News  Bloated bureaucracies weigh down university budgets

Report notes growth of expensive managerial corps since late 1990s

University administrators in Quebec are making almost $200 million more than they were fifteen years ago due to bloated managerial corps, according to an unpublished report by a provincial professors’ federation.

Between 1998 and 2009, administrative salaries leapt from $129 million to $328 million, a 154 per cent increase. Details of the report, written by the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU), were published in Le Devoir on January 19.

The revelation comes at a time when administrators have been decrying the underfunding of their schools. Two weeks ago, the Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universities du Québec (CREPUQ) announced that the Quebec university system faced an $850-million shortfall relative to other provinces.

The sometimes lavish paychecks of top administrators drew fire during last year’s student strike as symbols of waste at a time when the government and administrators were asking students to pay more. As of 2008-2009, the last year for which accurate figures are available, 43 Quebec university administrators made over $200,000 a year, including 13 at McGill.

In 2011, McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s salary stood at $369,250, with perks totalling upwards of $200,000, making her the best-paid administrator in Quebec.

But Michel Umbriaco, one of the study’s authors and professor of university administration at TELUQ, a correspondence university, says it isn’t extravagant salaries that are breaking the bank, but swollen administrative staffs. He notes that the average Quebec administrator is making just 4 or 5 per cent more now than in the late nineties, and even less in the Université de Québec (UQ) system, where managerial salaries are negotiated with the government.

“If the principals say they’re like the mayor of New York and their salary is zero point zero, that won’t change anything,” Umbriaco said in a phone interview with The Daily, referring to billionaire New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s refusal to accept his mayoral paycheck.

Rather, it is what Umbriaco calls “a new corporate class” of mid-level administrators that accounts for most of the rise. Often coming from management backgrounds outside of the university, rather than from within the faculty ranks, this new crop of administrators is not only responding to more unwieldy government requirements and bigger, more complicated schools, but in some respects “manag[ing] themselves,” Umbriaco said.

“Is it because there are more tasks to do? Our contention is that yes, the government asks them to do more reporting,” Umbriaco said. “But we don’t think they need more managers to do that.”

The FQPPU thinks an external council should handle the question of administrative salaries, and recommend to the government that a limit be imposed on them. “We don’t mind that administrators make more than junior professors, but when it’s six or five times more, that’s a problem,” he told The Daily.

The McGill administration begs to differ. Olivier Marcil, vice-principal (External Relations), noted that Quebec universities are required to submit reams of paper work to the provincial government, such as sustainability plans, financial audits, and infrastructure plans, that require a huge staff.

“The government asks for more and more accountability, and that’s okay,” he said in a phone interview with The Daily. “But it adds layers, and we haven’t streamlined these things.”

“Universities in 2013 are much more complicated than in 1997,” he added. “We have IT, we’re on the world stage, we have much more research, and there are the environmental issues.”

As it stands, the proportion of salary dollars that Quebec universities spend on non-academic staff – administrators, but also support staff – is 44.27 per cent, almost exactly the Canadian average.

Marcil also defended higher salaries for individual administrators, saying they are needed to lure top talent to Quebec. If the provincial government imposed limits on administrative salaries, he said, Quebec schools would not be able to compete with elite universities in Canada and around the world.

“It’s like you’re telling me the Montreal Canadians cannot pay $8 million for Sidney Crosby. Well, they won’t get Crosby. And they won’t be able to compete in that league,” he said.
Asked what would happen to McGill if the government determined administrator salaries, as it does for the UQ system, Marcil was emphatic.

“That’s gonna kill McGill as we know it,” he said. “Literally.”