Western President Amit Chakma’s name was noticeably absent last week when the university released its annual list of employees whose 2015 income met or exceeded $100,000, as reflected on their T4 slips. It was a predictable end to yearlong saga, said Hanny Hassan, Board of Governors Chair.
“We had previously disclosed what we were going to do, and what the president was going to do,” Hassan said. “This was the cleanest way of dealing with the repayment. He has fulfilled his obligation and we have moved ahead.”
The Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, 1996 was intended to make Ontario’s public sector more open and accountable to taxpayers. The act requires organizations that receive public funding from the Province of Ontario to make public, by March 31 each year, the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits of employees paid $100,000 or more in the previous calendar year.
The most recent list showed more than 115,000 provincial public-sector employees made more than $100,000 last year. Western’s list showed nearly 1,300 people making more than $100,000.
Chakma was not included on this list for 2015 because, simply stated, his income did not meet or exceed $100,000, Hassan said.
Last year, Western figures showed the university president was paid $924,000 (plus $43,244.88 in taxable benefits) in 2014 as a result of invoking a clause in his contract. He was the fourth highest paid employee in the entire province.
Chakma’s number was somewhat deceiving as his annual base salary remained at $440,000. However, the president received a ‘double-payment’ in lieu of a one-year administrative leave included in his first five-year contract, which concluded June 2014.
That revelation set off a firestorm across campus, resulting in unsuccessful no-confidence votes in Chakma and then-Board Chair Chirag Shah, as well as the forming of a host of committees examining university governance, budgeting and research funding. Much of that work is still ongoing.
But as reflected by this current list, Hassan said, the money has been returned.
“Essentially, he paid everything back by not taking compensation in 2015,” Hassan continued.
In addition to his double-payment, the president also received three month’s pay before the controversy arose in April 2015. As part of his agreement with the Board, Chakma returned his February and March pay, did not take a salary for the remainder of the year and refunded his January 2016 pay to complete the payback, with interest, Hassan explained.
The president did not make the most recent Sunshine List because he was only paid for one month, plus taxable benefits.
“We would hope, in terms of the payment, this closes that chapter,” Hassan continued. “We still have some people who are unhappy, but my sense is that they are in the minority and that we are being trusted to move ahead with the measures we discussed – and we have discussed them broadly.”
Hassan cited the Board’s continued work to improve connections with the university community.
In December, the Board unanimously backed the Report of the Board Governance Review Task Force. Struck in June 2015, the task force issued a number of recommendations dealing directly with the problem areas cited by The Goudge Report, including the Board’s committee structure, its connections with university Senate, as well as its relationship and communication with the overall university community.
“We are still working through the fallout of this in terms of the issues around governance we identified in the aftermath of this payment,” Hassan said. “The Board has completed its review of governance and is working through the recommendations of that committee.
“There were negatives, but hopefully we’ll get some benefit from all this, in terms of transparency and openness, and build more trusting relationships with our colleagues in the campus community.”