Mamdhou Shoukri makes $478,405.94, and Western University president Amit Chakma makes $924,000.04. However, the freeze is doing more than just stopping presidential salaries from rising.
The wage freeze also prevents any new hire from being paid more than the last person to hold the job, effectively maxing out Ryerson’s offers at $370,475.04.
Stuart Rudner, a partner at Rudner MacDonald LLP, an employment law firm in Toronto, also believes that when negotiations are underway a candidate may decide that the offered compensation is not enough and decide to move on.
“Obviously, any limits on the amount an organization can pay may make it more difficult to attract the best candidates,” he told The Ryersonian.
Alan Shepard was last reported to be making $357,000 a year, plus over $70,000 in benefits. Quebec does not have any wage freeze laws.
Of the 25 university presidents in Ontario, Levy is the ninth highest paid.
Levy also made it clear that he will not be accepting another term extension should the search fail again in two years.
“It was deliberately written to be up to two years.”
—With files from Aeman Ansari, Nitish Bissonauth and Natasha Gan.