Editorial: Harvey’s cash-laden cup runneth over

Earlier this week, the amount of outgoing University of Calgary President Harvey Weingarten’s retirement pension was revealed by the Calgary Herald to be $4.75 million.

On one hand, university presidents make considerably less than the Chief Executive Officers of most large corporations; compared to, say, TD Canada Trust CEO Ed Clark, Weingarten’s nearly $450,000 per annum salary pales in comparison. To get Weingarten from McMaster, the U of C agreed to pay him for his time spent there. So, much of the 30 years he spent building towards this pension, 22 years in fact, weren’t at the U of C. This is why the pension is so high. Further, it’s not like the university is paying him the better part of $5 million in one lump sum — it’s a pension, not a retirement bonus or anything of that nature.

All very rational and reasonable, administration, except for the fact that this figure hasn’t been reported until now. Why did it take you until 2007 to notice that his pension amount was not included in any of the university’s financial statements? Don’t you realize, when dealing with a figure this big — and being given to a president who has spent only a third of the time his pension exemplifies actually on campus — that having a high level of transparency is absolutely critical when dealing with cash-strapped students?

Even with all the transparency in the world, and even with the rational economic reasons listed above for the amount, something makes me vomit in my mouth just a little bit at the idea of paying that much to a president whose vision has in effect resulted in a lot of unfinished buildings around campus during the middle of a recession, whose vision has resulted in a $14.3 million shortfall and 200 looming job cuts; a president who recklessly expands without an iota of foresight with regards to planning or implementation — see: Taylor Family Digital Library’s top floors and perpetual “ground breakings,” the utter lack of parking due to these new buildings replacing lots, the fact international students are paying exponentially more than Canadian ones to live in an unfinished residence — or sensitivity to what actually goes on at this campus. “This is Now,” indeed.

For this we’re all expected to pay for 30 years of experience when we’ve only actually “experienced” eight? For this we’re expected to laugh and say, “Oh, what a good and distinguished academic fellow that Harvey is! Paying one fewer instructor per year is a small price when it ensures such a fine president is able to sit around the pool, sipping mojitos?” Universities must pay their workers, clearly, but should public institutions really be expected to compete with private companies when hiring staff? This logic is especially fallacious when one realizes Weingarten’s background is not business, management or marketing — it’s psychology. Perhaps this is why the U of C Faculty Association assigned Weingarten a GPA of 1.54 — just over a D+ — after surveying faculty at the university in 2005.

This all seems a little petty, I’m aware, given that Weingarten is retiring at the end of December. My intent, however, is not to slam Weingarten — who, as far as I can tell, did exactly what the university hired him to do, albeit with varying levels of success — but rather to give those hiring the next president a bit of a wake-up call. After this mess, and given how little input we students will actually have in the end decision, would it be too much to ask you to suck a little less this time?

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