News  VP pockets $760,000 in wages, severance

Munroe-Blum defends top wages for top people

No apologies are being made for the $321,471 severance package dolled out to Ann Dowsett Johnston, a former McGill Vice President of Development, Alumni and University Relations, who left her position after 19 months in September 2007.

Johnston, who was intended to orchestrate McGill’s Capital Campaign – a five-year, $750-million fundraising surge to plug the University’s chronic underfunding – collected over $760,000 in wages and benefits by the time she stepped down from her portfolio. The University’s confidentiality clause has prevented the release of the details surrounding her departure.

Principal Heather Munroe-Blum defended the payments, and explained that attracting top people requires competitive salaries.

“I’m not going to say it’s not a lot of money, [but] I won’t make apologies for paying top wages to get top people,” Munroe-Blum said, adding that the situation was quite rare.

Yet on Monday, the Journal de Montreal learned that McGill is currently paying $507,000 annually to Richard Levin, Dean of Medicine and Vice-Principal (Health Affairs), making him Canada’s top-paid medical dean.

Maria Ruocco, president of McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association – a union that is currently on strike because McGill refuses to meet their salary increase demands -– was shocked by Johnston’s severance pay figure.

“The school shouldn’t distribute so much money if it is telling us it’s having financial issues,” Ruocco said. “There seems to be a contradiction [here].”

SSMU VP External, Devin Alfaro, was suspicious of the large severance pay given for so little time, citing it as out of the ordinary.

“There’s something in there,” said Alfaro. “We just don’t know what.”

Dowsett Johnston is, according to the Gazette, a close friend of President Munroe-Blum. Before coming to McGill, Dowsett Johnston worked for Maclean’s magazine, where she undertook the controversial ranking of the country’s universities in 1992, and established the Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities in 1996.

Munroe-Blum has maintained that Dowsett Johnston underwent a standard hiring process.

This is not the first severance scandal to affect underfunded Montreal universities. While high placed officials at the UQAM and Université de Montréal received considerable sums after stepping down from their respective positions, Concordia’s former president, Claude Lajeunesse, is reported to have walked away with over a million dollars in severance pay in 2007.

Like Dowsett Johnston, Lajeunesse left in the middle of a five-year contract.