Bloated UVic Payroll Needs The Axe

04/18/2013 12:23 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

If the University of Victoria is going to be fiscally sustainable, its board of governors needs to have the courage to take a Viking-size battle axe to its payroll - not a measly toenail clipper.

Last week, The Times Colonist reported that UVic will raise tuition fees and cut 82 jobs from its 4,500 person workforce to fix a $4 million hole in their annual budget. This, of course, drew the usual cries of doom and gloom from the staff associations and unions.

The most telling comment came from the CUPE rep: "I've been president of CUPE 951 for more than 20 years and this is the first time that UVic has ever cut this deeply." This, despite the fact that 36 of the 82 jobs were already vacant.

The professors were upset to see that some teaching assistants may be jettisoned. "Professors are going to be pushed to engage in marking with multiple choice exams in courses where that may not be the most appropriate way of assessing student performance," said the faculty rep.

I'm sure the student staying up late to get all of her assignments in on time while juggling multiple classes and a part-time job to pay her increased tuition will have loads of sympathy for her overworked professors having to fly solo without a teaching assistant.

That's simply nibbling around the edges of UVic's big problem: payroll. Five years ago, UVic paid out $212.4 million in salaries to its employees. Last year, that had jumped to $253 million - a 19 per cent increase.

During that same span, UVic staff benefit costs grew by a third, from $33.7 million in 2007/08 to $44.6 million in 2011/12. In fact, last year, benefit costs grew almost the same amount as the university's shortfall - $4.4 million.

One need only look at the top of the university's pay scale to see four clear examples of exorbitant wage growth over the past five years.

President David Turpin made $430,760 in 2011/12, up $33,171 from five years earlier.

Valerie Kuehne, VP External Relations, saw her salary grow 20 per cent in four years to $226,647 in 2010/11. In 2012, she left that job, having been paid out $298,602 in 2011/12.

VP Finance Gayle Gorrill's salary jumped from $230,025 in 2007/08 to $268,472 in 2011/12. That's almost 17 per cent.

In 2007/08, then-VP Research, Martin Taylor, made $189,512. His successor, current VP research Howard Brunt, made $230,774 in 2011/12. Taylor moved over to become president and CEO of UVic's Ocean Networks Society and was paid $212,964 last year.

The numbers should make taxpayers' heads spin. Victoria may have B.C.'s highest average household income at $77,820, but even that's dwarfed by these UVic salaries.

Five years ago, 766 UVic staffers made $75,000 a year. In 2011/12, that number had grown to 1,021. And the top end grew too: 331 UVic employees made $100,000 or more five years ago. Now that number is 489 - an increase of 48 per cent.

No wonder UVic is in hot water financially: they have not kept tight enough control of their payroll. Eliminating a few positions isn't going to make much of a difference.

The lesson the private sector has been dealing with for decades has finally come to UVic: having to do more with less by controlling costs by controlling payroll and benefits. Is the UVic board up to that challenge - and is the senior administration willing to lead by example by starting with a cut to its own pay?